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Whether you’re in high school or college, whether you like school or not, I think it’s safe to say that this is easily one of the most stressful times of year. So, here we are at the beginning of another academic year. You’ve either enjoyed a relaxing summer – possibly spent binge-watching your new favorite shows – or you’re like me and you’ve endured a hectic summer full of work and trying to get ahead of upcoming school projects. Now you’ve suddenly got 200 pages of medieval epic poetry to read and you’re thinking ‘but I never got a break?’ No matter if this is your first year, or you’re a seasoned veteran of the high school or college grind, I’ll try my best to give you some practical tips for the start of the year. It took me four years to figure out how to handle my stuff, so maybe I can pass some of that wisdom onto you.

READ: What to ignore the entire world and just watch a bunch of movies about school instead? That’s productive, right? 

As for me, your humble author, I’m writing this to help myself as much as to help anyone else. I find myself overcommitted already, in the midst of a three-day weekend and one week into school, when things haven’t even picked up yet.

I’m taking 19 credits, working on three separate research projects, working two part-time jobs, I’m one of the secretaries for my school’s Pride Club, currently applying to be the co-preside of our German club, taking two graduate school entrance exams this month, applying to 17 graduate schools, and trying to keep my head above water.

I’ve been back on campus for a week and I’m already ready to cry.

So here are some tips I amassed for myself to keep me from wanting to throw myself over the Mohawk Mountains and I thought I’d share with you so that we all can make it through this year minorly unscathed and still able to walk without a limp by the time summer comes along.

 

1. Sleep really is important.

I know you’ve heard this before and you’re probably rolling your eyes right now. When you’re in college, sleep seems like even less of a priority than it did in high school. It’s easy to pull all-nighters when you have a pile of work or to spend all night with your friends blowing off steam. After a day of work, why shouldn’t you stay up until the wee hours of the morning watching Netflix? You definitely deserve it, right?

Right. You do deserve it, but not at the expense of your health. When you’re in a stressful, long-term situation, not paying attention to your physical and emotional health is one of the worst things you can do for your quality of life. This idea will come back again and again as I pinpoint other factions that contribute to both these spheres, but sleep affects both your physical and mental well-being and therefore is my first and most important tip.

Get enough sleep.

I don’t care if all your friends are talking with pride about how tired they are and how few hours of sleep they’ve gotten in the past week. I know there’s some kind of weird sense of accomplishment that comes with running on five cups of coffee and three hours of sleep a night, but all that’s going to do is make it harder for you to perform to the best of your abilities during the day. And don’t try to justify it with the argument that you’re spending all those hours doing work; I absolutely guarantee you that you’d be performing better if you slept a full night every night. Sleeping a full night actually helps your memory and you would need fewer hours to do the same amount of work, but do a better quality job.

 Sleep deprivation slows down cognitive function enough to make it noticeably harder to concentrate, use reason, and solve problems. In fact, sleep deprivation can affect you the same way alcohol does. If you drive while drowsy from a lack of sleep, your reaction time is slowed just as much as if you were driving drunk.

INTERESTED: Having to slug through those English class classics? Here are some comic adaptations that I guarantee are more entertaining than SparkNotes!

Sleeping a full night actually helps your memory, too. And being sleep-deprived slows down cognitive function enough to make it noticeably harder to concentrate, reason, and solve problems.  So even if you’re spending all those nights actually studying, the fact that your brain is impaired cancels all that productivity out and you just feel miserable later, too. It doesn’t help you in the long run, so just deal with that fact and get your sleep.

And if any of that didn’t convince you, let me list off some other serious mental and physical consequences of living that college-no-sleep life. (All statistics below taken from WebMD.)

  1. You have a higher chance of contracting heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes as well as suffering from a heart attack, stroke, heart failure, and irregular heartbeat if you also suffer chronic sleep loss.
  2. It kills your sex drive and it can put strain on (even though it shouldn’t) your relationships.
  3. Insomnia has a very strong link to depression.
  4. It can cause your skin to age.
  5. It can make you gain weight.
  6. It impairs judgment.
  7. And the most frightening? A study “published in 2007, showed that those who had cut their sleep from seven to five hours or fewer a night nearly doubled their risk of death from all causes.”

I know how easy it is, especially if you live on campus, to always have something to do. Sleep can feel like one of the things that you need to make time for. In high school, I found it much easier to regulate what time I wanted to go to sleep, but it’s almost more important that you go to bed early because school starts 10,000 years earlier than it does when you’re in college.

I could go on about the importance of sleep forever. And in fact, since I started taking my own sleep schedule very seriously, I’ve noticed that it’s immeasurably easy for me to be productive. So just get your sleep. Screw the fact that your friends are going out until 3 AM every night. You’re going to need that energy when it comes time for the final and you realize you don’t remember anything you spent all night studying for the week before the test.

2. Your friends are almost equally as important—but you might have to be wise about how you balance your social time.

Let’s be real here—the whole “studying in friend groups” rarely works out. At least for me. Maybe you have more studious friends than I do, but if I try to study with anyone I know (and like talking to) the study session inevitably becomes a hangout session.

Now, if you’re one of those students who believes that you need to study 24/7 to get A’s and practically lives in the library, I’m here to tell  you that you need a social life. Even if it may seem unnecessary and like wasted time, if you don’t have moments during your day where you can just laugh and relax, you’re going to burn yourself out so much you won’t be able to get anything done.

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One the other end of that, if you’re the type of person who has a rockin’ social life and who wants to spend more time improving your academic life, try to stay away from doing both at one time. Make sure you log enough hours in a place conducive to your productivity to make sure you’re doing the amount of work necessary to have the grades that you’re cool with. I’m just a perfectionist that it’s really easy to get myself into such a headspace where any form of action that doesn’t immediately contribute to academic success can start to feel like a waste of time. And this is just as unhealthy as ignoring your classes and homework altogether. Balance is necessary. Not recommended, necessary. If you don’t have this balance in your life, you’ll start to feel way off-kilter.

In fact, if you’re starting to get frustrated with everything around you after a day at the library, it may be time for a break. Meeting up with some friends who make you laugh can have a huge positive physical and emotional effect on you. It’s proven that positive relationships strengthens your immune system, tamps down the hormones that cause stress reactions, provides your tense muscles some much-needed relaxation, and can release endorphins into your body.

What all this means is a few minutes with some friends can completely reset your body and mind; it can restart the hormone balance in your brain and re-energize you. Without that, you’ll stagnate in your frustration and stress, which can have really potent, negative effects on your body.

3. Make a list of what you need to do. Make a list of where you need to be. Make another list just for fun!

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Make all the lists. No, seriously. I have 17 Google calendars (one for each class, one for each job, one for graduate school application timelines, and on and on), two planners, and a line of taped Post-It notes on my wall above my desk. And somehow, this still isn’t enough for me. I forget things all the time and feel incredibly disorganized. But the important thing is that I’m not, at least not as much as I feel.

Having all your tasks, events, and goals written down someplace allows you stop thinking about everything you have to do because it’s all there. If you remember to write things down, you (hopefully) won’t forget them. And constantly forgetting what you should be doing and where you should be is a sure way to make sure everything will spiral out of control.

Now, I’ll be honest: sometimes I still find myself forgetting things and feeling disorganized, but I know that it would be so much worse if I didn’t have these to help me keep my head about me. Getting everything down on paper frees your brain power from trying to remember everything all at once; it lets you be more productive.

When you make lists, it’s also easy to prioritize, which is another huge key to success. If you have a very important task due tomorrow, but you do something less important that’s due a week from now instead, you’re not using your time wisely. Prioritizing helps you organize those tasks from your to-do list into some semblance of an efficient schedule. You can spend fewer hours a day doing work because you’re doing just the immediately important and urgent things and you have more time to relax. Make a list and then prioritize. It will save your life.

4. Learn some self-discipline.

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There’s not really much to say for this one. You can read all the articles on productivity you want, look at the studyblr tag on Tumblr, but that won’t make you productive. In fact, I find that I often procrastinate by making lists and color-coding schedules. You can do all of this and still find yourself not where you want to be because you have all the preparation down but when it comes down to actually getting things done, you stop.

Nothing is going to get your work done except you. Nothing is going to relieve your stress except getting your work done. Self-discipline is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever tried to teach myself, but I can already feel how relieving it is to just get things done. 

There’s no shortcut to self-discipline. It’s hard and it involves pure willpower. But I promise it’s just as rewarding as getting proper sleep and laughing with your friends.

RELAX: Need something to wind you down as you leave the library after a study session? Check out the positive mental health effects of POKEMON GO!

Whatever your goals are for this school year, whether it’s to get into a rad grad school (@myself) or to just survive and have a great time, there are definitely some habits you can cultivate that make it easier. College culture is a strange thing, unhealthy most of the time and toxic to your health at others. Just make sure that you’re taking care of yourself, even if it means having to not go to every social event you’re invited to or having to go to bed early when your roommates are watching a movie outside. (Been there; it sucks, but you’ll be happy you did in the morning.) And you don’t have to follow my advice anyway. Maybe you think I’m full of it, and that’s fine, but this is my fourth year in college and I’ve survived this long. (Knock on wood.)

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