Habits That Will Change Your Life
Getting through the daily grind of college is hard—not only because the material you are studying is demanding, but because you have to balance so many obligations. Many of you are holding down jobs, have family commitments, are student athletes, are involved in student government on campus, or belong to a host of social and professional groups for which you perhaps have heavy responsibilities. This list does not even begin to touch on “you” time—renewing your energy, meditating, partaking in leisure and hobbies, and working toward your professional development. Research shows that the feeling of overwhelm from trying to do it all can lead to high levels of stress, self-esteem issues, anxiety, and depression.
I remember being in your shoes, and the truth is I sometimes still struggle to do it all well. Over time, I’ve experimented with techniques to stay focused and on track. I’ll share three of my top tips for balancing your life while in college and even after graduation. Master these tips and you will master your time.
Tip No.1: Be an early riser.
This is the single best advice I can give you with respect to getting things done. I, myself, am not naturally an early riser. Left to my own devices, I would definitely go to bed late (after midnight) and get up late (after 9:00 a.m.). But I have learned the immense value of becoming an early riser. Many famous CEOs, such as Apple’s Tim Cook (who gets up at 3:45 a.m. daily), rise around 4:00 a.m. The Wall Street Journal recently published an article titled “Why 4 am is the Most Productive Hour.” Business Insider wrote a similar article focused on getting up early and having a distinct morning ritual, which I also think is key.
It’s not just about getting up early. It’s about what you do with that “found time.” My ritual is this: wash my face, brush my teeth, drink a bottle of water, and then on alternating days I either work out or write. Based on the time I am able to get to bed, I get up now between 4:00 and 5:00 a.m. Of course that means I must also go to bed much earlier, something that took me quite a while to get used to. I cannot tell you the difference it has made in my life. The feeling of accomplishment so early in the morning is truly exhilarating and motivates me to keep going the rest of the day.
Tip No. 2: Be intentional with your commitments. Learn to say “no.”
If you develop a reputation as a hard worker and a highly dependable individual, many opportunities will come your way. You will sometimes feel flattered at some of the offers that you receive. But don’t be flattered into accepting a responsibility you are not passionate about. Spend your time carefully; focusing on fewer commitments to things you really care about can make a tangible difference. It takes wisdom to realize which opportunities are ones to pass on and which are those you should pursue. If you are passionate about a topic, it should rise to a higher level. Then you must ask yourself if you have the necessary time to complete the task in a way that will make you proud. If you are passionate and have time, then this might be a “yes.” But if you answer no to either question, your response should be, “Thank you so much for considering me. After further consideration I don’t feel I can take this on at this time.” As is often said, it is far easier to get into a commitment than out of a commitment. Even when you think the answer is a natural yes, resist the urge to say yes in the same conversation. Be thoughtful about it. A good answer on the spot is to say you will think it over. A quick yes sometimes results in something you must later back out of, which is never a good feeling and is somewhat harmful to your self-esteem and your reputation.
Tip No. 3: Leverage technology to help you be more efficient.
Be quick to learn new technologies—learn to learn. This is a skill employers greatly value, and it will pay huge dividends during college and after. Technologies that help you stay organized and focused are great. I use Microsoft Outlook for my calendar and contact list. I can scan business cards and import them into my contact list along with a note about where I met that individual. I also use a task management app called Todoist, which I couldn’t live without. It is platform-independent and the app is synced to both my phone and my laptop. My spouse has this same program, which enables us to share certain projects such as grocery shopping, errands, and home repair. I simply enter an item on the grocery list and it appears in his grocery list, since it is a shared project. Emails can be saved into a project and used as reminders to talk with certain people. My daily routine is also laid out in the app, which allows me to check things off as I do them throughout each day.
Focus Time is an activity-tracking app designed to help individuals really focus on a task without distractions. The premise of the app is based on productivity theory, which advocates spending 25 minutes on a task followed by five minutes of rest where you can do anything you want. During the time you are working on a task, all other apps should be muted. I have found this allows me to actually dive deep into a task knowing I only have to work on it for a short time. Generally, then the timer goes off and I rest. If necessary, I reset it for another 25 minutes to complete a task. This has been one of the single most helpful technology tools I have come across. Defining the time in which you have to complete a task forces you to work more efficiently.
Technology has become vital in keeping in touch with contacts you’ve made professionally. If you don’t currently have a LinkedIn profile, or have one that you’re not actively using, I encourage you to log back in and take advantage of the platform. LinkedIn is one of the most important tools you can use to build your public, professional profile. I recently had the chief information officer of a company in the top 50 of Forbes’ 100 Best Companies to Work tell me that they have removed the use of physical business cards and now require all companies to use LinkedIn to connect with their professional contacts.
Last, technology that helps build in meditation during the day is also very helpful. My Apple watch taps me when it’s time to stand and move around. My Calm app tells me when it’s time to do a short meditation. Without these prompts, I would often work far too long, stressing my body and mind in ways that are not healthy.
With all the efficiencies you can gain through the proper use of technology, there is also a dark side to using technology. Instead of helping you become more productive, technology can instead be a huge time killer if you allow it. Social media and gaming can consume many hours of your time—and that is time you can better spend on other things that you claim to not be able to find time for, whether it’s working out, reading, or just relaxing. One strategy is to use the Focus Time app to allow yourself a limited amount of social media and/or gaming and then be strict with yourself when the timer goes off.
These high-level tips—get up early, learn to say no, and be smart with technology—will change your life if you are able to inculcate these habits into your daily routine. They will not only get you through college but will also set you up for a successful personal and professional life after college.
Stephanie M. Bryant is executive vice president and chief accreditation officer at AACSB International. Follow her on Twitter @StephMBryant.