How to be More Productive and Eliminate Time Wasting Activities for Primary and Secondary School students

Managing time effectively is a skill that every student needs to acquire to achieve success in school and beyond. For primary and secondary school students, it is even more important as they are learning to balance their studies, extracurricular activities, and social life. Learning how to manage their time efficiently can help them to make the most of their time, allowing them to focus on their studies and other activities without becoming overwhelmed. In this article, we will look at some of the time management strategies that primary and secondary school students can use to make the most of their time. These strategies are taken from the book “How to Become a Straight-A Student by Cal Newport. Think of it as a summary of all the best techniques adopted by some of the best students in the world.

Why are time management and study techniques important for students?

Students need to develop effective time management skills for several reasons. Time management will help students to get the most out of their education. This is because it can enable them to focus on their studies with the least amount of distractions. According to the author, Carl Newport, many students place themselves in distracting environments and insist on working long tedious stretches, crippling their brain’s ability to think clearly and efficiently revise their work.

This article reveals 3 study habits used by real straight-A students drawn predominantly from the Phi Beta Kappa rolls of some of the US’s most rigorous colleges and universities including Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Dartmouth, Brown, Columbia, Duke, Amherst, and Skidmore. When asked what one skill was most important in becoming a non-grind straight-A student, most of these students cited the ability to get work done quickly and with a minimum of wasted effort. A big part of the solution is timing – they gain efficiency by compressing work into focused bursts. To understand the power of this approach, consider the following simple formula:

work accomplished = time spent x intensity of focus

Assuming it takes ten hours to finish studying for a test by working with a low-intensity score of 3. According to our formula, this same amount of work can be accomplished in only three one-hour bursts, each with an intensity of 10. The work that took you all day Sunday to complete could instead be finished by studying an hour after breakfast, an hour after lunch, and an hour after dinner – the rest of the day being free for you to relax!

With this formula in mind, you can begin to understand why many straight-A students actually study less than their classmates.

To accomplish this transformation, however, you will need to gain control over your lifestyle. This requires basic time-management skills. You’re also going to have to overcome your urge to procrastinate because scheduling your work is meaningless if you don’t actually work in the time you set aside. This requires self-motivation. Finally, to obtain the highest levels of intensity, you need to choose the right locations, times of day, and durations to study.

1) Manage your time in 5 minutes a day

Singaporean students and their parents would sometimes lament that they never seem to have enough time to finish all of their work.

If students are struggling to find the time to manage their time effectively, they can start by spending just five minutes a day organizing their schedules. Having deadlines and obligations floating around in your mind stresses you out. However, once you figure out what work needs to be done and when, it’s like a weight being lifted from your shoulders.

The goal is to present a time-management system that helps you achieve this stress-free balance. You will need a calendar to record all of your to-dos and deadlines. You need to deal with your calendar only once a day. Each morning, you look at it to figure out what you should try to finish that day. Then, throughout the day, whenever you encounter a new to-do or deadline, simply jolt it down on your list.

That’s it. Pretty simple, right? The whole system can be summarised in these easy steps:

  1. Jot down new tasks and assignments on your calendar during the day.
  2. Next morning, take a couple of minutes to plan your day based on your workload

2) Declaring war on procrastination

Many students struggle with procrastination, which is the habit of delaying tasks until the last minute. Anyone can spend five minutes figuring out what they should be doing. The real challenge is marshalling the motivation to actually do the work once it’s scheduled.

What follows are five anti-procrastination battle plans drawn directly from the author’s straight-A interviews.

a) Keep a work progress journal

A work journal is a simple tool that takes advantage of the fact that it is harder to record your lame excuses for putting off a tedious piece of work than it is to tell yourself. When you have to record these excuses on paper their foolishness is exposed. All you have to do is to work out your schedule each morning, and quickly jot down in the notebook/journal the date and the most important tasks that you are scheduled to get done. At the end of the day, if you’ve completed all of these tasks, simply write downall completed. If you failed to complete some tasks, record this, along with a quick explanation. In this way, it acts like a personal drill sergeant, sitting on your shoulder, and yelling into your ear: “Solider, I want you to go get me a pillow, because I know I must be dreaming. I thought I saw you consider not starting your revision for your upcoming test! Now go grab your notes and get working before I make you record your laziness in ink where everyone can see it!”

b) Feed the machine

Low energy breeds procrastination. Most students know the feeling – your mind starts to feel sluggish, you begin to read whole pages of text without remembering a single word, and writing coherent notes becomes a Herculean task.

It’s almost impossible to motivate yourself to stick to a schedule under these mental conditions. Accordingly, especially during those gruelling exam preparation weeks, you need to feed your body the fuel it needs to perform at its peak. Think of your brain like a machine. If you want to defeat procrastination, you need to provide it with the energy necessary to concentrate and win the fight.

The nutritional rules for maximising your mental energy while studying are simple:

  1. Drink water constantly. Hydration increases your energy, masks boredom-induced food cravings, and stave off sleepiness. Frequent bathroom trips keep you awake – a bonus!
  2. Treat food as a source of energy, not satisfaction. When studying, choose snacks that promise a long-term energy boost. Try vegetables, fruits, anything whole grain, lean proteins, peanuts or natural granola bars. Refined carbohydrates, such as sugar and white flour, will provide only a quick energy rush followed immediately by a damaging energy drain and increased appetite. Avoid these unhealthy snacks at all costs while working. If you follow the first rule, your frequent water consumption will dull the cravings for specific foods, making it much easier to stick with healthier fare.
  3. Don’t skip meals. Snacks alone are not enough to fuel your mind for long periods. Even on the busiest of all days, eat regular meals.

c) Make an event out of the worst tasks

Some tasks are so tedious and/or time-consuming that they send chills down your spine. As Laura, a straight-A Dartmouth student, explains: “When studying for something I don’t especially enjoy, I try to make an event out of it.” Find an out-of-way fast food restaurant, Starbucks cafe or study spot. The novelty of location, plus its distance from home or school, will help jump-start your motivation to tackle your tedious work once there.

You went through a lot of effort to get to your unusual study nook, and once you start slogging through your revision, the pain will slip away, you will hit your stride, and before you know it, the once terrifying task will be safely completed.

d) Build a routine

Your schedule varies each day. But you should be able to identify at least one hour, on each weekday, that is consistently free. Once you have identified these protected hours, use them to do the same work each week. For example, maybe Mondays and Wednesdays afternoons are for Math revision and Tuesdays are for Chinese composition writing. The idea is to build a routine in which you use the same reserved time slot each week to do the same thing, to transform these slices of work into a habit, something you no longer have to convince yourself to do. “I figured out pretty early on the most annoying thing about bad habits – namely their tenacity – could be very useful if it was applied to other things,” explains Simon, a straight-A student from Brown. “I found that good habits, like making sure I do [certain work at the same time each week], are really hard to get rid of.”

3) Choose When, Where, and How Long

When during the day should you study? Where should you go to study? How long should you study before taking a break? The right answers to these questions will boost your productivity, allowing you to squeeze more work out of even less time.

a) When is the best time to study? Early.

You’re most effective between when you wake up and when you eat dinner. You should accomplish as much work as possible during this time. To many, the time after dinner seems ideal for work. Why? Night, seems like one long uninterrupted stretch of good work time. Right? Wrong!

First, nighttime is not as long as you think. By the time you finish dinner, gather your materials, and finally begin your work, you really have only a few hours left before it becomes too late and your desire to sleep hijacks your concentration.

Second, nighttime is not as free as you think. It’s prime time. Inevitably, some can’t-miss Netflix shows nags for your attention, or the lure of socialising with your family/friends beckons seductively. (Not that family time is a bad thing)

Finally, nighttime is when your body begins to wind down. After a long day of activity, it’s ready to begin a slow descent into sleep. Even before it gets late, the energy available to your mind has already declined. By 7:00 or 8:00 p.m., your focus is weak at best. Especially for Primary school-going children, they should turn in early so that they can get sufficient rest for school the next day.

For these reasons, you must minimise the amount of work you do after dinner. At the same time, however, it’s true that working during the day can also be complicated. Singaporean students generally attend school in the morning and that only leaves some stretches of free time in the afternoon. Don’t fear this fractured schedule. Make sure you have your study materials with you throughout the day and fill in any small patches of free time with productive work. As Wendy, a straight-A student from Amherst, explains: “I try to take a book I need to read along with me all the time, in case some free time pops up while I’m doing something else.” Doris, from Harvard, has a similar philosophy, admitting that she sneaks in work between classes or while commuting, using small blocks of thirty or forty-five minutes at a time. If you follow this approach, you’ll be surprised at the amount of work you can squeeze into your hectic daytime schedule. The trick is to be efficient.

In addition to the extra energy and better focus that you gain by studying early, the spread-out nature of this schedule makes it less of a strain.

b) Where should you study? In isolation.

The isolation of study spots is important for an obvious reason: It shields you from distraction. Some went as far as to wear earplugs or travel great distances from home/school to eliminate any chance of distraction. It could also be in the comfort of your room, taking great efforts to shut yourself off from the rest of the household and isolating yourself from any form of distractions for at least half an hour so that you can focus with great intensity. Some Secondary school students might opt to study at less visited libraries, hole-in-the-wall cafes, and quiet study corners in community centres. Being alone in a public place, surrounded by strangers forces you to focus on the work at hand. This is the rationale behind why so many of our students choose to study outside the home.

c) How long should you study? No more than one hour at a time without a break.

Your break needs to be only five to ten minutes, but it’s important that you take an intellectual breather during this period. This disengagement helps refresh your mind. Some students brought a novel or textbook with them, and then read a chapter or an article at every break. As Laura from Dartmouth recounts: “I swear I get more done taking regular breaks than I would if I just worked straight through.”

Some cognitive science research concludes that about fifty minutes is the optimal learning period to maximise the material synthesised per time unit. Almost every straight-A student interviewed for this book followed a similar plan. When asked how long they studies in a single sitting, all but a few of their answers fell somewhere between half an hour and an hour. Through trial and error, dozens of high-performing students have individually stumbled across this same technique -study for an hour, then take a break – so you should trust it too.


Time management is an important skill for students to master. It can help them to focus on their studies, complete their homework and revision on time, and reduce stress. To do this, students should develop effective time management habits and use time management strategies to manage their time better. With practice, managing time can become second nature for Primary and Secondary students and enable them to make the most of their time, especially for those preparing for their PSLE and ‘O’ Levels. One effective strategy is to study for an hour, then take a break. This has been shown to be the optimal learning period to maximise the material synthesised per time unit. Thus, students should trust this technique and make use of it in their studies.


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