Ask LH: How Can I Stay Motivated And Finish My School Work?

Ask LH: How Can I Stay Motivated And Finish My School Work?

Dear Lifehacker, Recently, I’ve been too bored or unmotivated to do my school assignments. No matter how hard I try to actually focus on it, after a half hour, my mind tells me “No more! Let’s take a break!” I’m not sure why these productivity techniques aren’t working for me. Is there a way to actually get past this “not wanting to work” mentality? Sincerely, Fun Motivated

Dear FM,

A lack of motivation to finish school work (or just work in general) is a tough nut to crack, and there are all kinds of possible reasons why you might struggle with staying motivated after you start. A lot of different things can kill your motivation, so let’s take a look at a few possible ways to diagnose and fix the problem.

Take Care of Yourself

Ask LH: How Can I Stay Motivated And Finish My School Work?

Before we say anything else, we’re going to say the obvious: get enough sleep and eat well. This isn’t anything new, but we know students are particularly bad about these points (we were students once too), and they can really wreak havoc with your productivity.

The good news is that you don’t necessarily need more sleep, you just need better sleep. Once you get that, the rest falls into place nicely. Likewise, you also need to eat well. Chances are you don’t have a lot of money to do that, but learning to make a few dishes at home can save you a lot of money. Even if you hate cooking, you have options for healthy foods.

Recalibrate Your Daily Routine

Ask LH: How Can I Stay Motivated And Finish My School Work?

We all have a limited amount of willpower, and we have a hard time staying on task once that’s used up. If you’re trying to study and finish school work after a day of classes, you might need to change up your schedule so you can do your homework when you can concentrate.

Your body has optimal times throughout the day where you’re more focused and able to work than others. The trick here is to figure out when you’re most productive with schoolwork and then program your day around that. When your day is scheduled properly you should be able to focus on your work a little easier.

It will likely take a little trial-and-error before you’re comfortable with your schedule, so don’t expect it to work overnight. We’re all a little different, so your most productive times of the day might not be what you expect. Once you’ve figured it out, you can schedule your classes and study times a bit better.

Change Up Your Learning Styles

Ask LH: How Can I Stay Motivated And Finish My School Work?

At some point in your career at school, you’re bound to get a little too comfortable with your learning or note-taking techniques.

We’ve talked before about the importance of knowing how you learn best and that transfers over equally to working on your homework. You want to make sure the work you’re doing is relevant to your interests (as much as it’s possible in school) and try to learn by doing whenever possible.

If you’re struggling to get through your homework, it might simply be because you’re not making it worthwhile to yourself. For example, if you need to write an essay, make sure you choose a topic that really matters to you. If it’s not working, don’t be afraid to ditch it entirely and try something new. Doing so should help motivate you a little more.

Likewise, knowing exactly how you learn can help you find new methods to try to motivate yourself. Change up your style based on the class, subject and assignment until you find a method you can really focus with.

Play Around with Different Productivity Methods

Ask LH: How Can I Stay Motivated And Finish My School Work?

There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all productivity system, but if things aren’t working out for you then it’s beneficial to keep messing around with different productivity systems until something clicks. You don’t necessarily have to adhere to one method specifically, but remixing your own system is easy to do. Since you’re having trouble concentrating for longer than 20 or 30 minutes, the Pomodoro technique sounds right up your alley. It uses a timer and gives you short, 25 minute bursts to work through. When you finish, you take a short break before starting again.

The real trick here is to avoid wasting time on over hacking everything. Find the tools and tricks that work for you, and stick to them. In your case, nothing is working, so you’ll need to keep searching until something clicks. Don’t be afraid to try completely different things. If working from home isn’t doing the trick, try a cafe or even outside.

Assess Your Level of Burnout

Ask LH: How Can I Stay Motivated And Finish My School Work?

If you’re feeling unmotivated to do everything and it’s not just a few homework assignments here and there, then it’s a good idea to think about potential burnout. We’ve talked a lot about burnout before and while it seems like a lazy complaint, it’s a very real problem that you have to consider.

Burnout can come from all kinds of sources. From school itself to a move into a new dorm room, you’re going to get exhausted at some point. If there’s an obvious source of the problem, do your best to eliminate it. If not, try and pinpoint where you might be getting burned out from. With something like school, you don’t have a lot of options to change the situation, but you can at least acknowledge that you need to take a break in some way.

For a student, burnout comes from all kinds of places, and it’s hard to really pinpoint the problem. US News has a number of great tips for dealing with study burnout, including scheduling in socialising, finding alternate sources of income, and finding classes that fit your schedule better. However, their big takeaway is that most students really need to know when to call it a day:

While the correlation between sleep and productivity is different for all, a consistently low baseline could catch up to you at some point. Far from a night owl, Galvin notes that once 10:00 p.m. hits, he’s reached his limit. “If you’re going to be doing work that’s very important on very low sleep, you’re going to be careless,” he says.

So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed and burned out with school, it’s probably time to take a break of some kind. As counter-intuitive as it might sound, the more distance you give yourself from your school work the more productive you’ll be in the long run.

Essentially, you need to accept the fact that things aren’t working for you, and try something new. Whether it’s a new learning style, a new notes system, more sleep, or a whole new productivity method, you’re in need of some kind of change. Unfortunately, it might take a little while before you figure out exactly what you need, but once you do you’ll hopefully settle back into a productive schedule. You’re already getting past the hardest step, which is just getting started. Now you need to keep that momentum going.

Cheers Lifehacker

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Photos by Andry Shadlin (Shutterstock), Mike Coughlin, wouldpkr, Sadie Hernandez, Deb Stgo, Andy Roberts.


  • I play video games to get me through study.

    I will roughly say, ‘I want to get this done by this time and then i’ll play some BF3.’

    Usually I never get it done by that time, but I then keep on working until it’s done. I then play some BF3. I then go back and do some more in the same fashion.

    Of course this works when you aren’t under pressure to finish an assignment for the next day.

  • The problem with BF3 is that it’s just so addictive. You can tell yourself “One match and then I’m out” and before you know it, you’ve just unlocked the M98 and USAS12 with all the good accessories.

    As for getting good sleep, I try not to do anything strenuous just before bed like exercise, study or games like BF3 – it seems to take ages to wind down and get to sleep.

    I’m surprised the article didn’t mention just how beneficial exercise is for focus and study, aside from the whole health and boost to your energy and stuff, it really helps to have a routine that includes a trip to the gym or a long arse walk.

    It’s also possible you have ADHD….

  • Does anyone know the title of the book featured in the picture under the heading “Change Up Your Learning Styles”?

  • is that photo under ‘take care of yourself’ in hub central at Adelaide Uni? the colour / layout looks identical

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