By Karen Nichols

After a long winter of being cooped up inside, hibernating, you may feel a bit of “spring fever” in the air — that burst of new energy and activity that comes with brighter days and warmer weather. Spring is finally here, but it isn’t summer yet, folks. You still have classes to attend, homework assignments to complete, exams to study for, and all the other extracurricular, community, and work activities on your schedule. How do you maintain your focus when what you really want to do is break free and have some fun?

Learning to manage your time well and stay focused in a sea of distractions are key life skills, not only for high school, but also for college and beyond. When you get to college, you’ll be on your own, with no parents around to make sure you stay on track. This is where many students go off the rails — the excitement of college social life can seem much more interesting than hitting the books.

Of course, you want to enjoy your high school and college years, not just keep your nose in a book all the time. Fortunately, if you manage your time well, it is possible to arrive at a healthy balance between work and play. If you develop strong time management skills now, you’ll not only be more successful in high school, you’ll also be ahead of the game when you reach college.

Following are a few productivity techniques that can help you maintain your focus between now and the end of the school year.

Be the Master of Your Time

You have all the time there is. There isn’t any more. As the old adage says, how you spend your time is how you spend your life. How you use your time is, for the most part, a conscious decision you must make. If you waste an hour on the Internet looking a pictures of LOL cats, or if you let others encroach on your time without any boundaries whatsoever, you aren’t respecting either your time or yourself.

Block off time that you commit to working toward your goals. Mark that time on your calendar or a master schedule you create for the week. Then take steps to protect that time like a dragon defending its treasure.  

Study in an environment with few distractions. Turn off your phone. Take advantage of apps for your computer and mobile devices that are designed to block out distracting technology, such as social media, instant messengers, and your favorite procrastination websites. Many blocking apps are available for free, and new ones are being released all the time. SelfControl (Mac OS X), LeechBlock (Firefox), FocusON (Android), and Cold Turkey (Windows) are just a few examples. Search online for “best apps for blocking distractions” to get reviews of the latest apps in this category.

Some distractions just won’t go away on their own, however — the dog whining to go out, the buzzer on your dryer going off, your toddler sibling demanding your attention RIGHT NOW. Handle the distractions that need addressing so you can get back to work as quickly as possible.

The Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro time management technique was created in the 1980s by Francesco Cirillo, who, as a university student, used a tomato-shaped timer to break down work into intervals. (Podomoro is Italian for tomato.) The idea is that working in short bursts with frequent breaks can help you procrastinate less, lower deadline-induced anxiety, and work for longer periods without running out of steam.

To use this technique, set a timer for 25 minutes and start working. Work without stopping till the timer goes off. Then take a 5-minute break. You’ve just completed one “pomodoro.” Repeat this sequence. For every four pomodoros, take a 15–30 minute break to recharge.

All you need for this technique is any old run-of-the-mill timer, though several free Pomodoro timer apps are available. Check out ClearFocus (Android), Marinara Timer (Web), Tomighty (Mac, Windows), and Flat Tomato (iOS).

The Seinfeld Productivity Technique

This technique, named after comedian Jerry Seinfeld, is excellent for building habits and sticking to a plan. The essence is simple: Choose something you want to do on a daily basis (e.g., study from 7 to 9:00, exercise, practice an instrument, take steps toward a specific career goal, etc.). Each day that you stick to your new habit or work toward your goal, mark it on a calendar. Go ahead — put a big, bold X on there! Over time, you will build a chain of Xs showing your success, with the added motivation to not “break the chain.”

All that’s needed for this technique is some sort of calendar and a way to mark it. Of course, there’s also an app for that — many, in fact. Search for “Seinfeld productivity apps” to find the latest free options. Rewire (Android) and Don’t Break the Chain (iOS) are two of our favorites.

You may have heard that it takes at least 21 days to establish a new habit. Research suggests this is true for simple habits, such as remembering to take your vitamins. More challenging habits may take longer. Whatever habits you are hoping to establish, start with just one or two habits at a time. Use the Seinfeld technique for 21 days, a month, or however long it takes to firmly establish that habit, then start working on a new habit.

Strive for Balance

As the saying goes, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy (and Jill a dull girl). Strive for a healthy balance between work and relaxation. By maintaining a balance, you’ll actually be more productive during your work time. A rested mind is a more focused, agile, and creative mind that can better make connections, retain information, generate ideas, and solve problems. Letting off steam will also help you lower your stress levels (provided you don’t let play time turn into procrastination time, which can turn into deadline panic).

Another productivity technique is to use fun activities as a reward when you complete a task you’ve assigned to yourself. For example, you might say, I’m going to study this chemistry chapter for two hours, then I can play a video game.

What are your favorite methods for managing your time and staying on task? Share your ideas in the comments below, and look for more time management techniques in this space coming soon.

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Advice for College Freshmen: 7 Tips to Ensure Your Student Thrives

College Prep: How Do You Know If Your Teen Is Ready for College?


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