The end is near.
You can see the light (er, the sunshine) that’s glimmering outside those library doors. You’re so close to finishing this semester that you can feel the summer heat on your face. There’s one annoying catch: this proximity to finishing final exams and papers makes it one hundred times more difficult to stay focused on your work. Damn it.
I believe I’ve got you covered.
The secret to success and ultimate badassery at the end of this semester lies in managing your time effectively, so that you stay productive and on top of your tests, projects, and consequent grades…and also your healthy eating, sleep, moments of relaxation, and exercise.
Let’s do this!
1. Understand & write down what you WANT to get done on any given day, and what you HAVE to get done.
These are two very different things. What you have to get done could be studying for a test, or doing laundry because you have one pair of socks and no shirts left. What you want to do could be watching Gilmore Girls, online shopping, or baking banana bread. Each night, write out what you want to do the next day and what you have to do the next day. In the morning, prioritize your to-do list by what you have to knock out, and then see if you have time to accomplish what you *want* to.
2. Figure out a to-do list system that works for you.
The best habits are the ones that are EASY to create and implement, so find what is best for you — not for someone else. For some, this means writing a new note in the Notes app each day. For others, myself included, this means carrying around a journal where you can write out your to-do list, and cross things off as you get them done on the day-of.
3. Find a calendar system that functions best for your habits and preferences.
In order to be effective at managing your time, you need to have a good system in place that enables you to be on top of your time — when things are due, when you can study, when you have to be somewhere, and when you can take time for yourself/workout/eat/sleep/BREATHE.
Some people live by their Day Designer planners. I tried a planner; I thought it was so damn cute, but it only worked for, like, a week. Now, I’ve learned that I do really well with using my iCal. Here’s a photo of the week before this past year’s Thanksgiving break:
Okay. Maybe this looks like I’m insane. I don’t care. This works for me.
Some of my friends can’t stand to look at my iCal because it’s too structured for their styles of time management. For me, this is the way that I stay sane and in control of my time. I don’t write down every little detail, like “eat lunch at 2PM”, or “do a face mask on Wednesday at 9PM”, but I keep interviews, my class schedule, exams/paper deadlines, the times I ideally want to exercise, sorority, blog events/dates, some (not all) social happenings, meetings with professors, and family stuff in here.
I encourage you to try it out! If this doesn’t work for you, a planner or another form of keeping track of important dates/info definitely will. Get out there and experiment with different calendars — something will stick for you.
4. Use exercise to become a more productive, successful student.
If you are going stir-crazy from studying all day for an exam or completing a group project, abandon your work. Run away from it, and go workout in whatever way makes you happy — walk, do yoga, lift weights, play frisbee on some patch of grass with friends, go for a run.
Quality over quantity is what I practice and preach when it comes to effective studying and completion of assignments. To be honest, this method has served me extremely well during my time at boarding school and now at Northeastern University. I am proud of my success in education thus far because I know that I’ve earned it, and because I’ve learned exactly how to handle my time. Without exercise and taking that sacred time for myself just about every day, I don’t believe I’d be thriving as much as I am. When we exercise, we give our body a chance to move around and our brain a chance to take a break from cramming information. Exercise is vital for healthy brain function, happiness levels, and confidence.
So, even if you can only take 45 minutes of out your day to ditch the library and go for a hike or throw a ball around, do it. It’s going to be so worth it — SUCH a good use of your time — when you go back to studying later on. Trust me.
5. Through trial and error, figure out the time of day that works best for you to study.
If you’re a morning person and find that waking up early to knock out assignments is best, go to bed early so that you can do this. If studying late at night and sleeping in later works for you, that’s awesome, too. It does not matter what others are doing; experiment with different times and learn what time of day you do schoolwork best. This will save you HOURS of the day; if you’re a morning person but are trying to study at night, it’s almost guaranteed that you’re going to be way less productive and waste more time than if you go to bed at 10 and wake up at 6 to study. PS – that’s what I do. Want to join the club? Yes? No? Maybe? LMK.
6. Look out for your future self.
Let’s say it’s Saturday, and there’s a party that you want to go to that night. BUT you have a big exam on Monday that you don’t feel prepared for. Think about what your future, Monday-self needs and would want. I’m guessing that self would want you to feel prepared to rock the test, as opposed to feeling stressed out of a lack of preparedness and tired after a long Sunday night of studying.
In this example, a plausible, responsible solution is that you hang out with your friends and send them off to the party; there will be MANY more social gatherings like this one — you are not missing anything, except maybe a pointless Instagram photo, by staying in for this night.
Maybe you study for a little (no shame in studying on weekend nights. It’s a boss move, in my book), and go to bed early so that you can wake up Sunday feeling ready to learn the material and dominate the test on Monday. Boom.
Because, you guys, here is the truth: as a college student, no one is truly looking out for you. You are the only person who has full control over your success, your happiness, and your time. This is a big responsibility, and I encourage you to handle it with care.
7. If you’re trying to study and you just cannot be productive, go do something else.
This is one that I’m still trying to teach myself to this day. I think we can often get caught in the mindset of “I have to study MORE” — however, if you’ve been working for hours, and your brain and body are trying to tell you that you need a break, take the damn break. Take it. Go hang out with friends down the hall, go eat food, go take a walk, and come back to your work later. Trying to cram as much information as possible into a given homework session is sometimes the least effective way to study. Take breaks, relax, and always trust that you know more than you think you do.
8. NEVER Underestimate the power of a good night’s rest.
Strive for 7-8 hours each night, and your brain, your grades, and your future self will thank you. Big time. There’s a ton of science to back this one up; go check some of it out here.
9. Block off time throughout the week that is designated “YOU” time.
Whether this is time time for you to study, workout, cook, watch a documentary, read a book, or anything else, make sure to section off time each week that cannot, under any circumstances be filled with extracurricular, social, or life obligations. If everyone allocated this kind of time for themselves, I do believe that we’d be a happier, less stressed-out society.
10. Set a timer for yourself when studying, doing homework, or writing an essay.
There’s a saying that I learned from the author of my favorite book, You Are A Badass, by Jen Sincero, that goes something kind of like this: if you have six months to do something, it’ll take you six months. But if you have six hours to finish the same thing, it will take you six hours.
This means that sometimes, we can complete tasks more efficiently if we limit ourselves on how much time we have to finish them. See if this strategy works for you by setting a timer for 50 minutes the next time you sit down to study and crank work out. If you can just sit there, for 49 more minutes, and be wicked productive with schoolwork, then you can take a little break and spend time with friends or workout. The other option is to allocate all night for studying with no set breaks, in which case you’ll likely be way less productive because you have so much ‘more’ time. Try it out!
I hope these tips help you manage your time a little better, and you will finish this semester like a badass!
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