Better time management, finding balance, great apps and more
It's a new year and you're determined to shine. The start of a new semester is the perfect time for post-secondary students to refocus, hone study habits and work routines and knuckle down for the long haul.
Lisa Cole, a learning strategist with NAIT's learning services office, offers several tips to get you started on the right academic foot and set you up for success.
1. Get organized
Whether you're 18 or 48, good organization will keep you on top of your projects so you don't miss key deadlines. A good place to start is by plugging all your projects, assignments and tests into a monthly calendar. Once you have that, Cole advises to create weekly schedules with time slotted for classes, work, studying and downtime.
Although she makes students write out their schedules on paper at first, Cole advises embracing technology to stay on top of the mountain of assignments and projects. Apps like myHomework let you enter class schedules, exams and assignments.
If you're a parent, get the kids involved, Cole adds. Create a family schedule with clearly defined study periods when the kids know that it's time for them to entertain themselves with things like crafts, their own schoolwork or other (quiet) activities.
2. Don’t put it off
Procrastination is a bad habit that can derail your assignments – or career prospects – and create unnecessary stress and guilt.
"Procrastination is actually the same feeling in your brain as fear – fear of how long it's going to take, fear of failure," says Cole.
If you're overwhelmed by a project, break it into smaller chunks, she adds. That makes the work feel less daunting and you get a sense of accomplishment with every milestone reached. When in doubt, follow the five-minute rule – a strategy Cole uses to overcome the initial hurdle of starting an unwelcome task like going to the gym.
"Tell yourself, 'I'm going to do 5 minutes on the treadmill.' What's going to happen? You're not just going to run for five minutes. You're going to get your run in, maybe try out some weights … and you end up feeling really, really good. That works as well with studying."
3. Find a great study space
For most people, studying in front the TV doesn't help with retaining information. Cole stresses the need for a distraction-free zone such as a library or a room in your home that's only used for studying. Make sure you have all your study tools on hand – textbooks, pens, notebook, laptop, a mask if you're at NAIT or out in the world. Adjust lighting and noise levels to suit your needs.
4. Strike a balance
Whether your program is years long or several intensive weeks, it's important to find balance in your life and "make room for wellness in your calendar," Cole says. That means getting enough sleep and slotting time for family activities, date night or even time to get up early to hit the gym or swim a few laps.
"Keeping wellness in your calendar is something you have to do. It's extremely important to your health and well-being."
5. Boost your productivity with apps
If you're easily distracted by your phone, laptop or tablet, Cole recommends temporarily deleting tempting distractions like your Facebook or Instagram.
Not realistic? Try a distraction-blocker app. She uses one called Forest, where the life of a digital tree depends on your ability to resist distraction. Once the app is running and active, your tree flourishes and grows. But as soon as you leave the app for something like Facebook, it withers and dies. Stay focused long enough and the company plants a real, live tree.
"It keeps you focused and I know I'm doing good for the Earth."