Blog post by Natasha Crepeau, Harvey Mudd College
I’m a junior at Harvey Mudd College with decent (and improving!) grades, a D3 athlete, and player in the Pomona College Band. I’m only able to manage this and take care of myself by trying to organize and manage my time well during the school year, and I’d love to share my methods and tips with other people.
First, let’s talk about organization. My biggest suggestion is to write everything down. That means tests, homework, meets, concerts, office hours, and anything else that you need to do or be at. For homework and tests, make sure that you write the due date so you aren’t surprised when the date comes around. If you think you can remember everything, I think you might be mistaken. I take my planner everywhere and I write everything down inside of it. Some people use their phone instead, but personally I feel that writing something in your notes application doesn’t have the same permanence as writing it on a piece of paper. Once you have a planner, and everything written down, you can use highlighters, different colors, or even emojis to distinguish the very important from the less important. Part of the joy of having a planner is getting the satisfaction of crossing something off once you’ve finished it.
I also have an organizational system for applications. I’ve used this system since I started applying for college, and I will continue to use it as I apply to study abroad programs this fall. I was able to apply to 10 REUs, and what made that possible was my organizational system. I always create a spreadsheet that lists all the programs I’m applying to. Within this spreadsheet, I include key information I’ll need to reference frequently—this includes program dates, application due dates, required essays, the number of letters of recommendation I needed, and if I had heard back from that program. It saved me from having to look up a program whenever I wanted to work on an essay or start collecting the materials needed so I could submit my application. I cannot stress how important writing everything down is. It has made my life much easier.
Once you’ve organized yourself, you need to manage the time you have to accomplish the tasks that you’ve written down. Learning how to effectively manage my time has helped me feel happier in school. The first thing I learned was how to say no. Cross-country practice is at 6:00 am, and my coach emphasizes the importance of getting 8 hours of sleep a night. This meant I was supposed to be in bed at 9:30 pm every night. Many events in my freshman fall were well after this bedtime, and I had to learn how to be alright with not attending them. I was afraid I would be missing out, but since my teammates all had the same schedule, I wasn’t missing hanging out with them. When it came to friends that weren’t teammates, I became okay with not always being there and being excited to hear about the night another time.
Even if you don’t have morning practice, you should be getting enough sleep. Sleep is an important part of taking care of yourself, and an overwhelming amount of work can feel more manageable when you’re well rested. I believe that everyone should have a set bedtime and stick to it. There’s no need to stay up all night doing work. With a bedtime, I’m more motivated to complete my work before I must go to sleep. Some days that isn’t possible, but those days are few and far between for me.
Now that you have a bedtime, there are a set number of hours during your day. In these hours there are classes, jobs, time for work, and meals. That sounds like a lot, but you should also be giving yourself a few breaks. There are a few different ways to do this. My friend group has designated meals as break time. We all take around an hour per meal and we aren’t allowed to do work during this time. Instead, we talk, laugh, vent, and decompress from the stress in our lives. Meals are one of my favorite things in college because I get to not think about work. I also have meets on Saturdays, so I also take Friday evening to watch a movie with my teammates and prepare for the race. It helps me relax so I can run well on Saturday morning. I believe that breaks are required. Nobody can work all the time, and there’s no use in pretending that I can.
Breaks are important, but they can only work if you do work when you say you’re going to do work, or else your work time just becomes another break. Some people are just procrastinators, and I know it can be hard to break the habit. Breaking the habit will be easier if you set yourself up for success. First, I put myself where I know I’ll be productive. That can be something like office hours and tutoring or be a location on campus where you are minimally distracted and have what you need to work. I like a certain study room at Mudd that has several whiteboards and an outdoor classroom when the weather is nice. I also remove as many distractions as possible. I’ll put my phone in the other corner of the room and play some music so I can stay productive. I also avoid procrastination due to frustration. If a problem set is giving me trouble, I go get help instead of staring at it for 2 more hours. If I have easier work, I’ll switch to finishing that to give my mind a break. These methods work for me, but they may not work for you as well, so it is important to find what helps you stay productive.
There is an overwhelming amount of stuff to do as a student. What has helped me stay afloat is good organization and time management. I make sure I’m not surprised by anything because I’ve written it down. I lay out the tasks I need to complete and when they’re do. Once I’ve laid out what I need to do, part of the how I’m going to do it is how I spend my time. I make sure I’m working when I’m supposed to be, and I take breaks everyday so that I’m not working all day. My strategies have helped me tremendously, and I hope they help you. What’s important is finding something that works for you and sticking to it. Find a system that allows you to take care of yourself, because your happiness and well-being is the most important thing in your college experience.