School work is time-consuming. Assuming you are going to school full-time taking at least 12 credits and are expected to spend 3 hours of work per credit, that puts you at 36 hours per week of just going to classes, doing homework, and studying. School really is a full-time job, especially if you are taking more than those 12-credits (which you should be if you actually want to graduate in four years—refer to my post, Graduating Faster: High School and University). So how do you balance school, socializing, work, and still manage to catch those Zs?
I hate to break it to you, but it requires a lot of self-discipline and planning. That is, if you want to do well in school. If you have absolutely no desire to succeed in school then there is no point in reading this. If, on the other hand, you still want to get those As while not skipping out on all the fun, keep reading.
Here is my first tip to you. Make sleep a priority. If you don’t, then you are just going to always be tired. Make the decision now to make sure you are getting a good amount of sleep (for adults, about 7-9 hours). But why? Here’s the deal.
The closer you are to those 7-9 hours of sleep, the better functioning your brain is. It is that simple. And what happens when your brain is functioning at full-capacity rather than those awful 4 hours of sleep you tried to get last night? Well, you only have to read homework assignments once rather than three times because you didn’t comprehend it the first time. Better sleep = better study. I realized early on that I didn’t have to spend those 3 hours per credit because my brain was functioning at full-capacity on most days. I made sleep a priority, which meant I tried to be in bed by midnight during the week and up around eight the next morning, or earlier if I needed to get more stuff done.
Second tip—when you are studying or doing homework, cut out the distractions. If you are getting up to do something or someone interrupts you every 20 minutes, your study-session is going to be a long one. It is best and most efficient to find your focus and stick with it until you are done with the task rather than have to refocus multiple times. Find a few places you know you can study in peace. My best options were my bedroom, the library, or a quiet hallway somewhere on campus. If you are worried about anyone disturbing you, put in some earphones so they won’t bug you (you don’t even have to have anything playing).
If you have a hard time studying in silence, play some instrumental music. Music with words is too distracting, so find something relaxing without lyrics. I personally preferred absolute silence when I was studying, but if that wasn’t an option then I would pop in some earphones and listen to classical music—specifically Tchaikovsky or Chopin. There have also been some studies done that link listening to classical music to increased brain performance. They are not conclusive, but it is worth a shot, right?
Anyway, figure out what works best for you in terms of focus and efficiency. The combination of restful sleep and studying without distractions will aid you in becoming a powerhouse when it comes to getting things done. With these tools I managed to spend only 1.5-2 hours studying per credit rather than 3, depending on the class, which saved me so much time in the long run! Diet also plays a huge role in your ability to focus and be energized to get things done, so make sure you aren’t skipping out on meals or living off of ramen.
Next tip—if you are working while in school, which I highly suggest you do for many reasons (refer to It’s Not All About the GPA: What Recruiters are Looking For and Graduating Debt-Free), then that much more of your time is gone every week. You will have to plan out your days carefully. Here is a simple and rough outline of what my daily schedule was:
8am-2pm Classes and study
6pm-8pm Continue study (if necessary)
8pm-12am Socialize or get ahead
Most days I would be done with my classes and study before I had to go to work. After work I had a two-hour period set aside to get more homework done if I hadn’t finished it for the day, and then if I had plans afterwards I would go through with those, and if not I would work ahead (see my post about prioritizing and planning out your homework, Staying Organized and Prioritizing).
Of course this schedule isn’t a minute-by-minute one. I obviously had to eat at some point and consider travel time to get to and from classes and work. But it gives you a general idea of how I lived.
It is possible to balance school, work, your social life, and sleep. All it takes is a little self-discipline and motivation.
The biggest key in making this work for you is making sleep a priority. The moment you let go of sleep, whether it be because you procrastinated an assignment or decided to stay out until 3am, your entire schedule will be out of whack. You won’t be able to finish your assignments quickly and efficiently while maintaining good grades, and you won’t necessarily feel motivated to do that either (less sleep makes your judgment and prioritization abilities cloudy). And don’t forget, too much sleep is just as bad as not enough sleep.
On top of sleep, make sure your diet is balanced to give you the energy you need each day (read Avoiding the Freshman 15 for some tips on healthy eating).
Thanks for reading! Now get out there and get to work!