Even the most studious among us can start questioning how to return to a productive state of mind after a lengthy break.
Renewing your focus can be a challenge, but the task’s not insurmountable. You just need to draw upon the core study strategies that have governed your success so far.
Here are a few ways to bring your best habits back to the fore.
Set clear goals to score goals
One of the biggest obstacles to fulfilling a lengthy period of focus is that your objective gets lost in everyday white noise. Too often, we set goals that are vague and unrealistic. For instance, even if you start the year with the bold intention to complete all your readings or start assignments early, it’s easy to lose track when your game-plan lacks structure. Amorphous goals retreat into the mental background.
The trick is to break that giant goal down into small, concrete steps. Identify those things you can do today that will lead to the completion of your main goal.
Define your mission
When it comes to defining your goal, ensure you make it S.M.A.R.T: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-sensitive.
Let’s say you have a three-year-goal in mind, such as landing a great graduate job on completion of your Master’s.
Ask yourself these four questions:
- What’s one thing you can do over the next year to make this happen? It might be to find a suitable internship or work placement that complements your studies. Now you’ve got a big singular goal to focus on for the year.
- What’s one thing you can do over the next month to make it happen? You might decide to squeeze in a Career Expo or attend an industry masterclass to make new employer contacts. Now you have one big singular goal for the month.
- What’s one thing you can do over the next week to make that happen? How about speaking to a Careers and Employability expert to discuss your interests and help map out a career-readiness plan? Now, you’ve got a singular goal for the week.
- Finally, what’s one thing you can do today to make this happen? Your answer might be to look up where the Careers team are based on campus, bookmark the website or decide exactly which day you’re going to drop in.
The answer to this last question is the most important because it forces you to focus solely on the present task. It will centre you, helping you target the one key thing you can accomplish today rather than become overwhelmed by some huge, intimidating challenge.
Pro-tip: Put a few extra minutes aside each morning to plan your day’s attack. Or diarise a quiet moment every evening to review and reflect on how the day’s achievements are leading you towards your major goal. Focus on actions rather than results.
Remind yourself WHY you’re doing this
One of the best ways to beat the post-break blues is to rediscover what motivated you to head down this path in the first place. Identifying what drives you and the values tied up in your end goal may be the best thing to set you back on course.
One popular technique employed by career and study coaches is called ‘motivational interviewing’. At its most basic level it’s like the ‘why game’ you might’ve played as a child, where you keep asking ‘WHY’ until the answer becomes real to you (or you get to the root of the query).
Here’s a conversation you might have with yourself:
Q: Why am I doing a Master’s?
A: To improve my employability.
Q: Why do I want to improve my employability?
A: Because I want a better job.
Q: Why do I want a better job?
A: So I can afford things that will make me happy, stable and secure.
Q: Why do I want to feel more stable and secure?
A: Because it eases my anxiety about the future and gives me something tangible fall back on. It will give my life meaning.
By the fourth or fifth reason, your answers will be less superficial and you’re likely to have zeroed in on your deepest desire. Use this knowledge to propel your study year forward.
Pro-tip: Once you’ve nailed the reasoning behind your life course, write it down or pin it somewhere public to keep yourself accountable.
Harness the tricks and tools that work
This is not your first time at the rodeo. If you’re here now, it’s just a matter of channelling your best, most productive self once more.
Ask yourself: what tried and true strategies produce good study habits in you?
Once you’ve identified some successful strategies, simply slot them back into your daily routine to get you back in a studying frame of mind.
Here are some examples:
- Pick a planner: A great way to get into the right headspace is to start visualising the year ahead. Passion Planners and Bullet Journals are very popular these days – though it may be enough just to head to The Co-Op, pick up a diary and start pencilling in your weekly plan and due dates.
- Take the thinking out of cooking: Download a meal planner. Sign up for a meal delivery service to help during busy periods. You may find it useful to allocate one day a week for batch cooking. That way you can pull ready-made meals out of the freezer on the days when you just need to cram.
- Create a morning routine that energises you: How you start your day has a tremendous impact on how the rest of your day will unfold. Start by unplugging at night and going to bed early. If it helps, hang out your clothes for the next day, the night before.
- Clear physical and digital clutter: Preparing your brain for a fresh start is as simple as giving your space a spring clean. That includes your digital devices too – begin by bookmarking important uni websites.
- Study smart with digital tools: There are loads of productivity hacks available online these days, from ambient noise generators to citation apps.
- Draw a mind map: If you’re the type of person who enjoys organising your thoughts in a visual way that gives you a structure, a mind map might be the thing for you. You can use a mind map to brainstorm and discover your career purpose.
You can get back in the game
Nothing sabotages productivity quite like bad habits, and a lovely lazy summer is a breeding ground for them. Controlling bad habits is critical – not just for productivity’s sake, but for your own health and wellbeing during the university year.
The key thing to keep in mind is that motivation fluctuates. Get back on track by building flexibility into your daily plan in order to harness your natural productivity.
Challenge yourself when you are feeling inspired and take an easier route when motivation is waning – just keep working.
This approach will help you gain confidence, even on the days you’re just not feeling it. Despite being an Achilles’ heel for many of us, there are ways and means to tackle procrastination and get those good habits kick started again.
We look forward to seeing you succeed.