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HS Students: Increase your productivity in three easy steps

Courtesy of Kristina Ellis

Summer is wrapping up, friends. Whether you spent your days super active or you took it easy, starting your senior year can feel like a wake-up call. There are new things on your plate, like applying to colleges, researching scholarships, and preparing for life after high school—plus all the normal stuff, like homework, practice and those ridiculously early mornings. I know, it can feel like a lot. That’s why it’s so important to get your priorities set and get your life organized as you start this year. And while that doesn’t sound quite as fun as hanging out with your friends, you’ll feel so much more confident once you do. And I promise, if I can do it, you can too.

Truthfully, I’m not a naturally organized person. And I have yet to find a great deal of joy in the organization process. While I love a productive life, the process of getting all my thoughts and priorities in order sometimes looks more like chaos. Because these skills don’t come effortlessly to me, I’ve had to work even harder to find simple ways to stay organized and on track. So, instead of a list of 500 ways to be productive and organized written by someone who loves alphabetizing her to-do list, I’m going to give you three practical tips that will have a massive impact on your productivity (and get you organized as painlessly as possible).

Tip 1: Set goals and break them down

Thinking about your goals can be overwhelming, especially when they’re still in the dream phase. For example, you may be thinking things like, This semester I’d like to apply for college, win an award in cross country, get straight A’s, and earn a full-ride scholarship. While those are all great goals, you’ve got to break them down.

Write out your goals in a way that’s specific and measurable. Instead of saying, This semester, I’d like to apply for college, your goal could be, I will apply to eight schools I love by December 15.

Then, create action steps. Ask yourself, What needs to happen for me to reach my goal? And be specific. Create detailed steps and tasks you’ll need to complete. For the goal of applying to eight schools, you’ll need action steps like:

  • Create a list of 15 schools you like.
  • Visit schools and take campus tours to cut down your list.
  • Fill out all your applications.
  • Perfect your personal statement.
  • Ask for letters of recommendation.

By breaking things down in advance, you’ll have a road map to guide you through days when pressures and distractions are high. And when you do have downtime, you can quickly look at your task list and knock something out instead of wasting time wondering what should happen next. Which leads to my next point . . .

 Tip 2: Identify your biggest distractions and minimize them

Most of us have something that crushes our productivity—bingeing Netflix, scrolling through social media, texting, etc. When you snap back to reality hours later, you’re left wondering where your time went and how you’re going to get everything done with the little time you have left.

Whatever your weak areas are, be honest with yourself, then figure out the lines you need to draw so you can be productive. If social media’s your biggest time-waster, set a timer for how long you’ll stay on. When the alarm goes off, set your phone down no matter what—no excuses. If you manage to save yourself just one hour a day, that’s 30 hours a month. Imagine what you could do with that time!

Tip 3: Use a planner

It’s almost impossible to stay on track with your goals if you don’t have a daily reminder of what needs to happen next. (And if you find it easy to keep track of everything, you may not be pushing yourself to your full capabilities.)

The good news is, getting your to-do list and schedule organized is simple thanks to all the different planners that are available these days. They range from super simple checklist planners to highly elaborate, plan-every-detail-of-your-life planners. For me, the 2023 Ramsey Goal Planner works great. It’s very thorough in breaking down my day, helping me set goals, and has personal touches I like, such as monthly encouragement from my friends Rachel Cruze, Dr. John Delony, and George Kamel. It’s especially useful for people who have a lot to remember and lose track of their goals easily. But even if your version of a planner is just a checklist written on a blank piece of paper, take a few moments each morning to create a plan so you can get the most out of your day.

I hope you’ll give these tips a try. They’ve worked wonders in my life, and I’m confident if you stick to them, you’ll notice a productivity boost in yours, too!

Kristina Ellis
After winning $500K in scholarships and graduating from her dream school with a bachelor’s and a master’s degree, Kristina Ellis set out to help students create their own plan to earn a debt-free education. She’s the best-selling author of Confessions of a Scholarship Winner and How to Graduate Debt-Free. She is a featured expert in the 2021 documentary Borrowed Future: How Student Loans Are Killing the American Dream. Her work has been featured in numerous media outlets, such as Fox & Friends, The Katie Couric Show, CBN, USA Today, Reuters, Seventeen, and Money. As a Ramsey Personality, Kristina helps thousands of families nationwide navigate the complex waters of college finance and graduate debt-free. 

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