Laura’s note: Know anyone headed back to school this fall? Here’s a guest post from a college student on how to tune up your schedule and feel better about it too.
By Dominic Vaiana
As a college student, I dislike the phrase “time management.” Time management implies that I’m obliged to find time for everything – to juggle a multitude of tasks and force space for an endless list of responsibilities. I’ve been fortunate to have great mentors in my life whose lessons I’ve applied over the past two years at Xavier University. In regards to productivity, I’ve found that the most effective strategy involves more of cutting things out of my day and less of making space for what people put on my plate. Here are four tactics I’ve used that have enabled me to stay on the Dean’s List, start a newspaper, compete in Division I track, and enjoy myself.
Sleep. College glorifies the all-nighter. We like the story about the guy who got an A on his final paper after slamming six Red Bulls in the library at 4 a.m. Nobody hears about the guy who wrote his paper over the span of a week and received the same grade, even though he didn’t look like a zombie the morning it was due.
The belief that you need to sacrifice sleep to increase productivity is nonsense. Functioning on less than 7-8 hours of sleep per night in college is not only detrimental to performance, it’s not sustainable. When work impedes sleep, poor planning is to blame – not superior will power. For the students who brag about their long hours and minimal rest, it isn’t their performance that keeps them going. It’s just ego and obstinacy.
If I find myself studying late, I’ll stop in order to get optimal sleep. This not only allows me to reap the results of increased productivity and wellness, but also saves money because I don’t need coffee to get me through the day. Ample sleep also eliminates the need for naps which slow momentum. There’s an extra hour added to your day (or more depending on your napping habits).
The 80/20 Principle. Formulated over 100 years ago, this principle states that 80% of our outputs result from 20% of our inputs. My study habits during my first semester of college were disorganized and ineffective. After reading about the 80/20 principle, I dissected my study habits and determined which 20% of my study techniques resulted in (roughly) 80% of my retention of material. I ditched flash cards and study groups and amplified my reading and hand-written notes.
The 80/20 Principle applies to activities as well. College counselors often advise students to join an arbitrary number of clubs or organizations – this is useless. Instead, determine which one or two activities make you the happiest and push you to be your best. Bottom line, if it’s not making you significantly better, drop it.
Set deadlines – even if they aren’t real. Without deadlines, even minor tasks will consume time. We lament and dread how awful the paper will be until the next assignment inevitably pops up. Thus the cycle repeats, and at the end of the day nothing is accomplished.
Parkinson’s Law states that work expands to fill the time available for it (and, correspondingly, a task’s perceived importance will swell in relation to the time allotted for its completion). In other words, by creating deadlines for ourselves we rise to the occasion and get things done on time.
With deadlines, you don’t have the luxury of telling your friends how much you hate a class or project. Instead, you just get it done. Deadlines force us to become creative and come up with new ideas constantly. Used in conjunction with the 80/20 Principle, we not only determine which techniques are the most effective, we do them efficiently as well. The result is freedom and structure.
Batching. Without a schedule, laundry either gets done intermittently throughout the week or in one humongous, time-consuming load each month. Food gets bought on an as-needed basis and cooking is done one meal at a time. Email gets checked sporadically during the day.
The antidote is batching. That is, allotting a specific time each day, week, or month for a specific task so time isn’t squandered repeating it more than necessary.
Example: exercise at 9 a.m., study at 7 p.m., laundry on Fridays, groceries on Sundays, etc. Batching can be applied to virtually anything in college: eating, cleaning, sleeping, and more. Not only will this free up time in your schedule, you’ll also have peace of mind knowing that you won’t have to scramble at the last minute for anything.
Let’s end the pity party for college students who are “too busy” and “too tired.” Nobody said college wasn’t demanding or frustrating. But with sustainable tactics and a pragmatic mindset, there is no schedule that can’t be tamed.
Dominic Vaiana studies writing and media strategy at Xavier University. After stepping away from his collegiate track career due to injuries, he went on to ghostwrite, edit, and advise for colleagues and startups. He is also the founder of a campus newspaper at Xavier. His newsletter, sent out twice per month with his personal articles, essays, interviews, and book recommendations, can be found here. For any questions or comments, email [email protected].