I had the absolute pleasure of speaking to five amazing young people recently and wow, I learnt a lot. We had a conversation about productivity, time management, well-being and learning online. Trust me, you’ll need a notebook and pen for today’s post and at the end, I’ll be letting you know which of these tips I’m going to try out next!
1: Firstly, give us a quick summary of who you are and what you’re studying.
Joely: I’m in Year 13, studying Maths, Further Maths, Economics and French and I’ve applied to study Maths at uni. Outside of school, I recently set up a non-profit which is geared at encouraging young women to access Maths and other male-dominated spheres.
Columbus: I’m in Year 11 studying GCSEs and I’m aiming to study Maths, Physics, Economics & French at A-level.
Shakeel: I’m in Year 13 studying towards a BTEC Level 3 Public Services qualification & I’ve applied to study International development at university.
Vira: I’m in Year 11 studying towards my GCSEs and outside of this, I run a podcast called ‘Youth Power’ and run an Instagram page all about studying and motivation. I’m aiming to study Economics, Maths, Further maths & Politics at A-Level.
Kwesi: I’m in Year 13 studying Maths, Physics, Biology & Further maths and I’ve applied to university to study Material science and nuclear engineering.
2: My first question is how do you stay motivated with all the work you do?
Joely: I would say take time out to understand yourself and your values. For me, encouraging girls into male dominated fields energises me and acts as motivation to keep going. Especially if you work with others, I’d say check in with your audience. It’s so important to know how your audience are receiving what you do and it also helps you realise that your work is actually making an impact.
Columbus: For me, I’m either motivated to do the work or not and that depends on the subject. I find that with the subjects I enjoy, learning new information is like an adventure that I’m excited to go on. It’s like the quote of: ‘If you enjoy what you do, you’ll never work a day’.
Shakeel: I’ve never really bought into motivation; being consistent is more important. Even when you do what you love, there will be days when you don’t feel like it. However, developing self-awareness and knowing what fuels you, what drains you and what brings you joy is so important to prioritising tasks.
Vira: Understanding your why and knowing the reason behind what you do is so key. Motivation is fleeting but reason trumps that and can be the thing that keeps you going when things get difficult.
Kwesi: For me, my end goal really encourages and pushes me. I know that I’m aiming to be different and I want to be the best in my field; this vision definitely helps me keep going.
3: Are there any specific techniques which have helped you with online learning?
Joely: I carve out time to to shut my devices and make time to go outside or talk to a friend. Off-line time is key. Recently, I’ve also been setting short-term goals for each academic which I then break down into weekly goals. However, I don’t make daily goals because I have to keep some flexibility in my days as online school can be unpredictable.
Columbus: To be honest, it has been difficult sitting in front of teams for hours and hours on end. Personally, wearing my uniform during lessons really helps me to enjoy my classes more. Wearing uniform also makes you feel a bit uncomfortable and you’re less likely to fall asleep or go on your phone during class!
Shakeel: I wear my uniform during lessons as well as it helps me get into the right mindset. I also apply this theory of ‘correlation’- ideally, everything I do should complement each other. If I’m studying a Health & fitness module in college then I might take up boxing as my hobby for that period and in my role as a youth councillor, I’ll do a campaign on mental health. Having the different things link really helps me.
Vira: Routine. At the moment, mine resembles the school timetable but also still allows for flexibility within the day as online school can be quite unpredictable. Having realistic expectations is also key, you might not LOVE every single lesson online and that’s ok.
Kwesi: I take naps now! I used to see these asa form procrastination but now, I am comfortable taking time out to look after myself and rest before returning to tackle my work.
4: Do you have any productivity systems you use and would recommend?
Joely: At the start of each week, I’ll make a to-do list (one academic and one other) and evaluate what I can to take out. If it’s not something that moves me closer to my aims or will energise me, I remove it from the list. I then allocate deadlines to prioritise the things that I do need to do and at the end of each week, I evaluate how I’ve done.
Columbus: I watched a video 3-4 years ago about time blocking and I found it transformative for actually getting the big things done. Every day, I have 1-3 big goals for the day: exercise, some homework and reading. These are my non- negotiables and then around these, I’ll fit in other things that I might want to get done.
Shakeel: I also like to think of projects in terms of high-low intensity. I’ve reached burnout before and now, I know my limit. I keep a journal of my projects and experiences and the skills I’ve gained from them. If an opportunity comes around which would involve very similar skills that I’ve already developed then I might not accept it. With projects that I do want to take on, I’ll see if I have capacity for something that’s higher intensity or something which requires less involvement and then decide from there. I tend to do 1 high intensity activity every four days.
Vira: I think of things in terms of habits and I have a habit tracker which allows me to colour in a box every time I’ve done the activity. It makes doing certain things more of a challenge than a chore which I appreciate. I also heard Ali Abdaal speak about changing our attitude towards work from ‘I have to do’ something to ‘I get to do’ this which is so useful.
Kwesi: Mindset is so important and I also like to remind myself that I get to do things as opposed to having to do them. I also prioritise my actions into: I have to, I should do and I could do. It helps me stay on top of work and it’s so satisfying at the end of the day to know that I’ve done everything I needed to do.
5: Favourite book, podcast or activity that helps you with productivity and time management?
Joely: I go on LinkedIn and follow people who inspire me. Every time I see something noteworthy, I screenshot the post and on my phone, I have an album for different things like productivity, personal development…That way, I can be inspired even just scrolling through my phone. However, information has no power unless you put it into action so always think about how to apply it for yourself.
Columbus: Don’t beat yourself if you don’t feel like doing work. However, if it has to be done, give yourself little bits of rewards throughout. Last weekend, I had a French assignment I just did not feel like doing so I decided to do 2 minutes of Netflix (I’d just started a new show) and 2 French questions and eventually, I got it done! TED talks are also a brilliant way to learn new things and be inspired.
Shakeel: I have a vision board and I look at it when I feel myself losing motivation. I would recommend reading ‘The 7 habits on the go’- it’s like an overview of The 7 habits of Highly Effective People and I found it really useful as some time management wasn’t something which came naturally to me.
Vira: Looking at interesting people (On YouTube for example) finding interesting people who’ve done things I find fascinating and looking at how they’ve done it. Also, thinking of time in 15 minutes rather than an hour has really helped me get things done quicker. If it’s 2:32pm and I want to move on to a new task, I no longer wait until 3pm but now, I can get started at 2:45pm.
Kwesi: Self-care! If you don’t care for yourself, you can’t look after or achieve your goals. You perform better when you feel good so I prioritise looking after myself.
I told you you’d be inspired! A massive thank you to all the young people for sharing their gems with us today. As promised, the methods I want to try out are: evaluating my to-do list and removing tasks which aren’t helpful even before I get started and thinking of time in 15 minute chunks. Let me know in the comments, which technique/tips will you be taking forward?