Adjusting to College Life: Time Management Keeps Everything from Happening at Once

So many First Years in college feel like everything is happening all at once. This is what the internal dialogue might be like as you drag yourself out of bed to face a new day in a new school year in a new environment:

“Will this jacket be warm enough today? Where’s my toothpaste? What day it is anyway? Tuesday. Right. Where did I leave that assignment? My favorite shirt smells terrible. Is my phone charged? Where is my charger? Where is my phone?! Where is my room key? Is my laptop charged? Should I leave this window open? Is it going to rain today? Do I have enough time to eat breakfast before class? I have a sore throat. Am I getting a cold? MY ID was in my pocket last night. Do I have to make an appointment at the health center, or can I just walk in? Where is the health center? Is there enough time to get breakfast after biology and before computer programming? Will my roommate think I’m a slob if I don’t make my bed? Where did I put that assignment? Will I look like an idiot if the professor calls on me?”

You get the picture. It’s overwhelming. According to Psychology Today, as many as “84 percent [of college students] will feel overwhelmed by all they have to do.” Overwhelm is a significant contributor to “academic floundering,” which PT cites as the number one cause of college unhappiness.[1]

Mark Twain said, “Time is what keeps everything from happening at once.” Twain was right of course, but for new college students, time management is what keeps everything from happening at once. In other words, your calendar is your key to not getting behind, avoiding academic floundering, and possibly finding happiness.

At Focus Collegiate, we believe that a holistic approach is best. If it’s important, schedule it. As a new college student, you need time to think, time for self-care, time for homework, time to do your laundry… schedule them! We start with your goals and work backwards to create calendars and digital reminders. Through conversation and reiteration, our coaches empower students to hold themselves accountable to the schedule that they created for themselves.

The schedule is the foundation upon which we build individualized strategies. While what works best is different for each student, here are some common approaches we like:

  • Keep it real. Be realistic about how much time you have and how long each project will take. Optimism has its place, but not in your daily schedule. Double or even triple the amount of time you think it will take to do something and then build your schedule accordingly.
  • Plan ahead. Plan each day ahead of time (including small things like what you’ll wear; where and what you’ll eat breakfast). Plan your ‘unstructured’ time; plan your weekend; plan your lunch break. When your time is planned, you don’t have to worry about what to do next. It’s in the plan. Stick to your plan.
  • Checklists are your friend. Checklists are powerful psychological motivators. Even the small feeling of success you’ll find checking something off your list produces dopamine. Dopamine is the brain’s neurotransmitter connected to pleasure, motivation, and learning. It feels good. The brain wants more of that good feeling. Feeling good is an excellent motivator.
  • Use technology. Whether that technology is pen and paper or the latest App, choose the technology that works best for you. And use it faithfully.
  • Break it up. Break large projects into smaller, manageable parts. The feeling of accomplishment you’ll get from finishing each part of your project will buoy the entire project. (See dopamine above.)
  • A place for everything and everything in its place. “Establish holding places near the door for keys, wallets, backpacks, and purses. Make it a habit of placing those items in the special place any time you walk in the door.”[2]
  • Eyes on the prize. Keep your objective in mind. Why are you doing the things you do? How do they relate to your overall goal?
  • Be good to yourself. Congratulations are in order. Give them. To yourself! Little smiley faces and gold stars might seem trite, but your brain doesn’t see them that way. Look at emojis: “Scientists have discovered that when we look at a smiley face online, the same parts of the brain are activated as when we look at a real human face. Our mood changes, and we might even alter our facial expressions to match the emotion of the emoticon.”[3]

It’s simple but it’s not easy. With perseverance and consistent support our students keep everything from happening at once, eschew overwhelm, and even start to enjoy college life.




Photo by Kaylah Otto on Unsplash

Our program is now available in the greater Boston area!

Focus Collegiate provides innovative hands-on coaching for college students with learning differences, on campus and beyond.

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