Welcome to the lawless wasteland of time management as an adult!

You know how you legally have to fork over eight hours of your day to being in high school? Then you have an allotted time between the end of school and when you go to bed for after-school activities, homework, family obligations, etc. with multiple authority figures reminding you to do things? Not in college! Making a schedule and sticking to it are a you problem now. And since your free time until this point has mostly been managed by other people, you’re probably left wondering where on Earth you’re supposed to start if you have even a shred of hope at getting good at scheduling and stress management. Fear not, however, for there are many, many tools at your disposal to help you develop a work ethic that enables  you to get things done on time with minimal stress(there’s a catch, but we’ll get to that later). 

Making a schedule that works for you

The first and most obvious place to start is to get either a physical or digital planner. Apps like Google Calendar and Google Tasks (not sponsored) are great because you can set reminders and you’re pretty much guaranteed to have your phone with you at all times. But if you’re someone who remembers things better by writing them down, physical is a tried and true option as well. Then, during the first week of classes or so take all of your syllabi (packets of paper that each have the course objectives, requirements, and important due dates all listed within them), and put every single assignment, project, and exam into your calendar or planner. Compiling every single due date all into one place will help you remember them.

However, looking at everything you have to do for the entire semester can get pretty overwhelming pretty quickly. It can leave you feeling like you’ll never have time to do anything that isn’t homework. So how do you make a schedule that won’t overwhelm you to even look at?

  • Prioritize tasks within a smaller time frame. Maintain some general time slots for when you usually try to accomplish things, but allow for flexibility. Again, looking at your schedule for the whole semester, or even a whole month, is where it starts to get intimidating. 
  • Don’t just go by the due dates. You have to take into consideration how much time you realistically need to accomplish something in a timely manner that’s not going to cause you to have a mental breakdown.
  • Keep things that are important to your health and wellbeing ridgid. You’re not going to get much work done (or have it be done well) if you’re sleep deprived and hungry. Say to yourself something along the lines of, “My work day ends at this time. I’ll eat after that, then do homework until x time. After x time, I’m giving myself y amount of time to do whatever I want, and then I’m going to bed. No exceptions.” The time you spend working on things outside of class should be made to accommodate the time you spend taking care of yourself—not the other way around.
How to stick to your schedule

Now you have everything written down and have set up some general time frames for when you get things done, and you’re feeling pretty good about it. You might even be saying to yourself, “Time management isn’t that hard.” Then, three days into trying out your routine, you’ve already gone to bed at four in the morning working on a paper you had a week to work on, and you might as well be hooked up to an IV with an energy drink in it. Now you might be tempted to just vaguely pay attention to the due dates and let chaos reign because what’s the point of doing all that planning if it doesn’t work? Here’s the thing: it does work. You’re just approaching it with an incompatible mindset. Here are the three tips for sticking to your routine:

  • Schedule with a personal goal in mind. Let’s be honest: “Because I have to,” although unavoidable, isn’t a great motivator. Setting goals such as “I don’t want to have to do any homework during the weekend” or “I want to go out with my friends tonight” is a much more effective motivator for getting things done because you have something personal to gain from it. And leisurely activities feel more satisfying because, in a way, you’ve earned it.
  • Allow yourself some leniency. Life has a knack for getting in the way of plans, so don’t give up on your schedule just because you have one or two weird days or even weeks.
  • Don’t try to do too much at once. Break more time-consuming tasks up into smaller chunks over a longer period of time.

Procrastination is the bane of all things good in the world (while you’re a student at least). It is your worst enemy, and while it might seem fine to just do it later or say, “it can wait,”  it will come back to haunt you. Nothing good comes out of putting things off. But it is unfortunately a painfully difficult habit to break—especially if you’ve managed to get away with it often enough. Maybe you’re the kind of person who can write a paper in 30 minutes at two in the morning and still get an A whilst standing triumphantly over your classmates who took five hours over the course of three days to do the same assignment. But that kind of work ethic isn’t sustainable. It works until it doesn’t. And once it stops working, you suffer for it big time. If you find that you’re finally ready to try to combat procrastination, here are some mindsets you can adopt to help you along the way:

  • Barely managing to get things done does not mean you did it well. Even if you got an A on that rushed paper, consider it a fluke. Don’t make it a habit because the quality of your work will ultimately suffer if you don’t invest the appropriate amount of time into it. 
  • If you have the time to do something, get it done. If you have a ton of free time one day, use it to be productive. You’re not losing your leisure time; it’s just getting pushed back to another day (ironically) when you don’t have a bunch of assignments to worry about. 
  • Push yourself to do things when you need to. This just comes down to sheer, unadulterated discipline. The more you do it, however, the easier it becomes until you’re no longer forcing yourself to get things done and it just becomes a part of your routine.
Managing stress

This article is about managing the seemingly unmanageable in college so, alongside time, there is also stress—although you probably don’t need me to tell you that. Now, I could just tell you to eat well, sleep, and exercise like pretty much every other article on how to manage stress in college. It goes without saying that taking care of your physical well-being is important and gives you one less thing to worry about, but it doesn’t matter if you sleep eight hours a day and shove kale in your face: you’re going to encounter stress. However, it doesn’t have to leave you sobbing on the floor of your shower while you have your “Emo Hours” playlist on full blast to drown out the sounds of your weeping as your life spirals out of control. This situation is, for the most part, preventable. So how do you manage your stress before it gets to this point?

  • Ask yourself just why exactly are you so stressed. Things that we don’t have control over in our lives can and will stress us. But are there things you do have control over that are stressing you out? Are you stressed because you just happen to have a paper due the same day as an exam? Or are you stressed because you haven’t started the paper you got assigned three weeks ago and you still have to study all in one night? Being honest with yourself about how your choices factor into your stress can help you to not make those choices again in the future.
  • Relaxing is just as, if not more important than, the time you spend working. We live in a culture in which overworking yourself and self-sacrifice for the sake of productivity is glorified, but that is (1) incredibly dangerous for your mental health and (2) counterintuitive. If you burn the candle at both ends 24/7, eventually it will start impact your ability to work, and you’ll get even less done than if you had just taken healthy breaks.
  • Put things into perspective. Even though it can certainly feel like it sometimes, what you do in school is hardly the end of the world. It’s important that you want to do well, but some things aren’t worth making you cry on the floor of your shower. 
The catch

Remember “the catch” I mentioned earlier? Well, here it is: no matter how many strategies you’re given for managing your time and stress, you need self-discipline if you want to get anything out of them. You’re an adult now, and being in college is a choice, but it is an excellent environment to start cultivating the time and stress-management skills you’ll need once you set off into your full adult life. There’s not going to be anyone telling you what to do or when to do it. You have to want to develop self-discipline and put effort into it. Sticking to a schedule or breaking free of procrastination can be hard, but once you follow through with it for a few weeks, the benefits will be readily apparent, and you won’t be able to return to any bad habits even if you tried.

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