It has officially been a year since I transferred to my current university. I have set up my schedule the same way every semester: classes Monday, Wednesday, Friday, 9 to 3, and working my restaurant job on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Needless to say, I am a very busy person.
I am not even involved in any on-campus clubs or activities. If I were, that would complicate my schedule even further. But in the past year, I've established important time management skills I believe every busy college student can benefit from.
I have a confession to make I am definitely not proud of. There have been times where I gave up my shift at work to someone else because I was so behind on schoolwork and desperately needed that shift time to catch up. There have also been times that I have skipped an afternoon class to go into work because I desperately needed extra cash. These moments have been few and far between, and I do not recommend skipping class OR work in order to get ahead in one or the other. But, this is an example of prioritizing.
So how do you prioritize the right way?
Well, I start with making a list. Do not worry about prioritizing as you write. Just write down all the things you need to get done, either that day, or that week, or whatever time frame you are planning for. Then read your list and number each item in terms of importance with number one being the most important and number 10 being less important. You may change your mind and have some erasing to do, and that's OK.
2. Do only one thing at a time
Now that you have prioritized all your to-do list items, you will have a clear path to success. Start with the first thing on your list, and work your way down. This is helpful especially if you are in a time crunch. Number 10 may have to wait until next week, and despite popular belief, it's not the end of the world.
Try not to get overwhelmed by thinking about the sum of all the things you have to do. Just think about one task at a time, and do not think about future tasks until you reach them. But if one task is taking too long, don't be afraid to move to the next. You can always come back later and try again.
3. Put your phone away
Your phone can be a huge distraction, even if you are not on it. Just having your phone nearby can lead you to check your screen for notifications when you should be focusing on your work.
When I need to get work done, I either put my phone in my backpack or on my bedside table so that I am not tempted to check it and go down the Instagram rabbit hole.
4. Reward yourself periodically for staying on task
One way I motivate myself to get through my homework is promising to reward myself either after a certain amount of time, such as one hour of uninterrupted studying or after I complete a task, i.e. after I finish my math homework. The reward may be checking my phone and responding to notifications, or it could be getting a snack, or taking a relaxing shower.
Choose your own reward and when you want to reward yourself with it. This will motivate you to get more done because you are working towards something tangible.
5. Set goals
For me, my end goal is graduating. For you, it may be just completing the semester. It may be getting a 4.0 GPA or getting a promotion at work.
Whatever your goals are, write them on a sticky note and place it above your desk. When you start to get overwhelmed, look at your sticky note and remember why it is you are doing what you are doing.
6. Recognize when you need down time, too
No to-do list is worth your mental or physical health. Listen to your body. It will tell you when you are overworking yourself. It may show itself in the form of extreme exhaustion, nodding off during the day, or physical pain like achy muscles or headaches. There is no shame in taking a mental health day now and again.
Do not deny your body rest! It will only make it harder to get through the day.
7. Find your motivation
It may be your favorite song, a motivational speech or a conversation with your BFF to re-inspire you. If I am having trouble getting motivated, I find it helpful to open the windows in my apartment and blast music, particularly Taylor Swift or Katy Perry.
Getting up and moving gets your brain working differently than if you are just lying in bed watching TV. Find what motivates you, and don't be afraid to use it!