Ask a Professor: 8 productivity tips from K-State professors

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Mary Kohn, associate professor of English, is one of the many educators we asked for advice on time management skills. (Archive photo by Miranda Snyder | Collegian Media Group)

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We all know how it is: after Labor Day, classes start to get real. Homework begins to pile up. The first test is approaching. Maybe there are even papers due.

Before you hit the post-Labor Day homework crisis, here’s some time management advice from our very own Kansas State professors.

1. Make lists

Rosa Terlazzo, assistant professor of philosophy, said making lists is vital to keep track of your tasks.

“For me, this meant making a list at the beginning of the semester of big things (papers, exams, projects, etc.), and making a list every Saturday or Sunday of smaller things (reading to be done, homework turned in, etc.) that needed to get done that week,” Terlazzo said.

“Then, cross things off once you’ve completed them,” she continued. “This helps prevent things that need to get done from sneaking up on you, and lets you see how much you’ve still got to do at any one time. Also, if you’re anything like me, it’s extremely satisfying to check things off your list.”

2. Keep a calendar

Laurie Johnson, professor of political science, said more people should maximize the use of their phone’s calendar.

“Use the device you have really well and get used to having it help you regulate your time,” Johnson said. “You have to really map out your week—put your schedule on your calendar, set it up to repeat, send you reminders, etcetera. I often put extra entries in for special events the day before or set it up so that I get a reminder the day before—’doctor’s appointment at 10:30 tomorrow,’ etcetera.

“In order to use whatever method you have well, you must develop the habit of looking at it first thing every morning—look at your whole day,” Johnson continued. “It’s amazing how often people forget major events just because they have faith that they’ll remember something.”

3. Block your time

Mary Kohn, associate professor of English, said it’s best to schedule your time into hour-long blocks.

“I break projects down into specific steps, estimate the time to complete each step and then set up benchmarks for each of those steps,” Kohn said. “When I add projects to my calendar this way, I’m less likely to underestimate the amount of time I need to complete a task. This helps me make realistic and achievable goals.

“These long term projections can then be incorporated into weekly and daily schedules,” she continued. “Instead of a to-do list, I try to organize by blocks of time according to when I’ll have energy and focus for a task. For example, writing can take a lot of concentration. I tend to write best in the morning, so I reserve the first hours of my day for that task. Lower energy tasks, like reading, might work better during the afternoon slump.”

4. Take a break, dude!

Terlazzo also suggested taking breaks if you think it will help you concentrate.

“Figure out whether you’re someone who is derailed by breaks or energized by breaks, and then plan accordingly,” Terlazzo said. “I’m horribly derailed by breaks, so during undergrad, I committed to getting all of my academic work done between 9:30 and 5. That meant I did basically nothing but read and write and go to class and eat lunch during that period—but it also meant I didn’t get derailed, and that I didn’t have any academic work to do in the evenings or on weekends.

“If you’re someone who needs breaks, then try scheduling them in on your calendar,” she continued. “Make sure you take them when the time comes, but make sure you also end them when they’re scheduled to be over. The idea isn’t that your whole life be scheduled—it’s that you schedule these parts of your life so that you can get through them efficiently, rather than getting sucked into procrastinating. It saves you more time for the other optional and fun things you want to do.”

5. Get moving

Johnson suggests physical activity to keep you focused.

“Recreation and physical exercise need to be scheduled into everyone’s week, so that they don’t happen randomly or happen when the student is supposed to be doing something else,” Johnson said.

6. Set reasonable goals

Anne Phillips, professor of English, said it’s important to keep your goals from shooting too high. She shared advice given by Cheryl Rauh, program manager for K-State’s McNair Program.

“Set reasonable goals,” Ruah had said. “Share goals with an accountability buddy. Use the time you have—do not convince yourself you have to complete a task in one big chunk. Be happy with progress toward it that happens in small chunks.”

7. Pick a study spot

Terlazzo’s last suggestion is to find a place to study and stick with it.

“Do your studying in a designated study place, like the library or a cafe you don’t otherwise hang out in,” Terlazzo said. “Your brain will start associating your work space with work, and you’ll find it easier to focus and get things done rather than procrastinating.”

8. Treat your schoolwork like a job

Chris Sorensen, distinguished professor of physics, said students should study like it’s an occupation.

“If I were to emphasize one thing, it would be that as a university student, you need to recognize that studying is very much a full time job,” Sorensen said. “If you want to add activities to studying, good, but studying comes first. Thus, as far as time management goes: go to class, study about 40 hours per week, have some quality fun, exercise and then possibly add activities.”

Bonus round!

– “Use Chrome Nanny, or some other blocking tool, to keep you focused and off of Twitter while you work.” — Mary Kohn

– “Writing and study groups are another great time management trick because groups create a sense of accountability.” — Mary Kohn

– “Never sit around on your ass and waste time.” — Chris Sorensen

Olivia Rogers is a community editor for the Collegian and a junior in political science. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and the persons interviewed and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to opinion@kstatecollegian.com.

Editors’ note: In an earlier version of this article, a quote was misattributed to Anne Phillips. Cheryl Rauh shared the advice in “6. Set reasonable goals.”

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I’m Olivia Rogers, a junior in Political Science and Prelaw. I enjoy a good cup of coffee, witty television and acoustic music. I write because: “Stories make us more alive, more human, more courageous, more loving.”― Madeleine L'Engle