As a freshman in college, my first year emerged as intense period of discovery, exploration, and profound personal and academic growth. Throughout the progression of three challenging quarters, I found that I performed most effectively when I was focused.
I’m sure many of you can either identify with or eventually discover that college is a strange place—college is a place where in one moment you may be having the time of your life with friends and without any warning the next moment you discover you have four finals, two presentations, three projects, and four extracurricular events and commitments all sandwiched into one grueling week.
In fact, one of my professors even joked that one of the primary areas many students often ironically neglect in college is their academic course load.
So amid all of the activities, involvements, and a desire to maintain some smidgen of a social life, how does one maintain laser sharp focus on their academic course load, arguably the most fundamental component of their college careers?
For many students, myself most definitely included, the environment in which you try to tackle schoolwork emerges as the most deterministic factor for the speed, quality, and focus of your studying and work. If you’re not sure which environment you thrive in, experiment and go with whichever sticks, as everyone is inherently different.
For many, quiet, structured libraries emerge as powerhouses for study, while other prefer the solitude or relaxing nature of their dorm rooms. Personally, I find cafes and coffeehouses like Starbucks maintain the perfect balance between structure and background noise conducive to effective study habits and productivity for me. Also, a little caffeine never hurts
Mental Prioritization and Pre-Planning
We’ve all been there: we plan on carving out a specific time frame for studying for that midterm or finally getting to that paper when one of your closest friends, or one of your favorite clubs on campus decides to host the event you’ve been dying to be a part of on what was going to be your most satisfying productivity day. Do I want to have fun or maximize my score in Class X?
Personally, I try to avoid being confronted by such dilemmas by trying to abide by my mental priority list. I prioritize academics/personal well being, followed by work, leadership responsibilities, friends/family, and finally all other club involvements/downtime. That way, if my friends invite me to hang out, if I feel like lost time will drastically compromise the quality of my work, I’ll opt out but if I believe that I can realistically enjoy their company for a few hours and still maximize the quality of my work, then I’ll be happy to oblige.
I don’t think it’s possible to vouch enough for free apps like Calendar and To Do List Apps. Out of every tool and hack I’ve utilized throughout my college career, those two types of apps in tandem have most considerably simplified and enhanced the quality of my life.
Personally, I tried to stay fairly involved on campus, so every club meeting, work shift, class, lab, seminar, and even library session would be listed on my calendar app, along with each event/task’s designated location, description, and frequency. As opposed to wasting energy trying to remind myself of my committed events, or struggling to carve out time, my calendar app handled the guesswork and reminded me of each event which enabled me to really maximize my time and tackle each task with a peace of mind.
In terms of specific tasks, I used a to-do list app to organize all of my goals and tasks in terms of categories (work, subject areas, personal tasks, etc.), deadlines, and even priority level which not only simplified my life, but also emerged as a motivation tool, since I rewarded myself with a gummy bear or just plain satisfaction every time I crossed off an item from my to-do list.
If you enjoy the feeling of carrying a physical agenda or planner, by all means go for it! I can concede that there are few experiences more satisfying than crossing off a physical item on a written to-do list.
Despite popular opinion, anyone can maximize their productivity and focus in college by prioritizing, organizing, and planning to win at the game of college and life.
Keep fighting the good fight my fellow college students—it’s our game to win.
Hafsah Lakhany will graduate in 2019 from the University of California at Irvine with a major in business administration. After college, Hafsah plans on going into consulting, health care management, and career development coaching/consulting.