School is back, and classes are already in full swing! Although the excitement on campus is evident, the transition from the summer months full of warm weather and free time, to a busy schedule filled to the brim with homework, can be difficult to navigate. Here are some tips from returning college students that will set you up for a successful semester:
1. Use Notion to Track Your Assignments
Professors will often use their syllabi to lay out the entire course schedule with assignment due dates and test dates. To avoid falling behind, at the beginning of the semester, I input all important assignments and dates into Notion, a virtual workspace and organization tool. Notion allows you to completely customize the layout and tools on your pages. Personally, I use the “table” feature to organize my assignment To-Do list. Having a visually pleasing and interactive reminder of what assignments I have to complete helps me stay on track throughout the semester.
2. Get to Know Your Professors Early
Some of the most valuable connections you’ll make in college are with your professors. Who knows what conversations could lead to research opportunities, internship experiences, or future contacts. That’s why it’s important to establish a connection with each of your professors early on in the semester. Send an introductory email, attend office hours, and participate frequently in class to stand out amongst your peers.
-Lara Beckius ‘24
3. Make a Friend in Each of Your Classes
College classes are difficult and, at times, professors can be unclear about assignments and/or due dates. Having someone in each of your classes that you can text for clarification on a due date or for help with a homework problem can make your life so much easier. I know it can be challenging if you do not have one of your friends in your class. However, I recommend reaching out to someone you are friendly with, or who looks friendly and asking for their phone number. It is scary to reach out to someone new, but I promise it will be worth it to have a go-to person in your class. You never know… you could make a new friend!
-Sarah Hennig ‘24
4. Create Systems for Yourself, Especially if You Have ADHD!
I have found that I am most productive when I am working on the floor of my room, so I have a cushion and a pillow, my bluelight glasses, and my phone playing classical music to help me focus.
If you know you’re forgetful, make a little station for yourself by your door with your keys, mask, water bottle, phone, camel card etc. It may be helpful to put your backpack next to your door as well. Put your chargers in a pocket of your backpack and only remove them if you’re using them. If you unplug the device, immediately put the charger in your backpack so you don’t forget to take it and have your computer die on you while doing work.
If you take medication, use a weekly organizer and put it next to your bed so you don’t have to wonder if you missed a day.
Set all the reminders you need to. I’m serious. Either dedicate a notebook you always take or your phone, and put everything you need to remember on there with alarms. I even set reminders on the weekends to plan out the next week and make sure medications are in my organizer.
Manage your energy rather than your time. Those of us with ADHD struggle a lot with managing time. Write down a list of literally everything you do in a day and mark which ones give you energy, drain your energy, or are energy neutral. Then, pay attention to when in the day you tend to experience an energy slump. It could be that you need more calories, or maybe have coffee at a different time of day, or maybe you need to shift around your breaks. If you can replace the tasks that drain your energy with more that give you energy, that is ideal. If you can rearrange your tasks in a way where you can have more energy for your priorities, that changes your productivity.
Set up rewards for accomplishing tasks so you can get that highly-sought dopamine.
If you cannot imagine doing something, do something you hate. For example, when I struggle to do homework, I find that playing a video that bores me or annoys me makes the homework seem a lot less exhausting and worth my time.
The best thing you can do for yourself is establish systems that work with or around your habits rather than setting routines to attain goals.
If something takes around five minutes, like a skincare routine, and you just want to go to bed, tell yourself this: It’s either too late at night for five minutes to be the difference, and five minutes of sleep has never been satisfying enough first thing in the morning. Do you really want to skip something you will regret just for five unsatisfying minutes? If you’re spending time looking for ways to not do something, you’re wasting mental energy and time you could be doing that thing and then resting.
It is better to rest than to beat yourself up for not having the energy and being unproductive for longer. Take the day, refresh, and then work.
If you think you can just do something later, why not do it now so you get it done with and then rest? The hardest part is starting, so set up a reward system. Countdown from 10, and just start. If you try to cheat and act like you’re done, go ahead and submit the assignment. If you’re actually done, you won’t hesitate to submit it. Enjoy the reward guilt-free! If things can be done now, it means you have the energy and resources to do it now. Don’t squander it or your ADHD will! You’re not getting the time back later and you may forget.
If you’re dreading a paper/presentation, pick a topic you’re angry about so you can rant about it, but formally. This will give you the motivation because all you have to do is back up your opinions with proof. Write down literally all of your school-appropriate thoughts on the topic and any associations you make, possibly from course material, that make sense. Get all the resources you’re thinking about using and check them to see if they work. Once you have all of it, ask yourself if you notice a theme or a point to all of it. That’s your thesis. Now, write the examples down, introduce them, their contexts, and any terms. Then, explain how all of it connects. This is the analysis. Now summarize everything briefly, maybe a sentence or two per paragraph. Boom, that’s your conclusion. Now introduce the whole thing and bring up each example in the order they come in (or rearrange for better cohesion and understanding). If you need the paper to be longer, remove the contractions and possessive apostrophes, and use prepositions or add more examples. Your analysis should be 50% of the length of the example. If you have a five-line quote, do you need to shorten it? Use apostrophes and try using words that have several meanings, or longer words rather than phrases if possible. Imagine you have to read your paper with a timer and find exactly what you need to simply get the point across. Cut every little bit that you can because it makes a difference! Now, look over it and proofread. Have google read it out loud to make sure you’ve caught your errors. Not every paper needs to be your best work.
Let’s say you have a list of things you need to do, but never remember to do during your free time. Take a piece of paper and write out all of our distractions. Also think of times when you get distracted. For example, I get tired after class and immediately go on my phone. Now, I do my best to, whenever I go to grab my phone, think of anything I can do instead with the momentum I have. List all the things you want to do but have nothing to do with your work. These are things you may tend to immediately set aside and never complete, like a personal project. Get your planner, or use your phone, or both, or whatever system that works for you. I have a planner that splits days up by half an hour, and it helps immensely. Fill out everything you have to do during the week in pen, such as classes, sports practice, rehearsals, clubs, activities, office hours, time for meals, and other things that need to be done like showering, working out, and cleaning your room. Block out everything in your planner to see what your time looks like. Put things that give you energy on busy days and after classes. Section ten minutes each day and, during that time, plan out the next week including any events you have, plans, and appointments. Then, grab your list because you’re going to section time out of your week to leave open and tackle as many things on that list that you have the energy/motivation for. Remember to reward yourself for completing those items or getting work done towards it.
If you can’t come up with a reason to do something fun or beneficial, the reason is officially… just because. This reasoning is your reward.
If you’re dreading an assignment, give yourself the most realistic, least amount of time you will spend on it. Establish a really big reward. Start the assignment with the only intention of finishing it. Frequently taking breaks will make it harder to start back up so only take needed breaks. Feel like you’re done? You’re not done until you’re ready to submit it. You don’t have to finish it in one sitting. In fact, if breaking it up into chunks and rewarding yourself along the way is more bearable, do so! Once you feel refreshed, go back to it. The more you accomplish, the faster it’s over. Once you feel like you’re done, would you willingly and proudly let someone else look at it? Like a family member? If so, submit it and reward yourself!
If you have a tendency to bite your lips, start wearing lipstick or gloss everyday. Sure, no one will see it under the mask, but it will make you aware! If you don’t like that idea, try chewing gum. If you have a tendency to pick at your hands and chew your nails, start putting on polish, rings, and lotion, and reapply after washing your hands (yes, every time!). Have fun trying to pick smooth, moisturized hands.
-Myriam (Rose) ‘23