The Ultimate Guide to a Successful First Year: Part I

For most, the college experience is characterized by what you learn (academics and experience) and who you meet, forge relationships with, and go on to call life-long friends (social life). But beyond attending classes, studying and preparing for those classes, and making friends and having a social life, there are many other ways to fulfill a successful university experience. I am discovering more with each passing week here at Loyola: recreational opportunities, clubs, service, lectures, events on campus.

We live in what can seem like a stressful and competitive world. The tendency is to work hard and play harder, or to burn the candle at both ends until you’re exhausted and can’t do either. Sometimes it seems there aren’t enough hours in the day to do the things we need to do, let alone the things we want to do.

So I’ve started to pay attention to the following methods and behaviors to help me stay on track—and I’ve found a great improvement in my lifestyle when it comes to balancing my busy schedule, my responsibilities, and my schoolwork…

This post is part one of a two-part series in which I will share what I have found to be methods to help first-year college students like me have a productive and enjoyable experience.

Take sleep seriously.

Step 1: Sleep Step2: Good life

You’ve heard your parents talk about all the benefits of an early bedtime and getting as much sleep as possible…

To which you responded by running upstairs, shutting the door, and getting into bed with your phone to catch up on Netflix or scroll through Facebook. You felt the heaviness of your eyelids around midnight, commanding the shutdown. You may have fought it, but this is a battle we all lose. The sound of your alarm jarred you from a dream and the warmth of your covers. You reluctantly stumbled out of bed and around the room to get to class, not knowing what was going on until halfway through the lecture.

Sound like you? You likely suffer from one of the most common conditions among college students, “I don’t care about my well-being, I just want to get through the day” Syndrome (IDCAMWBIJWTGTTD).

Sleep is an essential part of our daily existence. It must not be taken for granted. Adults ages 18 and over are recommended (really, strongly encouraged) to sleep from 7 to 8 hours. While some studies came out challenging this particular guideline for sleep, the idea of having a recommended hourly duration of sleep still remains a widely accepted scientific belief.

Sleep

Courtesy of the Center for Disease Control (CDC)

Moreover, sleep has an immense effect on some of the most vital organs of our bodies, including the brain. Memory, learning, mood, judgement, motivation, and perception improvements are a few of the things that benefited from a proper night’s sleep.

Among other benefits that sleep delivers to the brain, the cerebral spinal fluid circulates nutrients and other vital chemicals throughout the body and, just as importantly, removes waste products from the brain to keep it “dirt-free.” Studies have shown such fluid to be most effective and much more rapid in circulation during sleep. And sleep leads to reduced heartbeat as well as lower blood pressure, resulting in release of stress which the heart undergoes throughout the day. Appropriate doses of sleep have correlated with lower blood pressure and other heart-related symptoms.

Learn more and take a short quiz to fully evaluate the quality of your sleep.

Quit pulling all-nighters and staring at screens before bed. Get in bed, close your eyes, and “power down” until morning, so you can…

Start your day early.

Wake up before it's too late!

“Early to bed, early to rise.” “The early bird gets the worm.”

Regardless if either of these things are true for you, it’s best to wake up early—I mean earlier than anybody else… before the sun is up, before your roommates are up, before your email inbox is full, when you can brew a pot of coffee and get yourself set mentally to tackle the day.

Sleeping in means waking up after everyone else and missing out on opportunities that could have been taken advantage of hours before, while you were still asleep. Usually, the process of jumping out of bed ten minutes before you need to be at class results in a rushed and stressful feeling to start the day. You forget your wallet or your keys. And you arrive wherever you need to be with your mind racing about what you need to go back for or when you will get coffee or eat something before the morning is full of classes and meetings.

This routine makes no sense, and yet it is the norm for most college students (and most Americans). And it starts many of us off every day at a disadvantage.

I challenge you wake up at 5 a.m. for 21 days. Feel empowered when you confidently place your feet on the floor and are greeted by dark, calm, quiet. This is an optimal time for you to engage in planning, getting ready, and even in doing some work, because there are few distractions and you’re less fatigued than you will be later in the day. Science speaks clearly and loudly: Your cognitive abilities are at their peak in the morning.

Once you see how much you can do and how much better your day is when you wake up early and start off on a prepared and productive foot, have breakfast and spend some time thinking and reflecting before the rest of the world started their day, I promise you will have a hard time going back after these three weeks are over.

Get (and stay) organized. 

Save time, achieve more!

One of the most important factors of success is productivity.

Productivity is universal. It measures and detects success. Even in disciplines such as economics (micro or macro), the most successful countries or businesses are usually the ones to demonstrate the greatest amount of productivity.

Of course, one cannot simply wake up and decide to be productive. Throughout the day, we are faced with tasks, both known and unexpected, that bring challenges and distractions, thus keeping us away from accomplishing the goals we had identified previously.

The best way to get “stuff” done is by organizing it. If your life and your day is like a desk, the more junk you have sitting in piles and covering the surface, the harder it is for you to locate any material and/or engage in any work-related activities. A clean surface with drawers full of files, documents accurately labeled, and clear lists of what to do first leads to less time spent looking for things—and your productivity increases.

Here are some suggestions on how to get and stay organized:

  • Throw out your to-do list! You will never be able to accomplish anything if all you have is a piece of paper with an ever-growing list of tasks. Be realistic. Open your calendar and work backwards. Locate the time which you consider the end of the day. For me, this time is 9 p.m. Until then, I receive emails, do work, and engage in other productive activities. My mind runs from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m., so when I think about the things I need to accomplish on a given day, I list them working backwards from my “close of business,” if you will, and I am left with a fully productive day which includes a calendar with goals I should realistically be able to tackle.
  • Plan the night before. You do not want to start thinking about the things you must accomplish the day you must accomplish them. Such strategy leads to the loss of information, and frankly makes you even more unorganized. And overwhelmed. So dedicate 30 minutes to an hour before you go to bed to planning out activities and must-get-dones for the following day.
  • Maintain a tidy work-space that makes sense for the things you have to do. Remember our desk? An organized work space helps you avoid wasting time (and getting frustrated while) locating important files. It allows you to check as many of the easy things off your list (like “mail mom’s birthday card,” and “register for lecture,”) as early and as quickly as possible.
  • Set up reminders. Never lie to yourself by thinking you will “remember” to read that chapter or get to a dentist appointment. Assign a reminder to your phone and forget about it until your device starts ringing, telling you it’s time. Then mark it as done.

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