Getting stuff done is a universal key to success in life. As a student, you've realized this by now. But… it's hard. Personally, I didn't ever started an assignment in high school more than 2 days before the due date. Even the valedictorians and class pets struggled with procrastination. The good thing about school that incites work is that there actually are deadlines. They loom over you and when they get too close, you start doing the work. That's not true for life. If you want to start a business, or learn how to play the guitar, or teach yourself to cook, there's no deadline for that. The true danger of procrastination isn't the long nights or the crappy work, but that you never even start the things that you really want to do. This is why learning how to get stuff done as a student is so important.
Learning this skill early will translate to much more effectiveness in your life. If you learn how to be efficient with your time now with hectic school life, you will be able to handle post-grad. But how to do it? What techniques to implement? The secret to productivity is this: either do something full-time or part-time but never sometimes.
The Secret to Productivity
How many times have you said this phrase to yourself?
“I'll do it later.” or “I'll do it when I have time.” or “ahh it'll get done sometime“
I know that this happens to me every day in regards to my laundry. It starts with one t-shirt. Then some pants get added. Then I have a little pile in my room. And every time I walk by I say “I'll do it sometime.” Soon enough, I have a mountain of clothes that need to be brought up to the washing machine.
More times than not, “sometime” is just a euphemism for “never.”
Especially in today's day and age where we have all the entertainment we could ever need right at our fingertips. Our phones give us instant access to Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, and these are all huge killers of time. You say to yourself “sometime” but then what you really use your time on is social media and other entertainment outlets.
Here's another question for you: how many books have you bought and actually finished reading? If you're like most people, probably not that many. That's because “I'll read it sometime” usually just means “I'll read it never.”
This concept is also true for starting a new endeavor. If you want to start anything new (a business, a blog, a youtube channel), it is impossible to be successful by doing it “sometimes.” You have to commit to doing it either full-time or part-time.
What's the Difference Between Sometime and Part-time?
You might be thinking to yourself: “ok I get what Jeff means when he says you gotta commit to something, but how is sometime any different from part-time?“
Well, let's ask Google exactly what the difference between these two are.
One of them means “part of the day or week” and the other means “unknown time.” Anyone who's ever worked a job knows that you don't get to go in whenever you want and do paid work whenever you FEEL like it. Even if you work a part-time job, you still have shifts that need to be worked in set times and days of the week. Occasionally you might be able to get those shifts covered, but don't show up enough and you'll get fired.
- “Sometime” means “ehh I don't know when I'll do it but it'll get done don't worry.”
- “Part-time” means “I have a set time in the day and week when I know that this is the thing I will be doing.”
One is structured and planned for, the other is not.
How to Get Stuff Done as a Student in Action
Back to the reading example. If you wanted to read “sometime,” a chronological list of actions might look like this:
- Get the book from Amazon
- Say to yourself “I'll read it sometime”
- Put it in the bookshelf
- Never think of it again
If you wanted to read “part-time”, you would set aside time every week or every day to read and consistently commit to that time. A chronological list of actions would like something like this:
- Get the book from Amazon
- Say to yourself “I want to actually get through this book and be productive, so I'll read it part-time.”
- Look at your calendar/planner for openings
- See that Monday and Thursday night you aren't doing anything
- Set a reminder on your phone to go off every Monday and Thursday night telling you to read that book for an hour
- Get the reminder when the time comes
- Commit to reading the book
- Eventually finish the book
The difference between “part-time” and “some-time” is in deliberation. And as the famous quote goes “people don't plan to fail, they fail to plan.” (John Beckley)
How to Implement This
Implementing this is actually pretty easy. Just as technology now makes it very easy to get distracted, it also makes it very easy to plan for things.
I've checked my blog analytics, so if you're reading this right now, chances are you're using a phone. Even if you aren't, you probably own one. Most phones have a built in calendar and reminders app. If you want to be productive and actually get stuff done, these two are going to be your best friends from now on.
- Figure out what you want to do or start
- Figure out what day and time of the week you are free
- Put into your calendar the task you want to do on the determined time
- Set the repetition to be weekly
- Set the reminder to come 30min to 60min before the determined time
- When the time comes… do it!
You can also do this with a physical calendar or planner. There are many out there that accomplish this task and are even built for the sole purpose of helping with procrastination. The only caveat I have about physical planners is that you have to remember to check them (whereas for phones, you probably constantly check them anyways.)
That's honestly all there is to productivity. Setting aside a time and day where you want to do a task, setting up a reminder system, and then committing to do the task. It seems so simple and you might think that it's the same as just saying “ah I'll do it sometime” yet there are literal books written on the exact topic of how willpower alone does not work.
Why People Don't Do It
I can't read minds, but I know how I feel whenever I put something into my calendar and I suspect that some of you might feel the same way.
Oftentimes, the negative feelings resemble fear and apprehension. As soon as I write it down, schedule a time for it, and set a reminder for it, whatever I scheduled just became real. It's no longer a fantasy that's floating around in my head; it's a tangible thing that I have a set time to do. And that can be scary for two reasons.
1. It's scary because we need to commit to something. As soon as you write down what you want to do and have a scheduled time for it, the responsibility all of a sudden falls on you. You can't say “I don't know what to do” because you've got it written down in your planner. And you can't say “ahh I don't have time to do this” because you scheduled it ahead of time. Planning ahead and committing to something removes all of the backdoors and excuses that you could have used had you not. Now, you have nobody to blame but yourself for not getting the thing done. And that can be scary.
2. It's scary because we might fail. If you plan to do something and actually do it, there is always the possibility of failure. You might not get what you want out of it. Or it might turn out worse than you expected.
In regards to the first fear, if it's something that you really want to do, my recommendation would be to muster up the courage to put it into your calendar and commit to it. Because yes you now have to take on the responsibility of doing it, but isn't that such a better alternative than sitting on the sidelines and watching other people do what you want to do?
For the second one, I might sound a little cliché but you only live once. You only get this one life and then you die. Dead, nothing, no more. Even if there's an afterlife, you won't get to live THIS ONE again. So why spend it waiting around and playing it safe? Isn't it better to try and fail than to not try at all?
Learning how to get stuff done as a student can be hard. You have tons of stuff already on your plate and lots of assignments. That's why I'm suggesting that you try it for only a month or two. Apply this idea of doing something full-time or part-time to everything that you actually want to get done for just a month or two. Get out a planner and schedule reminders for the next 2 months. Then, you can stop if you'd like.
The reason that I'm only prescribing 2 months is because research suggests that it only takes 21 days to form a habit. After 2 months, you'll have formed somewhat of a habit for scheduling things in your life. Hopefully, you'll see the benefits of committing to something full-time or part-time. If you don't and hate it after two months, then don't worry, you can drop it: this strategy wasn't meant for you. But if you end up liking it and feeling more productive, then by all means, continue to apply this in your life and I'm sure you will see some impressive results.
How to Get Stuff Done as a Student
The secret on how to get stuff done as a student is to commit to either doing something full-time or part-time. In today's post, you've been shown what exactly that means. On top of that, you've also found out about the various resources that could help you, and the benefits of actually following through. Try it for a little bit and see how much more time you'll free up and how much more productive you'll feel. Your future self will thank you later.
Thanks for reading “how to get stuff done as a student”! I hope you learned something from the post and feel motivated enough to apply some of it. To learn about how to build income opportunities as a student, head over to this post here. For more about me, head over to this link here. Finally, if you want to get exclusive updates and tips, drop your email in the “get updates” box (might have to scroll up a bit)! Let me know your thoughts and suggestions in the comments!
Jeff is a current Harvard student and author of the blog Financial Pupil who is passionate about learning, living, and sharing all things personal finance-related. He has experience working in the financial industry and enjoys the pursuit of financial freedom. Outside of blogging, he loves to cook, read, and golf in his spare time.