The Semester Survival Guide: Six Tips and Tricks to Keep You on Track!

The Semester Survival Guide: Six Tips and Tricks to Keep You on Track!

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Pulling yourself out of holiday-mode for the new semester can prove to be a challenge. Instead of struggling through the next four months, try our tips and tricks to start the term off right!

1. Invest in an Old-Fashioned Agenda

Tech-savvy students may swear by their e-calendars, digital note taking, and fancy new apps for keeping their schedules organized. However, studies have shown that keeping an old-fashioned agenda may be the key to successful time management.

Not only is writing linked to a stronger memory (or in other words, less last-minute HOLY CRAP due dates) but a pen-and-paper schedule can be 100% personalized in a way that works best for you. Instead of typing irrelevant information into your digital day planner’s non-customizable format, students can simply write down exactly what they need to, exactly how they want to. Colour-coders, rejoice! And, as an added bonus, your new hardcopy agenda won’t accidentally record that your term paper is due on April 5th, 2027 due to a struggle between your thumb and the endless scroll button.

2. Don’t Be Afraid to Drop

The time has come to actually attend the classes you’ve enrolled in, and for some, what may have seemed manageable at the end of last semester may now be completely overwhelming! SFU has a generous add/drop period for exactly this reason, so don’t be afraid to take full advantage of it. For Spring 2017, SFU students have until January 10th to make these changes without permission from their department, and will receive a 100% refund for any fees they paid.

While there may be pressure to take on a full course load from either family or yourself, there is absolutely nothing wrong with taking a step back and dropping that fifth lecture from your schedule. Now, say it again for the students in the back -- there is absolutely nothing wrong with dropping a course!

If you feel that you’ve taken on too much this spring, be honest with yourself and make a change before it becomes a problem. Those extra 3 or 4 credits can be earned another time – for now, focus on yourself and your needs as a student and a human being. Instead of spending the spring semester in a bubble of stress, start the year off right by accepting a smaller workload. This decision will not only result in a calmer, happier state of mind, but can also lead to higher grades in the classes you chose to keep due to less stress and a much more manageable workload. While not everyone will face this problem come January, the ones who do will appreciate the opportunity to make changes to their schedule.

3. Talk to Your Boss

Students everywhere know how hard it can be to balance work with school. With the new year comes new availability, and it’s important to communicate this with your place of employment. Schedule a quick sit-down with your boss to chat about your new schedule, and be sure to have this conversation documented in writing, just in case!

Having this conversation early will save both you and your boss unnecessary stress, and is the epitome of professionalism on your part. In order to avoid double booking a lecture with an afternoon shift, come prepared to this conversation with your class schedule and the hours you’d be able and willing to work. It’s also important to establish a maximum number of days you’d like to be scheduled per week, and to book off your midterm and exam dates far in advance. By having this conversation with your boss before the semester starts, you are being respectful of their needs as an employer, while being considerate to your own needs as an employee and a student. Establishing your spring work schedule will help you stay on top of homework, class attendance, and your life outside of school.

4. Ditch the Distractions

That group chat isn’t doing you any favours – it’s keeping you from studying, and you know it. So, why not get rid of it? This new year, make it your goal to be a distraction-free studier. Though the presence of time-consuming technology is almost unavoidable, there are steps that you can take as a student to minimize the impact they have on your studies.

If your vice is Netflix or social media, install a customizable web-blocker to temporarily limit your web use. There are a variety available to install for both Mac and Windows, and best of all, most of them are free! These handy internet plug-ins will simply prevent you from visiting distracting sites while you’re using your computer for homework, and can be removed when your study session is over.

For the social butterflies who are always on their phone, shoot a quick text to your friends to let them know that you’re studying and will chat later. Next, all you have to do is either turn off your phone, or put it aside to charge while you write that A+ essay. Easy!

5. Do Nothing

What do you get when you mix school, work, and sleep deprivation? One burnt out student. This spring, avoid the mid-semester burnout by taking time to do nothing. Value the moments where you have nothing to do, and use that time to relax, rest, and refocus. This alone time will work wonders for your mental health, and in the long run can result in improved grades – a well-rested, happy student is far more productive than a sleepy, stressed out student. Try taking one hour before bed to read a book or write in a journal, or spend a couple of hours in the afternoon to go on a walk and listen to some new music. Even 15 minutes can make a difference!

6. Plan in Advance

Kick procrastination to the curb by creating a simple homework schedule. Simply use your new agenda (see tip #1) to plan out your next few assignments – the results will amaze you.

Try breaking each assignment into small, 15-30 minute portions that can be completed daily over the course of a couple weeks. For example, instead of blasting out an essay the night before it’s due, plan to write one paragraph every day for one week. In your agenda, write down on ‘Monday’ that you plan to write the introductory paragraph. On Tuesday, the second paragraph, and so on. Depending on how far in advance you plan for, any remaining days can be spent editing, citing sources, and polishing your essay to perfection. You’ll find that by planning out your assignments, your overall workload will feel more manageable and less stressful.


Julia Gabriel is a first year student studying English and Communications at SFU. She enjoys a good cup of coffee, hardcover books, and waking up early. 

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Posted on January 10, 2017