I find winter break to be the perfect time to get organized and make plans for the upcoming semester. I don’t really believe in New Year’s Resolutions that are forgotten in a few weeks–but I do believe in setting goals throughout the year and taking meaningful steps to achieve them.
My goal last semester was to get more organized. I have always had an overwhelming schedule throughout college, and it started catching up with me by the end of junior year. For this reason, during my first semester of senior year, I made some changes in my habits that led to a much smoother semester overall. There are a number of things I now do so that I can pay my rent, spend time with my friends, tackle a difficult class schedule, travel every once in a while, exercise, AND binge watch Netflix. The key is time management.
How do you properly manage your time to successfully balance schoolwork, friends, jobs, clubs, volunteer experiences, sleep, exercise and travel?
It is my belief that you will succeed at managing your time if you become more organized and do things that keep you motivated. If you don’t stay motivated, you will burn out halfway through the semester (I learned this the hard way). If you don’t stay organized, you will inevitably neglect one of your responsibilities, whether it be school, work performance, or your friends and family.
In accordance with this Venn Diagram, I think that it is possible to defy the laws of physics. There a lot of things that I do to maintain my sanity and live through my schedule, ranging from the obvious to some that you might find useful!
Make time for everything and spend your time wisely–this means that I plan when I will exercise and do homework. I’ve found that when I have allotted time for doing my homework, I feel like I absolutely have to do it during that time, and I tend not to get distracted as much. If I only have two hours to write an assignment, I end up writing the assignment without procrastinating (too much).
Similarly, if I don’t plan gym time into my schedule, I won’t go. If it’s written in red on my calendar I probably will go. If I plan ahead of time to meet my friend on a run every Wednesday, I definitely will go.
Make to-do lists! It may seem unnecessary, but it feels very rewarding to cross something off your list when you finish it. For to-do lists, I strongly recommend Google Keep. Here is a screenshot of my current tasks (the web version):
- It works on a phone, tablet, or computer, so you can get the app on hand-held devices and sync between them. You can also just use the web browser version if you so desire.
- You can quickly filter and search for notes by color or characteristics (ex. “shared notes”).
- You can add written notes, audio notes, lists, and pictures!
- You can copy a note to a google doc or share with your friends with the click of a button.
- When you’re done with a list, you an archive it to hide it from view.
- You can set a reminder for a task, which is especially useful on a mobile phone.
Create a Google Calendar! I find that during winter break, I finally have enough time to start building my schedule for next semester! Using Google Calendar is great because as a Rutgers student, you have a Scarletmail account (which is basically a Gmail account that comes with access to Google tools like Google Calendar).
Features that I love in Google Calendar:
- It syncs readily with your phone and laptop (think of the “Calendar” app on your iPhone).
- You can share it with family and friends (and you can choose to hide or show their events on your calendar, which is very convenient when you’re trying to remember their trips and meetings, but don’t want them to show all of the time).
- You can make your events all sorts of different colors, which makes it easier to visually distinguish between jobs, class, volunteering, and club events.
- You can opt to receive text message reminders for appointments, by adding your cell phone number in Settings!
- You can have an agenda sent to yourself in your email each morning. This way you can see whatever you have planned for the day in your email when you wake up. This can be done under “Reminders.”
- You can make lots of different calendars–for example, a work schedule calendar, a class calendar, and a personal events calendar.
Use a physical planner. I used to think that I could live without writing everything down. I would memorize every event and obligation that I had. That was until I almost forgot about a really important event for work… I then invested in a planner (which doesn’t have to be a big investment). If you have never had a physical planner, you should consider using one. Even if you use Google Calendar on the regular, it is very satisfying to scribble notes to yourself all over your weekly agenda. I prefer to use a physical planner for writing down my homework assignments and tasks, and a google calendar for events, appointments, and my work schedule.
Create an Assignment Spreadsheet. This is basically a giant excel sheet with every assignment from all of your classes listed in one place. I prefer to keep it on Google Docs so that I can access it at all times. This blogger gave pretty good ideas for customizing one.
Download the Self Control App. This app will block any sites you tell it to for any amount of time you choose. You can set it for your class time so you aren’t distracted by Facebook while you’re there, or you can turn it on while you’re writing a paper to help yourself focus. I don’t use this app anymore because I found that after some time, I no longer needed it. However, if you don’t have it on your computer already, you should consider downloading it.
Every day of my week is different, but there are certain things that I keep as part of my routine. For example, I always leave time to enjoy a big cup of coffee every morning. This time is mine for reading the news, jotting down a comprehensive to-do list, blogging on Tumblr, or learning to do something on Pinterest.
Other things that are non-negotiable: exercise and 7-8 hours of sleep every night. If I’m tired, I’m unmotivated. If I’m groggy, I’m unmotivated. I don’t sacrifice sleep for anything anymore and that has been a life-changer.
There are a few other things you can do to stay motivated as you go through your daily schedule. Schedule breaks in the middle of doing work so that you don’t burn out. These can be work-out breaks, blueberry tea breaks, Tumblr breaks. Your mind wanders after a certain period of time, which affects the quality of your work. To maintain quality, do yourself a favor and take a scheduled break before your brain takes one for you.
After a long week of working I try to reward myself with something that will help with self-improvement. Don’t get me wrong–sometimes I crave a milkshake, so I will buy a milkshake (Everyone, please go to The Counter on George Street and get an Apple Crumble milkshake because it will blow your mind). IDEALLY, I aim to buy something like new workout leggings that I know will make my runs a little more fun.
I hope some of these tips come in handy for your new semester. I have some new goals that I am excited to tackle:
- More morning runs! I love to run, and I did run for the whole summer and most of the fall semester, but I got a bit lazy by the end of it. I’ve found that the main thing keeping me from going on runs is boredom. My current plan is to listen to podcasts while I run, which I think will help me stay motivated. If you have any suggestions for podcasts, please comment below! Let’s join Mark Zuckerburg in his 365 mile challenge!
- Color coding my notes. My notes and study guides have always been black and white, without pictures and color, just lines of text. I spoke to a few friends recently who looked at my notes in shock and suggested that I use more color and pictures in my notes and study guides, which they claim makes things easier to remember. I’m going to give it a shot this semester and see how it goes. Time to invest in some colorful pens and highlighters.
- Buying less coffee. If you know me at all, then you know that I buy coffee all of the time, despite having a coffee maker at home. My goal is to finally start making more coffee at home, so that I can spend all of that money on something else (such as my backpacking trip to Europe with my friend N.K. ❤ ).