After a month since returning to school, how are you doing? Feeling any of that Syllabus Shock? Have you settled into routines of classes, dining hall hours, sports practice or music rehearsal or the on-campus job? For a lot of students, September is an exciting time of reconnecting with friends, meeting new people, signing up for clubs and committees. With so many opportunities offered to you at the start of each semester, it can be easy to overbook yourself and forget to leave time for, oh, I don’t know…sleep. Exercise. Eating well. Studying, even.
Right now, before you’re totally buried in term papers and comprehensive exams, why don’t we take a moment to get organized? I’m not talking about cleaning under your bunk or doing laundry (which are good things too – especially if you want to keep your current roommate). I mean getting a game plan for how you’re going to meet your responsibilities and have fun in the process.
I saw a sign last week that said, “If you do the things you need to do when you need to do them, you’ll be able to do the things you want to do when you want to do them.” That sounds good and all, but how does it work? If you’re like me, you might procrastinate the big tasks for the sake of having fun right now. Why do today what you can put off ‘til tomorrow? Maybe because that sign was right. “Shut up and rock,” as my friend Weston would say. Often, the thing that needs to be done, like washing dishes or sorting papers, actually takes less time when you just do it instead of attending to all the little distractions. If you set a timer for ten minutes and tell yourself you’re only going to do that one task for ten minutes, you might be surprised at how much you can accomplish!
They say that students who take a few minutes to make an outline at the beginning of an essay test actually perform better than those who just wing-it, writing as they go. Prep work may feel like an unnecessary waste of precious time, but it actually helps you focus and make sense of your ideas. Same thing goes for studying—if you skim over the subtitles and chapter summaries before reading, you’ll be primed to take in whatever is in the body of the text.
Chances are if you’re in college, you did fairly well in high school. Academics make some sense and you may even, you know, enjoy learning. But being a smart student isn’t the same as knowing a bunch of facts. It also means making use of the resources around you. It’s about the process as well as the product. Does your school have a tutoring center? Use it. I guarantee you will get something out of it. Many high schools don’t teach organizational skills like time management, and it would be a shame for you to go until your Senior year without realizing that cramming for exams doesn’t cut it.
If you’re on your own to figure out a strategy, start by creating a Time Budget: factor in all the “fixed expenses” (i.e. main requirements, like classes and tests). Don’t forget to set aside time for healthy habits, like eating regular meals and hitting the gym. The stress of classes is only made worse by neglecting your health. Even three 10-minute jogs spread out in the day will be better than sitting on your bum–increasing oxygen flow to your brain for clearer thoughts and improved mood. (And, if you can get yourself to go for 10 minutes, maybe you’ll like it enough to do 15 minutes next time around!)
Next, chart out the semester’s deadlines as well as how much time you think each assignment will take to complete. If you notice you have two tests and a paper due on the same day, you may want to cut out the “variable expenses” like going to Six Flags or the GTA marathon night. For me, it helps to color-code the tasks that are fixed and those that are variable. Putting it visually helps you take honest inventory of where you’re putting your energy and attention. “Why did I get a D? I studied for that test!” Did you really? Or did you look over your friend’s flash cards one time while watching a movie and texting your boyfriend? Be honest with yourself: the effort put in will be reflected in the outcome.
Throughout grade school, you had other people structuring your time and keeping you on track. Becoming an adult means taking over that job and creating a lifestyle that works for you! Don’t worry if it takes a while to determine what works and what doesn’t.
This entry gives only some beginning steps for preventing semester burn-out. So, if you’re interested in talking more about finding a better life-school balance, feel free to contact Janice through this website and set up a meeting!