What makes students productive?

Students find way to remain productive while fighting off procrastination.

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Leo Sampsell-Jones

MAKE WORK WORTHWHILE. Finding a setting to be productive in can be a process of trial and error. For example, while some may finding the subconscious pressure of having others around to be helpful, others may prefer working alone. “I like being around other people as long as everyone is working because that helps me work,” freshman Grace Medrano said.

Science can bring structure to the art of working efficiently, because there’s only so much time in a day. Whether it’s the time of day or the environment, different strategies can help maximize an individual’s productivity. While some factors may just be preferences, other natural effects can also provide scientific benefits to all people.
One of the biggest issues most students face is overcoming procrastination. While procrastination abounds among students, it ultimately comes down to how the brain works. A study from Ness Labs found that the limbic system (which processes unpleasant situations to avoid) often overpowers the prefrontal cortex (where decisions are made); this makes the decision to do what feels good at the moment instead of working.
Procrastination can put the pressure on students to get work done, even though it often appears as worse on paper. “I would say I am an active procrastinator […], and putting off work also gives me more motivation to do it later,” sophomore Humza Murad said. “Procrastination gives me a reason to be more efficient when the time comes.”
Similarly to Murad, freshman Grace Medrano procrastinates regularly and later completes tasks in one go. “Sometimes I procrastinate to the extent where I just have to do it and then I chug through it like on Sunday night, which probably isn’t a good habit but it gets all my work done,” she said. However, Medrano also stays organized by making schedules and allotting certain amounts of time to certain tasks.
Although strategies for being productive depend on the individual, one way to naturally test productivity is by following circadian rhythms, which are natural processes that follow a 24-hour cycle. Based on the main sleep-wake cycle, the Harvard Business Review found that a person’s alertness peaks around 3 P.M. and 6 P.M., and fluctuates between those times. Following natural energy levels can maximize performance when harder tasks are completed during a period of high alertness.
However, busy schedules often do not allow for students to follow circadian rhythms to the dot. Instead, smaller and more frequent ultradian rhythms can be used to boost productivity regardless of the time of day. “I usually do not sit down for more than 90 minutes at a time because my brain starts drifting off, so I take short breaks in between work to reset,” Murad said. The peak of productivity during an ultradian rhythm cycle is actually around 90 minutes, with ten or fifteen minute breaks when energy is depleted, according to Blue Zones.
Another general way to improve productivity is to find a setting that fits personal requirements to be able to focus. Senior KK Welsh does most of her work in her room because of its quiet and comfortable atmosphere, while using strategies that motivate her. “Generally I am pretty self-motivated eventually, but I definitely tell myself that I can do things like getting ice cream from the freezer after I finish an assignment,” Welsh said. On the other hand, freshman Grace Medrano enjoys working around others as long as everyone is focusing on being productive, so a study environment she frequents is the library.
Factors such as the environment and time of day can vary from person to person. However, quality of life improvements such as air quality, light, and temperature can still apply to different lifestyles, no matter the setting. Even the color of a workspace can have a positive effect; according to Entrepreneur, calm greens and blues can improve focus, while yellow can help with forming ideas.
Even though it may be a trial-and-error process to find out what strategies work or don’t work for an individual, lifestyle improvements are relatively easy to maintain and can be beneficial for everyone. On top of that, finding a rhythm that works can improve productivity outside of school as well. Try out some different reward systems, organization techniques, or setting switches, and see how science can maximize work output.