How to Be More Productive in College (11 Tips)

Posted by Jacob Tuwiner on

Instead of a corny intro, I'm going to tell you a story: 

It was my freshman year of college, and I was taking Calculus 2 for my computer science degree.

Of course, rather than being a productive student and studying responsible and effectively throughout the week, I waited until the last minute.

I started studying for my final at 11 PM the night before, and the exam was at 8 AM the next morning.

I went to bed at 5 PM and woke up a few hours later feeling well-rested. Too well-rested. 

The clock said 9 AM, and I thought "hmm, I guess I got an extra two hours of sleep, that's probably why I feel better than I expected. Now I'm just going to brush my teeth and head to the exam - wait, shit, THE EXAM!"

I overslept a lot. In fact, my exam started an hour ago, across my campus. I sprinted to class, calculator in hand and pencil in the other, wearing my pajamas. It wasn't pleasant.

After bursting through the door out of breath, my Russian professor said with his accent "glad you made it" and handed me the test. 

I caught my breath, sat down, and winged it - somehow I managed a B on the exam with 30 minutes left… 

Now, if you want to avoid, well, doing something like that - or you just want to learn how to be more productive in college - you're in the right place. 

I learned from that experience and was a productive college student thereafter.

Let's dive in! 

Productive Study Tips 

Here are five ways you can supercharge your study session and ace your classes:

1. Put your phone away 

Listen, if you can't do this one simple thing, you're in big trouble. You're distracting yourself every time you check your phone, and it takes at least half an hour to entirely refocus your brain and achieve the 'flow' state where you're most productive.

Phones are addictive by design. In James Clear's book "Atomic Habits" (highly recommended) he outlines the feedback loop of a habit.

Here's how it works:

  1. Queue 
  2. Craving
  3. Reaction
  4. Reward 

Essentially, something triggers your craving, which is the queue. In this case, it's hearing your phone ding. 

Then you get the craving: you want to check your phone. Your reaction is putting down your pencil to check your phone, and the reward is the hit of dopamine you get when you see a like, comment, or match on Tinder. 

And here's another issue with your phone, particularly social media: it's designed to be addictive. In fact, the big tech companies invest millions if not billions of dollars to optimize their platforms for maximum addictiveness. 

Here's why:

Companies like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, etc. make their money from ad revenue. People pay to advertise on their platforms.

The more people on their platform, the more people see ads. And the more people see ads, the more money they make. 

In order to show you as many ads as possible, they hook you on the platform with an insanely powerful chemical called dopamine, which rewards you for taking certain actions.

The psychology of dopamine and social media addiction is interesting, but not the point of this article. 

On the bright side, you can use this system to "hack" your habits and make yourself addicted to productive things. If you're interested in learning more, again, I HIGHLY recommend Atomic Habits. It's an insanely powerful book.

Here's the bottom line: 

The process repeats itself in a negative feedback loop until you become addicted - and this goes for everything.

If you want to study without being distracted and having to constantly re-focus, you should turn your phone off, or put it on airplane mode. 

2. Get out of your cave

One of the biggest queues for a bad habit is your environment. That's why smokers keep smoking when they're around friends, even if they want to quit.

 Or why recovering heroin addicts revert to their old ways after leaving rehab because they're in the same environment at home which triggers their cravings, reactions, and rewards (dopamine). 

So if you find yourself constantly taking 'breaks' from studying to play video games, watch YouTube, or take a nap, you need to design your environment for success. 

This means leaving your room that you associate with relaxing and heading to a place designed for productivity. Going to the library, or even a study room is the best way to train your brain.

When you go to that place, you're in work mode, not relaxation mode. This strategy coupled with a silenced phone is incredibly powerful. 

3. Batch your studying 

Listen, as much as I advocate powerful and productive study habits, I was the king of procrastination throughout school and college.

Rather than periodically studying throughout the week before a test, I'd stay up all night before the test, soak up as much as I could (not much), and wing it.

Yeah, C's get degrees - but that's not we're about here at Club Early Bird. We get sh*t done. And while pulling an all-nighter may work, it's not an optimal way to study, nor is it the best way to retain information. 
Instead, I highly recommend batching your study sessions into bite-sized chunks. This will help you spread the workload throughout your week, which:
  1. Prevents burn out - trying to do a week's worth of studying in one session won't end well 
  2. Maximizes your time - you can only study for a few hours at a time before you stop retaining information 

We'll talk about a few effective ways to schedule your study sessions in the next section. 

4. Don't study with those friends 

Yeah, I know your frat brothers are cool when you're shotgunning tallboys and picking up chicks, but they're definitely not great study buddies.

Here's the deal: 

You're the average of the five people you spend the most time with. If you want to be a bad *ss and get sh*t done, you need to hang out with other bad *sses too. 

When you study with people who aren't serious, it quickly becomes a social hour rather than a study session. You know it's true, we've all been there. 

If you want to be more productive in college, either study by yourself or join a study group that actually gets sh*t done. 

5. Study in the morning 

He who can master his morning will master his life. 

Look, I'm not a morning person. Waking up early sucks. You're tired. You're groggy and grumpy. You want nothing more than to go back to bed. I get it, I've been there. 

In fact, nothing pissed me off more than when my mom sprayed me with water in the morning to wake me up for school. It usually ended with me jumping out of bed, grabbing the bottle, and spraying her back out of anger.

But she got what she wanted, because I was up, out of bed, and now I might as well go to school… 

Looking back, she had a point. The importance of waking up early to get sh*t done cannot be overstated. Those who rise early tend to be the most productive. It gives you the edge you need to kick life's *ss and accomplish your goals. 

I'm sure you'd love to wake up early and be more productive - whether by reading, studying, working out, or meditating - it seems impossible.

We know - that's why we created EarlyBird. Our mission is empowering people like you - people who want to wake up early and get sh*t done but hate feeling tired in the morning. More on that later. 

If you wake up to study - assuming you make use of the 3 secrets to waking up early (more on that below) - you'll be in your most productive state. You'll enter 'zen mode' where you are crazy productive. 

That's why studying in the morning is awesome - you can get it out of the way first thing before you tackle the rest of your day.

For more information on this topic and 7 actionable strategies to help you get started, this post will teach you how to study in the morning without getting tired. 

Productivity Hacks for Students 

Being productive is easier said than done. In an effort to make your life easier (and help you get sh*t done) - here are six ways to be more productive in college:  

1. Make a schedule 

I cannot tell you how powerful a weekly schedule can be for your productivity.

To-do lists are where tasks go but never get done - a schedule, on the other hand, is how productive people accomplish their tasks.

A schedule is more than a to-do list because it's also a game plan. Not only do you know what you're doing, but you also know when you're doing it.

"Schedules suck because I can't do anything fun" is one of the common objections I hear about scheduling. But the funny thing is that it couldn't be further from the truth. 

You see, a schedule allows you to do EVERYTHING you want to do. It's awesome. You can think about your top 2-3 goals, and make a game plan to accomplish them. 

For example, let's say you want to run a mile in under 7 minutes, read a chapter a day for your history class, and play video games with your friends.

You can schedule a time for running, studying, and video games. You know when you're doing what, so there are no more questions. 

We're emotional creatures, and without a plan of attack, it's easy to get shiny object syndrome and change your mind all day long about what you should be doing.

"Oh, I'll do that later, right now I want to watch YouTube". 

But that's not logical, and logic is what moves us forward. If you can front-load your logical decision making at the beginning of the week around what you know you should be doing, it takes the emotion out of the question.

With a schedule, you know exactly what you should be doing, and exactly when you should be doing those things. 

And if you only accomplish half of what you planned, you're still doing a whole heck of a lot better than before.

This video is a big help:

2. Read before bed 

 Yes, reading before bed is productive, but there's a bit more to it than that. Going to bed early is one of the best ways to wake up early, well-rested and ready to tackle the day. 

But it's hard to do that in college, or in any circumstance for that matter, because of your phone. Phones are addicting, and if you're on your phone in bed, it's hard to fall asleep. My college roommate used to stay up all night on his phone and sleep in through his classes. 

Not only is it hard to put your phone down, but the light from your phone or computer screen keeps you up, even after you put it down, and can impact your sleep quality as well. 

Instead, I read before bed. Not only am I learning, but books are SUPER boring compared to your phone. They'll put you to sleep quickly, trust me. I've made it a habit to read one page before bed.

That way the habit is easy to do - reading one page isn't hard, but of course I'll end up reading more than a page. The idea is to make the habit as easy as possible. 

I also make my bed every morning (we'll make an article about that later) because it sets me up for a productive day. After I finish making my bed, I leave my book on my pillow so it's waiting for me when I climb into bed at night. 

This way, it's easy to read a page (and more) before bed. Start reading at a decent hour, and you'll fall asleep before you know it. 

3. Track your time 

Hold yourself accountable - it's easy to say you 'studied for seven hours yesterday', even if six of those hours were spent talking or checking social media.

Use a program like Clockify to track your time for free. Using the time tracking strategy in tandem with scheduling your week will yield insane results.

4. Internalize, Don't Externalize 

If you want to be more productive in college but your efforts and aspirations never seem to come to fruition, you need to internalize your problems, don't externalize them - here's what I mean:

When someone externalizes their problems, they always blame them on other people/things as the root cause.

It's the easy way out. I'm sure you know someone like this. For example, the woman with four divorces who claims all of her husbands were evil.

Maybe they weren't perfect, none of us are - but if you have four separate divorces, you're probably the common link in the chain.

By blaming the other party for your shortcomings, you'll never learn or improve from them, and therefore the same things will happen. 

Conversely, if you internalize your problems, accept responsibility, and create an action plan to change your behavior, you'll be in a far better place

So, if you continuously make plans to get sh*t done, internalize the cause and figure out what YOU can do to make the change you want. 

5. Make a habit tracker 

Again, there's way more information about habit tracking in Atomic Habits (read it and it'll change your life) but the bottom line is habit tracking will make you way more productive. 

Building up a habit takes time (think back to the feedback loop) and you want to do everything in your power to speed up that process. 

So if you want to wake up at 6 AM to study for two hours before your classes start, you can track your habit. Every time you successfully wake up at 8 AM to study, you can make a tick mark in your habit tracker.

This way, you'll see your progress building up, rather than keeping it all in your head. This strategy makes habit-forming far easier, especially when you make the habit easy.

I keep track of my reading habit every night - after I finish reading at least one page of my book, I mark it down in my journal before going to bed. It's nice to see how far you've gone and helps the habit feel more rewarding. 

This is the last time I'm going to plug the book (no, it's not an affiliate link) but if you want to form powerful habits that propel you to excellence, read Atomic Habits by James Clear. 

6. Master Your Morning 

Look, if you want to truly be more productive in college, you have to master your morning. 

Getting up early is the key to getting sh*t done, but it's not easy for non-morning people like me.

But at Early Bird, we've discovered the 3 secrets to master your morning, wake up early without wanting to kill yourself, and get sh*t done. 

3 Keys to Master Your Morning 

Here are the 3 secrets to wake up early and get sh*t done: 

1. Hydration 

You lose more than a pound of water in your sleep from simply breathing, and wake up dehydrated in the morning. This makes it much harder to wake up properly, almost like a car running without gasoline.

Water helps, but we've discovered something else that supercharges hydration… more on that later.

2. Fast-absorbing, Long-lasting Energy

You need energy for both your brain and body to wake up motivated and ready for the day. 

Your brain and body go into offline mode at night, and trying to jumpstart your body without energy is like jumpstarting a car that's sat in the cold all night.

Ain't gonna happen, chief.

3. Mood Enhancement 

Your mood is proven to carry into the rest of your day, which is why enhancing your mood from the beginning is crucial for a productive day. 

If you can knock out all three of these in the morning - hydration, energy, and mood - you're set. That's exactly what Early Bird is made to do.

Here's how: 

Early Bird makes use of the perfect combo of 3 Nootropic Blends that gives your body energy, motivation, and everything else you need to have a kick-ass study session (and day). 

The powerful blend of electrolytes hydrates you insanely fast - it's essentially supercharged water. Early Bird also has a ton of natural, clean energy ingredients from fruit and veggie extracts, which make the snooze button a thing of the past. 

So yeah, you can spend many more months hating your mornings, or you can check out Early Bird by clicking here, wake up early, and get sh*t done.