Everyone knows these days when you really should or want to study and at the end of the day, you are angry with yourself because you didn’t really get anything done. 

So here are 9 tips to make sure your study day is highly productive:

  1. Have a plan
  2. Do a seven minutes workout
  3. Eat a healthy breakfast
  4. Dress for success
  5. Do the most unpleasant things first
  6. Study during your study
  7. Take breaks and have a walk
  8. Follow simple sleep rules for a perfect rest
  9. Make a new plan

1. Have a plan

This is by far the most important thing! You can be as motivated as you want if you don’t know what you are going to do you will end up doing nothing or just “fun stuff”. Do not let others or events dictate how your time is being spent. The moment you are ready to start your work you must be able to pick the most important item from a list and start doing it. 

This means that the plan should already be there when you get up. Do not start the day by trying to figure out what to do. Therefore I always prepare my ToDo or ToStudy list the evening before. This leaves me with no excuse – pick the first item and start. Another important thing is to have everything ready. If you pick your first item and then need to find a pen, tidy up your desk and fix the broken chair you will most likely not study anything once it is all set up. 

What to prepare

To make sure you are able to get on it right away check the following things:

  •  Your ToDo list is ordered so that the ugliest frog (we will get to that later) is at the top 
  •  You have a tidy quiet place to study (For details on how to set up the perfect desk read my article here)
  •  You have a pen and notepad for quick notes
  •  A list of contacts, helpful people is ready to use
  •  The book you want to read is on your desk, the audiobook is downloaded, the online course is bought and ready to go
  •  You have a study timer of some kind to keep track of your progress and breaks (Like the Pomodoro technique, read my article for more details)
  •  You have set up proper lighting, all the lights work and have the right color (Yes, I also have an article about this)
  •  Digital tools like an office program, mind mapping, backup solution, and a ToDo tracker are installed, licensed and ready to use

How to prepare

There are many Time and ToDo Management Apps and plans out there which in my opinion rather overcomplicate things. Keep it simple. I am using the website Trello for capturing ideas and overall planning. Create simple lists (default is ToDo, Doing, Done) to track your activities. This is the way software is developed nowadays in an agile way and I am glad it finds its way into personal life because it is very effective.

The second tool I use is a huge whiteboard where I visualize the 3 most important tasks for the day. Checking them off once they are done is always gives me a good feeling of having accomplished something.

The third tool is a simple notepad where I quickly write down tasks or additional ideas that come up during my study so I don’t forget them and can quickly move on. At the end of this article, the last item “Make a new plan” explains how to combine these.

2. Do a seven minutes workout

Do this every morning to “push” the sleep out and feel 100% awake. There are many apps that help you to do a 7 minutes workout to get you started for the day. These well balanced seven minutes workouts are supposed to be equal to a full hour training. I don’t know if this is true or not but it doesn’t really matter. Don’t get me wrong, this workout is not to lose weight or build up muscles (A research has shown these workouts burn 105 calories). The purpose of the morning exercise is to get you ready for the day and to kickstart your metabolism so your breakfast is easier to digest. 

3. Eat a healthy breakfast

Never skip breakfast, eat a nutritious healthy breakfast that gives you energy for the tasks in front of you! My recommendation I took from the amazing “The 4 Hour Body” is you get a high protein breakfast (like eggs, cooked ham, cheese, salmon) and avoid the white poisons: Sugar, Salt, and flour. I am doing this for nearly two years now and I need to say I never felt better (and lost quite some weight in the process). If you want to get your weight under control and you haven’t read “The 4 Hour Body” yet go ahead and do it! It was a true lifesaver for me. Everyone I told about it had the same experience! I recommend you go with the full book and not one of these summaries because Timothy Ferris describes all his self-experiments in great detail which I found highly motivating – I lost more than 20 kg with this book and changed the way I eat without starving. The advantage of this low carb method is that you still can eat a lot of super delicious things and there are thousands of recipes to support his methods. Looks like I got off the track a little but I needed to share this because if you worry about your weight or food (or other things for that matter) you cannot focus on your study. Not being hungry and looking forward to the next meal and at the same time losing weight really helped to keep my eye on the ball when preparing for an exam. Check my resource page for links.

4. Dress for success

Once the workout woke you up and the breakfast filled your battery it is time to get dressed. Do not wear your pJ’s and go directly to your desk. Shave, shower and get ready like you would for a day in the office or school. Why is this important? What we put on influences how we act. Getting dressed professionally to study in my perfect study room puts me in a different mental state. This establishes clear boundaries between work or study and my private life. When I am sitting at my desk I need to learn and get things done, the way I dress is a visual reminder of that. My wife recently came in after I redesigned my study room and when she saw me sitting behind my new desk she said: “You look like a boss”. That just felt good.

5. Do the most unpleasant things first

Now it is finally time to get going. Eat that frog! Start with the most unpleasant thing first! If I get the “ugly frog” out of the way first thing in the morning the day is already a success no matter what happens. This feeling of success right at the beginning of the day is a motivation boost for all the tasks ahead. This advice is from the legendary book “Eat That Frog!” from Brian Tracy. Though I read the book I still listen to the audio (which I recommend, you can get it here) as a refresher when I am losing focus on what I should do, everybody gets distracted once in a while. I can honestly say that Brian Tracy and his “defeat procrastination” programs changed my life! I listed the books that helped me on my resource page, take a look if you like. 

6. Study during your study

Do not get distracted by things that are not on your list, do not produce any value or help you to accomplish your tasks. Be aware of those time thieves that try to slow you down. Just a few tips: Learn to say “No” to people who want to steal your time, nobody forces you to go out for lunch for an hour or help anyone at any time and drop whatever you are doing. Definitely help others but do it as part of your plan and not every time someone throws a request at you. This seems easier when you study or work at home but nowadays it is getting harder and harder to fight off time thieves. If that is a problem you have to fight with constantly read my article about how to defeat them.

Switch off distracters like social networks, your phone, emails if possible. You can check all your communications during your breaks. I still remember the time when there was no internet, no chats, and social media and even no cellphones. Quiet times. So here are the things I do (and you should) when I  study with a book or an audio course:

  • Switch your phone to silent or even better place it in another room
  • If you don’t need to research switch off your computer’s wifi
  • Put a sign outside on your door that says: “Please do not disturb me I am studying”
  • When a friend drops by for a chat politely tell him/her that you need to study but you will be free for a chat in the evening
  • When something interrupts you (and it always does) think if it really need your immediate attention. If not write it on your notepad and deal with it later.

7. Take breaks, take a walk

Researches have shown that 30-45 minutes is the most you should would without a break to be most productive. I personally use the Pomodoro method which forces me to take regular breaks and helps me to keep track of my tasks. If you don’t know the Pomodoro technique read this. Basically, your day is cut into small chunks of time during which you have to work on your most important tasks (your Pomodoros (Italian for tomatoes)). You also have to take mandatory breaks, all is controlled by a timer (this is where the name comes from… a tomato-shaped kitchen timer). Try it out, it will boost your productivity and your health. During the small 5 minutes break, you can take your mind off your studies and check your phone or chats. But make sure to get some fresh air! Do not stay at your desk and go to facebook. Move, get up, stretch.

8. Follow the sleep better rules and go to bed early

Make sure that you have a high quality (not quantity) sleep! If you feel tired in the morning and have problems to get out of bed read my article about “Improve your sleep“. If you learn how to improve your sleep quality you can actually reduce the amount of time you need to spend in bed. This gives you as much as 1-2 extra hours every day! Since I am following these sleep hacks I am not only feeling so much better and well rested in the morning but I am getting so much more done. Just think about it – if you could only gain 1 more hour every day you end up with 365 extra hours which is 15.6 days! And these hours are productive hours –  so basically if you have a highly productive day  (due to this article I hope) and you can get 10 hours of work done the sleep hack give you 36.5 extra productive “days”. Crazy isn’t it? Here is a quick list of things you need to do for that extra hour:

  •  Tidy up your bedroom
  • Remove the TV, Desk and other distracting stuff
  • Make sure the temperature is between 18-21 degrees
  • White light in the morning, warm light in the evening
  • No electronic screens 1.5 hours before bedtime
  • Use f.lux or Phillips hue to create the right light scene
  •  No alcohol before bedtime
  • No drinks at all up to 1.5 h before bedtime
  • Don’t eat 2 hours before bedtime
  • Stop drinking soda and/or coffee up to 8 hours before sleep
  • Do not use any kind of sleeping aids
  •  Get up and go to bed every day at the same time
  • Start the day with a morning exercise
  • Get fresh air throughout the day

9. Make a new plan

The last step is to prepare the next day. First of all, go to your Trello page and move all the things from your Doing List to Done. This is always the best moment of my day. The next step is to check your notepad for the interruptions and all the things that came up during your day. Put them in the ToDo column. Now you need to pick some new items from ToDo list and move them over to Doing. Make sure you add an “ugly frog” at the top to tackle right away the next morning. Don’t worry if you didn’t get everything done on the first day you try this new way. After a while you get a feeling of how to estimate tasks. You can always start with a smaller Doing list and if it is empty pick the next item from ToDo. Now what I like to do is to write at least the “frog” onto my whiteboard. When I enter my study room the next day and see the task written there I know there is no escape and it motivates me to get right on it so I can wipe it out.

Related questions

What is the most productive day of the week? Accountemps conducted a study that found out that Tuesday is the most productive day (for employees). And this already for nearly 40 years. Not really surprising is that Friday is the least productive day with the weekend ahead to go out and meet friends. A week before a vacation productivity also decreases and immediately after a holiday when your brain is refreshed you are most productive. In conclusion the best day to deal with the ugliest frog is a Tuesday morning after a vacation.

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Michael Borgers

I’m the author of “How to Sell your Photos Online” and “The Secret of Passing your HSK Chinese Level 1 Exam”. I created a cross-platform App to pass exams, several websites, and I sell photos on Microstock websites. In summary, I’m a passionate passive income freelancer who gave up his 9-5 Job at Hewlett-Packard years ago.

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