Make a Schedule
In Part One, we discussed how you are the master of your own time. You have the power to decide which activities and events you will participate in and which you are not. So when you begin to schedule your time, you have to prioritize your activities. Since you are in school, your priority is your education. You may also have family or work obligations. After that, you should schedule a reasonable amount of time to hang out with your friends, join extra-curriculars, etc. Making connections with others and finding time to relax are important. However, you want to make sure that your fun activities continue to be fun rather than exhausting.
So open a calendar or a planner. Mark down each day the times you have to be in class, the time you have to spend commuting, and the time you have to spend studying. Pencil in any family, work, religious, or other truly non-negotiable commitments. (Athletics may count if you are attending school on an athletic scholarship.) Also make sure you mark time for sleeping, eating, exercising, grooming, and other important self-care. Now look at the time you have left. That is time you have for extra-curricular activities and socializing. You may find you no longer have room for five clubs as well as video game night. That is perfectly normal. Choose the activities you are most invested in, pencil them in, and let the rest go. No one has unlimited time. It is okay and even necessary to say “no” at times. Enjoy what you can reasonably commit to rather than feeling stressed out about “having” to do it all.
Prepare for Major Assignments
Your schedule will not be consistent from week to week. You want to plan your time in regard to when major assignments are due. If you have a major writing assignment one week, you may need to account for that by adding in some extra writing time or some time to see a tutor. If you have a group project, you may need to pencil in extra hours to meet with your group. This is okay. However, keep in mind that the most successful students do not cram the night before a test but rather study consistently. That is, ideally you are not going to pencil in an all-nighter before a major assignment is due because you will have been reviewing the class material every day leading up to that assignment. This strategy should help remove some of your stress as it spaces your workload over a longer period of time to make it more manageable. Then you can relax and get a good night’s sleep before your big test.
Turn the Electronics Off
Now that you have scheduled your study time, you need to study. You want to be proactive about this by closing Internet tabs not related to your work, turning off the TV, and choosing music that you do not find distracting. Though it is tempting to try to do it all, scientists have demonstrated that people cannot really multitask. They actually just switch quickly between tasks. This means that every time you look up at your TV show, or listen to the lyrics of that song, or go to social media, you are probably not doing your homework, even if the book is open in front of you. You can shorten your study time by focusing solely on the task at hand, then returning to your other activities once you have finished your work. You may even find you have more time for fun now that you are studying more efficiently!
Some people find that they don’t have the willpower to unplug. You may have to be creative. Turn off your cell phone or at least your notifications. Join a study session to shame yourself into keeping your work on your computer screen instead of your social media. Find a study partner who will hold you accountable. Do what you need to do. Your strategies may be different from someone else’s, but that is okay as long as they are working.
Prioritize Your Tasks
Once you begin studying, you should begin with the assignments that are the most difficult and that will take up most of your time. You want to leave the “busy work” type of work until last, when you are tired and less focused. Difficult work may include writing assignments, complex math or science problems, or anything that requires critical thinking and creativity. The work you save for the end should be things you can answer relatively easily–short personal responses to a piece of literature, answering a few questions about the content you read, etc.
Seek Help When Necessary
Some colleges have tutors or coaches available to help students learn how to navigate college. They may be able to help you set goals, make schedules, read your textbooks, keep notes, and so forth. Take advantage of them! And do it sooner rather than later. You don’t need to wait until you are struggling or even failing to seek help. Tutors are there for everyone, even if they are trying to go from a “C” to a “B” or a “B” to an “A.” They are a great resource as they can help you on a personal level since your needs and goals may be different from someone else’s.