Many top high school students these days seem to juggle work and social schedules that would rival a Fortune 500 CEO — and without a staff of underlings to help them keep pace.
How do they do it? Organization, focus, organization, and other smart uses of time. Plus, did we mention organization?
Two Miami-Dade student standouts, both winners of Silver Knight awards from The Miami Herald, shared their secrets to success and tips to become more productive:
▪ Alejandrina Gonzalez-Reyes, 18, the 2016 Silver Knight Winner in the Digital & Interactive Media category, developed computer apps, competed in varsity swimming, played the piano and more during high school. Gonzalez-Reyes, who will attend Stanford University in the fall, did all that while graduating from St. Brendan High School 13th in her class with a 5.13 GPA.
▪ Joshua Fonseca, 18, the 2016 Silver Knight in Business, started “Investors of Tomorrow,” a club to get more students interested in the stock market; worked at his school as a campus minister; and tutored other students at Christopher Columbus High School. Fonseca will attend the University of Chicago in the fall and graduated with a 4.43 GPA, 10th in his class.
Tip one: Get organized
Both Silver Knights said that handling their large workloads is difficult, but that staying organized helps them reach their goals.
“I like writing reminders on my phone that will ring several times during the day, using the Reminders app on the iPhone,” Gonzalez-Reyes said.
Gonzalez-Reyes uses an agenda to organize her goals for the day as well but also tries to memorize what she needs to do. Fonseca agreed that it’s important to write down what he has to do, especially on days when he has a lot to do. He also likes to work in intervals, giving his brain a break in between study topics.
“One thing that I do, though, and that I think everyone should do, is make sure they do work in intervals. I typically set mini-goals for myself,” he said. “For instance, I finish all my math homework in one sitting, then I watch a favorite scene of mine from a movie, then I'll go onto the next project.”
Fonseca also said that it’s important not to leave things for the last minute.
“It merely leads to a stressful night most of the time,” he said.
Tip Two: Get sleep
Multiple studies have shown a clear link between quality sleep and productivity. Without a good night’s rest, students may lose focus or make more mistakes.
“Days when I had a lot to do for school I would even prefer sleep over studying, I think sleep is necessary to be able to handle everything correctly,” Gonzalez-Reyes said.
With the demands of schoolwork, extracurriculars and employment it may be difficult for teenagers to get a full night’s rest.
For many Miami-Dade students, school starts before 8 a.m. and some students have to make long commutes to and from school. On top of that, many students also stay after school for clubs and sports and even then head to external sites to volunteer or for internships.
Fonseca, for example, dedicated 50 hours of community service to His House, a nonprofit home for foster children in Miami-Dade, while also working at an investment relations firm. Making sure he got enough sleep kept him going.
Tip three: Visualization, focus
Visualization is a cognitive tool psychologists recommend as a way to rehearse a task by imagining it before it happens.
“I plan my day every morning when I wake up and think about what I'll do that day,” Gonzalez-Reyes said.
By thinking about her tasks for the day, she is able to get them done with less stress because she has already thought them through.
To improve his focus, Fonseca uses videos and songs to gain motivation.
“When I'm feeling extremely unmotivated, I will listen to a motivational speech or an inspirational song. They always get me going and wanting to do something productive,” he said.
Tip four: Improve productivity
For students who struggle to get things done, Gonzalez-Reyes recommends something counter-intuitive: taking on more activities, which can fire up the internal drive.
“Having more you have to do during the day will force you to get more productive. I would recommend doing a sport or extracurricular activity, because that helped me get more organized as I forced myself to do more in less time,” she said.
It’s also important to remember that everyone learns in a different way. They key is discovering what works best for you. Three main types of learning include visual, auditory and kinesthetic, which means learning by doing.
“I've come to learn that everyone learns differently and once you find what's right for you, focus on it,” Fonseca said.
Forcing an auditory learner to take notes or forcing a visual learner to listen to lectures may make it more difficult for them to learn.
“I learned best through application, so to study, I did various practice tests and such. Something like note-taking wasn't very useful to me, so I didn't waste my time doing it. Just focus on what works for you,” Fonseca said.