As we start a new semester, here is my list of 12 Things Killer Students Do Before Five. I changed the time to 5, because come on – ain’t nobody got time for getting up early unless they have to! You will see some similarities in theme and practice to what killer employees do, but realistically, the start and end of the day for students can shift dramatically from a 9-5 work day. So I will shift some of the premise of this article just a bit.
1. They plan how to use their FULL day / including time between classes. Particularly as an undergraduate, there was so much time I wasted. I always said “I don’t have time to __________.” Until one day I was challenged to write out my day. Even as a type A, high “J” (on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) I was really bad at realizing why I couldn’t seem to keep up. I wanted to work out, go to class, be involved, and hang out with friends and just couldn’t find the time. Then when I wrote it out – a light bulb went off. That time from 2-4 when I didn’t have class, I would just chill it away, not intentionally, just because that was easiest to do. Rethink that – chill smarter. Use that time to study, or follow-up on emails, or check on family (see #8 below for what I’m talking about) and then you’ll realize you won’t need extra hours in a day.
2. They don’t pull “all-nighters.” Yes I have done it, yes you will do it if you haven’t already. But these should really be the rare exception, never the rule. In other words, this should not be your strategy for success. Rest [good rest] is important. It helps you be clear, focused, and less of an ass the next day. Remember, if you get thrown off one day, it starts a snowball effect. Not to mention the things you can’t control which will throw a wrench in your schedule. You may not get an entire 8 hours every night, but you can try!
3. They avoid hitting the booze. Saying “It’s five o’clock somewhere” and laughing about it only works like once. Every other time you are bordering on having a problem. I love to get a little “nip” as Ray Charles would say, but really? Practice being a functional and responsible adult during the daytime. It will be good practice for if/when you do start the 9-5 grind. Even if you don’t plan to work 9-5, many other folks do, and you will want to be in a good head space working with those folks.
4. They exercise. I don’t care when you do it, just do it. I feel a bit convicted about this because I don’t do it as much, but I’m changing that, I did in college! Find time, your own time, and get it done. I actually felt like I made the hours longer when I worked out. I was sharper, felt better, and made better choices all around.
5. They identify and practice a ritual. Just like in the Jensen article, I recommend doing something everyday (other than your exercise routine) that gives you some “me” time. That “me” time is critical; at least it was for me. As someone who typically extraverts all over the place, it helped me to sit with my thoughts, and challenged me to remember why I was doing what I was doing. College is such a transitory period in the grand scheme of things, so whatever your ritual is, use it to center and steady yourself.
6. They eat…good food. Do I have to explain this? Of course I do. Eating gives you energy right; but it can be a recipe (pun definitely intended) for disaster if you don’t watch it! As someone who struggled with my weight growing up, and as an African American southerner, food was and is LOVE. You eat when around friends, you eat when you’re happy, you eat when you’re sad. In college you have meal plans, abundant fast food, and loads of free food every freaking week – so it can get out of control. The Freshman 15 is quite real. So pay attention – I mean you don’t need to be a prude; continue to honor your culture and traditions, but remember your body is the only one you get. Putting on weight is easier than taking it off. And for goodness sake you shouldn’t eat only at the end of the day! I did that a lot too, which really does cause problems. If it’s 5pm and you haven’t eaten, go get a sandwich or something!
7. They arrive to classes and meeting on time. The vice president of a large company once said to me, when you are late it tells everyone else in the room that your time is more important than theirs. Don’t be late. You miss out, you look lazy, and you lose respect. It’s your schedule, master it and be on time. I learned this the hard way just before entering my senior year in high school. I was in Army JROTC at Olympic High School in Charlotte, NC. As the new battalion commander it was my responsibility to oversee set up for the commencement ceremony with the rest of the cadets. Needless to say, when I showed up late, my normally gentle and caring Master Sergeant Benjamin Davis let.me.have.it. I never felt so small in my life. Not because he just chewed a quarter of my ass off, but because I knew he was right. Being late was not an option, and no excuse I presented was worthy. Don’t be late.
8. They check in. College is about endurance – it’s not “hard” I don’t think, it takes persistence. How better to persist than by leaning on those closest to you. When you are most busy, most overwhelmed, and most behind the eight ball is when you need your closest allies most. But you can’t just call on them when you are in trouble – you have to cultivate those relationships. You do that daily by checking in with the people you care about, and doing so often. This includes your family, roommates, friends, sorority sisters, pen pals, etc.
9. They tackle the big projects first. Not much need to explain this, but I have found that when I do this (in school and work) I get more done. Think about it – whenever you start your day, you tend to be most motivated, most focused, and most optimistic. Use that time to knock out the hard stuff, knowing your reward will be the low hanging fruit. Going after the low hanging fruit first (checking emails, sending out an agenda, making a few phone calls) will lull you into the false sense of accomplishment. Stephen Covey differentiates between the “urgent” and “important” stuff in your life. Thrive in the important, and manage the urgent.
10. They avoid too many meetings. I was very very, very, very, very involved in college. That was the bane of my existence my second year (where I earned a .6 GPA that first semester). No that is not a typo – that is a 0.6, just less than 1.0. Let me tell you, you have to WORK to get a .6! I was doing too much…of the wrong thing. I was “busy” sure, but busy doing what? Being over involved is what. And over involved is relative. That same load my senior year and “super” senior year (5th year), gave me an incredible amount of focus and purpose. But you have to work up to that – don’t spend too much time in meetings, clubs, organizations, at the expense of your academics.
11. They allot time for reflection. As I mentioned in #5 above, reflection is clutch! And this can be done a number of ways, so please don’t give me the “I don’t like to write my thoughts” line. You can reflect a lot of ways. Talking with a close friend, being quiet, blogging (which feels to me a bit different from journaling), working out, listening to music or using your hands to create something. John Maxwell (one of my heroes) says in his book Thinking for a Change, that reflective thinking is like a crock pot for the mind…it let’s your thoughts simmer until they are ready. That’s sexy, so do it. And really, it does go very fast. I remember my time in college (undergrad and grad) so vividly. The things that have happened since my graduation have also come and gone fast! (marriage, child, buying houses, PhD, changing jobs, moving, divorce, tragedies, etc.). Appreciate this season of your life, and make sure you are learning the most from it. You’ll never have the benefit of your current perspective again.
12. They take breaks and honor flexibility. Too much rigidity in your schedule can be a real problem. You need time to shirk responsibility, you need time to just let it all go. You also need time to be in a funk, or get sick, or just be lazy. Your body and mind will tell you when it needs a break, and you’d better listen to it. Don’t schedule your day so tight that there is no flexibility. I did that my first two years, thinking I was being efficient. We all now know how that ended (ahem, 0.6). But we are not machines, we don’t perform within specified ranges day in and day out. We just don’t. So it would behoove you to plan for “stoppage.” Just like a rubber band that is pulled too tight snaps, or a rod bent too far breaks; so will you break. Be flexible, and be better.
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