One of the best things about college is the freedom.
Your class schedule isn’t announced by a bell. You’re not told what to do and when. Your free time and your evenings are your own. No “screen time” rules. No curfew.
But you know Uncle Ben's famous advice: “With great power comes great responsibility.”
The flip side of your freedom is personal responsibility. No one’s telling you what to do, which also translates to “no one’s telling you how to do what you choose to do.”
So how do you manage all that free time at college? How do you study effectively? How do you avoid those regrettable “frosh” mistakes?
Ultimately every person is different. What works for your friend or your roommate might not work for you. Maybe you’re a morning person. Maybe you study to music. Maybe your brain works best in busy public places.
Differences aside, there are some fundamental things to consider and questions to ask. Here’s what I’d recommend:
1. Put your assignments in Google calendar.
Google, Apple, Mayan…doesn’t really matter which calendar you use. Just use it. Put your upcoming assignments in the app and create reminders so you know what’s coming up.
2. Know yourself—and develop a routine accordingly.
Only you know when your brain is sharpest, when that magic hour is. Plan your routine around your peak productive times and make sure to rest and socialize in the off-hours.
3. Use an app like Todoist, Evernote, or Trello.
If Todoist existed when I was in college, or Trello, you can bet I’d be adding my Google docs to the tasks and organizing my life in an app like this.
Here’s a quick summary of what these apps do:
Todoist is great for to-do lists. Trello is for large projects that require a variety of tasks. Evernote is excellent for organizing, tagging, and cataloging research and sources.
Use any or all of them, if you find them helpful.
4. Break up scary assignments into friendly chunks.
Fifteen-page research papers are terrifying until you get to know them.
Take a few minutes to read and understand the assignment. Then turn it into actionable assignments: (1) Find three peer-reviewed sources; (2) Write thesis statement; (3) Write essay structure; (4) Etc.
You may even add that to-do list to your calendar based on when you need those tasks done in order to meet the paper deadline.
Trust me. Do this and your long papers or giant projects won’t be so scary.
5. Study hard…for short periods of time.
I love reading, but even this bookworm needs to come up for air. Rather than getting distracted every two minutes, commit yourself to twenty-five-minute uninterrupted study sessions. Set a timer.
After twenty-five minutes, walk over to say hi to a friend. Take a lap around the building. Update your Snap stories. Get coffee.
Break down your study sessions the same way you’d break down any major assignment, and reward yourself with breaks in between.
6. Stay active.
If you play sports, you don’t need this reminder. But if you don't play sports, get up. Move.
Go for runs. Play intramurals. Find a workout buddy. Whatever it takes, give yourself at least thirty minutes of physical activity three times a week. You’ll sleep better, think more clearly, feel more energetic.
Your grades will thank you, and you will develop disciplines and habits that will pay dividends for the rest of your life.
All-nighters sound romantic, almost mandatory, as if your college experience isn’t valid until you’re the last kid in the dorm lobby with headphones and a can of Red Bull.
But if you don’t sleep, you won’t study. Your brain needs as much rest as any muscle. You’ll be less prone to catching colds or flus or whatever malady is decking the halls come Christmas time.
Be jealous about your sleep schedule.
In the end, college isn’t about the grades or even the job. It’s about living life, and living it well. It should prepare you for a life of meaning and greatness. Ben Franklin, Flannery O’Connor, Charles Darwin, Picasso, and many other great artists, thinkers, and innovators became great not only because of their talents but also because of the routines they lived by. They knew how to manage their time effectively, and they knew when (and how) to rest.
Let your college education teach you the same.
Complement with R. J. Snell on the importance of routine in college, James V. Shall's guide to liberal learning, and Chad Chisholm on how to write great essays using the rules of rhetoric.