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Productivity Tips for College Students: How to Juggle Classes, Work and Social Life

One thing is for sure — college is a whole lot different than high school! The work is harder, and there are a lot more “temptations” to distract you.

If you’re like many college students these days and need to hold down a part-time job, the demands on your time are even greater. College may also represent the first time you’ve been on your own, so Mom and Dad won’t be around to keep you in line!

How can you be sure you will have enough time to devote to your academic and work activities while still having a little fun now and then? The following time management tips can help you make your entire college experience as productive and rewarding as possible.

Block Your Classes

Rather than spreading your classes throughout the day, consider scheduling them back-to-back. You’ll avoid those gaps between classes, often spent on unproductive activities such as scrolling through social media or binge-watching Netflix. You’ll also find you’ll have larger blocks of time available for studying, working, or hanging out with your friends.

Write It Down

Once you have pinned down your classes for the semester, create a written schedule that encompasses every waking minute of the day. Doing so will help ensure you have time for everything you need to accomplish while still having time for fun.

As you block your classes, it’s also smart to do the same with your study time. The average college student spends only 10 to 13 hours per week studying. How much time you spend on each class will depend on the subject matter, the assignments, and your abilities. Blocking your time lets you focus on your work rather than breaking it into smaller sessions throughout the day, which gives you time to forget where you left off.

As a very general rule of thumb, allow yourself two hours of study time for every hour of classroom or lecture time, and be sure to build in some flexibility, so you can adjust as needed. You can spend any remaining time working, playing, or however you see fit!

Don’t Skip Classes

Does anyone welcome the sound of a blaring or beeping alarm clock at 7 a.m.? While skipping a class to grab an extra hour of sleep feels great in the short term, it just means you’ll have to spend extra time trying to make up for what you’ve missed. A study of a business degree program found that grades drop roughly half a percentage point for every class missed. For a serial skipper, the impact could be pretty significant. The same study saw that attending one more class each semester could help students on the margins between two letter grades achieve the higher one.

Besides the impact on your final grade, you’ll also waste your tuition dollars. While the cost per skipped class can vary by institution and program, you can determine how much you stand to lose. Divide your semester’s tuition by your total number of class sessions per semester. At five classes per 16-week semester, that’s about 80 sessions.

If you’re one of those people who don’t like rising with the roosters, consider scheduling your class block so that it starts a little later in the day. One study found that most college students’ optimal start time is between 10 and 11 a.m., when their brain functioning reaches its peak.

Break It Down

Waiting until the last minute to start on a large project or long-term paper can throw your entire schedule out of whack — not to mention the high level of anxiety it creates! Begin to work on these major tasks as soon as your instructors assign them.

You’ll find that spending a small portion of each daily study period on significant projects will make them much easier to manage from a time standpoint. The quality of the finished product will also be better than when you try to do a rush job.

Learn to Say No

Your roommates or friends may want you to stop what you’re doing and have a little fun, or your employer might ask you to pick up an extra shift now and then. Make it clear exactly when you will be available for socializing or work, and learn to say no if a scheduling conflict arises.

Follow Your Internal Clock

Everyone has their natural rhythm, which dictates everything from when you wake up and fall asleep to when you get hungry. It also determines when you feel most ready to succeed. Some students are morning people. Others are night owls.

If your body doesn’t let you spring out of bed at 7 a.m., waking up early to finish up your assignments before class could be counterproductive. Just the same, if you tend to hit a slump in the late afternoon, it’s not a good idea to schedule classes or do homework around that time. To be most productive, find the times when you feel most energized and take full advantage of them.

While you’re at it, schedule short breaks in your study sessions. You’ll feel your focus start to give way after an hour or two of studying. A 10-minute break could be just the thing to help you refocus. Also, consider what rituals will leave you refreshed and ready to concentrate. For example, drinking your morning coffee or going for a quick walk could help you wake up and get down to business.

Find the Right Study Environment

Where you get your work done has a significant impact on your ability to focus. A crowded campus dining hall or your roommate talking on the phone can be huge distractions. Finding a quiet place to work — or a decent pair of noise-canceling headphones — is essential. While many college students like to get work done in bed, this can also limit your productivity. If you associate your work environment with relaxing or surfing the web, you’re more likely to let yourself get distracted by those activities. Working at a desk or a quiet study room tells your brain it’s time to knuckle down.

Avoid Screens

Between taking online classes, typing papers, and doing research online, college students spend a lot of time staring into a screen. Too much screen time can give you a headache and make it harder to fall asleep. It also invites distractions like social media or streaming services. Studies show students do much better on critical thinking assignments when they take notes by hand than typing notes on laptops.

When you take a study break, try to disconnect completely. It will give your eyes a much-needed rest. You’ll also avoid falling down the social media rabbit hole, which can tempt you away from your work even when you go back to studying.

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