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Share your Productivity Secrets!


It’s easy to get distracted on the days I sit and sort through seeds


As many of you grad school newbies have probably noticed and as many of you grad school veterans know, grad school is awesome because you have loads of flexibility and a lot of independence. But with independence and flexibility comes issues with productivity. Of course productivity is an issue beyond graduate school but for myself maintaining acceptable productivity in grad school is one of the hardest things I have dealt with. I have learned a few things about productivity and figured I would share them here.

Your environment is really important. I can’t take work home with me because I know I would never do it. There are just so many more important things to do (like bake a cake, dust the book shelf and best of all…nap)! However some of my friends thrive when they can work from home because it’s quieter, there are less lab mates around to distract them and no student’s knocking at the door. I also find that having a tidy work space helps me work effectively and increase productivity. It’s less overwhelming and much less distracting.

Put the Iphone down or turn it off. Although it seems tempting to check your Facebook notifications (which mostly end up being for Candy Crush Saga), check what your friends are posting on Pinterest (it’s mostly just cute cats and excessively chocolaty cake recipes) or ask Siri what the meaning of life is….it isn’t worth it! I have been experimenting lately with a 55 minute rule. Every day I work for 55 minutes and then look at my phone, work for another 55 minutes and then look at my phone (repeat, repeat, repeat).

Calendars, daytimers, planners, to-do lists….There are lots of different options to help you stay on top and stay productive. There is something about making a list and checking things off that feels so good. I love my calendar and I know Sharday mentioned this before too. If there is a task that I need to do every day, I still write it in the calendar. I start with those tasks and that gets me on a roll, check, check, check. From there it just seems to flow!

Don’t work excessively long hours. I accept that sometimes this is necessary but I find that if you have a goal, activity or engagement of some sort it keeps you on track and working hard during the day. It doesn’t need to be a black tie gala that you look forward to every night. Sometimes the things I look forward to are as simple as taking a trip to the public library to find a new read, meeting a friend for coffee, watching my favourite TV show or baking a cake!

If you’re stuck on something, take a different approach. One thing I have found that really helps is talking it over with someone. Talk it through with your Supervisor, or a colleague or even your parents! Sometimes just hearing yourself state the problem out loud is the first step to coming to a solution!

Have a hobby. You can’t focus on work all the time. Take some time and do something you enjoy. Play a sport, join a club, start volunteering, collect something or take up baking. Just take some time and relax like I talked about earlier this year and as did Rachel!

Hopefully you find some of these suggestions useful. Staying productive is an ongoing battle and sometimes it really is hard. How do you stay productive? If you have any tips we would love to hear from you! Happy Monday everyone!

Note: I have been watching Cake Boss all weekend and as such, the number of times I reference cake in this post exceeds normal limits.



Posted in All, General, New Students, Student Perspective Tagged with: , , ,
5 comments on “Share your Productivity Secrets!
  1. Atif Atif says:

    “Work expands to fit the time available”

    I try to keep my work life to 9-5pm, and in that time I’m focused on working. It keeps my evenings free, but it also means I have to be disciplined. Now, that does vary (busy weeks mean I work later), and I’m fortunate that my work allows me this sort of lifestyle. But I’ve found it invaluable for getting work done and staying on track.

  2. I remember Meredith Dault (former blogger for us) talked about the “Red Tomato” to keep her on track. Basically as you suggested, decide to work in blocks, perhaps 30 minutes, take a break and so on.

    It is also a good time to reflect on balance in life. This will stand you in good stead now and in the future. All work and no play makes Jack & Jill a dull boy/girl!

  3. Karla says:

    I really enjoyed this article. As a second year graduate student, I am more comfortable now with the ambiguous schedule, but it can still be challenging to manage my time effectively. I like the idea of keeping a calendar and checking things off, but I also think it’s important to maintain a level of flexibility (to account for any unplanned events). I also loved the suggestion to talk things over with a faculty member or friend. I definitely agree this can help us to become “un-stuck”. I’m curious, who do “you” (readers of this blog post) usually turn to to discuss things with? Fellow graduate students? Friends? Family?

  4. amandatracey says:

    Hi Karla,

    You are definitely right about the need to maintain some flexibility. That is something I have always struggled with. I book so many things and then when something comes up out of the blue, I struggle to fit it in. Great advice!

    I often turn to fellow grad students or my Supervisor to discuss problems and to be honest it’s usually both. I start with my fellow grad students because I am more comfortable sounding like I have no idea what I am talking about it front of them and they act kind of like a sounding board. It helps me get my ideas together before I go talk it through with my Supervisor.

  5. Rana Pishva says:

    My trick is to use the tomato method, and start the project by starting a documents.

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