The things every high-achiever should know
There is famous saying that is often told to freshman in college: “Good grades, social life, sleep. Choose two.” Most people feel like they don’t have enough time to sleep, study, and maintain an active social life. However, I’ve found that it’s possible to balance all three. Here are three unconventional strategies that will help you keep your grades high while still being able to sleep well and have a social life:
Do this by creating a 24-hour tether to your assignments (an idea originally discussed in the blog Study Hacks). Once an assignment is discussed in class, you must begin starting it within 24 hours, even if it’s just to outline some topics for a paper or sending out an e-mail to your team for a group project. The hardest part of any paper or big assignment is getting started, so by forcing yourself to start early, you will make your assignments MUCH easier and stress-free.
I can personally vouch for the effectiveness of detaching yourself from a deadline and using a 24-hour tether. In the second semester of my freshman year, I chose to pledge a professional fraternity. Although the process was challenging, I still came out with a 4.0 at the end of the semester, despite very difficult courses. How? I got a head start even BEFORE the semester started. I knew I wanted to pledge, so I purchased my textbooks and other required reading and started reading them over winter break. I got so far ahead that the entire semester was a process of the class slowly catching up to me, but I was ahead the entire time. It made the readings more enjoyable and I was infinitely more prepared for class. Being prepared for class reinforced all of my early studying and started a positive cycle of preparedness for class and exams.
I swear by this method to this very day. Students who work with me on projects think I’m crazy when I wish to start planning and delegating tasks incredibly early, but the reduced stress and more enjoyable learning experience pays off in spades.
Most students think it looks more impressive to be a part of many different clubs, organizations, or teams. However, by cramming your schedule with activities, I can almost guarantee that you will soon start to feel stressed and experience symptoms of burn-out.
Unfortunately, many students cope with a very high workload by choosing to do a mediocre job at each of their areas of responsibility. It’s not an active choice, but rather a default response to being overworked. For example, imagine you’re working on your history assignment at 1:00am in the morning and you have another three hours worth of work to do, both for classes and for clubs. You’ve been doing work since 9:00pm and you can barely keep your eyes open. Would you invest another hour into your history assignment (which is due tomorrow) to make sure you’ve created a spectacular paper? Hell no. At that point, you’d be content with a decently good paper because you have so much more on your plate that you still need to deal with.
There are only so many hours in a day, and if you’re overworked to begin with, you will oftentimes find that it’s impossible to do everything to the best of your ability. Cutting corners and creating mediocre work becomes necessary to stay on top of deadlines. The strategy I’m discussing here is to avoid being overworked so that you don’t fall into this trap.
Based on what I’ve seen work, the best course of action is to get involved in 1 or 2 organizations or clubs that really interest you and put 110% into these positions. One immediate benefit of this strategy is that you will have more free time compared to your colleagues who feel the need to get involved in three, four, or even five clubs at once. Here are a few benefits to this approach:
a) You will have more time to focus on your grades and activities that are important to you
b) Your professional development will grow at a rapid rate because you now have the time and energy to accomplish difficult and impressive things in the organization you’re involved in.
c) You will have time to explore outside of the classroom through books, blogs, and speaking to professors
If there’s one thing to remember about this strategy, it’s this: People with free time tend to explore and achieve out of curiosity and interest. People with no free time tend to cut corners out of stress and overwhelm. Therefore, paradoxically, people with free time can oftentimes accomplish greater things than their overachieving, overworked counterparts.
Note: This strategy only works if you choose to invest your free time in studying more deeply, exploring side projects, and getting more deeply involved in clubs you are passionate about. If you use all of your extra time to watch episodes of The Office, you will find this strategy to be completely ineffective.
Every idea that pops into your head, assignment your teacher discusses, and errand you have to run must be written down somewhere and organized properly. This rule has carried me very far in my college career.
When writing recommendations for me, teachers and employers almost always reference how organized I was with projects and how I never missed a deadline. This is because I had a reliable method of capture (either a piece of paper in my pocket or reQall.com), a functional to-do list (Rememberthemilk.com), and an online-based calendar (Google Calendar) to effectively stay on top of everything.
Notice how my system is composed of capturing information, adding it to a to-do list, and keeping deadlines and dates on a basic calendar. Complexity will tend to just make things more complicated, which is the opposite of ideal for a productivity system. Keep the tools simple and instead focus on using your system well. When it comes down to it, life is a lot less stressful when you’re organized. Check out my other posts on productivity if you’re interested in learning more about this important subject.
These are the three strategies that I’ve used to keep my grades high and still live a balanced college life. I could’ve easily expanded this post into 5, 10, or even 15 strategies. However, I’ve been making it a point to follow the 80/20 rule in everything I do. Therefore, I’ve chosen the select few strategies that have given me the majority of results in regards to keeping my GPA high.
To distill down this post even further, the three common themes that these strategies share are: keeping stress down, staying on top of class work and outside commitments, and having free time to explore outside the classroom and go above and beyond in clubs/organizations. Since I strongly believe that each person gets things done in a distinct manner, I encourage you to take these themes and apply them in a way that suits your lifestyle. My way of doing things may not resonate with you, so feel free to take the underlying themes and incorporate them in a way that works for you.
If you have any other tips about keeping grades high, I’d love to hear about them in the comments below! Any tips that are well thought out will be featured in a future follow-up post about keeping grades high (and yes, I’ll give you full credit for your idea ).
I'm Jon Guerrera, a life hacker at heart, and the man behind the scenes here at Living For Improvement. This blog documents all of my successes, failures, experiments and lessons learned as I hack my way to happiness, fulfillment and success.
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