Preparing for a New Semester

For some of us, college and university classes will be starting in a few short weeks and summer will come to an end. This means that for some of us, me included, an intense semester lay ahead. All of a sudden we will be hit with a wall of reading, writing and stress. So now is the time to put on our best Hermione Granger, and start prepping now before our classes begin.

First off, gather everything you’ll need for the upcoming semester. If this will be your first semester at college, you’ll have even more to shop for. Let’s focus on classes though. This means getting all textbooks, software, tech gear, stationary, etc. that you might need for the upcoming semester. Get it sooner rather than later so that you don’t run into low stock or missing items. No one wants to be without all their necessary materials when classes kick off. 

Also make sure to check that your laptop/ tech is up to par for the upcoming semester. If you are in a degree field which will probably require software, look to make sure you have the room or the type of computer capable of running that software. I ran into that problem not long ago where the software I needed couldn’t run on my five year old laptop. This caused a few headaches and stressed out nights trying to figure out what to do, and inevitably put a dent in my pocket I wasn’t prepared for.

Start reviewing your materials. I know, I know, no one wants to do readings or study when they don’t have to. If you’ve been academically stagnant over the summer though I recommend doing this. I plan on doing this as I am in a technical degree field with areas I struggle in. Luckily some of my professors in the upcoming semester have provided a free and non consequential mini review course. I’m not suggesting going all out, but instead what I’ll be doing is getting started on readings and reviewing concepts and formulas so that they don’t surprise me when classes start.

If you have any classes you don’t have a background in, I also suggest familiarizing yourself with these topics. Again, so that these topics don’t take you by surprise. You might also be able to get yourself ahead in some capacity so that you can focus on other classes if need be.

Set your space up before everything kicks off. Whether you are doing remote learning or you’ll be in-person, make sure you have a set space where you can go and get down to work. Having a clean, organized space that you enjoy being in can really set the stage to help you get more work done. This will also help you get organized and prepared for the upcoming semester. Throw out your old scraps, store away those extra textbooks and get things refreshed for a new year.

Cross your t’s and dot your i’s. Make sure all the administrative work is taken care of before it’s too late. Contact your advisors, professors or anyone else you need to if there are loose strings to wrap up. Check up on your finances, make sure your financial aid is taken care of, take care of outstanding debts. Make your lists and check them twice to make sure you won’t get to your first day of classes and realize you forgot to sign paperwork. This happens more often than people realize so make sure to check in on every aspect of your college experience. 

Finally, you’ll want to consider getting back into the work mindset. If you’ve been like me and catching up on missed time with family and loved ones or maybe studying leisurely on the side this summer, now is the time to train your brain to get back into a working frame of mind. I decided to do this as I didn’t want to shock my system with a sudden and rapid start to the semester. This way, I can jump in and just merely switch the work I’m focusing on to school work. This semester I have more classes than ever before and many of them are technical so I’m looking to get myself ready and prepped. Essentially I’ve slowly assigned myself school related things to do and overtime have increased those daily items to fill my day out more.

Overall, I want this to be a good school year and I’m hoping that my work getting myself prepared will help with that. Hopefully this can help you to have a successful and fun semester as well.

Why Self-Help Doesn’t Work

So many of us love self-help. We ravenously consume the latest and greatest, hoping that with every page we read, we will become a better and better person. But if you’re anything like me, you’ve probably experienced the moment when you realize, “Wait, nothing has changed despite having read all these articles and books”. Now sure, some of you out there will have taken these books and become a better person, which is great. But I can bet that there are many of you out there that have wondered this same thing. 

So what’s happening? Well a few things. Have you ever noticed the content feeling you get after deciding to chase after a goal or how good it feels to make a to-do list for the next day, the decision that tomorrow is the day that everything changes? It feels great! It feels so good to say to yourself this is it, this is the moment that I’m going to be different.

But then you wake up the next day, look at that to-do list and wonder, “What the hell was I thinking?”. Sometimes we can get started and keep the momentum going through the next day, or maybe even a few days, but for many, the momentum doesn’t carry us very far.

When we read self-help books, they elicit a similar response, we resolve to do better and are inspired to be successful. Many times though, that’s as far as it takes us. What’s happening is a brain response that creates a feeling similar to the one we get when we accomplish something. Essentially, we feel as though we’ve done something and therefore do not need to continue.

What I liken these responses to is a study done by Peter Gollwitzer and colleagues where they examined what happens when we announce our goals and the effect that has on our goal completion ability. 

This study looked at individuals pursuing higher education. The students were given a questionnaire regarding how they felt about their chosen field and their intentions in pursuing this field. There were two groups that answered this questionnaire, one whose intentions were recognized and those whose intentions were ignored. 

The study found that those who had their intentions recognized regarding their field worked less than their ignored counterparts. Those that had been recognized were more likely to end their studying early and feel a sense of completion sooner than the group that had their intentions ignored. Having our goals affirmed by others makes us feel all warm and fuzzy inside, leading to an internal sense of accomplishment.

I know for myself, I can create this feeling all on my own. Sitting down and reading an inspiring and interesting pop psychology or self-help book honestly makes me feel accomplished. Watching motivational Youtube videos? Yep, same thing. I feel as though I’ve done something, my brain rewards me with a rush of dopamine. All the while, I’ve accomplished nothing. 

This is why it’s easy to get in this self-help, motivational loop. We’re seeking that next hit to make us feel good, make us feel accomplished. We read another book, watch another video, make another list. All the while we’re accomplishing nothing.

What needs to be cultivated is self discipline. Self-help books can provide a framework, but they will not put the work in for you. Sometimes the books we read provide us with really great advice or anecdotal evidence we can take and apply to our own lives. More often than not, we don’t do this. Being able to put into practice all the information we’ve gleaned on how to stop procrastinating or how to save money, would lead to more success than just reading it and hoping it somehow changes your life.

Self-help books won’t help you unless you act on them. We all want a quick fix, a quick change, instant gratification. We are hardwired to find the easiest way to do something. We’re also hardwired to seek out things that make us feel good. Videos, books and articles won’t do the work for you, but they’ll make it feel like you’ve done the work. If you find yourself reading all these motivational, inspirational, how to improve your life books, but you don’t see any change, it’s time to rethink your strategy. Maybe these books actually do nothing for you and that’s fine. Maybe these books could do something for you, if only you put the work in.

Take a step back next time you put on an inspiring video or read an article on how to study better and ask yourself, “What can I take away from this?”. Then work to apply it. See how different things in your life will be once you are able to self-reflect in this way.

Thoughts to New College Students From a Returning Student

When the pandemic first hit the US, it became clear to me that I would need to leave my job due to safety concerns. After a period of time trying to wait things out, I realized this was not going to be over as simply as we initially thought. After a lot of talking, consideration and a promise for financial support from family I decided to go back to school. I had been working as an administrative assistant since I graduated college. I had an academic background in psychology but had decided after graduation that, while I loved the topic of psychology, it was not a field I wanted to pursue directly. On top of that, my degree turned out to be not as lucrative as I imagined it would be.

So I made the decision to pursue a new field and delve into the world of computer science and data science. Now it’s been around six years since I had taken a college level course. Now that I am a year in, I’ve come to realize some things that I didn’t realize my first time around.

Make Your Learning Efficient

As I mentioned above, I love psychology. I love educational and learning psychology especially. And if you know about these areas, you’ve probably come to the conclusion that there are so many opinions and theories on how we as humans learn. I myself do not have a firm opinion on this matter in regards to people as a whole, but I myself know that I learn differently than those around me. 

Generally, my advice would be to quickly learn what is most efficient for you. Now, this is not always possible and may take a lot of experimentation. My own learning style didn’t become apparent until my junior year of college. Be cognisant of how you’re studying and what the result of that studying is. Take notes if this is helpful, because the faster you figure this out, the faster you can start learning efficiently.

For myself, I know to differentiate subjects and how I will need to learn them. For subjects that require me to remember hard facts, rote memorization and space repetition are the way to go. But if I need to understand a concept such as how DNA replicates itself, or how a computer’s memory works, I instead I work on my understanding of the topic. To do this I oftentimes will create flashcards or study notes that have questions and an explanation/answer to the question. My goal then when going through these questions is to make sure that I can explain in my own words what I believe the answer is. I try to combine this method with spaced repetition as well. 

Essentially, finding something that works for you and can be done efficiently is the best route to take. I recommend the book ‘How to Become a Straight A Student’ by Cal Newport. He writes about learning and efficiency which I recommend all students read.

Manage Your Time, Seriously

I probably won’t go on about this topic as much as the last as it is somewhat self-explanatory. Managing your time is so incredibly important and can make a world of difference in your experience. As someone who is doing all online classes, even after the pandemic ends, I am in full control of my own schedule (for the most part). This means that I have to be careful to make sure that I get everything done on time and manage deadlines efficiently. 

I know though that this is not inherent or easy for most people, especially those who have just graduated from high school. You are most likely going from having your days scheduled and planned out by your school, to having so much free time you might not know how to deal with it. It would be easy to spend most of your time hanging out, exploring, partaking in the wonders of the web, and just generally not doing school work. Let’s face it, the last minute college student stereotype is sometimes more common than we’d like to admit.  

Cultivating the self discipline to start projects, readings, and assignments days to weeks before they are due is something that will make your life so much easier as a college student. It’s been so vitally important for me to maintain my schedule and stay on top of assignments. This habit has even helped me get ahead of my work for times when I had other life events happening.

Check out my planners and time blocking sheets on my Etsy shop below to help keep you organized : here

Respect All Around

This one isn’t so much as a practical tip but more something for you the student to remember. Something I realized when I started school again a year ago was how much I didn’t know what to expect my first time around. I went through every class not questioning anything and being too afraid to speak up. Please know that as a student you still deserve quality education and respectful treatment. If something isn’t clear or a link is missing, whatever it may be, please respectfully speak up to your professor. If they aren’t clear in their instructions, ask them nicely to clarify. 

This might be obvious to some, but for me coming from a situation where I was taught to go along with whatever I got, I never thought to speak up or say anything. Now I make sure to communicate my needs to my professors. 

And I want to make it clear, I am not saying you should be confrontational with your professors. Instead, just remember that at this point in your education, you have a voice and that voice is valuable. But do remember that your professors are people as well, who also deserve respect. Know that they are sometimes juggling a lot, just like you, the student. Many professors are doing research, managing a lab, teaching 2-3 courses, grading for those courses, working on projects outside of those stated, all on top of having a life outside of their career. 

I guess what I am trying to convey is that respect should be valued on both sides, remember you have a say in parts of your education. Reach out, question things, and start a conversation.

Overall, your educational career through college will be an evolving experience. For some, it can be easy to let the ‘learning’ part of your college experience just sort of happen. But instead, try and take stock, learn about yourself. Depending on your future goals, be it graduate school or a career, figuring out these things about yourself will be so important in your success. Take control of this process, don’t let this be something that happens to you and instead use it to your advantage.

Seven Things to Prep the Night Before for Successful Mornings

Breakfast and Coffee

This is probably the easiest thing you can start with for prepping yourself for a great day. Having your coffee and your breakfast ready to go within minutes helps speed your morning along. Currently, I’ve been enjoying overnight oats with protein powder and a bit of hot cocoa mix. With my coffee, it’s usually some sort of iced latte made with cold brew that we make every week. There are so many breakfasts that you can prep ahead of time and the recipes are so easy to find. If making your coffee is part of a morning ritual for you, keep on doing that! For me, it’s not much of a ritual and I like to be able to just grab my coffee and get to it. Cold brew doesn’t have to be cold either, it can be heated to give the warmth of a nice cup of joe. If cold brew doesn’t do it for you though and you still want something to help out your mornings, a programmable coffee pot might be your next best option.

All Your Outfits

This is another one that many people do but you can take it a step further and prep all your outfits for the day. Laying out your workout clothes, work clothes, after work clothes, can eliminate time spent looking for these outfits. Having an outfit ready to go for you the minute you come home can help you relax and jump into whatever activity you have next or get rid of an excuse to not go to the gym. It can also help if you are working or studying from home. Having a work outfit, you can change into instead of staying in your sweats all day can help put you into the right mindset to start getting work done.

Lunch and Snacks

Usually, I would prep my lunches at the beginning of the week but I understand that it’s not for everyone. Another thing you can do is when you make supper, make a bit extra so that when you are cleaning up you have some food to pack up for your lunch tomorrow. Gather whatever snacks you would like as well with your lunch items so that when you go to grab your lunch in the morning everything is right where it needs to be and you aren’t searching around for something to eat. This has saved me many a morning by preventing me from panicking while scrounging the kitchen. This is another habit along with setting out gym clothes, that can help cultivate healthy living habits.

Out-the-Door Items

These are things like keys, sunglasses, umbrella, wallet, phone charger, you name it. The items we generally need but often forget. A great solution for this would be to have a dish or basket where you keep these things. Essentially a station for when you need to head out the door, everything you could want would be there. Put your bag there so that you can easily grab it on your way out the door. Many of us spend way too many mornings crazed because we can’t find our keys or get to work only to realize our phone charger is still plugged in at home. Make a habit of placing these items in their new home the night before and you’ll be less like to forget these important items.

Daily To-Do

Make your daily to-do list the night before so that you aren’t trying to remember everything you need to do that day, that very day. Often, we have more clarity on what we need to get done tomorrow. And while things do come up that may change our plans, it is still smart to make a list the day before to keep your mind clutter-free the next morning. Simply review your list the next morning, add anything new then or throughout the day and you are good to go. I find that unless I have plan to have the extra time in the morning to make my list, I prefer to make it the day before so that I can simply start reviewing it right away in the morning and get to work.

Podcasts/Audiobooks/Playlists

This might sound small and insignificant but I find that I end up wasting more time than I ever intended looking for something to listen to. And sometimes, I even end up so distracted that I end up on another app altogether, not even looking for something to listen to anymore. I like to make sure I have something ready to go before my morning commute or workout the next day. Any time you would spend listening to something you should plan and make a playlist of the things you want to hear. It will also prevent you from looking at your phone while driving.

Gym Bag/Workout Clothes

If you go to the gym to workout, you’ll want to make sure that your gym bag is packed with everything you need. Many times, I’ve gotten to the gym and didn’t have my pass, so I need to manually check in, throwing me off and frustrating me. Or I get into the locker room and realize I’m missing workout pants, so I just decide not to workout at all. Make sure you have everything in your bag the night before to make your workout smooth and easy. If you leave packing your gym bag until the morning, you’re more likely to forget or just flat out say forget it. By making sure it’s ready to go you make it that much easier for you to hit the gym the next day.

Let me know if you have anything you like to prep the night before. I love hearing new suggestions and others would as well! I hope these tips were helpful in starting your morning out right.

Staying Productive During Quarantine

I don’t know about you but I’ve been having a bit of a rough time staying productive. I know I should allow myself time to relax and do things that keep my calm, but I also know that part of some of my anxiety are all the things that are piling up that I want to get done. Maybe you are feeling similar too. So below are some of the things I plan on doing while on quarantine in order to stay productive and stay on track with my goals. Feel free to check them out and hopefully they can help you a bit too.

-Pomodoro Technique

During the pandemic, I’ve noticed it’s so easy for me to become distracted. I am currently without regular work and have been trying to find gig work. But during these last few weeks, I’ve noticed that I easily become distracted by everything. Looking for a new show on Netflix to watch, checking if anyone’s uploaded an interesting video, looking at what’s on my social media. There’s an endless supply of things to take in and it makes it hard to focus on one task at a time. I’ve decided to go back to basics and do my pomodoro technique. You can use the regular pomodoro but I really enjoy and work better if I modify it to allow longer breaks, or longer work times. This way, I know that a break is coming but for the time being I’m going to work and focus on the task at hand.

-Reduction of Consumption

Related to my reintroduction of serious “pomodoroing” into my life, is to reduce the amount that I consume. I’m not talking food, although I’ve been watching that consumption as well. What I plan on reducing is the amount of media I consume. Right now, we’re all being overloaded with movies, tv shows, podcasts, audiobooks, and videos. I’ve always been someone who needs a bit of noise in the background, mostly for tasks like cleaning or cooking. But I’ve found myself drawn to listening to videos that I’ve either seen a million times already or don’t really have a real interest in watching. These videos make it really difficult for me to concentrate. I’m also finding myself just sitting and letting TV shows and Youtube videos just play one right after another. In order to combat this, I plan on listening to different soundscapes and ambient noise while I work. I will allow myself to continue listening while cleaning the floor and cooking a meal but while I write, study, or work, I plan on providing something soothing and calming in the background. This will help free up more of my mind to the task I want to complete.

-Learning to meditate

My significant other and I have taken to learning to meditate while in quarantine. I’ve meditated in various ways in my past while he has never meditated before. It’s a great time to start if you want to learn how to train you brain. I plan on using it not only for the mental health aspects of relaxing, reduction of anxiety and stress, but also to learn how to focus for longer periods of time. You can take this back to the use of the pomodoro method with me. I have a hard time concentrating on something for long periods of time if it’s not wholly engulfing to me. If it’s something like learning a new fun hobby or playing a fun new game, I can go on for hours. Transferring that skill to other more important aspects of my life, like getting work done, has been more difficult. Currently I am using an app to help guide me back into meditation, but I hope to get back into unguided movement meditation which are my favorite.

-Having a dedicated workspace(s)

You could call me a working nomad. Whenever I have had the opportunity to work and study from home, I’ve had a hard time staying in one spot. I usually like to drift from one place to another. I just enjoy mixing it up every now and then, even if it’s in my own house. This means I’ve never really had a dedicated work place in my home, ever. I’ve always kept my stuff packed up and just moved it along with me from room to room or spot to spot. Right now, I’m taking advantage of having the extra room to set up a work spot. My significant other surprised me while I was out a couple months ago and set up a cute little office space. I plan on utilizing this so that I start to associate a productive working mindset whenever I enter it. That way, it becomes more likely that I will work on things I need to get done, and not just hang out or drift from the room to another spot.

-Movement breaks

I’ve been working out while on quarantine, but I’ve noticed that even that does not seem like it is enough. When I was working outside the home, I was occasionally getting up and going to a meeting, walking from one place to another in order to talk with colleagues or drop off paperwork, and then the movement of going to and from work. Even with exercise, I feel myself getting stagnant throughout the day. I’ve been trying to take movement breaks and plan to do more structuring to those breaks in the coming days. Things like going for a walk, doing some yoga in another room, or just getting some cleaning done between tasks have so far been tremendously helpful in keeping my mind fresh and sanity in check.

-First things first

And funny enough, the last thing I plan to do, is try and get the most important, pressing or significant tasks done right away. I’ve let myself get slide out of my usual getting important things done right away in the morning slide to a more relaxed morning. But they keep me on a somewhat unmotivated, sluggish schedule where when I finally get my day started, it’s almost starting to wind down. I plan on jumping straight into important work and tasks as well as trying to exercise right away in the morning. I used to exercise straight away in the morning, but since moving have not had the schedule or the gusto to do so. The plan is hopefully to jump back into some semblance of those habits while the opportunity for change during this time exists.

This was my list of things I plan to do in order to stay productive during quarantine. I hope that you found it helpful. What are things you plan to do or are currently doing that help you stay productive? I would love to know.

Stay healthy and stay safe.