5 Big Picture Ways to Not Be in Crisis Mode all Semester Long in College

For much of the time I've been in school, I felt like I was constantly reacting to crises and barely staying afloat with school and other commitments. Eventually I found out it didn't have to be that way, but to get to that point I had to pivot 180° in a bunch of ways. Now I'm at the point where I can take harder classes and assume more responsibility than ever. Sometimes I still feel like I'm in crisis mode, but it's no longer the norm. Here are the 5 ways I got the biggest gains in reducing stress while accomplishing more.

Remember Why You're in School


You may not think about it on the reg, but you enrolled in school for a reason. You may have had multiple reasons: your parents wanted you to go to school, you wanted to earn more after college, you were interested in a particular subject, you just love learning, you felt lost and didn't know what else to do, you didn't want to feel left out when all your friends went off to college, the parties or the clubs sounded great, etc. All of those are valid and common reasons, but probably one of those were more important than others.

My reason was that I wanted to redesign the way America feeds itself, but I knew I didn't have the social, political, or scientific skills I needed to do that. All those other reasons I mentioned were in there, but this was the main reason. In the last three years my motives have changed, but I still feel like college is serving my goals.

It's easy to think while you're in college that all your efforts need to be devoted to "getting good grades," but I think people default to those three g's--myself included--when they lose sight of the real reason they're here. If you can remember why you're here and realign your time and energy to that reason, you'll find yourself a lot happier.

Take the classes that are important to you beyond filling major and distribution requirements and get involved with clubs that are related to your purpose here. The closer you are to living the life you want to live, the happier you'll be.

More importantly, when things "go wrong" and you miss a deadline or blow a presentation, you can just remind yourself that you're not here for the grades - you're here to learn. You haven't sabotaged learning, just your GPA.

Write Tasks and Events Down as Soon as You Hear/Think of Them


The more information you keep in your head, the harder your life will be. Carry a small notebook or a fresh sheet of ruled paper with you at all times. The second you think of something you'll want to do in the future, write it down and forget about it.

Then, move everything over to a master events list and a master tasks list once a day. For tasks that you want to complete within the next 24 hours, schedule them at a specific time and place on your calendar.

Make your decisions about how you're going to dispense your time only once a day and just stick to the plan the rest of the time. On top of that, if there's a regular task you'll be doing, like a weekly problem set or readings, book it on your calendar at a specific time and place for the semester. Then build a habit out of it and it will make you less likely to procrastinate.

Keep a Regular Schedule of Work Habits


I've basically been running a "work while it's light, shirk while it's night" routine. From the moment I wake up until about 7pm, I'm go go go. Can I get all my work done between breakfast and dinner, though?

Probably not.

I'll never be done with my work, though. I literally have more to do this semester than I could do in four years. Work expands to fill the time available for its production. If you restrain the time available for working to daylight hours and give yourself time to relax at night, you'll be surprised how easily you can stay on top of your tasks.

Plus, remember two things: willpower is more limited than time (for most of us) and meeting deadlines is not the goal of college (for must of us).

So give yourself a ton of time to work. Work hard in that time. Then shut down for a bit and relax with friends or a book.

Simplify, Simplify, Simplify


Take no more than five classes. Four is better. Three is fine. Study hard and master the subjects. Go all in with one extracurricular.

That's all I'm going to say on that.

Plan Best, Worst, and Most Likely Scenarios Ahead of Time


If you plot your likelihood of finishing a task on the y-axis and time on the x-axis, the graph you get is a bell curve (the normal distribution). That is, it's very unlikely that you'll get it done in an instant, only slightly more likely you'll get it done today, quite a bit more likely you'll get it done next week. And then it's less likely you'll get it done in a month since it'll be way past due by that point. See what I mean?

So when you're planning things out, you can be optimistic and book a task for the next day. Just don't be surprised when a friend comes into your room asking for advice on how to text a cutie and needs advice PRONTO just as you're sitting down to get the job done.

In advance, mark your schedule with "this is when I'll try to do this" at the earliest possible time, "this is when I'll probably end up doing this and that's fine" at the most likely time, and "Jesus, it's really important you get this done NOW" at the latest possible time.

Understand that deadlines in your life are artificially hard, not actually hard. Treat them more as time frames that you can move about in.