Developing healthy habits and sticking to them is admittedly difficult. They can feel strenuous and overwhelming to upkeep, which is a big reason why so many of us have trouble starting them! This is especially true for habits that have to do with school. But developing good academic habits in college is essential for setting future you up for success and staying healthy, both mentally and physically. With the right mindset, some self-awareness of your capabilities and limits, and goals to keep you motivated, making good habits stick gets a whole lot easier. Here are a few key skills and areas you should focus on to help you as a student.
One good habit that is one of the most difficult to develop is time management. Procrastination is incredibly common among students—and incredibly hard to get out of. While it may feel satisfying to finish a large project all at once, it’s not good for our mental well-being or work ethic; we then develop a pattern of thinking that all difficult tasks can and/or should be completed in a short period of time. Couple this with the feelings of anxiety procrastinating creates and our brains learn to not feel any urgency or motivation to do a task until the due date is close and immediate.
To help prevent this vicious cycle and develop productive time management habits, you must first and foremost admit that you struggle with time management and take accountability for your actions. The more you excuse it, the more time it will take for you to curb the habit. Studying with a group is one way to help hold yourself accountable because you'll have peers to help keep you on task. However, if you're like me and end up talking to the other person the entire time when you’re supposed to be studying, there are other methods you can try. By changing your study environment from your bed or dorm to the library or your desk, you’ll set up a pattern of associating the space you're in with work, which can keep you motivated. It's also helpful to set realistic goals and make lists; that way, you’ll have something to achieve and have the satisfaction of physically crossing items off.
Studying and learning
Another healthy habit that’s beneficial to any student is to find a study style that fits you. An editorial by the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences lists 10 study methods to help students learn. Let’s focus on just four of them: Retrieval Practice, Spaced Practice, the PQ4R Method, and the Feynman Technique.
- Retrieval Practice involves utilizing practice tests, writing questions on your notes then revisiting to answer them, and flashcards. Through practice and review, you can build your information-retrieval skills, preventing the “I know the answer, but I can't remember it” phenomenon.
- The Spaced Practice Method is a lengthier way of studying because it involves reviewing what you’ve learned in intervals. For example, day one could be spent learning the content, day two could be reviewing your notes and writing questions, day three is revisiting and answering those questions and coming up with new ones, and so forth.
- The PQ4R Method stands for Preview, Question, Read, Reflect, Recite, and Review. Skim what you're studying and get the main ideas down, then question the topic and ask yourself what you already know. Next, read the content, reflect on the knowledge you gained, and write a summary in your own words. Lastly, review it to see if you have any outstanding questions that haven't been answered yet.
- The Feynman Technique involves explaining the subject as if you were teaching it. Either write it down or speak aloud (if you speak aloud, try recording it). Afterward, read or listen back and identify the points you missed and the ones you got wrong. Identifying the weak points in your learning instead of focusing on what you remember is essential to a well-rounded study schedule.
Another difficult but beneficial habit to get into in college is organization. There are many different types of organization, including physical (cleaning your desk/workspace), digital (organizing digital documents into files or using flash drives), and mental (making lists and color coding). All are helpful, and it's best to first figure out what method of organization you adhere to the most. You can find a bunch of scheduling techniques and tips online, but according to Indeed, one particularly helpful method of organization is time blocking, or allotting a certain amount of time to a certain task. You should take the time constraints you create seriously but also understand that time blocking is not a concrete method—it's meant to be flexible and allow for last-minute changes and requests. Taking, say, an hour to read a chapter for your English class and 30 minutes to take notes gives you a schedule that is easy to follow. If you're a student who benefits from having a set schedule, this method could be perfect for you.
If you’re a more visual person, it can be helpful to make a list or use color coding to stay organized. That way, what you have to do for the day is out and “in your face,” acting as a consistent reminder. Personally, I like to put each task for the day on an individual sticky note (e.g., one sticky note for “English chapter 3 reading,” another for “Spanish vocabulary review,” and so on). Throughout the day, once I've completed each task, I take the sticky note off the wall and throw it away. With this method, you get the physical reward of removing or crossing out a task, and you also get to see the number of assignments you have dwindle, allowing for a more immediate feeling of accomplishment.
College is difficult, there’s no doubt about it. Between studying for tests, reading a surplus of material for each class, writing long research papers, and getting up for 8:00 am labs, it can be hard to keep your own health in check. Not feeling like you have enough time for yourself is one of the most challenging aspects of any academic environment. However, with patience, self-awareness, accountability, and an understanding of your strengths and limits, the weight of academic stress will begin to slack. With a healthy body, a clear mind, and good academic habits, you’ll be able to better manage and enjoy this new, wonderful part of your life. As a result, young adulthood will feel less overwhelming and more exciting.