Fall break at Allegheny has come and gone, which means we’re officially in the part of the semester where everyone’s planners are overflowing and we’re all starting to spend a bit more time in the library and a bit less time in our beds. But that’s fine! Everything’s fine! We’ve got it together!
I’m actually finding that I have an easier time getting my work done this semester than I ever have in the history of my schooling. The pattern with me is the usual starting out the semester strong, but around the two thirds of the way through I start lagging and it takes me until about two weeks before finals to really start getting back together again. It’s a very sad and painful process and I’m learning this semester that it doesn’t have to be that way. I’ve changed up quite a few of my study habits and it’s really helped me juggle my five-class workload, extra commitments, and social life pretty well. A school like Allegheny offers a lot to you, but it also demands a lot. These are the five rules I’ve been living by this semester that have really been helping me out.
1. Take advantage of your desk and keep your study area clean!
My first two semesters at Allegheny, I would always tell myself that I just couldn’t work in my room, because there were too many distractions. I insisted that my best options were to work in the campus center lobby or the coffee shop or the library. The problem was that I would go to these places, run into friends, and proceed to get absolutely nothing done. I saw people I really liked and wanted to talk to them and hear about their lives! Also, a good friend is a good vent for complaining about the work you’re not doing so that you feel like you’re at least acknowledging the fact that you’ve got work to do. It’s almost like you’re doing the work, right?
Some people can work in public places–I am not one of them. Before you decide that you definitely are, give the desk in your room a chance. The absolute isolation will give you more time and energy to focus on your work and you’ll not only get more work done, but you’ll probably also do better work, since there won’t be any kind of sensory overload going on in that big ol’ brain of yours. The important thing to remember if you’re going to use your desk, though, is that you need to keep it free of clutter and distractions. Make sure you’ve got room to sprawl out your textbooks and keep your notebooks next to your laptop so you can get a good view of everything you need to study. Getting rid of clutter also helps your mind feel clearer and will put you in the mindset to get things done!
2. Find yourself a study method you can stick to!
One of the most confusing things about doing schoolwork is trying to figure out which method of doing it is right for you. You can try out a few different ways to get things done, but my advice to you is one you find a method that works for you, stick to it and don’t meander. Having a set system will mean one less thing you have to worry about, and going through the motions of getting your studying done will mean you can focus more on the material and less on how you’re going to go about learning it in the first place.
My usual study method is to write out notes by hand in class on a legal pad, then type up those notes within the week of taking them and keep them on my computer. Whenever I’m about to write an essay or take a midterm on topics covered in those notes, I print them out and highlight the most important points and make extra notes and conclusions in the margins. Then, I take those highlighted points and condense them into note cards that I can either use to outline my essay or review for my exam. This works for me so I’ve chosen to stick with it, but it may not work for everyone. Play around with different methods until you find what works for you!
3. Drink LOTS of water!
So this one is more general, because water is the best and you should always drink it every day. It will make you feel happier, more awake, and not as hungry. All of these awesome effects of water also help you have a clearer head to get more work done and think less about how you want that candy bar you saw in the vending machine earlier and more about the feminist theory displayed in Jane Eyre (or whatever you’ve got to study that day). I have a water bottle that I keep in my bag and take with me everywhere. On days when I’m not really drinking as much water, I often feel more irritable and distracted. When I finally get myself some of that good ol’ life juice I feel much better and I’m able to focus more.
4. Live by your syllabi!
One of the awesome things about college classes is that professors give you a syllabus at the beginning of the semester that is much different from the “sign-this-form-saying-you-wont-act-up-in-class” forms you probably got in high school. Almost every professor will put every assignment and due date in their syllabus, which you get on the first day of class. The best thing about this is that the ability to have due dates way in advance means that you can get work done as far in advance as you’d like. Take advantage of the first weeks of class when the workload is a little lighter to get ahead, so when things get heavy you have a little room to breathe! The second you get that miracle paper, you should immediately record all of your due dates in your planner or on your calendar and then put it in a place you will remember you have it! I personally keep all of my syllabi in the folders I use for each class, but I know some people who just keep them in their desk drawer and that works well for them. Whatever you do, DON’T just throw it out, even after you’ve recorded your dates! That little baby is going to be your savior more than once in the semester, I promise you.
5. Keep a visual to-do list!
I took advantage of the giant bulletin board in my room this year and turned it into a giant reminder of what I need to get done during the week. It has really helped me to stay on the ball, and it also helps me prioritize the tasks in front of me. If I see everything laid out, my schedule seems more manageable and I can start ticking things off as I go, which is really satisfying. It helps me to keep my list this big and in my face, because it’s a bigger reminder than some of the lists I keep in my planner. Having a piece of notebook paper taped to your wall is just as effective, though! Use your planner and use it well, but keeping an external to-do list will help remind you not to slack off too much, and also motivate you to kick more butt and take more names.
This semester has been going really well so far! I’ve slipped up a couple of times, which has made for a less-than-great week, but these strategies are really helping me stay out of the mid-semester red zone that I found myself in constantly my freshman year. Hopefully these will help you get your hectic life together, too!