free digital textbook serves as a companion to EDUC 1300/1200/1100 Learning Framework: Effective Strategies for College Success at Austin Community College. This book is an accessible and relevant way to explore the research and theory in the psychology of learning, cognition, and motivation as well as factors that impact learning, and the presentation of specific learning strategies. This Open Educational Resource was remixed from a previous version found at https://courses.lumenlearning.com/austincc-learningframeworks/ by Heather Syrett and Laura Lucas.
Senior Contributing Author and Editor
Heather Syrett, Associate Professor and Assistant Department Chair
Student Development and General Studies
Austin Community College
Edgar Granillo, Professor and Assistant Department Chair
Student Development and General Studies
Austin Community College
Laura Lucas, Adjunct Professor
Student Development and General Studies
Austin Community College
Tobin Quereau, Adjunct Professor
Student Development and General Studies
Austin Community College
It is maintained by Bethany Emory, Dean of teaching and Learning Support at Southwestern Community College. This free digital textbook serves as a companion to ACA-111 in the NCCCS.
Some people are goal-oriented and seem to easily make decisions that lead to achieving their goals, while others seem just to “go with the flow” and accept what life gives them. While the latter may sound pleasantly relaxed, moving through life without goals may not lead anywhere at all. The fact that you’re in college now shows you already have the major goal to complete your college program.
A goal is a result we intend to reach mostly through our own actions. Things we do may move us closer to or farther away from that result. Studying moves us closer to success in a difficult course, while sleeping through the final examination may completely prevent reaching that goal. That’s fairly obvious in an extreme case, yet a lot of college students don’t reach their goal of graduating. The problem may be a lack of commitment to the goal, but often students have conflicting goals (Spending time studying and spending time with family for example). One way to prevent problems is to think about all your goals and priorities and to learn ways to manage your time, your studies, and your social life to best reach your goals.
To help his widowed mother, Juan went to work full time after high school but now, a few years later, he’s dissatisfied with the kinds of jobs he has been able to get and has begun taking classes toward an Associates Degree in Computer Science in the evenings. He’s often tired after work and his mother would like him to spend more time at home, and his girlfriend also wants to spend more time with him. Sometimes he cuts class to visit his mother or spend time with his girlfriend.
After an easy time in high school, James is surprised his college classes are so hard. He’s got enough time to study for his first-year courses, but he also has a lot of friends and fun things to do. Sometimes he’s surprised to look up from his computer to see it’s midnight already, and he hasn’t started reading that chapter yet. Where does the time go? When he’s stressed, however, he can’t study well, so he tells himself he’ll get up early and read the chapter before class, and then he turns back to his computer to see who’s online.
Sachito was successful in cutting back her hours at work to give her more time for her college classes, but it’s difficult for her to get much studying done at home. Her husband has been wonderful about taking care of their young daughter, but he can’t do everything, and lately, he’s been hinting more about asking her sister to babysit so that the two of them can go out in the evening the way they used to. Lately, when she’s had to study on a weekend, he leaves with his friends, and Sachito ends up spending the day with her daughter—and not getting much studying done.
What do these very different students have in common? Each has goals that conflict in one or more ways. Each needs to develop strategies to meet their other goals without threatening their academic success. And all of them have time management issues to work through, three because they feel they don’t have enough time to do everything they want or need to do and one because even though he has enough time, he needs to learn how to manage it more effectively. For all four of them, motivation and attitude will be important as they develop strategies to achieve their goals.
It all begins with setting goals and thinking about values and priorities!
Benefits of Goal Setting
Setting goals can turn your dreams into reality. You may have a dream to one day graduate from college, buy a new car, own your own home, travel abroad, etc. Any of these dreams can be broken down into a detailed goal and plan of action. For example, maybe you want to buy a home in 20 years. You will need $40,000 as a down payment. That’s a lot of money and may not feel achievable. But, if you break that $40,000 into 20 years, that’s $2,000 a year. That sounds more manageable. And if we break it down even more, you can buy that house if you save about $165 a month, or $42 a week, or $6 a day! Can you save $6 a day, maybe by packing your lunch instead of the drive-thru? Our big dream is now an achievable, realistic goal.
As you think about your own goals, think about more than just being a student. You’re also a person with your own core values, individual needs, and desires, hopes and dreams, plans and schemes. Your long-term goals likely include graduation and a career but may also involve social relationships with others, a romantic relationship, family, hobbies or other activities, where and how you live, and so on.
Types of Goals
There are different types of goals, based on time and topic.
Long-term goals may begin with graduating from college and everything you want to happen thereafter. Often your long-term goals (graduating with a bachelor’s degree) guide your mid-term goals (transferring to a University), and your short-term goals (getting an A on your upcoming exam) become steps for reaching those larger goals. Thinking about your goals in this way helps you realize how even the little things you do every day can keep you moving toward your most important long-term goals. Common long-term goals include things like earning your Bachelor’s degree, owning a home, getting a job in your career area, buying a new car, etc.
Mid-term goals involve plans for this school year or your time here at college or goals you want to achieve within the next six months to two years. Mid-term goals are often stepping stones to your long-term goals, but they can also be independent goals. For example, you may have a goal of transferring to University, which is a midterm goal that brings you closer to your long-term goal of getting your Bachelor’s degree. Or, you may have a goal to pay off your credit card debt within the next 12 months or to save for a car that you plan to buy next year. When making mid-term goals related to your long-term goals, make a list of accomplishments that will lead you to your final goal.
Short-term goals focus on today and the next few days and perhaps weeks. Short-term goals expect accomplishment in a short period of time, such as trying to get a bill paid in the next few days or getting an A on your upcoming exam. The definition of a short-term goal need not relate to any specific length of time. In other words, one may achieve (or fail to achieve) a short-term goal in a day, week, month, year, etc. The time-frame for a short-term goal relates to its context in the overall timeline that it is being applied to. For instance, one could measure a short-term goal for a month-long project in days; whereas one might measure a short-term goal for someone’s lifetime in months or in years. Often, people define short-term goals in relation to their mid-term of long-term goals.
An example of how short-term and mid-term goals relate to long-term goals is wanting to earn your Bachelor’s degree. If you have a goal of earning your Bachelor’s degree in four years, a mid-term goal is getting your Associates Degree and getting accepted to your top choice University in two years. This can be broken down into a series of short-term goals such as your GPA goal for this semester, your goal grade on an upcoming exam, and the amount of time you plan to study this weekend. Every long-term goal can be broken down into smaller steps and eventually lead to the question, “what do I have to do today to achieve my goal?”
You will make goals in different areas of life and at different times in your life. At this point in your life, academic goals may take precedent but there are also other areas to consider.
Academic – You clearly already have an academic goal and are actively working on pursuing it. Academic goals may include things like a target GPA, completing your Associate’s Degree, or transferring to a University. It may also include short-term goals like completing your homework before the weekend.
Career – At this point, your career goals are closely linked to your academic goals, such as getting a degree or certificate in your chosen career field. You may also have careers goals of gaining experience in your field through internships and work experience.
Financial – Your financial goals are often tied to your career goals. You may have a salary goal or you may have the goal of saving for a home, a car or a vacation. You may also have goals to reduce debt and manage your budget.
Health/Physical – Almost all of us have worked on physical goals. Many people have the goal to lose weight, to increase their exercise or to drink more water. Other health goals could include establishing a regular sleep schedule, eating more fruits and vegetables, or seeing your doctor regularly. Health goals can also include mental health such as meditating or working to reduce stress and anxiety.
Social/Relationships – Even though it may feel like it sometimes, your life is more than school and work. You should also establish goals for your social relationships. For example, make a goal to stay in contact with a friend who moved, or to visit your family every week, or to have a date with your significant other once a week. Your social relationships are a vital part of your life and deserve your attention and focus.
Spiritual – Many people have religious goals, such as attending church regularly, practicing daily prayer, or joining a church group. Even if you aren’t religious, you may have spiritual goals such as time alone to meditate.
Personal/Hobbies – In addition to work and school, you may have hobbies or personal interests that you want to devote time and energy to. Perhaps you have a goal of rebuilding a motorcycle or learning how to knit or sew.
Putting Your Goals Into Action
Be certain you want to reach the goal. We are willing to work hard and sacrifice to reach goals we really care about, ones that support our core values. But, we’re likely to give up when we encounter obstacles if we don’t feel strongly about a goal. If you’re doing something only because your parents or someone else wants you to, then it’s not your own personal goal—and you may have some more thinking to do about your life.
Writing down your goals helps you to organize your thoughts and be clear with your goals. When you write your goals, state them positively, stating what you will do rather than what you won’t do. When you focus on doing something, that behavior often increases. On the other hand, when you focus on not doing something, that behavior also often increases. For example, if you have a goal to increase your health, you may focus on increasing your water intake to at least 64 ounces per day. This will lead you to think about and drink more water! But, if you focus on not drinking soda, you are likely to think about soda all day and end up drinking more.
After you have written down your goal, post it in a visible place to remind you every day of what it is you are working toward. When you see your goal, ask yourself, “Did my choices today help move more toward my goal? Are my actions supporting my goals?” Being reminded of your goal can help you stay motivated and focused.
Consider sharing your goal with friends, family or classmates. Sharing your goal with supportive people who care about you will help you stay on track. Share your goal with people you know will be encouraging and cheer you on as you work toward your goal. In return, offer the same support for your friends’ goals and dreams.
- Goal setting is a process with many rewards and benefits that allows you to get what you want from life.
- There are short-term, mid-term and long-term goals. They are often stepping stones to meet bigger goals.
- You will create goals in several areas of your life including academic, financial, career and personal.
Managing Your Time
Manage Your Time
Goals And Time
“What do I need to do today in order to achieve my goal?” This question is at the heart of time management. Your goals guide how you spend your time and resources.
As most students discover, college is not the same as high school. For many students, college is the first time they are “on their own” in an environment filled with opportunity. And while this can be exciting, you may find that social opportunities and job responsibilities conflict with academic expectations. For example, a free day before an exam, if not wisely spent, can spell trouble for doing well on the exam. It is easy to fall behind when there are so many choices and freedoms.
To be successful in college, it’s imperative to be able to effectively manage your time and to manage all aspects of your life including school, work, and social opportunities. Time management isn’t actually difficult, but you do need to learn how to do it well.
In the following you'll find some ideas on implementing time management startegies, and some tips to stick to them.
Identify Your Time Management Style
People’s attitudes toward time vary widely. One person seems to be always rushing around but actually gets less done than another person who seems unconcerned about time and calmly goes about the day. Since there are so many different “time personalities,” it’s important to realize how you approach time. Try the following activity to help you identify your personal time management style.
The following self-assessment survey can help you determine your time-management personality type. Read each question in the Questions column. Then read the possible responses. Select one response for each question, and make not of its letter. Each response should reflect what you probably would do in a given situation, not what you think is the “right” answer.
|QUESTIONS||RESPONSES: Which response most closely matches what you would do?|
|Your instructor just gave your class the prompts for your first essay, which is due in two weeks. How do you proceed from here?||a. Choose a prompt and begin working on a thesis immediately. Better to get it out of the way!|
|b. Read over the prompts and let them sink in for a week or so. You’ll still have one more week to finish the assignment, right?|
|c. Read the prompts and maybe start playing around with ideas, but wait to really start writing until the day before. You swear it’s all in your head somewhere!|
|d. Look at the prompts the morning that assignment is due and quickly type up your essay. This makes you late for class, but at least you got it turned in on time.|
|You are working on a group assignment that requires you to split up responsibilities with three other classmates. When would you typically finish your part?||a. First. Then you’re done and don’t have to worry about it. Plus it could give you time in case you want to tweak anything later.|
|b. After one or two of the others have submitted their materials to the group, but definitely not last. You wanted to see how they approached it first.|
|c. Maybe last, but definitely before the assignment due date and hopefully before any of the other group members ask about it.|
|d. Definitely last. You’ll wait until everyone else has done their work, so you can make sure you are not duplicating efforts. Whatever, this is why you hate group work.|
|Your instructor just shared the instructions for your next assignment and you read them but don’t quite understand what he’s asking for in a certain part. What would you probably do?||a. Send the instructor an email that afternoon. When he doesn’t respond that night, email him again. This is your worst nightmare—you just want to know what he wants!!|
|b. Send him an email asking for clarification, giving yourself enough time to wait for his response and then complete the assignment. Better to be safe than sorry.|
|c. Try to figure it out for yourself. You’re pretty sure what he’s trying to say, and you’ll give it your best shot.|
|d. Don’t say anything until after the assignment is due. Other people in the class felt the same way too, probably!|
|The course you are taking requires you to post in a weekly discussion forum by Sunday night each week so the class can talk about everyone’s posts on Monday. When do you submit your posts?||a. Tuesday night, after the first day of class that week. Then it’s out of the way.|
|b. Thursday or Friday night. You want to let the week’s discussion sink in a little so you can collect your thoughts.|
|c. Sunday night. You always forget over the weekend!|
|d. Monday at 3 AM. That still counts as Sunday night, right?|
|You have an important assignment due Monday morning, and you have a social/work/family obligation that will keep you busy for most of the weekend. It is now the Wednesday before the assignment is due. How would you approach this dilemma?||a. You already finished it yesterday, the day it was assigned. Done!|
|b. You tell yourself that you’ll finish it by Friday night, and you manage this by chipping away at it over those 3 days. …Little. By. Little.|
|c. You tell yourself that you’ll finish it by Friday night, so you can have your weekend free, but you still have a little left to do on Sunday—no big deal.|
|d. You tell yourself that you’ll take the weekend off, then stay up late on Sunday or wake up early on Monday to finish it. It’s not a final or anything, and you have a life.|
|You have to read 150 pages before your next class meeting. You have 4 days to do so. What would you most likely do?||a. 150 pages divided by 4 days means… a little less than 40 pages a day. You like to chunk it this way because then you’ll also have time to go over your notes and highlights and come up with questions for the instructor.|
|b. 150 pages divided by…well … 2 days (because it’s been a long week), means 75 pages a day. Totally doable.|
|c. 150 pages, the day before it is due. You did this to yourself, it’s fine.|
|d. How much time does it take to skim the text for keywords and/or find a summary online?|
Assessing Your Responses
The questionnaire will indicate your time management personality type, based on the most frequently selected letter.
- A - Early Bird
- B - Balancing Act
- C - Pressure Cooker
- D - Improviser
Which of the four basic time-management personality types did you select the most? Which did you select the least? Do you feel like these selections match the student you have been in the past? Has your previous way of doing things worked for you, or do you think it’s time for a change?
Learn more below about your tendencies. Review traits, strengths, challenges, and tips for success for each of the four time-management personality types.
A. The Early Bird
- Traits: You like to make checklists and feel great satisfaction when you can cross something off of your to-do list. When it comes to assignments, you want to get started as soon as possible (and maybe start brainstorming before that), because it lets you stay in control.
- Strengths: You know what you want and are driven to figure out how to achieve it. Motivation is never really a problem for you.
- Challenges: Sometimes you can get more caught up in getting things done as quickly as possible and don’t give yourself enough time to really mull over issues in all of their complexity.
- Tips for Success: You’re extremely organized and on top of your schoolwork, so make sure you take the time to really enjoy learning in your classes. Remember, school isn’t all deadlines and checkboxes—you also have the opportunity to think about big-picture intellectual problems that don’t necessarily have clear answers.
B. The Balancing Act
- Traits: You really know what you’re capable of and are ready to do what it takes to get the most out of your classes. Maybe you’re naturally gifted in this way or maybe it’s a skill that you have developed over time; in any case, you should have the basic organizational skills to succeed in any class, as long as you keep your balance.
- Strengths: Your strength really lies in your ability to be well rounded. You may not always complete assignments perfectly every time, but you are remarkably consistent and usually manage to do very well in classes.
- Challenges: Because you’re so consistent, sometimes you can get in a bit of a rut and begin to coast in class, rather than really challenging yourself.
- Tips for Success: Instead of simply doing what works, use each class as an opportunity for growth by engaging thoughtfully with the material and constantly pushing the boundaries of your own expectations for yourself.
C. The Pressure Cooker
- Traits: You always get things done and almost always at the last minute.
- Strengths: You work well under pressure, and when you do finally sit down to accomplish a task, you can sit and work for hours. In these times, you can be extremely focused and shut out the rest of the world in order to complete what’s needed.
- Challenges: You sometimes use your ability to work under pressure as an excuse to procrastinate. Sure, you can really focus when the deadline is tomorrow but is it really the best work you could produce if you had a couple of days of cushion?
- Tips for Success: Give yourself small, achievable deadlines, and stick to them. Make sure they’re goals that you really could (and would) achieve in a day. Then don’t allow yourself to make excuses. You’ll find that it’s actually a lot more enjoyable to not be stressed out when completing schoolwork. Who would have known?
D, The Improviser
- Traits: You frequently wait until the last minute to do assignments, but it’s because you’ve been able to get away with this habit in many classes. Sometimes you miss an assignment or two, or have to pretend to have done reading that you haven’t.
- Strengths: You think quickly on your feet, and while this is a true strength, it also can be a crutch that prevents you from being really successful in a class.
- Challenges: As the saying goes, old habits die hard. If you find that you lack a foundation of discipline and personal accountability, it can be difficult to change, especially when the course material becomes challenging or you find yourself struggling to keep up with the pace of the class.
- Tips for Success: Make a plan to organize your time and materials in a reasonable way, and really stick with it. Also, don’t be afraid to ask your instructor for help, but be sure to do it before, rather than after, you fall behind.
People also differ in how they respond to schedule changes. Some go with the flow and accept changes easily, while others function well only when following a planned schedule and may become upset if that schedule changes. If you do not react well to an unexpected disruption in your schedule, plan extra time for catching up if something throws you off. This is all part of understanding your time personality.
Another aspect of your time personality involves the time of day. If you need to concentrate, such as when writing a class paper, are you more alert and focused in the morning, afternoon, or evening? Do you concentrate best when you look forward to a relaxing activity later on, or do you study better when you’ve finished all other activities? Do you function well if you get up early, or stay up late, to accomplish a task? How does that affect the rest of your day or the next day? Understanding this will help you better plan your study periods.
While you may not be able to change your “time personality,” you can learn to manage your time more successfully. The key is to be realistic. Here are some tips to remain motivated as you navigate your classes:
Creating a Planner
Now that you know what you need to be spending your time on, let’s work on getting it put into a schedule or calendar. The first thing you want to do is select what type of planner or calendar you want to use. There are several to choose from. The following chart outlines some pros and cons to different systems. online calendars, weekly calendars, monthly calendars and wall calendars.
|Dry Erase Calendar||$15 – $20|
What Goes in Your Planner?
Now that you have selected your planner, it’s time to fill it in. But what goes in it? Well, everything! Start by putting in your top priorities and then move on to your discretionary time.
- Class time
- Work Time
- Designated study time (2-3 hours per hour in class)
- Assignment due dates (check your syllabus)
- Exam dates and quizzes (check your syllabus)
- Birthdays of family and friends
- Social events
- Club activities
- Church activities
Your schedule will vary depending on the course you’re taking. So pull out your syllabus for each class and try to determine the rhythm of the class by looking at the following factors:
- Will you have tests or exams in this course? When are those scheduled?
- Are there assignments and papers? When are those due?
- Is there any group or collaborative assignments? You’ll want to pay particular attention to the timing of any assignment that requires you to work with others.
Remember your goals. Does your schedule reflect your goals? Set your short and long-term goals accordingly. Ask yourself the following:
- What needs to get done today?
- What needs to get done this week?
- What needs to get done by the end the first month of the semester?
- What needs to get done by the end the second month of the semester?
- What needs to get done by the end of the semester?
Don’t try to micromanage your schedule. Don’t try to estimate exactly how many minutes you’ll need two weeks from today to read a given chapter in a given textbook. Instead, just choose the blocks of time you will use for your studies. Don’t yet write in the exact study activity, just reserve the block. Next, look at the major deadlines for projects and exams that you wrote in earlier. Estimate how much time you may need for each and work backward on the schedule from the due date.
Planning Backwards and Other Time Management Strategies
As a college student, you will likely have big assignments, papers, or projects that you are expected to work on throughout the semester. These are often tricky for students to schedule since it isn’t a regularly occurring event, like a weekly quiz or a homework assignment. These big projects often feel overwhelming so students have a tendency to shy away from them and procrastinate on them. This often results in a lot of last-minute stress and panic when the deadline is looming. A way to plan for these big projects is to plan backward. Start at the final project and then figure out all the steps that come before it and assign due dates for yourself. For example, you have a research paper due May 1. Start there!
|Research Paper Due||May 1|
|Final Draft||April 28|
|Rough Draft||April 21|
|Final Outline||April 7|
|Find sources||March 24|
|Thesis statement||March 17|
|Select topic||March 10|
You have now created a series of assignments for yourself that will keep you on track for your project. Put these dates in your planner the same way you would any other assignment.
Following are some other strategies you can begin using immediately to make the most of your time:
- Use your best—and most appropriate—time of day. Different tasks require different mental skills. Some kinds of studying you may be able to start first thing in the morning as you wake, while others need your most alert moments at another time.
- Break up large projects into small pieces. Whether it’s writing a paper for class, studying for a final exam, or reading a long assignment or full book, students often feel daunted at the beginning of a large project. It’s easier to get going if you break it up into stages that you schedule at separate times—and then begin with the first section that requires only an hour or two.
- Do the most important studying first. When two or more things require your attention, do the more crucial one first. If something happens and you can’t complete everything, you’ll suffer less if the most crucial work is done.
- If you have trouble getting started, do an easier task first. Like large tasks, complex or difficult ones can be daunting. If you can’t get going, switch to an easier task you can accomplish quickly. That will give you momentum, and often you feel more confident in tackling the difficult task after being successful in the first one.
- If you’re feeling overwhelmed and stressed because you have too much to do, revisit your time planner. Sometimes it’s hard to get started if you keep thinking about other things you need to get done. Review your schedule for the next few days and make sure everything important is scheduled, then relax and concentrate on the task at hand.
- If you’re really floundering, talk to someone. Maybe you just don’t understand what you should be doing. Talk to your instructor, a tutor or another student in the class to get back on track.
- Take a break. We all need breaks to help us concentrate without becoming fatigued and burned out. As a general rule, a short break every hour or so is effective in helping recharge your study energy. Get up and move around to get your blood flowing, clear your thoughts, and work off stress.
- Reward yourself. It’s not easy to sit still for hours of studying. When you successfully complete the task, you should feel good and deserve a small reward. A healthy snack, a quick video game session, or social activity can help you feel even better about your successful use of time.
- Just say no. Always tell others nearby when you’re studying, to reduce the chances of being interrupted. Still, interruptions happen, and if you are in a situation where you are frequently interrupted by a family member, spouse, roommate, or friend, it helps to have your “no” prepared in advance: “No, I really have to be ready for this test” or “That’s a great idea, but let’s do it tomorrow—I just can’t today.”
- Have a life. Never schedule your day or week so full of work and study that you have no time at all for yourself, your family and friends, and your larger life.
Time Management Strategies for Students Who Work
If you’re both working and taking classes, you seldom have large blocks of free time. Avoid temptations to stay up very late studying, for losing sleep can lead to a downward spiral in performance at both work and school. Instead, try to follow these guidelines:
- If possible, adjust your work or sleep hours so that you don’t spend your most productive times at work. If your job offers flex time, arrange your schedule to be free to study at times when you perform best.
- Try to arrange your class and work schedules to minimize commuting time. If you are a part-time student taking two classes, taking classes back-to-back two or three days a week uses less time than spreading them out over four or five days. Working four ten-hour days rather than five eight-hour days reduces time lost to travel, getting ready for work, and so on.
- If you can’t arrange an effective schedule for classes and work, consider online courses that allow you to do most of the work on your own time.
- Can you do quick study tasks during slow times at work? Take your class notes with you and use even five minutes of free time wisely.
- Remember your long-term goals. You need to work, but you also want to finish your college program. If you have the opportunity to volunteer for some overtime, consider whether it’s really worth it. Sure, the extra money would help, but could the extra time put you at risk for not doing well in your classes?
- Be as organized on the job as you are academically. Use your planner and to-do list for work matters, too. The better organized you are at work, the less stress you’ll feel—and the more successful you’ll be as a student also.
- If you have a family as well as a job, your time is even more limited. In addition to the previous tips, try some of the strategies that follow.
Time Management Strategy for Students with Family
Living with family members often introduces additional time stresses. You may have family obligations that require careful time management. Use all the strategies described earlier, including family time in your daily plans the same as you would hours spent at work. Don’t assume that you’ll be “free” every hour you’re home, because family events or a family member’s need for your assistance may occur at unexpected times. Schedule your important academic work well ahead and in blocks of time you control.
Students with their own families are likely to feel time pressures. After all, you can’t just tell your partner or kids that you’ll see them in a couple years when you’re not so busy with job and college! In addition to all the planning and study strategies discussed so far, you also need to manage your family relationships and time spent with family. While there’s no magical solution for making more hours in the day, even with this added time pressure there are ways to balance your life well:
- Talk everything over with your family. If you’re going back to school, your family members may not have realized changes will occur. Don’t let them be shocked by sudden household changes. Keep communication lines open so that your partner and children feel they’re together with you in this new adventure. Eventually, you will need their support.
- Work to enjoy your time together, whatever you’re doing. You may not have as much time together as previously, but cherish the time you do have—even if it’s washing dishes together or cleaning house. If you’ve been studying for two hours and need a break, spend the next ten minutes with family instead of checking e-mail or watching television. Look forward to being with family and appreciate every moment you are together, and they will share your attitude.
Multitasking is a term commonly used for being engaged in two or more different activities at the same time, usually referring to activities using devices such as cell phones, smartphones, computers, and so on. Many people claim to be able to do as many as four or five things simultaneously, such as writing an e-mail while responding to an instant message (IM) and reading a tweet, all while watching a video on their computer monitor or talking on the phone. Many people who have grown up with computers consider this kind of multitasking a normal way to get things done, including studying. Even people in business sometimes speak of multitasking as an essential component of today’s fast-paced world.
It is true that some things can be attended to while you’re doing something else, such as checking e-mail while you watch television news, but only when none of those things demands your full attention. You can concentrate 80 percent on the e-mail, for example, while 20 percent of your attention is listening for something on the news that catches your attention. Then you turn to the television for a minute, watch that segment, and go back to the e-mail. But, you’re not actually watching the television at the same time you’re composing the e-mail; you’re rapidly going back and forth. In reality, the mind can focus only on one thing at any given moment. Even things that don’t require much thinking are severely impacted by multitasking, such as driving while talking on a cell phone or texting. An astonishing number of people end up in the emergency room from just trying to walk down the sidewalk while texting, so common is it now to walk into a pole or parked car while multitasking!
“Okay,” you might be thinking, “why should it matter if I write my paper first and then answer e-mails or do them back and forth at the same time?” It actually takes you longer to do two or more things at the same time than if you do them separately, at least with anything that you actually have to focus on, such as studying. That’s true because each time you go back to studying after looking away to a message or tweet, it takes time for your mind to shift gears to get back to where you were. Every time your attention shifts, add up some more “downtime” and pretty soon it’s evident that multitasking is costing you a lot more time than you think. And that’s assuming that your mind does fully shift back to where you were every time, without losing your train of thought or forgetting an important detail. It doesn’t always.
The other problem with multitasking is the effect it can have on the attention span and even on how the brain works. Scientists have shown that in people who constantly shift their attention from one thing to another in short bursts, the brain forms patterns that make it more difficult to keep sustained attention on any one thing. So when you really do need to concentrate for a while on one thing, such as when studying for a big test, it becomes more difficult to do even if you’re not multitasking at that time. It’s as if your mind makes a habit of wandering from one thing to another and then can’t stop.
What about listening to music while studying? Some don’t consider that multitasking, and many students say they can listen to music without it affecting their studying. Studies are inconclusive about the positive or negative effects of music on people’s ability to concentrate, probably because so many different factors are involved. But there’s a huge difference between listening to your favorite CD where you can’t help but sing along and enjoying soft background music that enhances your study space the same way as good lighting and pleasant décor. Some people can study better with low-volume instrumental music that relaxes them and does not intrude on their thinking, while others can concentrate only in silence. Some people are so used to being immersed in music and the sounds of life that they find total silence more distracting; such people can often study well in places where people are moving around. The key thing is to be honest with yourself: if you’re actively listening to music while you’re studying, then you’re likely not studying as well as you could be. It will take you longer and lead to less successful results.
What are your thoughts on multitasking? How does it affect your productivity? The following video, from the University of British Columbia, features students talking about multitasking. Does it exist? Is it effective? Listen in, or view the full discussion.
Multitasking and Technology
The perceived need to multitask is driven largely by the technology takeover of recent years. Smartphones, email, social networking, Instagram, Twitter . . . all make multitasking seem both necessary and possible. They all require switching in and out of a line of thinking. With these technologies, we face constant information overload and distraction.
How can we become more productive with our time and energy, given our tendency to multitask? Read the tips below:
- Try “batch processing”: Have set times during the day for checking and responding to emails and texts.
- Use checking your phone as a reward for completing an item on your to-do list.
- Use concentrated time: Block off time for working on just one task.
- Leave your phone in your car. Then, take a break and check your phone, getting outside and getting a little exercise while you do it.
- Do what’s most important first: Make goals for the day and accomplish them. The sense of achievement can help you resist anxiety-driven multitasking.
- Turn off your social media alerts on your phone.
- Set your phone to “Do Not Disturb.”
- Set auto-response text messages to respond to people while you are studying.
- Use television, video games, etc. as a reward at the end of the day.
- Set a time when you are surfing the web, so you don’t spend hours going down the internet rabbit hole.
- There are unique Time Management Styles and knowing yours will help you create your own system.
- There are different types of planners, including hard-copy and electronic. Find a planner that works best for you and your preferences and habits.
- Your planner should reflect your values, goals, and priorities. It should include class time, work time, appointments, due dates, exams, and reminders of special dates.
- For big projects, plan backward to ensure you have enough time planned for each step.
Managing Your Finances
Money issues in college (and they can pop up for anyone), can impact your academic success. Money problems are stressful and can keep you from concentrating on your studies. Unfortunately, money problems cause many students to drop out of college entirely. But it doesn’t have to be this hard. Like other skills, financial skills can be learned, and they have lifelong value.
A budget is simply the best way to balance the money that comes in with the money that goes out. In this section, we will review common expenses and sources of income for college students and discuss ways to balance these in a budget that works for you.
There are certain financial obligations most college students have to pay for. Common examples include:
- Tuition: This includes the price of attending an institution. Students pay relatively more or less for this based on where you are going to school and how many credits you are taking.
- Housing and Food: These are essentially “food and shelter” costs.
- Books and supplies: These include books for classes and supplies like computers, notebooks, writing utensils, and calculators.
- Transportation: Students typically have some transportation costs, whether it be car insurance, maintenance, and gas, or public-transportation expenses.
- Personal needs: Regardless of where you live, you will need money for things like laundry, cell phone, computer, and going out with friends. This expense can vary a lot depending on personal preferences.
Needs Vs. Wants
Before you can make an effective budget, you examine your expenses and consider what’s essential and what’s optional. Essential costs are the big things you need to get by:
- Room and board or rent/mortgage, utilities, and groceries
- College tuition, fees, textbooks, supplies
- Insurance (health insurance, car insurance, etc.)
- Dependent care if needed
- Essential personal items (some clothing, hygiene items, etc.)
In contrast, “optional” expenses are things you want but could easily get by without. You don’t have to spend money on them, and you can spend more or less on them as you choose. Most people spend by habit, not really thinking about where their money goes or how quickly their spending adds up. If you knew you were spending more than a thousand dollars a year on coffee you buy every day between classes, would that make you think twice? Or another thousand on fast food lunches rather than taking a couple minutes in the morning to make your lunch? When people actually start paying attention to where their money goes, most are shocked to see how the totals grow. If you can save a few thousand dollars a year by cutting back on just the little things, how far would that go to making you feel much better about your finances?
Given what you have read so far, what types of expenses do you think you might face as a college student? The following video will help you review the types of college expenses and examine particular costs that are common for both four-year and two-year institutions.
Sources of Income
Paying for college can be a big challenge. When deciding how to cover the expense, two important sources of income include:
- Jobs: Many students work while taking classes to cover their expenses.
- Financial Aid: This can come in the form of loans, grants, work-study, or scholarships.
Both options can help you finance your education, but both also come with both benefits and potential pitfalls. The next sections look at each of these options in more detail and will help you determine the what strategies will be best for you.
Working During College: Pros and Cons
Working as a college student can help you stay on track financially, but it can also be difficult to balance with your other responsibilities.
- Enhanced budgeting skills: If you are working, you may learn to budget your money better since you have to earn it yourself.
- Enhanced time-management skills: Juggling classes, work, and possibly other activities such as clubs or sports, may actually help you excel in your classes because you learn how to effectively manage your time.
- Networking: In addition to work experience in a field related to your interests, you may also meet people who can help you later when you’re ready for a career.
- Need for time-management skills: Though working during college can help build time-management skills, you may struggle if you aren’t used to balancing activities.
- Lack of free time: If you take on a lot of work hours while in college, you may not have time for other activities or opportunities, such as joining clubs related to your interests or finding volunteer work or internships that might help you discover career opportunities and connections. These “extras” are actually significant résumé items that can make you more employable after college.
Deciding whether or not to work while you’re in college is obviously a personal decision that involves your own comfort level, family responsibilities and financial situation. Some students may prefer to put off looking for a job until after the first semester of college, so they can better gauge their workload and schedule, while others may prefer to avoid working altogether. For some, the question isn’t “Should I or shouldn’t I get a job?” but “How much should I work?” In other words, the challenge is to strike the right balance between schoolwork, social activities, and earning money.
The following video shares one student’s experience with the pros and cons of working her way through college.
You may already be receiving financial aid or understand what types of financial aid are available. Even if you are not receiving financial aid, however, you should understand the basics because your financial situation may change and you may need help paying for college. You owe it to yourself to learn about potential types of aid you might receive.
There are three main categories of financial aid:
- Scholarships and grants (money or tuition waivers that do not need to be repaid)
- Student loans (money that does need to be repaid, usually starting after graduation)
- Work study programs (money that is earned for tuition or other expenses)
Scholarships and Grants
Scholarships and grants are “free” money—you do not have to pay them back, unlike student loans. A scholarship is generally based on merit as demonstrated by past grades, test scores, achievements, or experiences. Don’t make the mistake of thinking scholarships go only to students with high grades. Many scholarships, for example, honor those with past leadership or community experience or the promise of future activities. Even the grades and test scores needed for academic scholarships are relative: a grade point average (GPA) that does not qualify for a scholarship from one organization may earn a scholarship from another. Never assume that you’re not qualified for any kind of scholarship or grant.
A grant also does not need to be paid back. Most grants are based on demonstrated financial need. A grant may be offered by the college, a federal or state program, or a private organization or civic group. The largest grant program for college students is the federal government’s Pell Grants program. Learn more about Pell Grants and other scholarship and grant programs from your college’s financial aid office or the online resources listed later.
Ideally, one would like to graduate without having loan balances to repay after college. However, almost two-thirds of full-time college students do need student loans to pay for college. With smart choices about the type of loan and a structured repayment program for your working years after graduation, there’s no reason to fear a loan. Just remember that the money eventually has to be repaid—it’s not “free” money even though it may feel that way while you’re in school. Work closely with the financial aid depratment to determine the best options for you
Work-study programs are the third type of financial aid. They are administered by colleges and are a common part of the financial aid package for students with financial need. You work for what you earn, but work-study programs often have advantages over outside jobs. The college runs the program, so you don’t have to spend valuable time looking for a job. Work study students usually work on or near campus, and work hours are controlled to avoid interfering with classes and study time.
Now that we have looked at common college expenses and forms of income, it is time to talk about budgeting. Without a personal budget, most people have a hard time gauging how much money they spend and where their money goes. If you have ever gone to an ATM to withdraw money and been surprised to discover how little you had left in your account, this section is for you. Watch this short video from the Khan academy to learn more about why budgeting is important:
In essence, a budget is a plan for how you want to spend money. It details how much money comes in each month and how much you’ve allocated for spending on each thing. The virtue of a budget is that it puts you in control of financial decisions—so you can avoid surprises at the ATM or at the end of the month. Let’s look at some strategies for creating a budget:
- Be realistic: People are often intimidated by budgets because they’re afraid the plans will be too strict or force them to cut back too much. Though a budget may reveal that you indeed spend a lot of money on clothes, that’s okay—it may just also need to show that you spend very little on restaurants and eating out to make up for it. Again, it’s about making choices and being realistic.
- Choose a time line: Creating a budget for a fixed period of time will help you monitor whether you’re meeting your financial goals. The time line you choose is up to you and your goals. For example, you might create a monthly budget to monitor how you spend your paycheck every month.
- Add financial padding: Even if you feel like your list of financial obligations is already long, try to set aside a certain amount each month for a “rainy day or emergency” fund to pay for unforeseen expenses and emergencies, like car repair, lost textbooks, etc.
- Make adjustments as needed: While sticking to your budget is important, there’s nothing wrong with revisiting and adjusting your original targets. For example, if you find that you are actually spending $50 more per month on groceries than you intended (even after shopping for sale items), you may decide to save that money elsewhere in your budget next month—on entertainment, for example.
Tracking one’s income and spending is a good exercise for anyone, and if you follow the basic steps, below, it’s easier than you might think:
- Calculate regular expenses: Using your bills, receipts, checkbook, and any other financial records you have, make a list of your regular expenses and record how much you typically pay each month or year. Since some expenses like grocery bills may vary from month to month, you’ll want to examine several months’ worth of receipts to come up with an average.
- Record your income: Identify all income sources and add up how much you receive during a given period of time. This amount should include all sources of money—from regular full- or part-time work and from intermittent sources, such as freelance jobs, babysitting, etc.
- Adjust your expense percentages, and set goals: After you outline your financial obligations and income, you can start by deciding how much money you’d like to allocate for each expense. Start with fixed expenses such as rent, car payments, etc. Next, decide how much you want to devote to each of the remaining categories, such as food and entertainment. At this point, you can also set specific financial goals. For example, you may decide to lower the amount you spend on clothes in order to pay off outstanding credit-card debt or save for a trip.
- Identify a method for tracking your budget: Develop a plan for monitoring your budget. You might decide to use an Excel or Google spreadsheet, a budgeting app, or a budget tracking tool provided by your bank. You can also write things down in a notebook. The method doesn’t matter, so long as it’s easy for you to access, use, and interpret.
- Budgeting involves assessing your spending habits to ensure your income will cover your expenses.
- Many students work while they are in college; weigh the pros and cons to determine if this is the right decision for you and how you can strike the best balance between working and taking classes.
- Financial aid – in the form of scholarships, grants, loans, and/or work study – is available to help you pay for college.
LICENSES AND ATTRIBUTIONS
LICENSES AND ATTRIBUTIONS
CC LICENSED CONTENT, ORIGINAL
- Values and Goals. Authored by: Heather Syrett. Provided by: Austin Community College. License: CC BY-NC-SA-4.0
- Discovering Your Values and Goals. Authored by: Heather Syrett. Provided by: Austin Community College. License: CC BY-NC-SA-4.0
- Manage Your Time. Authored by: Heather Syrett. Provided by: Austin Community College. License: CC BY-NC-SA-4.0
- Managing Your Money. Authored by: Laura Lucas. Provided by: Austin Community College. License: CC BY-NC-SA-4.0
CC LICENSED CONTENT, SPECIFIC ATTRIBUTION
- Chapter 11: Taking Control of Your Finances, Sections 11.1-11.6. Provided by: University of Minnesota Libraries. Located at: http://open.lib.umn.edu/collegesuccess/part/chapter-11-taking-control-of-your-finances/. License: CC BY-NC-SA: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike
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- College Success Provided by: University of Minnesota. Located at: http://www.oercommons.org/courses/college-success/view. License: CC BY: Attribution
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- Personal Finance. Located at: https://courses.lumenlearning.com/collegesuccess-lumen/chapter/personal-finance-needs-alt-text/. License: CC BY: Attribution
- Financial Aid. Located at: https://courses.lumenlearning.com/collegesuccess-lumen/chapter/financial-aid/. License: CC BY: Attribution
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