You’re listening to your professor lecture at an hour so early you’re certain it should be illegal. This time, your mind isn’t wandering because the topic is painfully boring, but because you’re beyond worried about your impending schedule. Between class, homework/tests, work, and a social existence, it can be seem pretty tough to keep up with life itself. The good news is there are a few key tricks to getting through the weeks that feel like they could likely break you instead of make you.
Don’t force your brain to do all the work. I used to feel overwhelmed when I made a mental to-do list, mainly because as the day goes on, all those mental notes add up. It leaves you feeling stressed when you’re assuming you have a lot to tackle because you have a lot to remember. Writing notes down as soon as you think of a task allows you to see what you have to do, and you’ll probably feel a lot more capable of finishing your work load when you see exactly what it consists of. Even if it’s something as simple as a reminder to meet with a friend for coffee, write it down. Sticky notes, or a good, old-fashioned agenda book, are great tools to keep handy for this purpose. For instant gratification (and saving the trip to CVS), download a notepad app on your phone or computer. The best part? The electronic options are free, unless you opt for a fancier choice. If you don’t own a smart phone, most phones come with calendars that you can add events into, equipped with a reminder alarm.
When in doubt, plan it out. In that same thread, if you know ahead of time that you have an exorbitant amount of work to do for the upcoming week, make a schedule for each day with exact time blocks for each task. For example, if you know you have an exam and a paper coming up, but you still have work and you also want to do something for yourself such as go to the gym, create a chart. Detail your day down to the minute, including breaks for meals or just relaxation. Also, leave longer amounts of time for assignments you know will require more attention, and be specific with the goals for your time blocks. Write out how much of it you’re going to finish in the allotted time period (“From 2:00-3:45, write pages 1-3 in essay”). Knowing exactly when to stop and go is an excellent way to ensure you get things done, but don’t lose your mind in the process. More importantly, STICK TO THE PLAN! Even if you aren’t finished with your task, when the time comes to start the other one, do so. It may seem counterintuitive, but I’ve found it’s better to get a start on a little of everything and revisit it later for completion than have everything done for one class and nothing done for another.
Be realistic about your plans. In that same thread, a good rule of thumb is to make sure that your goals are attainable and that you are not setting yourself up for failure by default. A common scenario is one pulled from the book of bad luck – you have multiple exams and a paper due in the same week. It may seem impossible to prepare for all of them adequately, but the good news is that stranger things have been done. Up typing your fifteen pages the night before until 3 a.m.? Don’t expect to wake up to study for your midterm at 7 a.m. Know yourself enough to know what can and can’t be done with the amount of time you have. In the wise words of a friend of mine, “Productivity should be measured by quality and organized by quantity.”
The final and most important tip is to be as proactive as possible. Even though we know better but generally do worse, procrastination is something that should be used sparingly. Above all, remember the quote, “The future belongs to those who prepare for it today.” Well said, Malcolm X.