Being in college means you have tons to do and a relatively unstructured schedule. Each student has to determine for themselves how to get assignments done on time, which extracurricular activities to take advantage of, and how to fit in a social life without becoming completely exhausted! Maintaining a healthy balance between academics, pursuing individual interests and down time is no small feat, and requires good time management skills. The practices below can help you get things done, reduce stress and improve your quality of life.
Get a calendar, and use it! A calendar, of the paper or virtual variety, is essential to keeping track of your schedule. Make sure you write all your classes, meetings, appointments, work commitments etc. on your calendar, and bring it with you anytime you might need to schedule something.
Write it down! Get in the habit of writing down everything you have to do, in one place (multiple calendars and lists only add to the chaos). This will help keep things from falling through the cracks. Some people swear by to-do lists, others use post-it notes on a board or wall. Find a system that works for you. If you notice some things never get crossed off your “to-do list,” ask yourself if the task is essential. If not, get rid of it. If so, take if off your to-do list and put it on your calendar.
Plan Ahead. Whether you like to plan your day in detailed minute-by-minute increments, or broad chunks of time, make sure you put deadlines and due dates on your calendar, then work backwards so you have a handle on what needs to be accomplished when.
Allow for flexibility. Things don’t always go according to plan. Leave yourself a little wiggle room to adjust when something unexpected comes up.
Prioritize, and re-prioritize your tasks. Prioritizing tasks ensures that you are spending your time and energy on the things that are most important to you. Look at your “to do” list and decide what needs to be done now, and what can wait. If unexpected things come up, as they tend to do in life, you may need to shift your schedule around and re-prioritize. Prioritizing also means recognizing that it’s impossible, or at least unhealthy, to do everything. It’s important to determine what classes, sports, activities, are most important and what can go when the semester gets busy.
Avoid over-commitment: learn to say no. Before agreeing to take on an additional time commitment, ask yourself if it’s in line with your goals. Attempting to do too much can lead to excessive stress, and means you’ll be getting less out of each activity. Remember that saying yes to one thing often means neglecting another, so make a conscious decision about how you want to spend your time. If it’s tough to say no, practice saying, “let me think about it,” or “can I get back to you later?” to give yourself time to weigh the pros and cons.
Get started: Starting a project is often the hardest part. If a 10 page research project is too daunting to start, break it down into smaller tasks, and complete it a step at a time. If you’re avoiding an unpleasant task, it can be helpful to schedule 10-15 minutes a day to work on it. Throw in a reward to sweeten the deal, e.g. “if I complete this chapter, then I can hang out with my friends.” After all, think of all the time you’ll save by not procrastinating!
Self-care. It’s easier to get things done when you’re healthy. Sleep, rest, and taking breaks will improve your focus and concentration, enabling you to complete your work more efficiently. Research has shown all-nighters and marathon study sessions to be counterproductive, so give yourself permission to take breaks to re-energize. Eating well and exercise can give you the boost you need to get through your task.