May 15, 2009

Work hard, play harder: successful time management in college

Work hard, play harder: successful time management in college By Marlize For the past three years, I've lived and breathed the mantra "work hard, play harder," and I've become increasingly convinced that it's a phrase to live life by. College is not only one of the biggest time-management tests you'll have to pass, it is the test that determines how much you'll be able to achieve in your entire life ahead. Now, as an undergraduate, is the time to figure out how you'll be able to live the life you want; how you'll be successful and productive and still enjoy opportunity that comes along to the fullest. When I decided to double-major in college, I very quickly became annoyed by my fellow students' exasperated gasps or looks of sympathy that seemed to say, "you poor thing, you won't have time to enjoy anything else!" I've always wanted to smile back sweetly and say, "but I enjoy everything I do and I'm doing so much more than you are!" The "work hard, play harder" mentality has turned college into the best years of my life so far. I've been able to throw myself into doing a double-major, stayed up all night at wild parties and once-in-a-lifetime concerts, made the Dean's list, work part-time, made my closest friends and craziest memories, and have had time take off and travel the world, all while maintaining an A-average. Pushing myself harder than even I knew was possible has allowed me to enjoy free time and my own company that much more. A lazy day spent reading a book at the beach is that much more enjoyable after successfully completing several weeks worth of midterms, essays and deadlines at work. Taking it even further, the quarters that I've taken off to travel have been the most relaxing, guilt free months of my life simply because I could enjoy the time knowing I had just spent a year pushing myself to the limit. What has enabled me first and foremost to take 20 units a quarter and work 20 hours a week has been time-management skills. I'm not inherently a good time-manager and it has taken some stringent self-discipline as well as some resourcefulness and plenty of trial-and-error moments. Here are some rules and tips I've picked up along the way: 1. Understand "the law of forced efficiency," which says no matter how much you have to do, it will inevitably get done. I've experienced this over and over again, and its actually one of the most gratifying feelings when the law proves to be true. Maxing out my course load is possible because I've accepted the fact that I'm too responsible and too passionate about my academics not to get it done. You will get it all done, even if you do have to force yourself to pull a few all-nighters, so don't underestimate your own productivity. 2. Recognize the unnecessary parts of your day that eat away at your time and cause undue stress. In college and with the Internet, there are unlimited distractions to take you wandering off on endless tangents. The biggest culprits are probably MySpace and Facebook, followed by television. In my 3rd year of college I de-activated my Facebook account and never bothered to get a TV when moving into a new apartment. I haven't missed either, and I spend the time I probably would have been wasting online or on the couch instead reading, running, getting homework done or hanging out with friends. 3. Learn not to stress - it's counterproductive. This is a skill that goes far beyond college and in effect defines how you'll react to pressure in your career and with the curveballs life will throw at you. Employers want clear-headed people that can work through problems rationally and calmly, and college is the place to begin that. Not to mention that stress makes you into a cranky, unhappy person. I had a roommate once who would get herself so stressed out about schoolwork that nobody could stand to be around her for weeks at a time. I finally asked her once if she planned to spend months at time not talking to anybody once she started her career. Her answer was to slam her bedroom door shut. 4. When you begin to feel overwhelmed, remind yourself why you have so much on your plate to begin with. The answer should be that you have so much going on because you're motivated and passionate about so many things. I decided to double-major because I enjoy Journalism and Economics so much that I didn't want to have to choose between the two. 5. Make use of time management tools and technology. Take some time to play with all those fancy gadgets you have, and use them to their full potential. Many textbooks now have additional online tools such as practice tests and flashcards that you can access online or download to your Ipod. If you have a laptop, take it with you and know where free wireless is available. You may also want to invest in a PDA such as a Palm Pilot. My Palm alone probably makes the difference between whether or not I can afford to add another class to my schedule, because it keeps me so on-top of dates and deadlines. Whatever your preference, be it paper or electronic, develop a calendar and to-do list system that fit easily into your life. 6. Be creative in how you use your time. My job is a 30-minute commute from campus, but I've learned to enjoy that half-hour of alone time. Most of the time, it's a good "breather" to listen to some good music, clear my head, and think about what I'm going to do once the weekend rolls around. Other times, I've used my commuting time to listen to foreign-language tapes and practice my verb-tenses, etc, or even to practice upcoming speeches out loud. I also occasionally study at the beach or a local coffee shop simply because it's an enjoyable change of pace from my room or the library. 7. Stay neat and organized, at least around your desk and with schoolwork. While I haven't yet managed to get rid myself out of the lifelong habit of leaving my clothes on the floor, my desk is always cleared, my notebooks tabbed, and my assignments organized. It all comes back to efficiency and always having everything ready when you need it. 8. Put some effort into planning your schedule for each upcoming semester. Try to block classes together as much as possible so that you have either the first or the second half of your day off, or an entire day of no classes to spend catching up on other work. Understand what your most alert time of the day is for each subject and plan accordingly. One quarter of 7am Spanish told me that I never again wanted to take a class that early again, especially not one that required me to speak a foreign language. 9. Coffee is a good thing ;-) 10. Enjoy what you do! Imagine first the career you want to spend the rest of your life doing, then find the major that will give you the greatest chance of doing that. The biggest key to a successful academic life and a career afterwards is the same everywhere: enjoy what you do so much that you couldn't even begin to imagine wanting to spend your time doing anything else. Time-management is not just some abstract notion or desirable skill; it determines what you get done with the time you have, whether it is your day, the next four years, or your entire life. College is the best place to plunge headfirst into doing everything you've always imagined yourself doing, and time-management is the tool that will enable you to do so. Work hard, play harder - there really is time to do it all.

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