How to Organize Your Life in College

“We continue the way we start.” -Gretchen Rubin

Let’s create a time map for your first semester of college!

If you’re starting college next semester, chances are you are feeling INCREDIBLY nervous about this time.

Partly a good, I’m-so-excited, everything-is-going-to-be-so-much-fun, kind of nervous.

And partly an, oh-my-gosh-I-am-going-to-be-Responsible-for-feeding-myself-and-keeping-my-living-space-clean-and- waking-up-on-time-and-getting-things- done-all-by-myself kind of nervous.

Both are normal.

Both are fine.

You SHOULD be feeling this way!

But how DO you make sure that you get up on time every day, have reasonably healthy meals, get all of your work done, do your laundry, and everything else that comes along with being independent and on your own?

Two things: Time management and habits.

Those two concepts are basically married. You can’t have good time management without good habits, and you can’t form good habits without good time management.

So, where do you start? This is kind of a chicken and egg debate, but personally, I would start with the time management.

STEP 1: SCHEDULED TIME COMMITMENTS

Create a Time Map

Start by creating a weekly “time map.” Open Word or Excel and create a table or spreadsheet. If you’re creating a table, you’ll want it to be 8 columns x 33 rows for 30-minute increments or (if you’re a SUPER detailed person like *ahem* me) 8 columns by 65 rows for 15-minute increments. SIDE NOTE: Please check the math on that 🙂 You are just creating 2-4 rows per hour.

Limit Your Active Hours

However, you are purposefully going to leave eight hours out of your day. Try NOT to schedule anything outside of those rows. Of course, there will be events here and there that you don’t want to miss… that’s not what I’m talking about. Don’t schedule SCHOOLWORK for yourself outside of those hours. College is an easy time to work past midnight, but there is a time management rule that “work will expand to fit the amount of time.”

Tell your brain those sleeping hours are not even an option! If it thinks they are, you will get distracted more easily and procrastinate more. I PROMISE this is true. If you need to get it done, you can do it in the 16 hours of your waking day. I’ll show you how!

Add in Your Class Schedule

If you already have your class schedule, or if you have a job and you already know the hours you will need to work, or if you cheer or play softball or are on the golf team, and you know you will practice at a consistent time every day/week, go ahead and add in those times.

Add in Travel Time

Go ahead and block out some time for getting ready and travel time to get to your location. One of my biggest mistakes during my early years of college was scheduling my activities where they bumped right up against each other. Add in time to change clothes, find a parking space, will hit a bunch of red lights on your way there, be REALISTIC about the time it takes to get to each place!

Read: Tips for Balancing Grad School and Real Life

STEP 2: HEALTH TIME

Ok, so now that you have your commitments + get ready/travel time scheduled in, let’s look at what you truly need to live a healthy life. Physical needs come first. It’s hard to train your brain to think this way because there is little accountability for physical needs. No one else really knows if you ate Oreos for dinner, didn’t drink enough water, or only slept four hours last night.

YOU are usually the only one who knows and, a lot of times, the only one who cares. You have GOT to take care of your body. Buy your groceries intentionally. Find a few things that are the perfect balance of cost-effective and healthy, and stick to buying those items consistently.

Eating consistently in college was a HUGE challenge for me and, as a result, I fainted in not one, but two public places. YOU DO NOT WANT TO FAINT IN PUBLIC. I once fainted at the airport from not eating, but before I actually passed out, I was literally crawling on the floor because my body was too weak to do anything else. Talk about embarrassing.

Don’t put your body last. Take the time to eat and drink consistently. Take the time to get outside and walk/run every day, even if it’s just across campus. The more you take care of your body, the more focused your brain will be and the better your grades will be 🙂

Related: What to Carry in Your Backpack for College

STEP 3: “ADULTING” TIME

First of all, let me say that I kind of hate the term “adulting.” BUT I can’t find a better way to describe this stuff, so… “adulting” it is! OK, on your time map, you should now have times blocked out for your concretely-scheduled commitments and anything pertaining to your health. Next up, think about what you need to do to keep your home and life running. These are all the things that fall under the term “adulting.”

For example, paying your electricity bill, vacuuming your carpet, scheduling doctor appointments, taking out the trash, putting gasoline in your car, etc. Schedule these things in so that you can keep your life up and running. They are usually things that don’t take long but are kind of boring tasks.

I love the idea that Gretchen Rubin presents in Better Than Before of having a “Power Hour” once a week. On your least busy day of the week, schedule in one hour to power through your to-do list. This hour should NOT include studying, working, or exercise. It is 100% dedicated to errands, to-dos, tasks, phone calls, and other things that you tend to procrastinate.

Make a list to power through and set a timer for one hour. When the timer goes off, stop and resume with your normal life. During next week’s Power Hour, pick up where you left off 🙂

Read: Best College Habits

STEP 4: SOCIAL TIME

Your time map should have your scheduled commitments, health, and adult life things all scheduled in. Next up, make sure that you have about three social activities scheduled in. You are your own judge of this. If you are someone who tends to blow off studying to hang out with friends, then limit your social engagements so you have more time for studying.

If you are someone who naturally tends to spend more time alone, try to schedule at least three social times for the week, even if it’s just grabbing a cup of coffee and chatting for a few minutes with a classmate after class. It’s obviously not going to happen at the same time each week, but try to make sure you get out with friends 3 times each week!

Social relationships are SO important and you need them in college! Use your own judgment for this because everyone is different, but ensure that you have enough time to study, too! You need to balance both.

Related: How to Stay Organized in Online Classes (Tips from an Expert)

STEP 5: STUDY TIME

Get a “Study Planner”

I bought a cheap planner from Target so that I could completely designate it to study time. I called it my “study planner.” In that planner, I wrote all of my due dates for assignments. This way, you can scribble in all of your reading assignments without feeling like it’s too cluttered!

Plan Backward

Then, I planned backward… two days before an assignment was due, I would write something like “reread and final edit of ___ paper.” Three days before that, I would write “add citations to ___ paper.” I would keep planning backward and adding small, bite-sized tasks for big projects. About two weeks ahead, I would just write something (very low priority) like, “think about a topic for ___ paper” or “jot down ideas for ___ paper.”

By planning backward, I was able to think of the steps that I would need to complete for this assignment and then give myself a deadline to have each individual step complete. This kept me from just writing something broad like, “Write ___ paper” and procrastinating until the night before it was due. This also gave me control over the amount of time I needed to not feel rushed or stressed about assignments.

Plus, this allows you to just open your study planner and see a color-coded prioritized study list in front of you; no thinking about where to start. Set a timer and power through it! Schedule “study time” on your time map, then work from your prioritized list.

Read: How to Get Better Grades in College

STEP 6: HOBBY TIME

Now that you have your health, adulting, school/work, and social things in place, you can include fun on your time map 🙂 This includes any hobbies/interests that you have. Keep in mind that this will probably receive the smallest amount of scheduled time, and will most likely be the first thing that you cut out on busy weeks… but THAT IS OKAY. This is your lowest priority for now.

Include downtime things like reading for fun, painting, social media, volunteering, etc. In my life right now, this would include Junior League, this blog, or Instagram. Those are things that I love, but they’re also just for fun. They aren’t paying my bills, helping my health, or the health of my family.

When there is time to do these things, that’s great… but I’m also not going to freak out if I have to go a week without social media or if I have to pass on a couple of Junior League events. When my life calms back down, I’ll get back to those things. You can’t treat everything like a top priority. Decide now what can be the first to go and follow through on that decision when your time gets limited (which it will)!

Related: How to Prepare for a New Semester

STEP 7: ASSESS & ADJUST

Now that you’ve got everything in place, go back to your time map and look at how much blank space you’ve got in your week! Fill in the white boxes accordingly. I will really, REALLY encourage you to block out boxes for “social media” under “hobby time.”

Did you know the average American spends over 2 hours a day on social media?! That’s a full block of study time! Of course, you can learn so much from Instagram and YouTube… it’s not all mindless scrolling. But try to set boundaries so you don’t feel stressed later!

Read: How to Set and Follow Study Goals

I would love to see your time map once you’ve got it completed! You can share it on Instagram with the hashtag #organizedcharm, or describe it below! 🙂

What time management strategies do you use? What are your priorities 1-5?

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Balancing Grad School and a Full-Time Job + FREE Block Schedule Planning Sheet

Tips for Balancing Grad School and a Full-Time Job
 
If you need tips for balancing grad school and a full-time job, you’ve come to the right place! Grad school is a pretty tough time in life because you typically have more responsibility than you did in undergrad. Maybe you’re paying your own tuition for the first time. Or your own rent. Or you now have a mortgage (or a marriage) or a baby. Maybe all of the above! 
 
And don’t forget about that full-time job you worked so hard to get straight out of college. Going back to school with the responsibility of adult life can be super challenging! Whatever the reason, the blend of college life and adult life can be a struggle for all of us.
 

Here are some ways that I learned to balance grad school and real life:


 
Tips for Time Management in Grad School
 

Manage your time:

Balancing grad school and a full-time job starts with you. You are the manager of your time. Your boss probably won’t care about you being behind in schoolwork, and your professor probably won’t care that you’re overloaded at work. It’s up to you to find the balance of your responsibilities. Set limits and stick to them!

Read: 5 Time Management Tips for College

 
Start by prioritizing your time between the two… Yes, they may both be important, but which one is more important to your long term plan? Most likely, you’re in grad school to help further your career. If that’s the case, school is your top priority. 
 
Don’t be afraid to let your employer know which days you need to leave early for class. But also, don’t try to do schoolwork during work hours! Have the mindset that work time is for work and school time is for school. Don’t forget to leave time for working out and socializing! 
 
A good planner can really help in this area! Here are a few of my favorites!
 

 
Study Skills for Grad School
 

Use effective studying skills:

Balancing grad school and a full-time job is all about studying efficiently. Since you have a limited amount of time to study, you want to make sure your studying techniques are as effective as they can possibly be! Write down what you will work on ahead of time. This way, when you sit down to work, you can start working right away!
 
The Study Tips page of this website is full of my favorite study techniques I’ve collected over the years! Here is my overall study routine: Have a prioritized and detailed list before you ever sit down. 
 
-Set a timer for a certain amount of time. 
-Say NO to any and every distraction that comes your way during that time. 
-When your timer goes off, write down a detailed list of the next steps you need to take on this assignment. 
-That will be your prioritized and detailed list for the beginning of your next study session! 
 
Continue this cycle religiously, even using the same time and location! Consistency is key to creating new routines!
 

 
how to get organized for grad school
 

Find a great home organization system:

The final piece to balancing full-time work/school and normal life is to find a quick and efficient home organization system. I like FlyLady’s system because she just says to do a little bit every day. 
 
She has a free app that works as a recurring checklist you can use on your phone! Plus, you can edit it to fit whatever daily chores/routines you need in your own life (“feed the dog”, “file papers”, etc.). 
Also, this simple technique is my Holy Grail of home (and life) organization!
 
 
The key to balancing several different areas of life is to make sure you’re maximizing your productivity and not procrastinating

Read 8 Anti-Procrastination Strategies


 
By having these three things consistently in place, you’ll have more time to spend with friends and family (or secretly binging your favorite series on Netflix)! 🙂 
 
 
productivity tips for grad school
 

What tips do you have for balancing full-time work and school? Share them below! 

Follow Organized Charm on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest for more productivity tips!

7 Tips for a Productive Finals Week

If there is one things I’ve noticed “trending” on all of my social media news feeds, it’s stress. Or a lack of productivity. Or procrastination. Or sleep deprivation. Or despair. If only I could combine all of those into one word… Oh, wait; I can: Finals.

Let me tell you how so many of my Finals weeks went during undergrad: I would set out all of my schoolwork and then procrastinate well into the night. Maybe I was sitting at my desk, but I was scrolling through Facebook or articles or I would suddenly decide that I needed to rearrange my office supply drawer. THEN around 11 PM, I would realize that I actually had no choice but to do my work. By then, my energy and focus were long gone and I was feeling resentful towards my work.

I would stay up way too late until I finally fell asleep surrounded by my books/notes/etc. I would wake up around 2AM with all of my lights on, read another paragraph or go over vocal words again and then fall back to sleep. THEN I would wake up around 6 and complete the entire paper/study for the test on the morning that it was due. What?! Who does that?! Oh, and then there was the crying. You can’t forget the crying during finals week. It’s an important part.

Finals in both semesters are challenging, but there is just something about the end of the fall semester that adds this extra layer of anxiety. Christmas, maybe? Or the cold weather? Or the shorter days? Or even, all of the football games. So, I thought this would be the perfect time to set out some helpful productivity tips! And most of all, just remember that you’re almost there!

1: Plan Each Day on the Night Before
I can tell you right now that I can tell a HUGE difference between days where I wake up with a plan and days when I try to make my plan in the morning. Like, it’s the difference between me getting 1 thing done and getting 39 things done. Really.

I love this whole article from Underground Success but my favorite tip is “set out your super 6 the night before”. So, tonight, look at your crazy finals week schedule and choose your 6 biggest things that need to be accomplished tomorrow! Write tomorrow’s to-do list tonight!

2: Set Aside Sleeping Hours (and Stick to Them!)
So, as time has gone on (and I’ve gotten older… shhh.) I have learned that there really is something to be said for good sleeping patterns. This is going to make me sound like the oldest person in America but I literally go to sleep every single night at 10pm. I know, right? 

We also wake up at our house at 5:30 every morning (and by “wake up”, I mean lay in bed and listen to the alarm). One can’t happen without the other. So, I told you that to tell you this: Set aside a specific time to go to sleep and follow that every night but especially during finals week! You need sleep! Your brain will be more focused, your memory will be better, and you will feel less stressed if you get enough sleep! As tempting as it is to skip sleeping during this time of year, don’t do it !

3: Hit the Ground Running
When you wake up, start working right away! Make the bed and have breakfast! Take a (quick) shower and get dressed! Then start on that to-do list that you made last night! Start working before you even have time to get distracted by anything or before you can even think about how much you don’t want to do!

Set a deadline for yourself and work like crazy to meet it! I always, always choose to work high-priority (things that are either due the soonest or worth the most points) to low priority. Life will happen, so keep in mind that you may not make it to that 6th thing!

4: Always Know What Your Next Step Is
I recently read this article on productivity and it said to make sure you finish every conversation (e-mail, text) by knowing what the next step is. For example, if you’re trying to make plans with someone, rather than just saying “let’s get together” say “let’s get together on Saturday”. Things are more likely to actually HAPPEN that way!

Well, I loved that advice so much, that I’ve started thinking of everything like that! So, when you shut down your computer after spending time working on a huge paper, stick a Post-It on it with where you need to begin next time!

For example, “3 more citations, 2 more examples, 2 more concluding paragraphs”.

That sounds more manageable and less vague than “finish paper,” right?

5: Block Out Social Media
I know I literally talk about this all fit time, but I just always, always read all these articles about how social media has a negative impact on productivity! I mean, really… you don’t even need me to say that because we all experience it every day! For finals week, try these tips:

—> Hide your social media apps on the second screen on your phone
—> Set aside a 20-mintute time limit for social media
—> Turn off your alerts/push notifications

Just use these tips until you’ve turned that final assignment… But who knows, you may feel so much less-stressed that you keep them that way!

6: Remember your “Big Picture”
So, it may be totally true that making a passing good grade on your Landforms final seems completely pointless when you’re studying English. Believe me, as a Legal Studies major I was always like, when am I ever going to need to know about the layers of dirt? And I was right. No one in my adult life has ever asked me about where the Humus layer is.

BUT think of it as a tiny little stair step that is leading you to your dream career! We must be required to take some of these silly classes for some reason. Just think of all of the people who have done this before you! And listen, if I can do well in pass classes like Finite Mathematics and Political Statistics, then you can, too!

7: Keep a “Distraction Notebook”
Oh, hi. I just gave you a justification for heading down the notebook aisle at Target (at least, that’s how I would read that). But it’s really completely true! Nearly every time that I have some huge project due for someone else, I all of a sudden have a brilliant idea for something that I want to do! Um… that’s how this blog was even created in the first place (I was avoiding do an Educational Research project).

And guess what? You don’t want to forget those ideas because they may turn out to be amazing! Grab a cute little notebook and every time that you feel distracted by some big, great idea, write it down! When Finals are over, you can open it up and use your break to work on those amazing and creative projects you came up with!

If all else fails, just spend your 20 minutes of social media time scrolling through #finalsweek on Twitter.

I promise, it will make you laugh 🙂

What are you doing to get ready for Finals week? Are you super stressed or do you feel like you’ve got it under control? Any tips that we could all use to get more done?!