How to Start the Semester Off Right

It’s the start of the new school year: Fall 2019—summer holidays have come to an end, the air is getting cooler as we slide into fall, and homework is back to plague us all with sleepless nights. Regardless of whether it’s your first year or your last, it’s important to make the most of your university experience. Join clubs, plan your courses, get together with friends… but, most importantly, get organized. The best way to have a smooth school semester is to make sure you stay on top of your work and your health—that way, you’ll most definitely save time on the side for the more fun parts of school. 


1. Establish a routine

The first thing you want to do when you start school—besides planning courses, getting books, and greeting professors—is to establish a routine. Make sure you have a clear morning, evening, and study routine in order to give your day structure and avoid issues like falling asleep in class, rushing in the morning, and generally feeling malaise. Keep in mind, routines don’t have to be overly complicated—simply having a consistent time for waking up, going to bed, and getting work done is already very useful. It sets a sort of frame that helps contain the typical chaos of everyday life. 


2. Use a planner

Have you ever had one of those moments when you walk into class, take your seat, and feel your stomach drop as you notice how your classmates’ desks are clear of everything but pens? It’s a quiz, maybe a test, and you had absolutely no idea. These sorts of situations are unnecessarily stressful and completely avoidable as long as you use an organizational system that records your homework and assignments, and reminds you of due dates. It can be a planner, or a bullet journal, or a Google calendar… Regardless of what it is, this sort of tool is a must. 


3. Set-up an organizational system

Some students like to separate subjects by spiral-bound notebooks, some prefer using binders, and some like file-folders. There are pros and cons to every system, and it’s important to establish one for yourself so you can stay on top of your notes, assignments, and handouts. Personally, I use a system that combines all three previous systems mentioned above: I take my notes in my notebooks, which I then rip out and file into my file-folder (which also holds and protects any handouts and loose-leaf papers), which I then transfer into separate binders. Regardless of what you prefer, it’s important to keep your papers organized like this so you’re not scrambling at the last minute in search of misplaced study notes. 


4. Do weekly maintenance 

There isn’t enough time in the day to get everything done. Maybe you worked a little too much, got sick, or just came home tired and chose TV over homework—inevitably, you’ll fall behind. That’s where the weekend comes in. As long as you collect yourself, catch up on material, and polish your systems over the weekend, you will be able to easily keep up with the quick pace of university. These mini catch up sessions also help prevent the horrible scenario in which you’re weeks behind in your classes and you have a final exam to write tomorrow. Staying on top of your work allows you to stay as stress-free as possible.  


5. Prevent procrastination

It’s a daunting task, especially for those of us who have been chained to chronic procrastination all our lives and see no possibility of escape. There are countless articles and videos online that explain the psychology of procrastination and give tips on how to deal with it; it is wise to research and learn as much as you can about this student affliction so that you’re better equipped to deal with it. The bottom line in most articles I’ve read is that procrastination occurs when you have too much choice. Over the day, you exhaust your willpower, and when the evening rolls around and it’s time to tackle homework, you choose to watch movies instead as a result. You can plan for this inevitability by removing choices and making the most difficult option the most accessible. For example, you can remove the choice of watching movies by using website blockers, and you can make the most difficult option (studying) more accessible by going to the library. With time, even this horrible habit can be managed. 


6. Maintain good health

Mina Oh, a food and travel blogger, once decided that money was more important than health. Most of her meals in university were high in salt, and usually ramen. Using this extreme diet definitely helped save her cash, but ultimately sent her to the hospital when she collapsed from a salt overdose during a final exam. In the end, sacrificing her health did more harm than good. While you may not experience an overdose or a seizure like Miss Oh, poor eating, exercise, and sleep habits can negatively affect you in other significant ways. It can cause brain fog and thus make it more difficult to focus in class and complete assignments, it can stunt your motivation and cause lethargy, and it can ruin your mood and make you more prone to apathy, anxiety, and depression. Health can make or break your life. 


7. Always get back up

You might follow everything in this article to a T and still get stuck in a rut, for one reason or another. That’s fine—it’s normal. As humans, we’re constantly changing and getting better. If it didn’t work this time, take a minute to reflect and ask yourself, “Why?” Why didn’t it work this time? What went wrong? How can I fix it? Tweak your approach a little, and get back up. You can be a week behind, or three. You might have forgotten to submit an assignment, or maybe you missed a midterm. Things happen. It’s fine. Just get back up and keep going. Those who win never quit, and those who quit never win.