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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Got your own question you want to put to Lifehacker? Send it using our [contact text=”contact form”].