“How did you go from a small high school in a developing country to a booming public university in the United States?” “How did you travel to Austria and Japan in the middle of the academic year and still manage to keep a 3.96 GPA?” “How do you balance your time when you take 17 credits, work, and participate in extracurricular activities at the same time?” I hear these questions from friends, family, and peers often as they look back on all I have done in the last couple of years. I explain that I constantly look out for content on how to be more productive, successful, and happy.
Tons of hours invested on TED talks, books, and seminars have given me mountains of advice. Some examples include waking up at 5 am when everyone else sleeps and no one will distract you, but when I do that, I run out of energy by 2 pm. I have also heard to attend office hours and ask questions, but my professors’ office hours often conflict with work or other classes. Focusing on your passion means I love engineering, but trust me differential equations are no pleasure. Even though all this advice has been somewhat helpful, it is often too specific and not flexible enough. I had to take in the advice and then tailor it to my own need and situation. After looking back and analyzing the last couple of years, I realized that the secret for my success comes down to these three simple rules I want to share with you.
Rule One: Don’t procrastinate
Regardless of what your goals might be, there will always be a list of tasks we all need to complete to reach them. Have you ever woken up one Sunday to realize you have a paper to write, a presentation to prepare, and a midterm to study for, all by the next day? If you ever experienced this, you probably procrastinated on these tasks. Wouldn’t it feel better if you had written that paper a week in advance, prepared the presentation two days ago, and all you had to worry about was reviewing the hard concepts for your exam? The emphasis is on reviewing, as you had hopefully already studied one hour per day during the last week and feel confident for the upcoming test. The idea of getting things done in advance does require a high level of discipline, but such discipline will not only help you in your academic life, it will also make a great impact in your professional and personal life.
Rule Two: Sleep
Coming from an immigrant household that had to work remarkably hard to pursue a better future, I grew up with a dad that had a mentality that sleeping is a waste of time. When talking about sleeping, my dad pointed out that by sleeping eight hours per day as recommended, I waste 33 percent of my life in bed. However, it did not take me much time to realize that in the 16 hours I am up, I get a lot more done than fighting between getting things done and trying not to fall asleep. Additionally, sleeping has a great influence on your body, and proper sleep helps you enjoy your life more and makes you happier. It is important not to use this rule to oversleep and argue that it will make you even more efficient. Sleeping too much can be as bad as not sleeping enough. If you have the discipline to regularly sleep six, seven, or eight hours per night depending on your own body needs, you will be a lot more productive than those that sleep less and work more, or those that party until late and suffer the next day.
Rule 3: Learn how to manage stress
It is common knowledge that university students experience high stress levels during the academic year. Students perform better when they manage their stress levels. Getting things done in advance and good regular sleep will surely help drop stress levels. However, no matter how well you follow the first two rules, if all you do from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to bed is work and study, I promise you will burn out by the end of midterms with half of the semester left to go. It is crucial to learn what helps you de-stress. It could be working out, going to the movies once a week with friends, or maybe just watching an episode of your favorite show. Whatever it is, make sure you find the time on your schedule to treat yourself.
I hope these quick general rules will help in your goals. I know it takes a lot of discipline and time to include them in your lifestyle, but it will be rewarding and will take you closer to your goals. If you are looking for other strategies on how to be productive, I recommend the books “Getting Things Done” by David Allen and “The 5 Second Rule” by Mel Robbins. Best wishes in your goals and good luck!