The Importance of Spending Time Out of Doors

Spending time outside is actually good for you—at least according to science. Here are a few reasons why you should consider taking your next study break out of doors rather than with a run to the coffee cart.

  1. It makes you more energetic. Spending time outside (even if it’s not sunny out) helps us to set our internal clocks correctly. The amount of light that we get from fluorescent or other artificial light sources is actually a LOT dimmer than what we can get outside, even in the middle of winter. Getting natural light is important because it helps your body self regulate when you should be tired and ready to go to bed versus when you should be awake.
  2. It can make you happier.* The increased light can also relieve feelings of depression, anxiety, and generally make you feel happier. In addition, if you pair time out of doors with physical movement (a walk or run), it can raise seratonin levels in your brain, leading to increased happiness.
  3. It can improve your vision. Spending time out of doors has proven to reduce the probabiliity of near sightedness in children and teens. However, time away from phones and computer screens is generally recomended, so spending some time observing out of door spaces will help reduce eye strain and can potentially strengthnen your eye muscles.
  4. It can improve your concentration.* Studies have shown that time outside has improved concentration for children with ADHD. While studies have not been done on adults, taking an outdoor break, may help you focus when you return.
  5. You’ll get a dose of Vitamin D. Limited sun exposure will lead to increased levels of Vitamin D, a necessary nutrient. Vitamin D has been shown to improve mood and overall health. While we can get some Vitamin D from food (got milk?), increased time outside will also help to combat any Vitamin D deficiencies.

Disclaimer: you should not make changes to needed mental health therapy, or any kind of medication without talking to your Doctor.

Sources:

https://www.businessinsider.com/why-spending-more-time-outside-is-healthy-2017-7#with-all-this-its-not-surprising-that-outdoor-time-is-associated-with-a-lower-overall-risk-of-early-death-12

https://www.health.harvard.edu/press_releases/spending-time-outdoors-is-good-for-you

https://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/benefits-vitamin-d#food-sources

Why Having a Clean Dorm Room (or Apartment) will Actually Make You More Successful

Cleanliness is next to successfulness. (I got that saying right. right?) Here’s my quick list of reasons why I think having a cleaner living space in college will help you be more successful.

  1. As a student, the need to work from home–at least occassionally–is a hazard of the trade. Having a clean workspace will allow you to stay focused when you are working from home.
  2. You’ll be more likely to be on time–to class, appointments with professors, and even extra curriculars–when you don’t have to search for your keys, a clean pair of jeans, or your ID card.
  3. You’ll be less likely to get sick. When you live in a dirty environment (be that gross dirty, like a bathroom or kitchen that’s never been cleaned, or a dusty one from piles of stuff that haven’t moved since the week after you moved in), your body has to work harder to keep dust mites, bacteria, and viruses at bay. Do yourself a favor, and get some Clorox wipes.
  4. You’ll be more relaxed. Spaces that are too cluttered actually have the potential to cause underlying stress. Stress means you’ll have a harder time being on your A game in other areas.
  5. You’ll have more confidence. Feeling in control of your living space will actually make you feel more in control of your life in general.
  6. You’ll be more likely to feel put together when you go out. When you can find your favorite jeans–and you’ve remembered to do laundry so they are clean–you’ll be more likely to rock it out in the world. Plus, you’ll probably smell better. People appreciate that.
  7. Your roommate’s mess probably drives you nuts. Having your own space clean makes it easier for you to ask them to keep their half clean as well. (avoidance of being hypocritical).
  8. Making yor bed everyday can lead to you feeling more accomplished, less overwhelmed, and may help you get everything else that you need to get done done. It’s an easy–hey, I checked this off my list already kind of task that literally takes about a minute.
  9. You’ll be more likely to have people over. Social interaction generally makes people happier. Happier people tend to be more successful.
  10. You’ll be more likely to have the blinds open. Sunshine boosts your mood. Happier people tend to be more successful.

Note: “Clean” doesn’t mean the same thing for everyone–you’ll have to figure out what it means for you. However, I recommend that at minimum, you consider clearing clutter from your desk, making sure your laundry gets done on the regular, and having (and using!) those Clorox wipes to keep the sniffles (or worse!) at bay.

Taking an Effective Spring Break

Somehow the media and Hollywood seem to think that Spring Break is a booze filled, raucous party on a beach somewhere. While I’m sure that someone, somewhere probably does spring break like this, as a midwesterner without a trust fund, my spring breaks were usually considerably tamer and (disappointingly) never included a beach.

If your spring break plans also don’t include a beach setting, scandolous behavior, or the opportunity to make some really questionable decisions, don’t despair, there are still ways to make the most of this time. But fair warning, I’m probably going to make some forward thinking, goal oriented suggestions.

Take a Break

By this point in the year, you’re probably starting to get burnt out. Especially in the United States, where we are smack dab in the middle of the dreariest season of the year: dark days, cold, rain/sleet/snow, etc. Add a full class load for the second semester, and some mornings, you’re really not sure if it’s worth it to get out of bed. In short, it’s time for a break. Here’s a few tips on how to make sure your week off really turns into a break:

  1. Change your location. If you have the opportunity to get away from your dorm room or apartment for the week: do so. Getting out of your “workspace” allows you to clear some mental space away from things you might’ve been procrastinating over prior to break.
  2. Plan something to do every day. It’s tempting to spend every day sleeping til noon, scrolling through social media, and following that up with some epic TV binge watching, BUT, if you do that, you’ll actually be less likely to feel rested and relaxed at the end of the week. Instead, pick one thing to do or accomplish each day (even if it’s as simple as meet a high school friend for lunch, or go to the movie theater).
  3. Don’t Reverse your Nights and Days. This is one I am (still) guilty of every time I get a vacation. I end up staying up waaaay later than I normally do and sleeping in. Catching up on sleep is a good idea, but slowly reversing your days and nights is going to make going back to your normal class routine come Monday really rough. So sleep in to your heart’s content, but don’t become a vampire.

Travel

Spring Break can be a great time to do some actual traveling. Maybe you’ve always wanted to go to [insert country here] or perhaps you haven’t had a chance to see your parents or siblings since Winter Break. Taking the opportunity to trael a little can be an excellent use of this week away from class.

  1. Go on a Short Term Study Abroad.Several universities I’ve taught at have offered special spring break trips to students. At one, students could attend mini-travel abroad classes during their spring break (and actually earn credit hours). At another, the college offered the opportunity for students to take a focused trip to different countries where tours were focused around a specific topic of interest (i.e. government). Trips like these can be a great way to see the world, (maybe) get college credit, and fund it using a student loan, since it’s for educational purposes.
  2. Participate in a Service Trip. One university I worked for sponsored service focused trips for students over spring break. During these trips, students were introduced to social justice topics and had the opportunity to give back to a community in need. The cool part about these trips wasn’t just that students broadened their worldview, but that they learned about opportunities to continue service after graduation, and even learned about how nonprofits worked and ways to work in the industry.
  3. Visit Family and/or Friends. Spring Break can be a good time to reconnect with people who are important to you that you haven’t seen in a while. Spending time with people we care about can be a great way to reaffirm important relationships. As a bonus, you usually get to crash at their place, meaning no hotel fees.

Catch up on Work?

As you get farther into your academic career (grad students, I’m looking at you in particular), it becomes really tempting to tell yourself that you are going to spend the week catching up on work that you’ve let slip or haven’t had time to get through yet in the semester. This is a risky proposition, and here’s why. That wide open week with nothing on the schedule seems like a great time to get ahead, with no interruptions from roommates, no classes that you have to get through, and bonus–the library is empty. BUT, it’s also a week where technically you don’t have anywhere you *have* to be, there’s no one who is going to get angry at you for not doing anything, and the accountability for actually getting work done is basically nonexistant. Inevitably, what happens is that you tell yourself that you are going to be Mr./Ms. Productivity, but the temptation to actually take a break is overwhelming. Meaning there are two possible outcomes at the end of the week: One, you work all week, finish it more exhausted than you started (keeping yourself on task is a tiring job), and you drag into the second half of the semester frustrated and jealous of anyone who had the audacity to post photos of themselves at the beach. Two, you tell yourself you are going to work, but when it comes right down to it, you can’t manage to force yourself, all the work goes undone, and you end the week beating yourelf up for being unproductive.

But, what if you have work that legitimately needs to be done? How do you solve this problem?

  1. Make a plan. Write down a manageable list of tasks to accomplish and figure out where and when you are going to get it done. Prioritize your list: what do you absolutely have to get done? What would just be nice to get done? Then, figure out where you’re going to do it: Maybe on Monday, you are going to spend the day in the library and Tuesday you are going to work from a coffee shop.
  2. Schedule some down time. To avoid the jealously of anyone who took time off and/or the issue of procrastination, make sure that you plan on taking some planned down time. This can be “Wednesday night, I’m planning on ordering in pizza and binge watching the new show that I’ve been waiting for on Amazon Prime” and “Friday night, I’m going to go out with a few friends who are also in town.” Having these planned down time in your schedule will make you feel better about being productive earlier in the day/week and will keep you from feeling like you deserve a break you’re not getting.
  3. Consider working shorter days. If you do not normally spend eight straight hours at the library, spring break is NOT the time to try this out. Setting your alarm for an hour later; taking yourself out for a longer lunch; and leaving the library early in the afternoon to hit the gym before going home are all great ways to break up a long day of studying. It’ll also help you feel more focused while you are actually there.

Move It! Why Moving is Important for Focus

College is–for the most part–a sedentary activity. You sit in class. You sit while you study. You jack yourself up with caffeine and sit to write that term paper you left until the night before it was due. But all that sitting, combined with the dark and gloom we get in the U.S. this time of year is an excellent recipe for feeling tired, down, and unhappy.

The solution? Find time to move.

I am by no means a natural gym rat. I wasn’t in sports as a kid, and I joke with my students now that I probably couldn’t run the mile (let alone run it at the military standards). But I do know that on days when I make a conscious effort to move–walk, lift weights, yoga, etc. I feel so much better: I have more energy, I feel happier, and I get more done.

Early in college, moving every day was pretty easy: I didn’t have a car, so I had to walk everywhere I wanted to go. But once I got a car, and wised up on how to more effective stack my course schedule, I found that I moved dramatically less each day. Today, if I don’t make a conscious effort to move around, I probably average 2,000-3,000 steps a day.

Here are some of the strategies I’ve used to make sure I get moving every day:

1. Start with 10 minutes of yoga.

I am NOT a morning person–far from it. But on the days that I get myself out of bed and get in 10 minutes of yoga before starting my day, I feel more focused and refreshed and ready to tackle whatever is coming at me than the days where I blearly stumble into the kitchen to find the coffee pot. There are a lot of free resources available on a variety of platforms. I use “Yoga with Adriene” on youtube.

2. Take a walk at lunch (or during a break)

When I was a graduate student, I used to walk around the campus lake during my lunch break. Even though I was walking to and from class, taking those 30 or so minutes to walk in a green area really helped me refocus during the afternoons.

3. Use the track at the gym

Some days it’s simply too cold to walk outside. On days like that, I would head over to the gym, change into my asics, and walk the track while listening to music, a podcast, or an audio book. This was great–it counted as exercise, but it took very little effort to achieve: all I needed to do was change my shoes. If you don’t have access to a gym, try walking the halls of your dorm or classroom building.

4. Use the Pomodoro Method and Walk on the break

I’m a big fan of the pomodoro method, or “work sprints.” You work for a certain set amount of time (typically 25 minutes) and then you get a short break (5 minutes), using a timer to keep you on track. I use the breaks to get up and move around: sometimes I stretch, sometimes I pace by my work table, it depends on the mood I’m in. But working in that helps keep me focused during the next “sprint.”

5. Use an exercise plan

I may not be the most athletic person in the world, but I am still extremely competitive, even with myself. I found that I was much more likely to hit the gym if I had a program that I was working my way through. Apps like BodySpace (for weight lifting), or FitBit Premium (for body weight programs) are great ways to create a plan that you can stick to. I also really liked being able to track my progress.

Disclaimer: Always talk to a doctor before starting any kind of exercise plan!

The Joy of Binge Watching TV shows

Most productivity websites will probably warn you away from binge watching television. Beware the streaming services and all that. Me? I think it can be a good thing-healthy, even-if done correctly.

Binge watching netflix, or prime, or hulu, or Disney+, or whatever your streaming service of choice is, can be a healthy escape from the pressure and reality of being a full time student. Also, as a bonus, it’s cheap: you are already paying for the service, and you don’t have to pay more to stream more. The key to a good binge watching session is to do it…responsibly.

Times when you should avoid binge watching

  1. when you should be studying for an exam/writing a paper/finishing a project. Issue: you’re using it as a way to procrastinate and it’ll cause more stress and panic later.
  2. when you should be sleeping. Issue: college students don’t get enough sleep as it is, and TV is not an acceptable substitute for actual shut-eye.
  3. when you should be in class. Issue: I’m assuming you’re smart enough to figure out why that’s a problem all on your own.

Times when binge watching can be healthy

  1. when a new season of your favorite show drops and you’ve prepared adequately (i.e. finished all necessary projects, studying, sleeping, etc. and stocked up on the appropriate snacks.)
  2. when you need a mental health day (recommend trying to schedule this for sometime over the weekend when you have fewer obligations to pull you away from the TV)
  3. when school is not in session (when I was an undergrad and could get away with it, the first week of break was nearly always devoted to sleeping and binge watching. Sometimes it can be fun to save up series to watch specifically during this time).

When binge watching becomes a problem and you may need to seek help

  1. when you are binging more than you are doing all other things (class, studying, extra curricular, friends)
  2. when you are binging instead of sleeping

In either of the above two scenarios, binge watching is taking over an unhealthy amount of your time. It could also be a sign of anxiety, depression, or insomnia. Many schools now have programs that help students to identify and work through these kinds of issues. If you need help, remember, there is nothing wrong or shameful about asking for it!

Happy Binge Watching!

Taking a Sick Day in College (Responsibly)

I missed posting last week because the start of the year virus finally caught up with me and tried valiantly to take me down. But it got me thinking about how to and how not to take a sick day in college. Here are a few definite DOs and a few definite DON’Ts when it comes to taking a sick day in college

DO: Attend Lecture if you can

Depending on your personality, you will probably approach sick days in college in one of two ways. Either your reaction is: I’ve got the sniffles, better skip my 8am class all week and sleep in OR your reaction is: If I skip any time studying I’ll never catch up, I’ll fail, and my life as I know it will be over. Neither is a healthy or appropriate option.

Here are some rules of thumb when it comes to figuring out when to take a sick day and when to power through: If you are contagious–and I’m talking the flu level contagious–do everyone a favor a and stay home from lecture. BUT if you are just feeling under the weather with a cold, take some cold meds and try to power through an attend the lecture class. Generally speaking, it’s hard to make up missed lectures, so if you can make it you should try. But be respectful and arm yourself with hand sanitizer, cough drops, kleenex, etc.

Critically, do not skip lectures in favor of attending extra curricular or other university events. Especially do not tell your professor that you missed class due to illness but that you “had to attend the football game.” Not only will your professor absolutely take this very badly, but it’s also unprofessional. If you are a full time student, attending class is your full time job.

DON’T: Email your professor with an in-depth explanation of your symptoms

I feel like this one should be self explanatory, but the number of times I have unsuspectingly opened a student email and come away feeling like I now know far too much about their illness is not insignificant. No one really wants to know your symptoms. If you do send an email, you might consider using the following guide:

Dear Professor X,

I am feeling unwell today, and will be unable to attend class. I will make sure to review the lecture materials/readings/etc. and will attend office hours if I have additional questions. If there is anything that will be assigned in class today and due for next class, I would appreciate it if you would let me know.

Sincerely,

Student.

Keep it short, keep it sweet, and most importantly keep it symptom-detail free.

DO: Follow Guidelines for communicating with your professor

Make sure to read your syllabi at the beginning of every semester and figure out what your professors’ policies are with regard to absences due to illness. For example, in my class, I give my students a certain number of absences “no questions asked” that they are free to use for sick days. As a result, I tell my students not to email me if they are taking one of their excused absences. In contrast, one of my former colleagues preferred having students email him every time they missed class as a way of taking attendance. The key is to follow the stated policies in the syllabus.

Sometimes there are also university policies regarding absences due to illness, and you should make sure you know what those are and follow them as well.

DON’T: Expect the professor to repeat a missed lecture for you during office hours.

Expecting the professor to teach you the lesson during office hours is an inappropriate use of that time. If you missed a lecture due to illness, it is your responsibility to do the assigned reading, take advantage of any online supplementary materials (i.e. posted slides), get the notes from a peer, and generally make a good faith effort to teach yourself the material.

DO: Ask the Professor questions you have about missed material during office hours.

If you do miss class and your do make a good faith effort to teach yourself the material and are still unclear, then it IS appropriate to attend office hours to ask for help. The professor is usually happy to help clarify material when you demonstrate that you have tried to understand it on your own first.

DON’T: Continue acting like you aren’t sick, even if you are “powering through” lectures.

Acting like you aren’t sick when you are is the fast track for being sick for a much longer period of time. Even if you are feeling well enough to power through your lectures, you may still want to take it easy and rest up when not in class. Consider skipping extra curriculars, slow down on the studying and generally spend extra time resting.

The strategy I used in school was what I call “intense sick days.” Anything that I absolutely had to attend (class lectures, work, etc.) I went to, but 100% the rest of the time, I was in bed, fully medicated and alternately Netflixing and sleeping. The strategy behind doing this is to get better as soon as possible so that you don’t loose valuable study time and get behind. Taking a few intense days off and being able to bounce back is much more efficient than working through the illness and staying sick for a longer time.

DO: Try to stay healthy

Getting sick during the semester is no picnic. Make sure that you ensure that you are doing your part to keep yourself healthy. Get enough sleep, drink plenty of water, wash your hands/use hand sanitizer, and consider getting a flu shot.

I hope these guidelines are helpful in navigating your way through college sick days! While staying healthy is the ideal, the keys to taking a responsible college sick day are to be mindful of your university and professors’ guidelines, do due diligence when you have to miss class, and make sure that you take care of yourself when you do get sick.

On My Bookshelf: The Sleep Revolution by Ariana Huffington

The University is officially on summer recess, and grades are in (don’t forget that professors end up working a few extra days beyond the end of the semester to grade all final exams and projects, enter grades into the system, and deal with any outstanding issues). That means that even I can finally take a deep breath and start acting like an actual human being who does normal things like not working 6-7 days a week and actually sleeping. So it seems fitting that I’ve been reading The Sleep Revolution by Ariana Huffington this week.

The Sleep Revolution is Huffington’s second book. Her first book Thrive is about general well being and getting unplugged. It’s also a great read that you should check out. But The Sleep Revolution focuses in on what Huffington considers the most critical part of taking care of yourself: sleeping.

As she notes in the book, our current culture is obsessed with the fear of missing out–and she writes that for most of us, this fear starts in college. The trilemma of “good grades, a social life, and sleep–pick two because you can’t have all three” can become a huge part of college life. It often seems impossible to split your time efficiently between studying, friends, and still have time for sleep. Plus, for many traditional college students, this is a point in life where you feel just a bit invincible: who needs sleep when you feel like you can function just as well on 4 hours a night as on 8.

But as Huffington notes in the book, racking up a big sleep debt can have some pretty intense consequences on everything from your ability to make decisions to your ability to perform on tests. Stay awake for more than 24 straight hours, you are in the same state as if you were legally drunk. But, take a sleeping pill and you could be facing a whole slew of scary side effects (think extreme sleep walking).

What is fascinating about sleep is that scientists still do not really know why we get tired or why we sleep. But, as Huffington details in the book, science is beginning to discover how critical sleep is for our health, our well being, and our happiness. Our brains do some pretty nifty things while we are asleep.

I track my sleep by using a Fitbit, and generally my sleep log tells me that I do not get enough sleep. The reasons usually vary from being disrupted by loud noises (I’m looking at you train conductor who blasts the horn at 4:30 every morning) to not falling asleep early enough (I’d like to thank Netflix continuous play for making this possible). This book was a bit of a wakeup call for me to start taking this lack of (good) sleep more seriously. So, I’ll be buying some ear plugs and I’ll be trying to get into the habit of reading a real physical book at night instead of binge watching The Office.

While the book does not present a truly in depth series of practical advice on how to overcome insomnia, it does do a really great job of exploring why we do not get enough sleep and what the consequences of skimping on sleep are.

So, embrace your summer break (even if it’s just a week before you start a job or internship, or summer classes), kick back, and make up some of your sleep debt!

5 Habits I’m glad I picked up in College

In so many ways, college is the time of your life when you have the most freedom and independence and the fewest responsibilities. Much of your time is unstructured, so you have ultimate flexibility in how you choose to organize your life. Sleep between classes and work all night? Sure! Hit the gym at 2pm between classes? Why not? Drink large amounts of coffee until midnight? Go for it–you wanted to write that whole paper tonight anyway!

Some of these choices may seem better than others (see going to the gym vs. reversing your days and nights), and that’s probably true. The best part about college is that because you have lots of flexibility, you can use that to help develop good habits that will follow you into the work world, when the daily grind begins, household responsibilities reappear (or get more intense), and you begin to feel like you just need a few more hours in the day.

Here are five habits that I’m really glad I picked up when I was in college. These are the habits that help keep me on track, happy, and healthy during my whirlwind work days.

1.Getting to the Gym (almost) every day

This is #1 on my list because as a desk jockey (i.e. one who works by sitting at a desk day in and day out), I could very easily not take more than 500 steps in a single day–trust me, I’ve tracked it. When I was in college, I started going to the gym everyday–and I was the kid who always hated gym class. But, belonging to my college’s rec center allowed me to figure out that being active didn’t have to mean playing team sports (which is good because I am terrible at team sports). In addition to weight lifting and using the treadmill as an excuse to watch trashy television, college rec centers usually offer any number of interesting classes, from Zumba to Yoga to spin classes. The best part is that these classes are almost always offered at a reduced rate. Where I went to college, you could actually take these classes for credit! (Seriously, I had friends take bowling and get college credit!). Getting in the habit of hitting the gym during the day while in college helps me today by lowering my stress level and keeping me focused while I work.

2. Using a re-usable water bottle

Drinking water as a habit might sound a bit obvious, but hear me out. When I was in college, I bought a water pitcher with a filter and kept it in my dorm room fridge. The original thought was that I didn’t like the taste of the water from the water fountains or the dorm sink, so this was my solution. Every day, I’d fill my water bottle and bring it with me to class–just in case I got thirsty. This turned into a couple really great habits. First, I started to pay attention to hydration. Too much coffee (or soda, or energy drinks, or really anything with caffeine) will dry you out, which can lead to health problems down the road. Plus, water helps you feel more awake and alert without the twitchy side effects of caffeine. Second, I wasn’t spending as much money on disposable water bottles from vending machines. This left me with more cash to spend on things I really wanted.

3. Using a planner

When I was in college, I had a typical course load (usually about 5 classes per semester), but I also worked at the Honors Office and I was in a ton of extra curricular activities, from the student advisory council for my major to volunteering at my church. My senior year, I was on campus for 14 straight hours on Wednesdays. Keeping all of this straight took some serious planning. I’ve always used a planner, but in college it became a big necessity. Over the four years I was there, I bounced around in terms of planner types from weekly spreads to daily ones, from notebook sized planners to pocket sized. But the point was, I had to have my planner or I was basically up a creek without a paddle. This habit has really served me well as I’ve entered the work world. Using my planner every day helps me keep track of not only the classes I teach or the students I’m meeting with, but also when I need to pay bills, or when I have to attend a big event, like a wedding (because you hit your twenties and it seems like someone gets married every weekend for years).

4. The glory that is sleep

Sleep as a habit might seem counterintuitive. Sometimes, you feel invincible: sleep? who needs sleep? I can stay up all night and it’s not a problem! And sometimes, you feel like if you leave your bed, it might never forgive you. The point is that in college, it’s easy to fall into the trap of inconsistent sleep habits: four hours one night, ten the next, and so on. Getting regular amounts of sleep is key for all kinds of important things, including how your brain processes memory (think about that next time you cram in an all night study session before an exam)! When I was in my senior year of college and trying to be and do enough for 2 full time jobs, I started paying attention to how much sleep I was getting. Spoiler alert–it usually wasn’t enough. I’d push through and then collapse on breaks. This kind of sprint to the finish line and collapse isn’t healthy when you’re in college, but it’s impossible once you graduate and breaks disappear. Today, I track my sleep using a fitbit, and I can always see a difference when I haven’t gotten enough sleep.

5. Learned how to cook

I moved off campus and into an apartment my senior year. Instead of eating out some (or most) meals, I spent time cooking. That year, on one of those awfully long Wednesdays, I learned that cooking at home was saving me some major cash. In one of my classes, the students were comparing how much they had to budget on food each week. I was shocked. They were spending in one week what I was spending on food for the entire month. Cooking meals at home was a habit that I developed that has been super helpful since starting work. For one thing, I am still saving money, which is fantastic. For another, eating at home is way healthier than eating out. To make cooking at home during busy times something that was feasible, I’d batch cook and freeze individual meals–basically creating my own lean cuisines (except mine had a lot more substance and flavor). Over time, I’ve refined this habit. I still batch cook (or meal prep) all my lunches for the week on Sundays. It takes me about an hour, and costs me pennies compared to what I’d have to pay if I ate out. Plus, the food tastes better and it’s fun to experiment with new recipes.

Do you have any good habits you’ve developed since starting college? Share in the comments below!

Keeping Up and Keeping Organized

This last week, I had conversations with two of my students who were discussing the problems they were having keeping up and keeping organized. One of them told me how he was struggling with procrastination. The lure of being social in the dorms, at the library, and between classes was keeping him from working on projects, leaving him to pull all nighters at the last minute. The other told me that she was taking extra credit hours and in an attempt to keep everything organized had created what she termed a “master syllabus,” a massive, color coded document a la Hermione Granger.

As we move farther into the semester, the pressure to keep up and keep organized can become more and more stressful. Here’s the advice I gave my students. Hopefully it’ll help you too.

Procrastination Struggles

Often, the problem that you face when you find yourself procrastinating is that you know you have a lot to do, but none of it is due immediately. It’s a catch 22: if you don’t start now, you won’t finish, but the deadline doesn’t seem pressing yet–you feel like you’ve got plenty of time. So, you put it off and put it off, and put it off. And then all of a sudden, you’ve got 24 hours and a 10 page paper due. Not ideal. So what’s the solution? Many students I’ve talked to have told me that it’s not that they don’t want to start. They do. And it’s not that they don’t know they need to start to get done. They do. The issue is getting started and keeping it manageable.

 

The solution is to break down the big projects and assignments into smaller, shorter tasks.  When you break big tasks down, they seem more manageable. You don’t have to write a 10 page paper today, you just have to pick your question. You don’t have to do all the research for your paper, today you just have to find 5 articles.

Tackling a smaller task can help you overcome the psychological challenge of getting started. The project is now a small task that can be done in time to go to the club meeting or to watch the newest episode of Game of Thrones.

When you break down the project into smaller pieces, you can also plot out what you need to get done each day so that between the time you get the assignment and the time it’s due, you’ve gotten it all done and it hasn’t seemed too overwhelming to begin.

Another of the tactics I used to use when I was in school was to plan it out so that I would finish a paper the day before it was due, giving me enough time to read through it one last time. Adding in a buffer also lets gives you time to deal with any last minute emergencies, like the library hours changing without you knowing, or the internet going down.

Keeping Organized

Even if you aren’t prone to procrastination, having a lot on your plate can leave you feeling overwhelmed and burnt out. In semesters where you have a lot on your plate, there are a few things that you can do to keep you on task and feeling like you are conquering the world.

First, invest in a good planner and use it. Whether its digital or paper, having a planner is essential if you have a lot on your plate. Your brain (no matter how brilliant you are) is not good at storing all the information you need in your short term memory. Writing it down allows you to focus more clearly on the really important things on your schedule. It also means you are less likely to forget items on your to do list.

Second, make sure that you plan in some fun time and some down time. Working really hard at academics is just like being a hard core athlete: you need recovery time. It’s tempting to think that because we are studying and not working physically we shouldn’t get tired, but that’s definitely not the case. If you’re not careful, you’ll end up burnt out and doing poorly on tasks that should be easy. Get enough sleep, remember to hit the gym (or spend time outdoors) and do something fun at least once a week.

Third, know when you’ve reached your limit. Don’t sink your GPA just because you *should* be able to do this schedule or you *should* be able to pass this class. It’s one thing to push yourself hard and it’s another to end up failing a class.  It’s far better to drop a class you’re going to fail and have a W on your transcript than an F.

Good luck, study hard, and be sure to share your study hacks in the comments below!

How to Have Your Most Successful Semester Yet

I love the beginning of a new semester, and it’s not just because I’m mildly addicted to new office supplies or that fall is my favorite season. The start of a new semester is also a chance to start new habits, accomplish new goals, and be the best version of yourself yet. There’s so much potential at the beginning of the semester. In this post, I’m going to touch on five things that you can do to set yourself up to have your most successful semester yet!

1. Write all of your deadlines on your calendar

One of the best ways to set your semester up for success is to write all of your class assignment deadlines into your calendar. Forgetting to turn in an assignment can tank your grade in a class. Using your syllabi to write down when everything is due at the beginning of the semester decreases the probability that you’ll forget something.  If you chose to use a digital calendar, like Google, you can also set reminders so that you remember to start the assignment on time. While you’re at it, this is probably a good time to make sure that you save all assignment guides, directions, etc. to a single place: a binder, notebook, or on your computer. That way when you go to complete the assignment, you’ll know exactly what you need to do.

2. Get to know your professors outside of class time

As I’ve written in other posts, getting to know your professors outside of class time can set you up well for the rest of the semester. Getting to know your professors can help when it come time to ask for letters of recommendation, or references for an on campus job. Beyond those reasons, having an established relationship with a professor can also be helpful if you run into problems later on in the class. Struggling with a concept? Perhaps something crazy happens to your computer the night before your major paper is due. Having a pre-existing relationship with a professor outside of the classroom can lead to extra help or understanding if you hit a stumbling block later on in the semester. As a final bonus, professors are well connected on campus and are good resources for learning more about extra curricular or other opportunities, honors, and awards–all the things that look good on a resume. In short, professors are your ultimate resource. Make good use of them.

3. Join a new extracurricular or take on a leadership role in one you already participate in

The beginning of the semester is a great time to try out something new. Joining a new extra curricular at college is a good opportunity to explore new interests that you haven’t tried before. Most universities have a wide variety of clubs and teams that cover an extensive array of activities: try horseback riding or waterskiing. Maybe check out the debate team or Model UN. Perhaps you’re interested in running for student government or you’ve always wanted to know more about Asian cultures. Try joining the student senate or explore the cultural centers on campus.  These types of activities are great for getting experience in a field you might want to work in and for getting to know students outside of your dorm floor or major who share your interests. If you’re already a member of a club or activity, try taking on a leadership role in your club or team. Join the executive board or take the lead on a big project or event.

4. Do some service

Spending some time giving back to your campus or city community has many benefits from being a great talking point in interviews to giving you valuable experiences, to helping to improve where you are spending most of your time.  According to Americorps, there is also a growing body of research that shows volunteering to have a beneficial impact on your health! Many colleges and universities have resources for students who are looking to volunteer in the community. Some every plan campus wide volunteer days or offer credit hours for getting involved. If you are interested in learning more about how to get involved in your community, check out Americorp’s tips for college students looking to volunteer: https://www.nationalservice.gov/sites/default/files/documents/VIA_tips_volunteering_college.pdf

5. Plan in something fun to do

All work and no play makes Jack (or Jane) a dull person. Make sure that in trying to have your best semester ever, you leave some time free for fun.  Taking time off and being social are good for your mental and emotional health. Don’t just go on a Netflix binge, however! Not that an evening with pizza, ice cream and your favorite binge worthy show isn’t necessary every once in a while, but the idea here is to get out and get social. If you’re not interested in planning things on your own, check out what your campus activities board has planned. Many colleges offer free or discounted movie nights, cultural nights (that often include free food), and other concerts and events.