Writing Around Life: School (Part-time College)

Happy Thursday, squiders! Today we’re going to look at techniques for students attending college part-time.

As a caveat, most students attending part-time are doing so because they have some other responsibility (children, work, aiding aging parents, etc.) so one of the combination sections later on may be more applicable if that’s you. This section assumes college is your main or only responsibility.

If this is you, you might still have trouble finding time to write despite what looks like ample free time. This is due to a strange, but commonly true, factor of human nature.

The less you have to do, the less you get done.

We could argue the psychology of this all day (is it because there’s less pressure to be productive? is it because people with more to do are naturally better at time management?) but we won’t. Odds are you’ve already noticed that this is true. Have you ever found yourself with a free block of time and no plans?

What happens?

Well, a lot of times, nothing. I occasionally find myself with two or three free hours when I could literally do anything I want. I could write! I could go for a walk! I could read outside in the sun! I could conceivably do all three because I have three hours!

But I tend to play video games and eat too many cookies and fail at being productive at all.

There are ways to get around this tendency.

1. Add more structure to your schedule. 

If you find yourself “wasting” large amounts of time where you could conceivably be doing things you want to get done (like writing), it can help to schedule things out. Maybe you go to the gym as soon as you get up, or go for a walk to get your day off to a good start. Maybe you set a timer for 10 am every morning and write for an hour. Maybe every day at 1 pm you spend 15 minutes tidying your house.

By building in some structure, you get rid of that “the day is so full of possibilities I could do literally ANYTHING” thought pattern that may actually be hurting your goals. Also, setting specific times for specific activities can help build a habit that will eventually become second nature.

2. Make a To-Do List (and prioritize it).

It’s surprising how motivating a to-do list can be. The satisfaction of checking something off–especially something that’s needed to be done for a while, or that is more difficult than the stuff that normally gets done–can be excellent. And a list can help you focus your day.

Categorization and prioritization can also be helpful. If you’ve got 12 things on your list, it can look overwhelming, which might be counterproductive. It can help to rank everything by how important it is that it gets done (homework for tonight’s lecture could be number 1 on the list, for example, whereas laundry might be down at number 8 because if it gets pushed til tomorrow it’s not going to be the end of the world). You can also set a goal for the number of things to get done. Depending on your schedule and the things on the list, maybe a goal of 5 things would be good. If more get done, fantastic! But that way you don’t feel disappointed in yourself if the entire list doesn’t get done.

Categorization can also help. This is how I do my to-do lists–I split the list into three categories: work (which includes contract/freelance work, writing projects, things like this blog), house (chores and other maintenance activities, such if I got a contractor coming by to cut down a tree), and other (everything else). I have 2 to 6 activities in each category for the day, hopefully in order of importance. The categorization helps me break down the day so I can see what needs to be done and where.

(You can also prioritize categories; for example, the stuff in the “Other” category might be more important than the “House” category for the particular day.)

3. Look for good times to work.

When you’re scheduling your day, it might be helpful to make sure you’re doing different activities at different times. Some activities feel better in the morning vs. the afternoon, or might not get done if you don’t try to do them at particular times (such as working out–I find the longer the day goes on, the less motivated I am to exercise). There might also be times that naturally lend themselves to certain activities. If you always get coffee between class 1 and class 2, and there’s time, maybe that could be a good time to go some writing. If you walk past the market on the way home from class, maybe that’s a good time to do your shopping. Look at your goals, and see if there’s a logical place for those activities to go.

Anything to add, squiders? Tips for part-time college students that you’ve found helpful?

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