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!