The start of the semester can be a grueling time for students. With classes, co-curricular activities and work, the idea of keeping everything balanced is not only ethereal, but seemingly impossible.

Over the past weeks, I’ve had to act as Editor-in-Chief of Edge Magazine (20 hours per week), attend a full schedule of classes (18 hours per week), work at the local Starbucks (30 hours per week), act as President for Alpha Psi Omega (5 hours per week), represent Alpha Psi Omega in the Student Government Association (2 hours per week), participate in a leadership experience (2 hours per week) and rehearse/act in the play Angels in America: Perestroika (25 hours per week). That’s not including time for studying, relationships, homework or downtime (not to mention eating/sleeping). If you add that all up, it comes to 102 hours. Factor in an hour of studying for each hour of class, and we’re up to 120. In a given week, there are exactly 168 hours, so that leaves me 6.8 hours each day for social activities, my relationship, extra work, sleep and eating.

Showing you my schedule isn’t to gloat or make you ogle in disbelief, because I’m sure most students have a schedule that looks very similar, or more intensive than mine.

Yet needless to say, the first few weeks did not go well for me. I was constantly sacrificing sleep for work and trying to keep my juggling act of a life in order, and it showed. Not only was I constantly worn down, but the quality of what I was trying to achieve suffered as a result. I got sick, deadlines were missed and peers wondered why I seemed so out of character. Yet, out of this maelstrom of an introduction to the semester, I learned some simple tricks that have lead me to become a more organized and efficient person.

  1. Focus on what’s most important. I mean it. Take a good look at your life, and figure out what you absolutely HAVE to do, versus what you’d like to do. Cut back in areas that you can (aka keep the homework and classes, but maybe don’t become AS involved in that fourth club you were thinking about). One way to really see how you’re spending your time is to take a day or two and track every minute of what you’re doing. Did you spend 12 minutes on your phone looking at Instagram? Well, that’s 12 minutes you could’ve been spending on Arabic homework. If you truly track how you spend your time during the average day, you’ll gain a broader understanding of where you have “time voids” in your life.
  2. Don’t add. Again, I mean it. If you’re already feeling overwhelmed by your schedule, the worst thing you can do is add on another task, assignment or obligation. Learn this phrase: “No, I’m sorry. I can’t.” It will work wonders. I know that I’m constantly agreeing to help out and do more things, but at a certain point you just have to accept that you’re at your capacity. For example, Angels in America: Perestroika closed on Sept. 19th. Now, I could agree to perform in another show which would entail memorizing lines, attending rehearsals and adding to my already hectic schedule. However, I have learned that sometimes it’s best to take a break and a step back to catch up on your other obligations.
  3. Schedule yourself neurotically. Okay, I don’t mean this one. But, you should have a schedule with you at all times. It can be your phone, a notebook, a planner – whatever works for you. But you need to have it AND use it. If a professor gives you an assignment that’s due in a month, write it down. Write everything down, even time that you want to schedule yourself to work on homework. If you’re scheduling effectively, you’ll get things done in a timely manner.
  4. Get sleep. I know that the stereotypical college student prides themselves on their lack of sleep, but that’s just not feasible if you want to maintain a consistent and productive schedule. Set a time for yourself to get to bed and stick to it (trust me, it’s difficult). However, if you wake up at the same time every day, you’ll feel better and eventually won’t even need an alarm clock! I personally have the luxury (if you can call it that) of working opening shifts at Starbucks. Because of this, my body is just conditioned to wake up around 5a.m. every morning. Working on homework in the morning is also better because you’re not bogged down by the black hole of social media (no one is posting anything interesting at 5 a.m., trust me on this). This is one of the most difficult pointers on effective time management, but also the most important. If you’re constantly sleep deprived, you’ll get sick and won’t be as useful in class or on your sports team. It’s critical that you know yourself well enough to wake up consistently, even on the weekends. Don’t dig yourself into a hole by sleeping in until 1 p.m. on Saturday, because it’ll only cause problems for yourself when you try and wake up for your 8 a.m. class on Monday morning.
  5. Schedule time to deal with the random things in life. More often than not, there will be a time during your college career when something comes up out of nowhere and you don’t have a scheduled time to deal with it. Things like scheduling appointments and meetings, responding to emails, long-term projects for clubs and organizations and financial planning all can fall under this category. David Allen, from his book “Get Things Done,” highlights a system for effectively dealing with these minutia that pile up into monoliths. First, write everything down. If you need to refill a prescription, make sure you write it on a piece of paper, or in a note-taking app, or somewhere. Make sure that all of these items are written down in the same location so that you’re not looking around thinking “what was that one thing I had to do?” Next, set aside a time every day or week to go through this file of action-items. Go through the list one-by-one asking yourself “Is it actionable?” – aka can I do something with this piece of information, or is it just a reference material for a class that I may need in the future? If it’s not actionable, file it away in a place you’ll remember. Conversely, if it is actionable, ask yourself if the task itself will take longer than two minutes. If you can conceivably get it done in that time frame, do it right then and there. Responding to emails, setting appointments and calling your parents all fall under this category (you should talk to your parents for longer than two minutes, but the act of calling them takes about five seconds). If the task will take longer than two minutes, pull out your planner and set a time for when you’ll get it done based on how long you think it will take. Or, if it’s something for a club or organization that you can pass to someone else, ask. Delegation is an important part of both leadership and effective time management. If you follow these steps effectively, you won’t feel as though you’re constantly drowning in thoughts of “what am I forgetting?”

College is a great time to practice preparing yourself for the “real world” and time management is no exception. While it takes a lot of time and effort to maintain it, the payoff is rewarding mentally and emotionally. It may seem cliché, but keeping your schedule consistent will lead to better wellness for yourself and those around you. With the semester in full-force, it’s important to stay ahead of things instead of risking getting bogged down by the details of everyday life. Just focus on what’s most important, don’t add to your schedule if you can, schedule everything, get consistent sleep and schedule time for the random things in your life and you will be well on your way to self-actualization.