The summer is drawing to a close and school is here once again. Instead of dreading your return, start preparing now for your most productive semester yet. Here are 10 tricks for doing just that.
10. Start Off on the Right Foot
Transitioning your brain from “summer fun” mode to “productive work” mode can seem like a daunting task. If you want to set the stage for a good semester, though, you need to start off on the right foot: hit the ground running on day one (or even before). Get good rest, eat right, but most importantly, get to your classes early and plan your week before the year kicks off. The more organized you are on day one, the better off you’ll be the rest of the semester.
9. Stock Up on (Quality) Supplies
August is the best time to stock up on school supplies, but what do you really need? Check out Lifehacker‘s guide to tech essentials for your first year, Gizmodo’s back-to-school list of gear and apps, and the Wirecutter’s extremely detailed guide on the best supplies in every single category. Also: know what you need to buy now, and what you can wait for (when prices drop or after you take stock of what you need). You’ll be a lot better off if you do.
8. Use Your Student Discounts
As you stock up for the year, whether it be on tech, school supplies, or software, remember to use those student discounts. Often, the best discounts come straight from your student union, but you can get a ton of things cheaply with a .EDU email address too (including some web services).
7. Prepare for Dorm Life
If you’re headed off to college or boarding school, you’ve got more than just school to worry about: you’ve got the dorms as well. Luckily, living in the dorms isn’t bad as long as you know how to manage it. Make sure you’re using your space well, especially when it comes to your cramped desk. Learn the art of being a good roommate (and, if you have a horrible roommate, learn how to deal with them effectively). Make good use of your RA (seriously, you hear it a lot but it’s totally true) and—perhaps most importantly of all—master the art of low-effort cooking for those late-night study sessions.
6. Master the Art of Speed Reading
You’re going to have a lot of reading to do this year, and the faster you can absorb that information, the more efficiently you can study. If you want to read faster, stop saying the words in your head as you read and focus on the words in the middle of sentences. (Some prefer using the third word rule or clustering words together—find what works for you). If you want a bit of extra practice, try using an app like Speed Reader Enhanced or ZAP Reader.
5. Perfect Your Note-Taking Techniques
Now that you’ve sped up your reading, it’s time to brush up on some of those must-have productivity skills. In school, it all comes down to note taking. You may have worked out a perfect system over the past few years, or your notes may have slowly gotten more convoluted, disorganized, or (in worst cases) non-existent. Check out our back to basics guide on how to take effective notes before the school year starts and be ready for any lecture.
4. Create a To-Do List That Actually Works
Is your to-do list a collection of scribbled notes on Post-Its, notebooks, and three different smartphone apps? Start with a clean slate this semester and make your to-do list doable. Pick the right medium and stick with it, make your tasks simple but actionable, and make sure you actually get stuff done every day. If you follow one method and stick to it, it matters less what that method is—if you deviate too often, no method will be useful to you.
3. Kick Distractions to the Curb
When you’re trying to study, anything can be a distraction—from your friends playing foosball down the hall to Facebook beckoning you to waste time. If you struggle with distractions when you work, it’s time to take some more drastic measures. Audit your time and see where you’re wasting it, and tackle the problem at the source. Friends constantly bugging you? Put on some big headphones and tell them not to distract you. Facebook calling your name? Block time-wasting web sites during study hours. I’ve also found that it helps to program my day with breaks in them—that way, those breaks (and the studying) become habit over time.
2. Save Money on Textbooks
Student discounts may not help you a ton when it comes to textbooks—one of the more expensive supplies—but we’ve got some tricks up our sleeves for those too. Whether you’re buying new, used, or renting textbooks for the semester, check out Lifehacker’s complete guide to saving money on textbooks for some handy tricks. You might also want to check out the five best online stores for cheap textbooks, too.
1. Gather Up the Best Free Software for Students
Your productivity is all about you, but sometimes the right tools can make things a lot easier—especially if you don’t have to spend time finding them. So, as you prepare all your physical necessities, be sure to check out Lifehacker’s Pack for students—they’ve got one for Windows, OS X, Android, and iOS. Inside you’ll find Lifehacker’s favorite apps for taking notes, managing your to-dos, doing research, and more.