Top 5 productivity hacks for math students

Friday, September 10, 2021

Person using laptop at a deskIt’s a new academic year. And like with the new year of the regular calendar, it’s a chance to make resolutions and set goals.

For students, getting organized and being more productive is often the goal when starting a new academic year. Students in the Faculty of Mathematics need to be organized and have a productivity system in place. The coursework is demanding, and the deadlines can quickly pile up. Many students find it challenging to catch up if they get behind in their work.

A key to being a more productive Faculty of Math student is to have a purposeful system in place. We have lots of resources for students to get organized and to support learning, so be sure to check out the Mathematics Undergraduate Office and Math Academic Advising if you ever need help.

Here’s our list of the top five productivity hacks for math students.

  1. Prioritize the easy wins. If there is a task you can complete in just a few minutes, do it right away. That might be answering an email, filling out a form for your degree program, or even organizing your bills or expenses. Completing the quick and easy tasks as soon as possible avoids having things slip through the cracks. It also avoids having a whole lot of small things become an obstacle. Procrastination is often born not from avoiding big projects and assignments but from a series of small incomplete tasks that grind momentum to a halt.
  2. Structure unstructured time. Classes and labs are times that are already structured for you, in the sense that you know when you must attend, week in and week out. But it’s the time outside of classes that causes students problems (i.e. studying). Structuring unstructured time means that you schedule and time-block your “free time.” Instead of just studying or working on assignments when you feel like it, you plan those things as part of a time management system. That’s not to say you can’t have any time for friends or activities. Students often find that they have more time for friends and activities when they structure their unstructured time. And then they don’t feel guilty for enjoying themselves.
  3. Use a to-do list. It’s one of the simplest things, and there are hundreds of methods you can use, but having a to-do list is an absolute must for the productive student. Some people like to arrange their to-do list according to priorities, and some organize by due dates. Some people have a separate to-do list for long-term projects and daily tasks. No matter how you manage it and whatever system you use, a to-do list means you’ll be much less likely to miss deadlines or to have things slip through the cracks. There’s also the added feeling of accomplishment when you cross things off the list and move them from to-do to done.
  4. Find a note-taking system. Most students take notes, but few students have a good system for notes. Often, students take notes in class and then never look at them again until it comes time to study, which is not ideal. One system that we recommend is called the Cornell note-taking system. It encourages students to revisit notes shortly after they are created and configure them so that they are most functional for retaining information and studying. In a nutshell, it’s a note system that pushes you to think like a professor and configure notes as a series of anticipated questions that may come up on assignments or exams. There are many other great note-taking systems out there, so find one that works for you.
  5. Make a plan. At the beginning of the semester, students receive a course outline, and it usually already has a set of deadlines and due dates. Students also learn when tests will be ahead of time, and final exams are announced well in advance. Being a productive student means working toward deadlines and due dates, and one of the best ways to do that is with a planner. For example, if you know when an exam will be, you can decide how much study time you require for study. You then schedule that time in a planner, essentially working backwards from the date of the exam. Good planning means you won’t be cramming at the last minute, and organizing your study schedule means you’ll have a lot less stress. The same concept applies to tests, labs and any work you need to complete.

By the Numbers is a weekly series that reflects on the lighter side of student life, research and innovation in the Faculty of Mathematics at the University of Waterloo. Stay tuned to this space for the next installment.

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