A new semester at school has officially started up again and its time to get organized! I am excited for this particular semester as its my last one before graduating after four years of working towards my bachelor’s degree! I always get asked how I stay on top of everything with being a student full-time and working two jobs, not including blogging, so I have decided to share it with you all in hopes that it will help you be more successful in your own studies!
Read your course syllabus.
If you can retain one thing of this entire post, its to read your course syllabus! I know, they are very tedious and for the most part all share the same information, but they are also a gold mine. Have a read through it and make note of your professor’s and teaching assistant’s information (email, phone number, office hours). Look at the course breakdown to see what material is covered when, if there are quizzes, assignments, and submission dates. I also like to know the course grading system to see how much is allocated to each portion of the course. Having a quick read through only takes about two minutes, but it can save you from missing any important information or deadlines! Not all professors announce things ahead of time or give reminders of upcoming work to be submitted and most expect that you have done your own reading of the course syllabus.
Make a weekly checklist for each course.
Over the years, I have tried so many different methods of organizing myself for numerous different courses, and I have come to find my holy grail! This may not work for you, as everyone is different, but I have found that this is the most effective one for me. I use the Notes app on my iPhone; its free and I always have access to it on my devices, without needing internet access or data. With all the information found in the course syllabus, I start with the professor information and then the teaching assistant’s information. Then, I list all the weeks of the course, and under each week I make a checklist of everything that will be covered that week; reading chapters, lecture chapters, any quizzes/assignments, submission deadlines…its all there. I put submission dates in brackets beside the corresponding items so I always know when things are due. Once it is completed, I simply check off the circle and move onto the next item. The last section is the breakdown of the course grade; in the past I would always have to log into the school platform, download to syllabus and scroll through to find it, which would use up valuable minutes of my day. This way, it is easily and quickly accessible.
Have one calendar that shows everything you are doing, with different colours for each activity.
Every year, I purchase a weekly/monthly agenda from Walmart (THIS is the one I have been using for years), nothing too expensive. I love to use the monthly calendars to show me my schedule rather than the daily ones. I fill in my class schedule (course name/classroom number/time), shifts for job #1 (highlighted in yellow), shifts for job #2 (highlighted in orange) and any special or out-of-the-ordinary events that would not normally be in my schedule (such as midterms/appointments/exams/work training, which are highlighted in pink).
Break your day into tasks.
In the weekly calendars, I write down my school and works schedules again for each day. I also add my daily to-do list for each day. This helps me plan out when to study and not fall behind. I still put the due date in brackets beside the corresponding item, and simply put a check mark beside it when I’m done.
Be one week ahead in your studies.
I have found this to a be lifesaver! You never know when life will throw something your way, or when you’ll fall ill next, so this gives you some leeway if you happen to fall behind, which, let’s be honest, every student will at one point or another. This is also a great way to stay on top of your studies and to help you come to class prepared and not feel lost in the new content. By doing so, you are introducing your brain to the topics so that when you get to the lectures, you already know what the professor is talking about and the class serves more as a review than learning for the very first time.
Organize your desktop.
This is something I have started doing more recently, but I have found that it really helps! My desktop was always messy and I spent more time clicking into documents/pictures to figure out what they were than actually finding what it was I was looking for. I have an entire blog post HERE about this, as well as explaining how to make your own template!
Naps are your best friend.
Working two jobs as well as studying full-time means that I don’t get many hours of sleep during the night. Some mornings I start work at 5:30am and only finish at 10pm, with classes throughout the day. What has really helped was taking a power nap on the days I had little breaks. Especially since I am not a night owl AT ALL, staying up late to study is hard for me to do. This gives me the extra boost to keep going for a couple extra hours each day.
Don’t neglect your physical health.
I used to believe that school came before my physical health, or that I would rather have an extra 2 hours of sleep at night instead of exercising. I would not work out or go to the gym because I would spend my time studying instead. I have come to find that you have to find a balance between the two, without reaching either extremity. Only studying will make your body tired and languid. You will start to develop unhealthy habits, gain weight, and actually feel more tired. Contrarily, only exercising will not allow you to dedicate time for your studies to be successful in your courses. Exercising does give your body more energy and helps to give your brain a mental break. This past semester, I would study on a daily basis, but I would also teach five aquatic fitness classes a week plus go for a 2 hour swim one night of the week. This was the balance that worked for me, which will adapt over time with different school and work schedules.
Dedicate one time a week for down-time.
My down-time where I didn’t worry about work or school or how much studying I had to do was crucial to being healthy and successful. I would go swimming once a week with my best friend; while we were staying physically active and keeping our bodies healthy, this also served as our time to hang out with each other, laugh together and just have a stress-free time. Over the years, I have come to realize that my mental health is just as important as my physical health, and I cannot achieve as much as I want to without either. Its good to take a break and have a laugh, rather than constantly worrying or being locked away in your room studying with no human contact.
Growing up, I was always that person that could never hang out after school or accept party invites because I had so much going on in my life with piano, competitive sports, jobs, and other extra curricular activities. This has greatly helped me develop strong time management skills, which is very useful now, with being a full-time student with a full course load as well as working two jobs. The most important thing to take away is that every minute counts and can be put towards doing something productive. Procrastination is not an option as things have to get done. I always bring a school textbook to work because I know when I have a 30 minute lunch break, I can get some studying in while I eat rather than mindlessly browse on my phone. Another example would be when I download my class notes on my phone to review course content during my bus commute to work. When I used to commute 40 minutes to get to school (I have since then moved out), I would download the required readings as audiobooks (more common for language classes with novels) to listen to in the car while driving. I find that the busier I am, the more I can achieve as I have less time to sit around and do nothing.
Another huge one growing up and even more so now. Should I go see a movie for three hours or should I finish my assignment? Should I pick up a late shift or should I go out with my friends? These are choices that we make on a daily basis. We have to look at the big picture; what will bring me the most success in the future? What will I remember more: a night out with friends or graduating with honours? It’s honestly the little sacrifices that make a big difference. I am not saying never hang go out with friends, but to find a balance between everything going on in your life and to choose what you value the most. Growing up, my mom always said “its better to cry now and laugh later, than to laugh now and cry later”. Basically what that means is do the hard work now and have a secure and successful future, instead of partying and having fun now and struggling for the rest of your life. My priorities have always been in the following order:
- extracurriculars (ex: RCM piano, swimming, competitive showjumping, soccer, snowboarding, school concert band…)
- saving instead of spending
- personal health & fitness
- friends/social (if I have any time remaining)
Be efficient & effective in course prep.
As mentioned above, preparing in advance for your courses will help you understand the material better and will give you a contingency for unforeseen and unexpected things that may come up in life. I used to always write my own notes based off of the books; I always found writing things down helped me memorize them better. However this method was very time consuming! When I started working my second job this year, I found I did not have the time to write things out and had to adjust my study strategy. I now highlight directly in my book, which I’ve found works really well for me. Come time for an exam, I simply flip through the pages and review any highlighted material. Furthermore, I also mentioned that I bring my textbooks to work. Carrying a textbook is easier for me to do than carry a textbook + a notebook, and I can get way more done in those breaks than when I used to write everything out.