Every year, my January is full of resolutions, promises, and the best intentions, as is the beginning of a new semester. I’m not going to procrastinate! I’m going to go to the library every day before class! I’m going to use the campus gym at least twice a week!
If I had a dollar for every February that arrived with my best intentions best forgotten, I could afford to pay that ticket from the campus parking enforcement. So, how can we avoid the emotional sag of February and make good on all those promises to ourselves (and our parents and that one professor who really believes in us)?
1. Set realistic (bite-size) goals
Write out a list of your big goals, and then work backward. If your goal is to say, get a 4.0 this semester, break that down: getting an A in every class, which for one class might mean doing the reading every week, going to a study circle, and reaching out to your professor for extra help, but in another class might mean staying on top of all the little online assignments due before class every Tuesday. Personally, I like to break it down chronologically: I make a list of my goals for each month, each week, and each day. And then, as opposed to focusing on that big looming goal at the end of the semester, I can focus on my goals for today.
2. Invest in the right tools
There’s something to be said for coughing up a little bit of cash for the organizational tools that work FOR YOU. If you’re someone who hates carrying anything but your phone, don’t spend fifty bucks on a fancy leather-bound planner. Check out some of the many great organizational apps out there that will help keep you on task.
On the other hand, if you relish the feel of crossing something off your to-do list, look into all the old-school paper options. There are so many different formats available but if you can’t find the one that’s perfect for you, you can always DIY something with a blank journal!
Here’s what I know about myself: I need a mixture of both. So I use Google apps to keep my digital life in order, but I carry a planner for when I need to see my week laid out tangibly.
There are organizational options out there for as cheap as free or you can pay for premium options, but if you find something that really works for you, it’s worth spending a little money there versus the money you’ll spend on all that coffee when you’re trying to cram a semester of work into the last week of May.
3. Enlist an accountability buddy
There is something invaluable about knowing that your friend Madi in ENG 238 is going to ask you if you’ve done the reading that really gives you the needed push to open the book and focus. Find someone in each class with whom you can trade info or just make a pact with your roommate and hold each other accountable. Check in at the same time every day, let your accountability partner know what you did and didn’t do, and share your plan for the next 24 hours. For example, you could say, “I did the reading for Abnormal Psych but I watched four episodes of Nailed It instead of doing my calc homework. Tomorrow my goal is to finish my calc homework and outline my essay for English.”
Whatever you say, be honest and support each other!
4. Take advantage of your school's resources
Without knowing where you go to school, I can already guarantee you with my psychic abilities that there are so many resources available, from writing centers and study groups to counseling and yoga classes. Use them! They are there for you to use and, frankly, you’re paying for them whether you use them or not. Explore your school’s website and bookmark a few things that might be useful to you, and then use them.
5. Identify potential pitfalls
No one knows better than you what things might trip you up. For example, I know that February and March, with their grey, gloomy mornings, can take the wind out of my sails and that I like to put off my online assignments due at 12:01am on Monday morning until Sunday at 8:00pm.
Rather than getting down on myself when I stumble, I now try to be proactive. I make plans for how to avoid those particular challenges, like meeting up with classmates to work on Saturdays or planning something exciting for a weekend in March. And I make more plans for what to do when I find myself opening my laptop at 9:00 pm, filled with the Sunday Scaries.
It’s so easy to get behind in the spring semester, but it’s just as easy to stay ahead of the game. Try some of these out and figure out what works right for you. Just because something works great for that one kid in your class named Jared who always finishes his assignments a week early (why is he like that??) doesn’t mean it’s going to work for you. And if something doesn’t work, if you get behind, if you accidentally spend your weekend binging all the Disney movies from your childhood, don’t beat yourself up for it. Just get back to it and you can definitely beat Jared at his own game.