Study Desk

Be Productive – 8 Exam Study Tips

The Leaving Certificate and Junior Certificate exams are nearly here. The exam students will soon finish school and start studying on their own. This is a really important time that has a big impact on how well the exams  will go in June. But it can be hard to stay focused and keep concentrating day after day.

Successful students have good study habits. Here are 8 top tips on how to be productive while studying.

  1. Declutter Your Study Space

Your study space should be quiet, bright and comfortable. It should make you feel happy and inspired. Decide the best space in your house that will work for you. Then clear out as much clutter as possible. Decorate your space with a few of your favourite pictures or objects. Make sure that your chair and desk are comfortable and at the correct height as you will be spending a lot of time here.

  1. Get Organised Before You Start

Gather up all the stationery you are going to need over the coming weeks. Avoid wasting time popping into the shops during your study periods. Treat yourself to some new pens, notebooks, cue cards, Post-It pads and highlighter pens. Chose a variety of bright colours to liven up your study space. These colours will also be useful for categorising and grouping topics while you study.

  1. Make a Study Plan You Can Stick To

It is so important to make a plan before you start any studying. Work out how many days you have before the exams start. Plan which subjects you will study on each day. Vary things up so you don’t get fed up of one subject. Break down big topics into smaller chunks so you feel you are getting something completed in one study session.

Be realistic about how much you can do in the time you have. If there is too much, you may need to focus on the most important topics first. List everything and mark each with a priority – high, medium or low.

  1. Start Early in The Day

You have your preparation done, so now you are ready to start a regular study routine. Generally it works best to start studying early in the day. Your energy will be high and it is easier to concentrate. If it helps, get some exercise beforehand but don’t spend too long in case you become side-tracked.

Some people prefer to study later in the day and into the evening. This is fine but remember it can really affect your quality of sleep, which will have a knock on effect for the days to come.

  1. Put Distractions in Another Room

My 15 year old daughter told me to include this one! She said that if her phone is beside her, even on silent, she will be tempted to check it. So remove ANYTHING that will distract you. That may include technology and people! Music may help you study but be honest with yourself and only listen if it improves your concentration.

  1. Make Notes and Test Yourself

Be active when you are studying. This means instead of just reading you are keeping your brain focussed by doing things such as:

  • Highlighting key passages
  • Making notes to summarise key points
  • Making signs for your wall with key terminology or phrases
  • Drawing a graphic for a Maths equation
  • Creating quick reference notes on cue cards for the night before the exam
  • Jotting down questions to test yourself at the end of a session or to recap next day

Can you think of some other ideas that will suit the way you work?

  1. Eat Power Foods and Drink Water

Be smart about what you eat and drink during this study period. It may be tempting to eat comfort food and reward yourself with sugary or fatty snacks. But your focus and concentration is really affected by what you eat. You will also sleep better if you eat a healthy diet. Drink lots of water too during this time.

Try some of these  healthy snack ideas:

  • Blueberries, Dark Chocolate, Popcorn, Hummus, Avocado
  • Peanut Power Balls, Granola Snack Bars

Save your favourite treats for your time off after studying.

  1. Take Time Off and Sleep Well

Aim to study at the same time every day and then take breaks at the same time too. Plan your favourite activities with friends and family so you can completely switch off. This will help you wind down and sleep better. Get some exercise too.

Your Own Ideas

These tips will help you be productive with your study time. You might already have things that help you. Find what works for you and stick to it.

Remember, you only have to work hard for a few more weeks. So why not really go for it? And before you know it, the exams will be over and you will have the whole summer to enjoy. Best of luck!

If you want a Be Productive Infographic of these  8 Study tips click below:

Be Productive – 8 Study Tips Infographic

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Productivity Defined

Productivity – How Can We Measure It?

Productivity is a hot topic these days. At we deal with lots of people and companies all striving to be more productive.  At a personal level most people discuss their productivity in terms of getting more done in the time available.  Keeping up with things. But let’s dive in a bit deeper and examine what productivity really means and how it can be measured.

Definition of PRODUCTIVITY

Collins dictionary defines Productivity as “the rate at which goods are produced”.  This definition is quite narrow and is expanded in the Merriam-Webster dictionary to “the rate at which goods are produced or work is completed”

When I chat to clients about what productivity means to them in today’s ever changing world of work their responses include:

  • Do more in less time
  • Do my most important work, with the least amount of effort, so I can spend more time doing what I love.
  • Achieve my goals and spend more time with my family
  • Make money while helping others, working with people I like, and not working overtime

So ask yourself the same question: what does productivity mean to you? What is a productive return on your time? What constitutes valuable work done?

inputs vs outputs

At the simplest level, productivity is a measure of Inputs vs Outputs. For example, in a small company that manufactures products, it can be easy to measure how many people are required to produce a certain number of products. We don’t all manufacture products but even at a personal level we all have “Inputs” and we all have “Outputs”. The challenge is to define what the Inputs and Outputs are in your role. Then you need a practical way of measuring them.

Email Example

One of the simplest things to measure is your Emails. Every day you receive a certain number of new emails (Inputs) and then you process a certain number of those Emails (Outputs). Of course by process I mean actively managing those messages not simply reading them. To be productive each message needs to be processed so that a decision is made and the email does not need to be reprocessed.  There are generally 5 things you should do with your emails:

  • Delete, File, Do, Delegate, Schedule a Task

If you want to learn more about this process click here to read our previous article on the topic on

Measuring Productivity

The rate at which you clear your Inbox every day can be a simple measure of one aspect of your productivity. Some other measures could include:

  • Number of customer calls answered
  • Number of Tweets sent
  • Number of application forms processed
  • Number of reports written
  • Number of problems solved
  • Number of invoices sent

Can you think of other tasks you can clearly measure?

Work Place Productivity

When measuring productivity within a business, volume measures are seldom sufficient on their own. Output measures must also take into account the quality of the output, its timeliness, its cost and also how many people were involved in the production. The effectiveness of the outputs is what matters, rather than the efficiency with which they were produced.

The choice of productivity measures must also be related to the purpose and objectives of the department and organisation as well as the needs of customers.

Your Productivity

So start thinking about what being productive means to you, your team or your business. What do you produce? What outputs are important?

I will be delving into this topic further in coming articles; looking at productivity measurement for different types of roles in different businesses. So keep checking our website and Twitter feed @beproductive_ie over the coming weeks. In the meantime please share this article and add your own thoughts in the Comments below.

Productivity Experiment

Update on Productivity Experiment – No Coffee for 6 Weeks!

I stopped drinking coffee 15 days ago. The main reason was to honour the Lenten tradition of giving things up but I was also intrigued to see how caffeine and its absence affected my productivity. And I am happy to report that I have been pleasantly surprised by this productivity experiment. It has been hard to go without coffee but not nearly as hard as I expected, particularly as I hadn’t tapered off beforehand, which all the experts recommend.

4 Weeks Still to Go

There is still a way to go but I am hopeful that the worst is behind me. I expect this as already I am less inclined to think I need a coffee first thing to “get me going”. I must admit that I lapsed one morning, 7 days in. I was running an important seminar and defaulted to old habits. But happily I got back on the horse, or the wagon, I’m not sure which and haven’t faltered since.

What I’ve Learned

  • Drinking lots of water accelerate the caffeine detoxification.
  • It seems to be easier psychologically to give something up if it’s part of a bigger plan rather than trying something for a day or two.
  • Being busy really keeps your mind off it and helps you break the habit
  • Enjoying what you do means you are motivated anyway and don’t rely as much on external factors such as coffee to provide a productivity boost.
  • Energy levels are higher in the afternoon. Presumably this is because there is no lull as the morning coffee leaves your system.
  • Tea is a reasonable alternative but will never provide me with the same happy caffeine boost

What’s Next?

Well it’s only 2 days until St Patrick’s Day, when I can claim a reprieve, yay! My previous lapse tells me that I should be able to enjoy a coffee with my green cupcakes without setting the experiment back too much.

Happy St Patrick’s Day

I hope you all have a great and green St Patrick’s Day wherever you are and if you gave anything up for Lent I hereby grant you a 1 day reprieve!




Being Productive Helps you Be Happy

There is lots of research telling us that happy employees are productive but let’s flip that around – lets talk about how productive employees are happier.  You know that feeling when you have a really productive day in work, when you make a plan and you actually achieve most of the tasks in the plan? It’s a great feeling.

In work a lot of our frustration and stress comes from the fact that other things stop us being productive. So let’s explore how we can minimise those factors and increase our output and productivity.

Take control

We can’t control time but we can control how we use our time so that we are not just busy but productive too. And we can do it every single day. We can control:

  • What we work on
  • What we prioritise
  • How often we check email
  • What goals we set
  • How often we plan
  • Our energy levels
  • Our focus
  • Our output
  • Our mobile phone notifications (seriously, we can!)

So how can we do this?

There are lots of articles online and great tips and techniques available. But it can be hard to apply these ideas when we are dealing with such busy work lives.

We try out a new idea for a week or so and then our clients need something urgently or we have a product deadline or a busy year end.

Our new habits can go out the window. We get frustrated because although we are trying to improve and be more productive we fail.

Here are some practical tips to help employees become more productive.

  1. Know the priorities for you and your job
  2. Understand how you work
  3. Control your distractions
  4. Manage your focus
  5. Identify routine tasks for low energy times

Tip 1 – Know Your Priorities

Think about it, you can’t become more productive without knowing what’s important for your job, your team, your targets or your career. What are you trying to achieve, what are your goals? Do some thinking and planning. Set weekly and/or daily goals and identify the tasks that will achieve these goals. Now you have your priorities. Focus on achieving these tasks. Protect your time when you are working on them by minimising your distractions (see later).

Remember, if you don’t set your own priorities, someone else probably will.

 Tip 2 – Understand How You Work

The first step in CHANGING how you work is KNOWING how you work. Do this simply by reflecting on what went well and what didn’t at the end of each day. Did you stick to your plan? Did you end up working on unplanned things? Was this the correct decision at the time? Were those unplanned things important to your role? How many distractions did you allow?  Did you let other people’s priorities take your time? Consider also what time of day you are most productive and when you concentrate best.

You can also do this in a structured way. Keep a simple Time Log for a few days or preferably a week (template available at This can seem like a painful exercise but people are generally amazed how much they learn about how their time is spent when they actually track it. Once you know this you can take steps to control it.

Tip 3 – Control Your Distractions

Your Time Log analysis will tell you what distracts you. It could be phone calls, social media notifications, message alerts (the unimportant ones) or other people’s requests which are usually their priorities! Take steps to eliminate or at least minimise your distractions now that you are aware of them.

We let ourselves be distracted because sometimes it’s a welcome change from the tough or dull (priority) task we are working on. And that’s okay if you chose to do this for a set time to refresh and regain your focus.

But the trick is to do it deliberately and control the time you spend. We’ve all been there: “I’ll just check this Twitter notification” and 30 minutes later we’re still on our phone!

So for electronic notifications:

  • Analyse all the notifications you receive. Are you giving them all the same priority?

Are you letting a Twitter interaction distract you as much as the alert for an email from an important client?

  • Turn off the low priority notifications
  • Check Twitter or other social media interactions at a set frequency that makes sense for your business.
  • Consider if you can have periods in the day or week when your email alerts can be on silent. Take control.

Tip 4 – Manage Your Focus

Being productive is not just about being organised and sticking to your plan. It’s about producing the best work you can. It’s about the outcomes you achieve. We sometimes feel unproductive even when we have created the uninterrupted time to work on an important piece of work. This is because we can lose our focus which can really affect our output.

Our focus is affected by our energy levels and this in turn is affected by what we eat, whether we take breaks, how much we sleep. When we’re in busy roles we often compromise these factors.  But simply being aware of their impact helps us make some small adjustments.

Even a 15 minute walk around the block at lunch time can work or maybe sometimes eat a banana instead of that chocolate bar!

Tip 5 – Identify Routine Tasks for Low Energy Times

Most jobs include plenty of routine, so-called “lower priority” tasks such as, updating a database, sending follow-up emails, arranging meetings, ordering supplies or maybe subscribing to a newsletter to stay informed.

Some of these tasks may actually become high priority and urgent if not addressed. Some of these don’t require peak concentration or energy so a good approach is to do them in batch at a time when you know you are not at your peak productivity.

For example between 3pm and 5pm on a Friday can be a great time to do new contact follow-up emails when your energy may be low after a busy week.

You are still being productive because you are getting things done.

Be Productive, Be happy and be Well

Try these changes and you have every chance of making 2017 your most productive and happy year ever. Also keep checking and @beproductive_ie as we constantly post tips and articles.

be productive top tips public breakfast seminar 10th MAY book here


Productivity Experiment – No Coffee for 6 Weeks!

“Giving Up” FOR Lent

Today marks the start of Lent which in Ireland is a 6 week period before Easter when many people “give something up”. Lent actually lasts for 40 days and 40 nights, from Ash Wednesday (today 1st March) to Easter Sunday. We often joke that it’s not the 40 days but the 40 nights that gets you! The custom is based on the religious concept of penance that most Irish Catholics were born into. It is all about preparation for Easter. As kids this usually meant giving up our favourite sweets or chocolate treats. Then on Easter Sunday we would be rewarded with piles of chocolate Easter Eggs. It was always worth the sacrifice as we rose at dawn and gorged ourselves and usually felt quite ill by mid-morning on that Spring Sunday.

St Patrick’s Day

A great quirk of this Irish Lenten penance is of course the reprieve we get on St Patricks Day. March 17th is our national feast day and always seems to fall nicely in the middle of Lent. A “special dispensation” means us Paddies can eat all the treats we like on this day. Love it.

Old habits die hard  a lot of adults still give up something we enjoy. Some of the more mature folk amongst us take something up instead, something virtuous and giving. But this year I will be “giving up” and for some crazy reason, I have decided that my “sacrifice” will be coffee.

No Coffee for 6 Weeks

I know! I’m worried too! Because I love coffee. I love really good coffee. I have favourite coffee houses and would often travel a distance to get good coffee. I don’t drink that much – maximum 2 cups per day. But it seems to give me a boost and I often have a burst of productivity for about 2 hours after a strong cup.

So……let’s see what happens. I consumed my last cup of coffee yesterday. 40 days of tea and smoothies looms! How hard will it be? How will it affect my daily routine, my focus, my productivity?

Join me in this adventure as I post a weekly update. If anyone has any advice or experience of coffee abstinence I would like to hear it. And of course if you too are joining the Lenten penance party, be sure  to let us all know.

Productiity Apps

Be Productive – App Review

Rescuetime  / dropbox / evernote / onenote / google keep


RescueTime helps increase your productivity by monitoring your computer use and informing you when and how you’re both productive and distracted. The app tracks how you spend your computer time, or only apps and sites you want. Works across multiple devices. Creates chart reports which provide insight into how you spend your time and you can change behaviour. It can be customised using your own categorisation. A free version is more than sufficient for most people to get a grip on their time management, while a Premium version tracks breaks, phone calls, and meetings, and also prompts you with on-screen reminders to stay on track with your work.



Dropbox is a home for all your photos, docs, videos, and files. Anything you add to Dropbox will automatically show up on all our computers, phones and even the Dropbox website — so you can access from anywhere.

Dropbox makes it easy to share with others and files that may be lost on one device can always be retrieved on another. Can be used with IFTTT and Fancy Hands to achieve impressive automation.


Evernote, an application that allows users to capture almost any digital information and access it from any of their devices.

Evernote is a cross-platform, freemium app designed for note taking, organizing, and archiving. … The app allows users to create a “note” which can be a piece of formatted text, a full webpage or webpage excerpt, a photograph, a voice memo, or a handwritten “ink” note. Notes can also have file attachments.


Microsoft OneNote is a computer program for free-form information gathering and multi-user collaboration. It gathers users’ notes (handwritten or typed), drawings, screen clippings and audio commentaries. Notes can be shared with other OneNote users over the Internet or a network.


Google Keep taking app can be used to make lists or jot down a quick ideas and notes, It is effectively provides digital Post-It notes on a phone.

Google Keep

You can have your latest Keep notes appear on your Android or iOS home screen, or make a shopping list pop up the moment you arrive at the grocery store.

You can also add narration to a doodle, colour-code your notes, share a note with a friend and save selections from a webpage.

We haven’t had a chance to try all these apps ourselves yet – some of the information comes from UK PC Mag – online reviews. Keep checking because we’ll be adding more reviews in the coming month.








Be Productive – Learn to Say No

By Moira Dunne

During my first job as a consultant, my client told me that I had the ability to say no while making other people feel good about it. I think it was a compliment! It wasn’t something I planned but when I analysed my approach I realised I was protecting my work time so I could deliver on my commitments. I always tried to help but if I couldn’t at the time I would explain and offer an alternative.

Saying Yes is Natural

For most of us saying yes comes more naturally than saying no. People genuinely want to help people. We want to be known as “a team player” and don’t want to be difficult. We don’t want to appear overloaded with work either, as if we can’t cope within our role. So learning to say no is a skill most of us have to develop.

Saying No by Saying Yes!

So how do we do it? Well the best way to say No is actually to say Yes. By that I mean say no to dropping everything at the time of the request but say yes to a time or approach that suits you better. Take control. But do this professionally with consideration so that the requester understands and is happy with your alternative suggestion. And then follow through.

The requests we receive loosely fall into two categories:

  1. A request from a colleague for help or advice
  2. A request from your boss to do extra work over what was agreed

A request from a colleague for help or advice

If you can’t help straight away offer an alternative time that suits both schedules. Alternatively consider if you are the only one who can help? If help is needed immediately direct the requester to a report or training material or another expert.

A request from your boss to do additional work

If you are already working to a plan that was agreed with your boss then you are in a good position to negotiate. Offer to do the additional work but point out “This is what I am working on based on the plan we agreed. I will happily do this new work but I may need to push out one of these tasks“.

So your objective is to get approval to free up time to do the new task. That way if one of the original tasks doesn’t get done, there is a common understanding why. If your boss insists that you still do everything, at least you have provided a reminder of your current workload based on the agreed plan. This can be a subtle way to highlight that your boss is being unreasonable, maybe unintentionally.

Tone of the Message

As with most business interactions the tone of delivery will greatly affect how your message is received. Find your own words. Use your judgement about how best to position your response. Consider the other persons’ perspective. If you are clear in your own head about why you are responding the way you are, it will start to come naturally.


Of course there are times when we need to just drop what we are doing and help. Again we have to use our judgment and knowledge of our work situation to  identify these times.  This will not be a time for alternatives or rescheduling.

Learn to say no

  1. Strive to say yes if you can
  2. If you can’t, explain your reasons professionally
  3. Provide an alternative
  4. Be committed to the alternative
  5. Negotiate priorities if saying yes

Saying No can Increase Your Credibility

Saying no from time to time can actually increase your credibility, as long as it’s done in a professional way. Saying no (or yes with conditions) can sometimes be the right thing to do for your role, your team and your organisation.

Saying no successfully is all about using your judgement. It’s a trade-off between being helpful and being in control of your own work life.


Let me know your thoughts in the comments section or tell me what approach has worked for you.