Resolutions that stick

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Help your students get their assignments in on time

By Lucy Berrington, MS


Study habits are among the top three behaviors that students would like to improve, according to surveys by SH101 (the others are sleep and fitness). At the start of each course, your students are likely vowing to hit all their deadlines and prep rigorously. As faculty and staff, you have opportunities to guide them toward evidence-based behavioral strategies that build self-awareness and productive habits—such as these:


  1. Identify your peak productivity window We tend to blow our most productive part of the day on social media and other low-effort activities. “If we could salvage those precious hours, most of us would be much more successful in accomplishing what we truly want,” said Dr. Dan Ariely, professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University, North Carolina (Reddit, 2014). To find your peak productivity window, think about when you are most alert and able to sustain your focus. For most people, starting about two hours after we wake up, we get 2½ hours to be a human dynamo. (This can vary.) When you’ve identified your peak time of day, block it off on your calendar for assignments and test prep.
  2. Use this trick to prioritize Everything on your To Do list is important, so here’s how to rank those tasks. When does your study time end? Noon, 2:30, 10:00 p.m.? If you’re not sure, assume. Then plan backwards from that time. This “fixed schedule productivity” strategy is the reason that Dr. Cal Newport, associate professor of computer science at Georgetown University, DC, is super-productive despite always leaving the office at 5:30 p.m. (according to Eric Barker, who writes on science-based behavioral techniques at Barking Up The Wrong Tree).
  3. Do the minimum, and do it consistently To establish a new habit, start small. “Make it tiny, even ridiculous,” says Dr. B. J. Fogg, director of the Persuasive Tech Lab at Stanford University, California (to Barking Up The Wrong Tree). Small wins have a powerful effect, say behavioral scientists. In an academic setting, “‘Consistent forward progression’ means doing something every day, no matter how small, to complete the assignment,” says Dr. Amy Baldwin, Director of University College at the University of Central Arkansas.
  4. Manipulate your deadlines Think about the number of days until the assignment is due, rather than the due date itself. This way, the task seems more current. On a visual calendar, use a colored line spanning from the date the assignment is given to the date that it’s due. This simple technique helps people meet their deadlines, according to the Journal of Consumer Research (2014).