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Five Ways to Meet Your Academic Goals and Still Have a Life

During the first week of classes, representatives from hundreds of student organizations line walkways, inviting you to get involved. Flyers in the gym encourage you to check out a club sport, and events in your residence hall have introduced you to so many new people you’re having trouble keeping names straight.

Especially if you’re in your first year at UT, you’re probably excited to take advantage of all the activities campus has to offer, but you might be wondering where your studies fit in. With a full load of classes on your schedule, will you have time for both academic success and a fulfilling social life?

As you might have already guessed from the title of this article, it is possible to make time for both grades and fun, but you’ll have to plan ahead if you want to strike a balance.

Here are five tips to get you started.

1. Use specifics to transform your probably-shoulds into definitely-cans
Have you ever thought to yourself, “I should probably start studying,” and then immediately opened Facebook to see what your friends were up to? We all procrastinate sometimes, but setting specific goals for each day can make it easier to get things done.

For many people, the temptation to procrastinate is strongest when the items on the to-do list are vague and open-ended, like “Study” or “Start working on research paper.” These can be daunting because it’s hard to tell how long they will take. To boost your efficiency, try setting specific, measurable goals for each day. Instead of simply writing “Study” on your planner for tomorrow, how about “Read chapter 1” or “Work ten practice problems”? With concrete goals like these, you’ll get your work done sooner, leaving you more time to relax.

2. Make study dates with yourself
When I want to hang out with a friend, I set a specific date and time to see that person. I know that if I say, “Come over sometime,” he will never show up. The same principle also applies to studying.

If you only study when you have free time on your hands, you probably won’t crack a book very often, and your coursework will always be hanging over your head. Instead, try scheduling your study sessions at specific times of the day. That way, when study time is over, you can really enjoy your personal and social time. If you need help deciding how much time to study, make an appointment with a Learning Specialist in the Sanger Learning Center.

3. Write your social life into your schedule
When students ask me for tips on time management, they’re often surprised to hear this piece of advice. Many people have been told that only academic tasks should go into their daily schedules, and that social events should be treated as optional or extra. But planning to have fun will actually make it easier to live up to your academic goals. If your planner or Google calendar is filled with only school-related tasks, you’re more likely to get frustrated and throw it aside. Instead, if today is a long day of studying, plan to meet a friend for dinner or a movie tonight.

4. Set aside one hour each day for stress-busting
During my third year of college, I had a very busy semester: a full course load and two part-time jobs, plus extra-curricular activities. Because my schedule was so tight, I decided to temporarily give up my running routine, assuming that an extra hour a day would help me accomplish a few more of the tasks on my to-do list. I quickly realized that I had made a big mistake—running helped me relieve stress, and without it, I was actually getting less work done.

When your schedule gets full, don’t sacrifice the activities that let you blow off steam and stay focused. Block off one hour every day for a stress-relieving activity, whether that’s running hills in the park or running dungeons in your favorite video game.

But what if you legitimately have too many things on your schedule, and something must go? Well, this brings me to my last tip.

5. Practice saying “no”
UT is full of amazing opportunities, both academic and social, and it might be difficult to take a pass on any of them. Many students tell me they’re afraid they’ll miss out on a great experience if they don’t say yes to everything.

If you feel this way, take a look at the commitments in your life and rank them by both importance and urgency. Do you belong to a club that you enjoy, but that routinely gets in the way of study time for a particularly challenging class? Maybe your participation in that club could wait until another semester, when your course load is less demanding. Did your performance on your last exam suffer because you committed to too many social events? Try limiting yourself to one or two social events during the week before your next exam.

A healthy school/life balance takes a bit of planning, but it’s well worth the effort. If you can make room for both studying and socializing, the concepts you study and the friendships you form will stay with you long after you leave UT.

three students studying at the Sanger Learning Center