BY DANIEL MATTHEWS
Here’s something all college students share: they deal with a lot of stress. Homework, tests, papers—if you’re in college, you’re very familiar with the causes of stress. A common statement is, “Why do all my professors have to throw all these tests and papers at me at the same time?”
Turns out a lot of the agony is self-inflicted. According to the American Journal of Health Studies, in a study on college students’ stress, “Students, in general, experienced higher stress due to pressure and self-imposed stress as compared to changes, conflict, and frustration.”
Not managing your time correctly is one way of imposing undue stress on yourself. Procrastination means you have to deal with more work, all at once. There’s the standard stress from changes and conflict. Then there’s the stress you create for yourself because of poor time management.
Have you seen this TED Talk with Psychologist Kelly McGonigal? In it, she reveals that stress is only bad for you if you view it that way. College is your chance to problem-solve and use these time management techniques. This is your chance to view stress as a good thing, a thing that gets you going.
Organization can be as simple as keeping a three-ring binder with sections for each class. Keep syllabi and other course materials in each section, and plenty of paper for notes. It’s also a good idea to organize your class schedule in blocks. Long breaks between classes often don’t end up as study time. Charge through all your classes, leaving yourself blocks of study time, as well as important periods of leisure time to balance your life.
- Live on campus
You don’t want to be late for class. Some professors won’t recognize your attendance if you’re late, which may hurt your grade. Some professors even lock the door after a certain amount of time has passed. Living on or near campus will help eliminate tardiness. It will also eliminate stress from commuting. But a caveat: you have to follow the other time management techniques on this list to make living on campus work for you. No matter how close you are to classes, it doesn’t mean you’re managing your time efficiently.
If you can’t focus on your studies, your time is wasted. It’s easy to say, ‘Hey you, pay attention!’ But that’s not very helpful. When thoughts unrelated to your academic focus enter your brain, try the following:
- Be patient with yourself—frustration doesn’t help; it’s easy to get frustrated when you judge thoughts as ‘bad’
- Give yourself space—clear unneeded clutter from your workspace
- Label—it’s not about ignoring thoughts or judging them; label distracting thoughts so you can file them away in categories
- Make an inventory—sum up important thoughts and questions to deal with; list them
Labeling and categorizing distracting thoughts helps you deal with them, instead of dwelling on them. This is part of practicing mindfulness and appreciation.
Still having trouble focusing? You might have too much stuff. Too many external distractions can make it hard to focus on the subject at hand, especially if it’s a subject you’re not particularly enthused about. You may want to consider decluttering, storing things you don’t need somewhere that offers a student discount. See this Guide to Student Storage. Or, sites such as Craig’s List are a good place to make a little money on your stuff.
Don’t try and do all of your work at once. Break large projects into smaller segments you can manage effectively. This will keep you from pulling ‘all-nighters’ that lead to fatigue and lower quality work. Space your work throughout the week.
- Plan ahead
Write assignments, as well as test and quiz dates, in an electronic or print calendar. Then, take a minute to prioritize and determine what you need to begin first. Since you’ll be breaking assignments into segments, place the harder, longer assignments at the top of your priority list and start chipping away at them. Then, after a certain amount of time each day, move on to the easier stuff and knock it out.
- Get a head start
Now that you’re planning ahead, consider studying for tests as soon as you know they’re coming up—not at the last minute. Cramming for tests is a waste of time. Research indicates it leads to average scores, and you forget the information not long after cramming it into your brain. You may even forget it during the test. Furthermore, cramming negatively affects the brain because it conditions you to feel anxious, frustrated, confused, and panicky.
- Ask for help
This is a key part of coping with stress, networking, and learning new things. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, talk to a professor, advisor, or fellow student. You may learn a new strategy, a new approach for tackling a task. And, you’ll be networking, which is a vital way of spending your time in college.
In her TED Talk, Kelly McGonigal points out that stress is a natural reaction that serves an evolutionary purpose. Its primary function is to help the human being survive. Indeed, stress helps facilitate connections between people. Without these connections, we wouldn’t be where are. Consider your college stress a good thing as you continue finding ways to manage your time.
Bio: Daniel Matthews is a writer with a Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing from Boise State University. You can find him on Twitter.