Strategies to increase your productivity, maintain your motivation, and achieve your goals
Welcome back to the Spring term! Starting a New Year is when most people make New Year’s resolutions to make positive changes and achieve their goals. Why is this time so significant for change? It may be because starting a new calendar year can feel like turning a page allowing us to make a fresh start. This is the opportunity to let go of thoughts about what we didn’t do last year.
This is the time to review what is important and decide what goals to focus on. For example, focusing on making changes to daily routines and prioritising those tasks that will lead to achieving your goals.
Are you finding it difficult to maintain your motivation to complete assignments?
It is likely that during the busy academic term you have several assignments to work on and that need to be submitted soon. Are you finding it difficult to get started? Are you waiting to feel like writing your assignment, or do you feel you need to do more research? Perhaps you have several tasks and not sure which one to do first?
Do you feel that you want to get your work done, but wonder whether your efforts will produce the results you want?
It is common to have these questions when doing academic work, particularly when deadlines are approaching.
Take a moment to consider why you go to lectures, go to your part-time job, watch a TV programme, or read this blog post. You probably will notice that you have a variety of reasons underlying your decision to engage with any activity.
So, how do we decide what to do with our time, our capacity to pay attention and our energy?
CREATING NEW RELATIONSHIPS AT UNIVERSITY
When moving to a new place to go to university everything is likely to feel very different. This may be particularly noticeable if you just arrived from a different country. But the environment may not be what you notice the most, it is likely that your attention is on the people around you hoping to make new friends.
Now that you have been a few weeks at university, or perhaps you are returning after a period away from your studies, you may be wondering whether you can make friends with your flatmates or other students in your classes.
To all new students welcome to the University of Reading, and welcome back to all of you who are returning to continue with your studies. Well done for your efforts and achievements to get to this point. And to those who took resits, well done too for your efforts to make progress.
Those of you who are about to start a new course this may be the first time that you are away from home and living independently. Some of you may be coming to university as a break from work to improve your career opportunities and are looking forward to learning about your chosen subject. At the same time, it may feel a bit strange to be a student again. And some of you may have travelled a long distance from your home country to come to study in the UK.
Strategies to revise for resits
You may be preparing for one or more exams in the next few weeks. Perhaps you are feeling frustrated that you have to spend part of your summer holiday revising for resits instead of taking a break from academic work.
It can be difficult to concentrate on your studies when comparing with others who are not taking exams this summer. You may also be concerned about how things will turn out for you, and whether you will pass your modules to continue on to the next academic year. It is understandable that you may have these thoughts and feelings, particularly if you feel you worked hard during the year. Unfortunately, sometimes things do not work out as we hoped despite our efforts, and as a result you may be wondering what you can do differently to improve your results.
Sometimes, despite our continued efforts, we do not achieve the results we want. We may see this as failure.
“One of the greatest problems people have with failure is that they are too quick to judge isolated situations in their lives and label them as failures. Instead, they need to keep the bigger picture in mind.”
Mistakes happen, and any one of us can make them. When we make mistakes, or when things go wrong we can feel disappointed, frustrated, upset, or experience a mix of emotions. At first it may be difficult to look beyond the mistake so we tend to focus on what went wrong and overlook the wider context. Having a wider perspective on the situation can allow us to find alternative ways of solving the problem, so that we can eventually achieve our goals.
In part 1 we looked at making mistakes and the meaning of failure. In this section we will focus on what you can do to manage situations where things don’t work out how you hoped.
“Focus on the possibility of change, to get unstuck and make progress. When you doubt
your abilities focus on the belief that you can manage the situation. It is OK not to be
How to manage fear of failure and find ways to get on with tasks?
Review and manage expectations of Perfectionism:
Perfectionism triggers further tension as it creates unrealistic expectations, which if not achieved exactly can cause significant distress. The associated negative thinking that comes with unrealistic expectations undermines our hope, and changes our behaviour – we are less likely to make efforts to persevere with our tasks (Ben-Sahar, 2009).
Exercise for body and mind:
“ If there were a drug that could do for human health everything that exercise can,
it would likely be the most valuable pharmaceutical ever developed.” (Tarnopolsky, 2016, cited in Oaklander, 2016)
Health professionals are increasingly recommending, based on scientific research, that we should all exercise because it is good to restore and maintain our health. Regular exercise has significant benefits for our body and mind: it lowers the risk of developing diseases such as heart problems, diabetes and high blood pressure.
It also helps to build and strengthen bones and muscles, as well as strengthens our immune system. Physical activity increases our aerobic capacity strengthening our lungs and helping to keep our bodies well oxygenated. In addition, it helps to boost our metabolism and maintain a stable weight (Ratey &Hagerman, 2010).
Why do we do the opposite of what we want to do?
We tend to behave against our intended plans such as working on assignments because we may have worry thoughts anticipating the result will not be as good as we want it to be, or perhaps because we think what we are doing is wrong. Sometimes we think there is only one right way to do it, or believe that we shouldn’t make mistakes.
When thinking like this we can feel discouraged and then we are likely to stop working on the task because we don’t feel confident we can do it well. It could also be due to having a feeling of aversion because we think it is too hard so we delay getting on with our work.
What is willpower and how can we develop it?
Willpower is having a sense of personal agency. It refers to our ability to delay gratification and focus on the task because we want to achieve a long-term goal. However, if we are tired it will be difficult to maintain our efforts. Also, it may be more difficult to focus on the task when there are a number of immediate distractions. To make progress we need to maintain our energy level and manage or remove the distractions (Baumeister, 2011).
We can create a mental representation of the goal we want to achieve (think about each step leading to your goal) and create our own self-instructions (Mischel, 1996). For example describing the process – a series of steps to get the task done – so that we know in detail what we need to do from step to step.