Most of the UK has been plunged back into Tier 3 lockdown rules and we have now heard the news of a mutated strain of the COVID-19 virus that could be the cause for increased infections in the south of England. There are already restrictions for University Students, and with this news, we can only imagine that university life may be disrupted for a little while longer.
The “new normal” may change how you study. If you are used to studying in large groups, this will change. Late nights in a comfy bar with friends to let off some steam after a long study session? Also gone.
So, what can you do as a student to help yourself stay productive whilst you study? We have put together a list of the top 6 tips we would recommend for everyone finding it hard to adjust.
1. Circadian Rhythm Cycles: Wake Up With The Sun
We put this at number one because we felt it was an essential one that many people may overlook today. If you have to self-isolate during this time or if you find that some components of your classes are online, you may find that you have a lot of time at home alone.
It is too easy to fall into the habit and trap of “doing all-nighters”, having a lay-in in the morning or snoozing the alarm for that extra 20 minutes.
To begin with, it feels great, you are your own boss now, right?
If you continue in this way, you will notice that as the days go on, those lay-ins get later and later, and those innocent snoozes turn into an alarm clock that never gets set at all. Your circadian rhythm is your body’s internal process that manages a range of things, such as your sleep-wake cycle. Many people refer to this as their “body clock”.
It is a known scientific and biological fact that when these circadian rhythms are disrupted, especially with regards to the sleep-wake cycle, mental health is affected too.
In a 2020 cited review by Walker et al. called “Circadian rhythm disruption and mental health” the authors state that:
“A bidirectional relationship exists between mood disorders and circadian rhythms. Mood disorders are often associated with disrupted circadian clock-controlled responses, such as sleep and cortisol secretion, whereas disruption of circadian rhythms via jet lag, night-shift work, or exposure to artificial light at night, can precipitate or exacerbate affective symptoms in susceptible individuals.”
So what can you do to work with your natural circadian rhythms?
It is simple. Go to bed when it gets dark and wake up with the sun. This is the best way to restore your body’s natural “clock” which alone can help boost your mood and make your mental health more manageable.
Walker et al. also confirmed that:
“A meta-analysis of 11 studies concluded that night shift workers are 40% more likely to develop depression relative to daytime workers” (nature.com)
The biggest problem we face in the West is that we are always glued to screens. Screens give off artificial light that has a lot of the blue light spectrum in it. This is not good for our circadian rhythms as the blue light given off by the screens resembles natural light to the body, thereby artificially tricking the body to think it is still daylight.
This blocks melatonin production which, when released from the pineal gland, prepares the body for sleep. Melatonin plays a wide range of other roles within the body too, which is why the proper production of it is vital.
Melatonin may have a positive effect on both angiogenesis (the creation of new cells) and wound healing. More on that here: (ResearchGate)
“This pleiotropic molecule has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anticoagulopathic properties in addition to its endothelial protective effects” (ncbi)
Melatonin regulates a lot of processes within the body as stated in a 2005 review by Dubocovich and Markowska named “Functional MT1 and MT2 melatonin receptors in mammals”
“MT1 melatonin receptors modulate neuronal firing, arterial vasocon-striction, cell proliferation in cancer cells, and reproductive and metabolic functions. Activation of MT2 melatonin receptors phase shift circadian rhythms of neuronal firing in the suprachiasmatic nucleus, inhibit dopamine release in retina, induce vasodilation and inhibition of leukocyte rolling in arterial beds, and enhance immune responses” (Pubmed)
In simple terms, Melatonin production is essential! It will help to keep your nervous system, circulatory system and immune system working correctly, whilst preparing the body for sleep, which takes the body into a relaxed state, further promoting healing and repair.
2. Get into a Routine
You may have probably experienced this; when you feel comfortable, you know where you are, and you know what needs to be done at that moment, you feel more at ease? Is this true for you?
Well when you are more at ease, naturally, you are more productive too.
Let’s look at why routines are essential to staying productive whilst studying at home:
- They give you a sense of purpose
A routine can give you a sense of purpose and give some certainty when there may be uncertainty in the world around us. For many, uncertainty will lead to anxiety and worry, so having a routine can combat that somewhat.
- They help to reduce stress
A solid routine can help you manage stress levels as there is less to think about and remember. If you are studying from home, you probably have a huge to-do list (also in the list!) of things that you need to complete. Sometimes, without a routine in place, we can become a slave to the to-do list and forget to take breaks, eat lunch/dinner and do those little things that keep us energised and able to complete that list.
- Allows us to focus on what is important to us
Same as with the point above about reducing stress, if you have a whole host of things to achieve in the day, a routine is vital. Without a routine that defines you must take time for something important to you, you may work yourself into the ground and forget to do those important little things that are just for you. You must do this.
- Help you form new positive habits
This is where the opportunity lays. By having a routine, you can start to form new positive habits that will help you in the long run. Your routine could include walking each day, stopping to refocus and meditate, or maybe hitting the gym before lunch. Oh, and let’s not forget, forming the positive habit of going to bed and waking up with the natural cycles of the sun!
I have found the timing of these activities to be the best way to stick at them.
If you realise an activity will only take 20 minutes to do and it’s a positive action, it’s justifiable. The fact that I probably spend more than 20 minutes a day wasting time scrolling through my phone, stopping to do this new action is not a problem. From this, I have realised that it only takes me 4 minutes to make healthy oats in the morning! Win!
3. Listen to music
This is a given! I will not have to share quotes, studies and findings on this one. We all have a playlist that makes us feel great; we all have a playlist that helps us clean, focus, get stuff done, right?
With good reason, music is one of the only mediums that enters directly into the limbic system of the brain (also known as the “reptilian brain” or the “emotional centre”) and is acted upon directly. In comparison, when you have a conversation, this is intellectually dissected by the Hippocampus before it passes through to your limbic system.
Always, always, always have specifically selected music that arouses a response in you to help manage your mental health and stay productive whilst studying from home. This is definitely a top tip!
4. Write a to-do list
We touched on to-do lists briefly above, but to-do lists really will help you stay productive whilst studying and needing to get things done promptly.
A to-do list will help to give your day some structure. You can roughly tell how long some of the items on your list may take, which can fall into your daily routine. This will give you uninterrupted time during the day where you can get your list items done without feeling guilty or worried that something else isn’t getting done.
Be committed that if it is in your daily routine or to-do list, it will get done.
It is always advisable to put the most important tasks towards the top of the list so you can tackle these first each day. If you get to the end of the day and have not completed your to-do list, those unfinished items go to the top of tomorrows list.
Back to those fantastic internal chemicals… a to-do list will also get the dopamine flowing too!
Dopamine is a “feel-good” chemical that is responsible for the feeling of motivation and achievement. Dopamine is released when working towards a goal (such as working on an item on your list). It is also released when we achieve said goal (such as crossing the item off of your list).
5. Eat well
We have done an entire article on managing your mental health, in which we talk in a great deal about all the nutrients your body needs and how to get them to ensure you are operating at your peak.
This is essential for sound physical, mental and emotional wellbeing as a whole. If you are not feeding your body the correct nutrients, you are fighting an uphill battle when it comes to productivity and managing your mental health.
We go into a lot more detail on this subject in our article: “Top 5 tips for managing mental health during lockdowns”
6. Make time for exercise
In the scientific literature, there are many studies and reviews with links between productivity and exercise. Out of all of the points, this is probably the most well-known. Below are just a handful of the findings available on the subject.
A clinical trial performed by the Body-Brain Performance Institute found:
“Among 201 volunteer respondents (67 per cent female, mean age 38.2 years), mood improved on ExD*, pre‐to‐post exercise (all p<0.01). Performance indicators were higher on ExD, versus NExD (all p<0.01), independent of exercise specifics and workload. Positive changes in performance outcomes were almost exclusively linked to changes in mood. Inductive analysis of focus groups revealed 13 (of 17) themes exhibiting positive outcomes. Employee tolerance and resilience were central to the subjective findings.” (emerald.com)
*ExD = Exercise Day
Exercise has been proven to increase energy levels too, which in turn help with increasing productivity and concentration. You can read the full article titled:
“Forget so-called “energy drinks.” A new analysis by University of Georgia researchers finds overwhelming evidence that regular exercise plays a significant role in increasing energy levels and reducing fatigue.”
Here: Science Daily
There has also been a lot of information published about how exercise can affect your mood. Well, happier people are also more productive as found by Professor Andrew Oswald, Dr Eugenion Proto and Dr Danial Sgroi at the Department of Economics at the University of Warwick. They state:
“Companies like Google have invested more in employee support, and employee satisfaction has risen as a result. For Google, it rose by 37%, they know what they are talking about. Under scientifically controlled conditions, making workers happier really pays off.”
More on that can be found here: Warwick.ac.uk
…and the studies continue on! It is safe to say that making time for exercise pays off immensely.
Those are our top 6 tips for increasing productivity whilst working from home. As a recap:
1. Wake up with the Sun (work with your circadian rhythms)
2. Get into a routine
3. Listen to music
4. Write a to-do list
5. Eat well
6. Make time for exercise