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How I Learned to Better Manage My Time in College

When I was losing motivation and feeling overwhelmed, I realized I needed to radically rethink how I prioritize.

Courtesy of jchaiyot / Shutterstock
Courtesy of jchaiyot / Shutterstock

Welcome to our special section, Thrive on Campus, devoted to covering the urgent issue of mental health among college and university students from all angles. If you are a college student, we invite you to apply to be an Editor-at-Large, or to simply contribute (please tag your pieces ThriveOnCampus). We welcome faculty, clinicians, and graduates to contribute as well. Read more here.

Going into my freshman year of college, I remember being excited to expand my horizons and try different clubs, classes, and meet so many new people. What I didn’t expect was to overcommit and find myself continuously stressed about prioritizing and dividing my time between all the activities, while still managing the challenges of being a first-semester freshman. 

I was so busy worrying about what I needed and wanted to do during my first year that I forgot to allow time for self-care. With a large course load and an overwhelming amount of activities on my plate, I began to realize how stressed out and unhappy I was feeling. The commitments and work I had signed up for began to take a toll on me. My sleep, academic, and personal schedule was messed up — and so was my motivation.

I realized that if I was going to get through my first year of college successfully, I was going to have to rethink things and address my time management skills. I needed to organize my time so that I could do the things I love and that bring me joy, like hanging out with my new friends, while still — most importantly — having time to myself.  Thankfully, I managed to get back on track, and was able to make the most of the rest of my freshman year.  

The first thing I worked on was getting more sleep. I realized that instead of relentlessly prioritizing, I was simply extending my day by cutting into my sleep-time. I stopped that, and begin to aim to get seven to eight hours of sleep every night. According to the National Sleep Foundation, young adults should be getting around seven to nine hours of sleep every night for optimal body function. Getting enough sleep was a game-changer, and gave me the energy I needed to better manage all my obligations each day.

The next thing I worked on was using a calendar and checklist. This one may seem obvious, but it really helped me plan and organize my days. If I wrote down all the things I needed to accomplish in the day, I felt more organized, and understood when and where I needed to be in advance. Since I had so many activities and classes to attend, simply having a calendar helped me find some holes and  times that I could devote to different things. Crossing off things on my checklist and calendar also became really satisfying for me. 

Another thing that helped me better manage my time — even though it was incredibly challenging — was limiting my online time, and just in general, eliminating any technological distractions. I got to a point where if I needed to put my phone on top of my closet so that I couldn’t see it and could concentrate, then so be it. A study published in Frontiers in Psychology found that “procrastination was positively related to internet multitasking and insufficiently controlled internet use.” Having my phone (and social media) nearby always hindered my studying, and not only slowed me down, but didn’t allow me to really focus on the task at hand. As soon as I limited my online time and stopped bringing my phone with me to the library, I realized how much more focused I could be. I got things done much faster and felt less stressed, and more on schedule.

The last and very important thing that helped me with my time management was learning to be more self-aware. I had seen this post by Kathy Greer, in which she talked about how time management is really just how we manage ourselves. In order to do that, you need to learn what type of person you are. Are you a morning or night person? When do you seem to have the most energy during the day? When are you most focused? Reflecting on my personal answers to all these questions — effectively learning who I am and how I operate — made me more effective, and helped bring new clarity to each day.

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More on Mental Health on Campus:

What Campus Mental Health Centers Are Doing to Keep Up With Student Need

If You’re a Student Who’s Struggling With Mental Health, These 7 Tips Will Help

The Hidden Stress of RAs in the Student Mental Health Crisis

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