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Productivity Tips for the New Year 

We know what you are thinking…  you could’ve used these tips before finals. Sorry, we had finals too! 😉 However, we wanted to share some tips that will help you succeed in the new year. Grad school is a ton of work, and even more so for those who have full time jobs and other responsibilities. We all know how important good time management is, yet we keep making the same mistakes (are we masochists?) like procrastinating until the very last minute, while getting distracted and underestimating how long things will take. These are some of the practices we have personally adopted, and hope they’ll help you too! 

  1. Do the hardest task first

A tip from Ryan Holiday’s book “Discipline is Destiny,” that when you tackle the hardest task first, it saves you from the agony of having to think about it all day. It frees up space in your mind that in turn makes you more effective at whatever else you need to do. It not only makes you more productive, it is also a form of self-care by alleviating the rumination over your overwhelming to-do list. 

  1. Focus on one thing at a time

This has to do with the power of concentration, pouring your attention into a single task for an extended period of time is far more productive than working on it for a few minutes, turning to something else, then coming back to it. Getting “in the zone” takes time and if you were to add up the time it takes you to get back in that state after each time you pull yourself out, you’ll realize how detrimental distractions are. The famous “Pomodoro Technique” is a formal version of this method, and you can find online 25-minute tomato-shaped timers (pomodoro means tomato in Italian) that help by keeping you on track. With a pomodoro timer, you set aside your phone and all distractions for 25 minutes, and are then rewarded with a 5 minute break. Rinse and repeat, and before long you’ll find you’ve knocked out so much more of your work by setting feasible and focused time blocks. 

  1. Deep Work

To really maximize those 25 minutes of a pomodoro timer, we recommend practicing deep work. A term popularized by Cal Newport, deep work is the state of working on something with absolutely zero distractions, so one can maximize their brain’s potential. This also equips you with the capability of producing meaningful and high quality work that is becoming increasingly rare and valuable in today’s world. 

  1. Understanding “Parkinson’s Law” 

Parkinson’s Law is the idea that a task will expand to fill the time you have allotted to it, and increases procrastination. Tim Ferris discusses this in the “The 4-Hour Workweek.” This term originates from a 1955 Economist article,  in which the author tells the story about an elderly woman taking an entire day to mail a postcard because that’s how much time she had to do it. 

  1. Being mindful of the “Planning Fallacy”  

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the “Planning Fallacy” which I learned in Prof. Walker’s business development class. It is the tendency to underestimate how long something will take due to optimism bias. In our class example, he talked about executives who believe they can close a specific type of deal in weeks despite knowing that similar deals have historically taken months to conclude. According to The Decision Lab, this happens because the subjects fail to assess risks or setbacks properly. 

  1. Writing a to-do list right before going to bed

This one is a personal favorite. Writing your to-do list before going to sleep helps you hit the floor running in the morning by removing the friction that comes with deciding what to do first. You wake up and you already know what you are doing, and you’ll experience less paralysis in deciding what to first tackle. As an added bonus, a study showed that writing a to-do list before bed helps offload the thoughts associated with the tasks and therefore also help you fall asleep sooner. Read more here.

  1. Exercise

We cannot stress this one enough – move your body! Any movement will do, but especially those that get your heart rate up and clear your mind, like a brisk walk, yoga, or a HIIT workout, will improve your concentration, energy levels, and make studying for that finance final or writing that paper much easier. In the winter, access hundreds of free workouts on YouTube to do from the comfort of your New York apartment. 

If you have any tried-and-true productivity hacks, e-mail us at oppy@stern.nyu.edu so we can include them in the future. 

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