The Working With... Podcast | Episode 25 | Managing Your Student Life

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In this week’s episode of The Working With… Podcast I answer a question about managing university life.

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Script

Hello and welcome to episode 25 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

In this week’s show I answer a question about managing time pressures when you are at university. This comes from a question I asked on Twitter and YouTube a couple of months ago about what difficulties university students face while at university. It’s a great question that touches on quite a lot of time management practices. 

Don’t forget if you have a question you can DM me on Facebook or Twitter or you can do it the old fashioned way and email me at carl@carlpullein.com

Okay, it is now time for me to hand you over to the mystery podcast voice for this week’s question.

This week’s question comes from Antonin, a university student from France

Hi Carl. I’m personally struggling with three points: Living on my own for the first time, I now have to do my own laundry, cooking, cleaning etc which can be very time consuming. Managing my social life, there are so many people who want to permanently hangout and having to constantly study new topics, prepare for tests and exams and write papers. Do you have any advice on handling all this? 

Thank you, Antonin for such a great question, and a question I think many of my listeners will find similarities with their own life particularly those at university.

Okay lets get started with priorities. One thing I strongly believe in is people should not have to sacrifice their social life because of their studies or work. We are human beings living in the twenty-first century. We should not be spending all our time working, studying and doing chores. Life is not about those things alone. We need time to socialise, spend time with our friends and university particularly is a time when we build friendships that will last a life-time. So, time spent socialising needs to built in to our schedules. 

But, the main purpose of being at university is to get out with a degree. So this needs to be addressed first. 

Your most powerful weapon with all of this is going to be your calendar. You will also need to practice “what’s on my calendar gets done” This is vital if you are going to manage all your commitments, obligations and get your course work and test and exam preparation done on time and to a high degree of quality. Your calendar is non-negotiable and must be done when you assign the time to do it. Of course you can build flexibility into it, after all, you are in control of your calendar… I hope! 

My advice here is at the start of the semester take your class schedule, exam periods and assignment due dates and get them into your calendar first. You should be doing this before you do anything else. These ‘events’ need to be built in to your calendar because your lectures, meetings with professors, exam dates and assignment due dates are non-negotiable. The good thing about being at university is that these events are usually on a subscribeable calendar you can subscribe to so, adding these dates to your calendar should be as easy as simply subscribing to your course’s calendar. If you cannot subscribe, then you will have to manually enter them. The advantage of manually entering the dates is you have control over them. When you subscribe to a calendar you have no control. So the choice is yours.

Once you have these events on your calendar, look for assignment due dates and the exam period. Now depending on how much time you want to prepare for these events, block off time leading up to them for revision and writing. When I was at university I began my revision for exams six weeks before the exam week. So for me it would be simply blocking time off for revising six weeks out from the exam period and reducing my social life time for that period. 

For assignments and tests you again can decide how long you want to prepare for these and block off the appropriate time. What you are doing is making sure before you put anything else on to your calendar you are taking care of your university work first. That of course is the main priority. 

Now, when I was at university our first semester began at the beginning of October and ended the end of January. There were no exams in that period, but we did have three written assignments to complete by the end of the first week of January. This essentially gave me plenty of time to enjoy freshers week and spend time socialising before beginning my written assignments from the middle of November. My aim was to get the first drafts written by 20 December, where I could take a week off, enjoy time with my family over the Christmas holidays and then get back to finalising my assignments from the 27th December. This gave me around 10 days to do nothing but finalise my assignments before their due dates. It also allowed me time to enjoy the new year festivities and still have plenty of time to get the final drafts completed.

This was all possible because I used my calendar to schedule the time required to get these important assignments completed. 

I followed the same routine when it came to preparing for my exams. I would go in to lockdown during the week. But, and this was important. Every Friday and Saturday night I made sure I went out with my friends. Friday night was rugby night where we went to watch Leeds Rhinos when they played at home and then out for a few beers afterwards. Saturday was “Top Banana Night” at the Town & Country nightclub in Leeds. This was where they played nothing but eighties classics and was a fantastic night out. Seriously, the eighties had some awesome dance music! I should point out I was at university in the late 1990s, so going to club that only played eighties music was out of this world. 

After finishing at the club my friends and I would stop off at the Rajput Indian restaurant for a curry before heading home… Usually in a not too good a state. However, Sunday afternoon was back to studying… Often with a banging headache. 

The thing is, if I were to lock myself away seven days a week to study, I would have gone mad and the quality of my studying would have suffered. Our brains need a rest and Friday and Saturday nights were a great way to get out, let my hair down (what I had left of it) and just enjoy myself. It always helped me to get back to my studies refreshed and ready to start again. These nights were scheduled in my calendar.

As for doing the household chores here you need to be a bit strategic. If you assign a cleaning up day once or twice a week you are going to spend too much time cleaning and tidying up. It is far better to do a little often. I usually did my cleaning, laundry and grocery shopping in between my studying. I would study for a couple hours, and then spend twenty minutes or so cleaning something up. Doing the dishes, doing the laundry or vacuuming my house. That physical work would give my brain a break and household chores are not brain taxing, so they were a great way to give myself a rest and keep myself on top of my cleaning. The funny thing is, I still do that now. It worked so well when I was at university, I carried the practice on once I entered the workforce. 

Now for managing the work you need to do for your individual classes, here I would use a good to-do list manager. What you can do is create projects for the different courses you are taking and put the work related to those courses into your to-do list. The thing here is you have a list of all the work that needs doing. You can see what needs doing and you can collect all the work your professors give you straight into your to-do list manager. I would recommend Todoist for this as it is very easy to use and the free version would do the trick perfectly. If you want to upgrade to the premium version of Todoist it is not too expensive at $28.99 per year. But, the upgrade is not essential for your university life. Just being able to organise your to-dos into projects would be enough to keep you on track with the various assignments, essays and test prep you have. You can also add a project for your domestic routines, the cleaning, the laundry etc. 

What your to-do list manger does is maintain the micro level tasks for you. Your calendar works on the macro level. So your calendar will say “work on Biology assignment” and your to-do list will tell you exactly what needs doing such as “edit intro” or “add in results excel file”. This really does work well and prevents you having to waste time trying to decide what you need to do next. 

If you want to learn more about getting the most out of your to-do list manager and calendar, I have a FREE online course called, The Beginners Guide To Getting Organised you can take. This is a 45 minute intro to getting yourself better organised and will help you to understand the basics better. If you are ready to go to the next level of productivity, I do have my latest course, Your Digital Life 2.0 Online available which will really take you to the next level of productivity and time management. 

Hopefully, that has helped, Antonin. I also hope this has helped all of you who are struggling to manage their daily work or student life as well as their family and friends commitments. Remember, no matter how busy you are, you should not be sacrificing your social life completely. Sure, you may need to reduce it a little from time to time for busy periods, but you should not be sacrificing it completely. No matter how busy you are, you do need to take some time off. 

Thank you very much for listening to this podcast. Contact me at anytime if you have any questions and I will answer them as soon as I can so we can help as many people as possible get control of their time and their life. 

It just remains for me now to wish you all a very very productive week.