For many of us, the semester is coming to a close, which means a huge weight off of all of our shoulders—at least for a little while. I especially feel more relaxed now that final grades have been posted because I have had a crazy semester (story time!), and it took a lot of discipline to get through it with my head above water.
I’ve been absent on the blog for several months—but I can explain! As with every semester I’ve been in college so far, I took the full course load this semester with 6 classes (18 credits). I also continued my job as Editor in Chief of the school newspaper, maintained my editing business, continued my part-time telecommute job as a social media manager for an online company, and, much to my surprise and delight, took on a full-time job opportunity with a local newspaper as a copyeditor. I was going to newspaper meetings at 11 a.m., going to class from 12 till 3, then working from 3 to midnight every day. It was totally exhausting, and I hardly had time for anything else, but I managed to make time for my fiancé and my family as much as I could, while still maintaining an All-A grade average.
How did I do it?
Allow me to share my secrets! Here are the five things I did every day to keep my head above water with all the things I had going on.
1. Keep a running, prioritized to-do list
When you’re working as much as I was, it can be hard to maintain the beauty of your sacred paper planner. After completely wrecking my planner with changing schedules and deadlines, I had to find a better way to look at the tasks ahead of me.
At the end of a long night at work, I needed to see a list of everything that absolutely needed to get done by the next day, not a big jumbled mess of the assignments that were due sometime in the week ahead. For this reason, I started operating via a checklist, quite similar to my old Due Date Spreadsheet.
My checklist was pretty simple. I kept it in my Notes application on my iPhone, and it read: Monday, followed by a list of tasks that needed to be done, then Tuesday, etc. When I got to Saturday, I’d simply start again at Sunday. The list was constantly growing, but it made sense to me. It was easy to navigate, I knew exactly what I needed to do, and it was easy to make adjustments as professors changed due dates or new assignments came up.
It broke my heart to not be able to use my beautiful Day Designer planner, but it can be difficult to prioritize when you can’t “cut and paste” assignments into a different order. For that reason, this checklist really worked for me. It also ensured that I didn’t stay up all night on a Tuesday doing homework that wasn’t due until Thursday: sleep is important!
2. Recognize what’s most important
When you’re as busy as I was last semester, sometimes you’re faced with a decision no type-A student wants to make: which of these assignments am I going to do?
Now, in my own defense, I didn’t fail to turn in any assignments, and I didn’t turn anything in late, either—but not every essay I turned in was my best work.
There were times when I had to decide which paper was more important: my senior capstone or a 3-page explication. Obviously, I had to go with the former. Which meant that the latter was grossly undeveloped and not something that I was proud of, but at least it was something. And then when the next essay rolled around for that class, I promised to do a much better job.
And that’s how I kept my grades up: I went back and forth prioritizing what was worth the most points and would make the biggest effect on my grade in the long run. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s honest, and if you’re ever in a position like I was, you might need to do it, too.
3. Take time for yourself
In the midst of all this busy-ness, my fiancé, Ryan, and I had a really rough few months this semester. Between a difficult death, family struggles and a car accident, our lives seemed to be completely turned upside-down all at once, and all of this personal stuff was beginning to really take a toll on me. I needed a break.
So I didn’t feel bad when I took a few mental health days this semester, by telling my teachers that I wasn’t feeling well (not a lie), and taking some time to be comforted by Ryan and my family. Everyone needs a break every once in a while, and if missing one 50-minute class is the difference between my sanity and a complete mental breakdown, I’ll help myself out and take the day off.
4. Get a sufficient amount of sleep
I mentioned this in tip number one, but I wanted to reiterate because it is super important.
When I was in middle and high school, I oftentimes ended up staying up super late studying for tests because I knew I just had to get that A. But, according to my mom (who was right, by the way), getting a good night’s sleep will help you a lot more on the test than staying up all night studying.
When you’re tired, your ability to rationalize depletes significantly, and your thoughts aren’t as coherent as they could be. Both of these things make test-taking (which for an English major like me means a lot of essay writing) much more difficult. In fact, I’ve found that staying up all night to read the book that the test is on actually lowers my score on the test, compared to if I just read the quick Sparknotes summary of the text and get a full night’s sleep.
For this reason, I’ve actually almost never had to pull an all-nighter. I need my sleep to be successful!
5. Compromise with yourself
Finally, in order to maintain this hectic lifestyle, I had to compromise on some things. For instance, yes, I got to go out with my friends—but I had to do homework for the first half hour or so. I also had to give up some stuff—like going shopping with my friends—to have time for other stuff—like trips. It’s a big game of give and take, and you just have to figure out the right balance for you!
Bonus tip: Don’t forget to eat right
I’ll admit, I got pretty lazy with my eating habits over this semester, and I gained a few pounds. This is totally avoidable, though. Plan ahead, so you don’t have to eat out for every meal, and make sure you’re actually eating three meals a day—not one big meal at the end of the day. I wasn’t able to make time to go to the gym until classes were over, but eating healthy would have helped me maintain the weight I wanted to be at!
So there you have it, my five/six tips for keeping up with school while having an insanely hectic schedule. If you’re nervous about next semester, don’t be: you can do this! It’s just going to take a little planning, a lot of time management, and even more dedication.
Did you have a rough semester and now feel exhausted or even tired of school altogether? You could be experiencing burnout—which could be a catastrophe if you don’t fix it soon. Learn how to cope here.