Ask Amanda: Advice on staying motivated in 2018

Amanda Su, Editor-in-Chief


When I woke up on the first day of school after Winter Break to the darkness that is 6:30 a.m. on a January morning, the senioritis hit me hard.

So when I had people send in their New Year’s resolutions so that I could (attempt to) give advice about maintaining them for this issue’s advice column and noticed that the overwhelming majority of the responses were resolutions about being productive and staying motivated in school, I audibly snickered, thinking to myself something that I’ve been thinking since I started this column: “Am I qualified to give life advice?”

But based on my three and half years of experience as high school student and numerous interviews I’ve conducted with my far more hardworking, motivated peers, here is all the help I can give.


Maintain focus:


Phones and laptops are often the things that distract students the most. To moderate your phone usage, check your phone only once, after you finish a task, to make sure there aren’t any urgent messages, then shut it off and move onto your next task.

Unfortunately, you usually have to use your computer to do homework, so computers are unavoidable. But one way to make sure you don’t fall into a rabbit hole on the Internet is by doing your homework in a public environment, like a coffee shop or library. It’s much more difficult for me to spend hours on social media or Netflix in places where there are plenty of people who are being productive and who can glance at my screen and judge me for binge-watching “Black Mirror” episodes. Also, since it’s not socially acceptable to change into pajamas and lie down in the middle of a Peet’s Coffee & Tea, you can be comfortable in the cozy coffee shop environment, but pressured by society’s rules to not be TOO comfortable.

If it’s not possible for you to go to a public place to do homework, try working at home with others around you. Because no one is usually home when I am, I use my dog as company. Surprisingly, it works. I also usually avoid doing homework in bed, because sometimes I convince myself that I’ll take a 10-minute nap when it really ends up being 6 hours, and I wake up at 5 a.m., realizing I didn’t finish the homework that I was supposed to.

And if you truly want to stay focused, do not multi-task! I don’t think most Dougherty students are crazy or skilled enough to work on math homework at the same time as English, but I do know plenty of students who watch TV or listen to music while doing homework.

Although watching TV and listening to music might be fine while you’re working on a project that requires very little brain activity — such as coloring or gluing things — if you’re taking notes, DO NOT WATCH TV AT THE SAME TIME. It significantly reduces your retention of the information. If you’re doing math homework, I repeat, DO NOT WATCH TV AT THE SAME TIME. Your productivity will drastically decrease because it is much easier for you to make mistakes, forcing you to do the same, simple, WebAssign problem over and over.

And unless it’s ambient music, I also wouldn’t recommend listening to music while doing homework because even the words in songs can be distracting, especially if you’re trying to write an essay. I started writing an English essay once and realized halfway through that some lyrics from a song had snuck its way into my first body paragraph. Oops.


Be open to receiving help:


The assignments and tests that I’ve gotten the best scores on have been the results of a lot of help-seeking. In my experience, teachers are always extremely open to offering extra guidance, and they’re never annoyed at my clinginess (at least I hope they aren’t). A really good question to ask them is, “what are some ways I can get extra practice?” Just be sure that when you ask for help, you have a concrete question in mind so you don’t waste your teacher’s time. It’s helpful if you can show them work you’ve already done or started so that they can give more specific advice.

Besides asking teachers for help, I also ask my friends. Before every physics exam, my friend Anumita and I go to Peet’s Coffee to work on our study guides together, checking in with each other to see if we both got the same answer and which method(s) we used to solve each question. Before English class discussions or timed writes, I sometimes meet with or video chat with friends to talk through discussion prompts and bounce ideas off of them.

Sometimes, my friends also keep me accountable by regularly sending me text messages, reminding me to work on some project or task that I would otherwise probably wait until the last minute to start.


Take breaks:


After doing homework for several hours, my productivity usually drastically decreases because of how exhausted I am. It is at these points in time that I usually take a break. During these breaks, try to stay completely away from electronic devices because once you pick them up and start scrolling, it’s nearly impossible to stop. Go outside and get some fresh air. I’ve gone on many walks with my dog to clear my head. Eat a snack, but nothing super heavy or fatty. Some great snacks are nuts (e.g., almonds, pistachios, walnuts) for something salty and fruit for something sweet.

To be even more productive, you can even use your break to take care of tasks that you enjoy and that aren’t extremely mentally draining. For example, if you’re in art, during your break between doing math and English, work on your art assignment.


Stay organized:


To stay organized, you should plan out your day in advance. Some people use planners, Google Calendar or Google Keep. I use the Notes app on my phone, type out my schedule for the day, screenshot the schedule and set it as my phone background so I can look at it when I need to see what I have to do, when I have to do it, and how much time I have to do it.

If procrastination is something that you regularly fall victim to, one tip is that you should create checkpoints for yourself. Work usually seems much more manageable if it’s divided up into parts. For example, if i have to write a paper for English, I dedicate one day to finding evidence, the next day to organizing evidence and coming up with my thesis and topic sentences, the next to writing the introduction and first body paragraph, the day after to writing the second body paragraph and conclusion and leave the last day to proofreading and making minor edits.




Everything that I mentioned above are good habits that you can develop throughout the school year. But the absolute best way to stay motivated and productive throughout the year is to do things that you enjoy. If the work that you have to do is something that you find fulfilling and love, you’ll automatically be motivated to do it. That’s not to say you should only take classes or participate in extracurricular activities that you think you absolutely love, because I do think that there is value in any class you take and you may discover an interest in a subject or activity that you never thought you’d be interested in before.

It’s important to try new things, but it’s also important to relinquish the things that you think make you seem “well-rounded” or things that everyone else does but make you absolutely miserable. Learn to cut down on the list of activities you’re involved in. Focus on strengthening your skills in the subjects and activities you’re passionate about. Motivation should come with that.

Good luck!



Amanda Su


P.S. For February’s issue, I’ll be interviewing people who are far more qualified than I am to answer your questions about love and relationships in honor of Valentine’s Day! (God help us).