A Workaholic College Student’s Survival Guide

Let’s be real: I wrote this while procrastinating because I don’t want to study for my evolution exam and I don’t listen to my own advice. Oops.

Sometimes, I look like this:

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…but usually, I look like this:

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People ask me all the time, “How do you stay on top of everything?” Obviously, with a double major, two jobs, dance, my position as my dance company’s community outreach chair, gym time, Miss Michigan prep, titleholder appearances and commitments, and working on my platform, I’m a bit busy. 6 am alarms, 18 hour days, I-haven’t-had-time-to-eat-food-off-a-plate-instead-of-out-of-a-tupperwear-container-in-days busy. BUT! There are ways to manage it all, and to even maintain a little bit of sanity:

1: Schedule – I live and breathe for Google calendar because it’s incredible (click it). If you don’t have a gmail account or any of the fancy google-whatever accounts, get one. Then, make Google calendar your best friend. Sync it to your phone (ask Google because I have the tech skills of a lettuce leaf). Put in everything. Everything. Classes, meetings, social events, practices, workouts, rehearsals, etc. As soon as you get a date for an event, put it in, even if it’s 32 weeks away. I also suggest color coding and making different sub-calendars (if everything is one color, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Break things up visually so you don’t get panicked before the day even starts).

A typical week in my calendar looks like this:Screen Shot 2014-10-31 at 12.46.21 PMClass and meetings related to school or group projects are orange, work is gray, CrossFit is yellow, errands/things I need to do are purple, dance and dance outreach related meetings are green, pageant stuff is blue, and social events/fun things are pink. It works, I promise.

Danielle, why. Whyyy. That’s so much work. Yes, it’s a pain to sit down and put it all in the calendar. But how many times have you:

  1. forgotten to be somewhere
  2. double (or triple…been there) booked  yourself because you forgot about a meeting, or
  3. panicked because you didn’t think there are enough hours in a day?

Planning this all out avoids all of those issues, especially number three. When you feel like there’s too much going on, look at your calendar to see what you can move, and reassure yourself with the few white spaces that remain. For example, this week was scary because I had several due dates and exams approaching. But look at that gloriously open Tuesday afternoon! Seeing that I had time to regroup and refocus made life a little easier. Even better is that you can plan ahead. Three appearances across the state immediately followed by three midterms, all in one week? No problem, because I see my open space this week that I can use to prepare for next week. And after all, Beyonce has the same 24 hours that you do. Make it happen.

2: Sleep – First off, I dislike my generation’s tendency to equate late nights and sleep deprivation with hard work, but that’s another blog completely. In reality, though, no matter how well you schedule, or how efficiently you work, sleep may be hard to come by. When rehearsal ends at 11 pm and you need to wake up at 5 am to make it to the gym, things get crazy. But when you can’t control the quantity of sleep you get, you can control the quality (and research shows that quality is just as important, if not more so, than quality). Five perfect hours is better than seven restless ones, so arm yourself with whatever it takes. If you need earplugs and a lavender scented eye mask to sleep in your noisy college town apartment (*coughcoughME), do it.

3: Minimize distractions – So you come home after a long crazy day and only have two hours to finish all your homework before a meeting. How do you work efficiently? By minimizing things that limit productivity. For most college students, it’s social medial and our phones (continuous interaction with devices actually changes how your brain uses and stores information). So block access. There are tons of apps for your computer or browser that let you block sites for designated lengths of time, so be honest with yourself and limit your go-to traps. And don’t just set your phone down, but put it far away. It’s easy to scroll through Instagram if your phone is next to you, but not if you hid it behind the refrigerator in the other room.

4: Take advantage of breaks and transition time – When you don’t have a ton of free time, use what you can scrape together. For example, I get to the gym 15 minutes before class starts, so I use that time to review notes and flashcards. Waiting for lecture to start? Review last lecture’s notes, or catch up on work emails. Baked sweet potato in the microwave for eight minutes? Just enough time to sort your whites/darks/colors before doing laundry tomorrow.

5: FOOD (written in all caps because food is my favorite) – Your body needs fuel. Good fuel. There is no honor in skipping meals to study, and you don’t get a gold star for being “too busy” to eat. Make time for three solid meals a day. Also, on Sunday nights (or whenever you have a free hour) pack snacks for the week. I fill about a few dozen bags with carrots or almonds, wash and set out a few apples, and stock up on Larabars. On your way out the door, grab a few snacks to carry around all day. Nothing like a burst of sugar to keep you awake during lecture.

6: Write things down – Get in the habit of writing to-do lists. Not only is it super satisfying to cross things off lists, but writing down tasks as they come up keeps you accountable and on top of everything. I have a planner for school and work through the University, and a small notebook where I make grocery lists, pageant to-dos, etc. Write things down as soon as they occur to you, and work them into your schedule.

7: Recharge – Schedule “maintenance” time. Think of your self like a car – the more you use it, the more work it needs to stay in working order. At least once a week, do something fun, or something that you can look forward to. Buy yourself a present after a long week of exams. Catch up with friends who energize you. Take a yoga class, or stretch while listening to music. Start a blog and draft posts when you’re too stressed to study (aka me). Also, long term stress increases cortisol levels, which is all around bad for your health and wellbeing. Find fun ways to relax!

8: Remind yourself why you do this – Have a list of short term and long term goals, and picture yourself achieving them (someone once told me that goals are nothing without vision, and he’s right). I tell myself “all this hard work will be worth it when I get to put on that white coat with M.D. behind my name” at least once a week. I also love volunteering at hospitals and being around health care professionals to remind myself how excited I am about a career as a doctor. Remember the last time you achieved a goal, and how happy it made you? Work for that. And if all else fails, Instagram cheesy inspirational quotes like there’s no tomorrow. I’m serious. My phone lock screen says “Beautiful girl, you can do hard things,” and it keeps me going.

9: MOST IMPORTANTLY: Take care of yourself. Migraine? Exedrin, tea, and a nap. Hurting after your workout? Recovery food, mobility, and probably another nap. Crying in a bathroom stall because you have three exams in one week and a paper due the week after and you haven’t slept in two days? Go home, eat a healthy meal, and go to bed. There are a million more classes, a million more meetings, and a million more tests in life, but you only get one body and one mind.

*I learned how to insert links and kinda went crazy. I’m not sorry.