One of the really cool things about going off to university is that for the first time you are in control of your time. No one is hanging over your shoulder telling you what to do when. On the other hand, one of the treacherous things about going off to university is that you are in control of your own time. In other words, it’s up to you to make sure you succeed.
University is a privilege and an opportunity to create a real future for yourself, but it takes hard work and it takes focus. Yes, you should have a good time and make some great friends, but the way to enjoy that aspect of college is to know that you’re on top of the important things.
Maximizing your productivity during university can be broken down into three main principles: setting goals, prioritizing and scheduling your time according to those priorities. These principles apply to every aspect of university life, from academics to health to work and to play. Here are my top tips for managing your time in university so that you make the most of what it has to offer you.
Decide on Your Priorities
When you get to university, you need to already have your priorities firmly in place. Things start off fast and you’re going to hit the ground running. If you don’t know your priorities, you may end up running in the wrong direction.
The college may set the time for your anatomy class, but the professor isn’t going to make you show up. Your mom may have taught you that you need to eat plenty of fresh vegetables, but she isn’t going to be with you to make you do it. You need to decide what’s most important to you while you’re at university and then you need to make yourself act on those priorities.
Going to university is a privilege and an expensive one at that. Your major and how well you perform academically can be the foundation of all of your future success, so academics need to be your first priority. Your second priority should be your health. If you’re fatigued, hung over, stressed out and malnourished, you’re not going to do well academically, so the two go hand in hand.
After these two, your priorities will depend on your situation, needs and desires. These might include work, athletics, having a social life or what have you. I recommend that you have no more than three or four main priorities so you don’t get overwhelmed. Anything else can still be a part of the college experience, but not necessarily a main focus.
Set Specific, Measurable Goals Based on Your Priorities
The second thing you have to do is set very specific, measurable goals based on your priorities. Academically, you may have one set of goals for the entire experience, such as getting your economics degree or graduating magna cum laude and other goals that change from one semester to another, such as making a 3.8 GPA.
Your goals for your health may be to eat more whole foods, lose 15 pounds, get eight hours of sleep daily or to gain 20 pounds of muscle.
No matter what your hopes for the year or the semester are, you’re far more likely to achieve them if you have definite goals. These goals need to be as specific as possible and they need to be measurable, so you can break them down into smaller steps and so that you can track your progress and tweak your plan. “Losing weight” is a hope, “losing 15 pounds this semester” is a goal.
Schedule Your Time According to Your Goals
Your goals need to be based on your priorities and your schedule needs to be based on your goals. Now, obviously the university is going to be making up part of your schedule for you. You’ll have certain blocks of time that are spent in class. But what you do with the rest of your time is up to you.
First you need to schedule your time based on reaching your goals; the things that will help you with your priorities. The time you have left over is the time you have for other things, such as athletics, hobbies, social activities and so on. This sounds simplistic, but if you’re not managing your time this way, you’ll look back on the week and realize you didn’t spend any time at all on your priorities. You probably won’t really know where the time actually went.
Break Your Goals Down into Steps
In order to schedule your time properly and to track your progress toward your goals, you’ll need to break those goals down into steps. Let’s say that one of your goals is to lose 15 pounds of fat and add 20 pounds of lean muscle this semester. You may break that down to doing four weight-training sessions and three HIIT sessions per week. Now you have something concrete to schedule.
As another example, if one of your goals is to make an “A” in French, you may break that down to attending every single lecture, getting tutoring three hours per week and studying six hours per week. Again, these are definite steps that you can schedule.
Schedule Backwards or Large to Small
You’re going to have lots of big or long-term projects in university and you’ll get a syllabus for each class at the beginning of each semester. The best thing you can do is get yourself a large wall or desk calendar and write in the due dates for every single project for all classes. This ensures that nothing is forgotten and it gives you a look at the big picture at any point in time. Once you see the big picture, you can start working backwards.
What I mean by this is starting with the end goal (such as a paper due October 22) and then scheduling in the smaller steps that lead you to that goal. For this example, you may schedule two research sessions at the library on October 5 and October 7, creating your outline on October 10, writing the first draft on October 12, rewriting on October 15 and then a final edit and your bibliography on October 20.
Scheduling “backwards” ensures you have plenty of time to get everything done and that you’re not scrambling at the last minute to complete a project or stressing out worrying about what lies ahead. If you’ve got the big picture on a calendar and you’ve scheduled backwards, then you don’t have to worry about next week or next month as long as you’re doing what you’re supposed to do each day.
Schedule Your Down Time and Stick To It
Your schedule isn’t just about work; it’s also about rest and even about fun. Once you’ve scheduled according to your goals and priorities, you can look at your calendar and see what free time you have and when. This is time that you can freely spend on relaxation and social activities. But, it’s important to be smart with this time and not spend it screwing around that is causes a major setback in your priorities.
This may mean that you have four hours on Saturday afternoon or that you have the whole weekend. It may mean that you have a free hour after dinner on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Whatever time you determine you have, stick to it. Don’t decide that you’ll go out for pizza on Thursday night when you’re supposed to be studying and make it up by studying on Friday night when you’re supposed to be going out with friends. Why? Because you won’t study.
One of my favorite actors, Denzel Washington, said once that he was raised with this motto: “Do what you have to do so that you can do what you want to do.” I love that principle and it applies not only to how you spend your time today or this week, but to how you manage your time at university so that you can enjoy your life more freely later.
Manage Your Minutes
We have a tendency to waste a significant amount of time by failing to utilize minutes. You’re going to have time between classes, time between final exams, and time between finishing one assignment early and starting another. If you have 15 spare minutes, don’t just automatically start clicking around on Facebook because you think 15 minutes isn’t enough time to do anything. For one thing, 15 minutes on Facebook can easily turn into an hour. And surprisingly, you can get a lot of stuff done in 15 minutes.
In 15 minutes, you could get in a 7-minute Tabata workout and still have time to shower. You could review your notes for the exam you’re taking later in the day, go to the financial aid office to fill out that scholarship application, or head over to the dorm to grab a healthy snack.
When you’ve got a small block of free time, ask yourself if there’s anything you can do in that time that furthers your goals and reflects your priorities. There almost always will be. If not, then go ahead and play around on Facebook.
If you follow these tips for managing your time and maximizing your productivity in university, you’ll have enough time to do what you have to do and will also have enough time to do what you want to do. Not only that, but you will be building productivity habits that will help you succeed in every area of life later on.
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