Dear AskUG, I am excited to start my second year and meet new people, but I feel like my motivation to succeed this year will fade away after the first few weeks. How do I start my year on a good foot and keep my motivation to study going?
I know how you feel and I think a lot of us can relate.
We are all excited to start new classes and meet new people at the beginning of the semester. We make ourselves a promise to do our best because at the beginning it feels like we can conquer every assignment that will come our way. But as weeks go by, our motivation fades and we let procrastination take over until the work gets overwhelming and eventually we give up.
A good observation/solution on this problem comes from a book called The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, where he states that
“People are up to change their set patterns of regular behaviour more often during large life changes”
Which means good news for you – you’re starting a new year of university and therefore are more likely to change your behaviour so that it serves you well. To find out what you have been doing wrong, you can familiarize yourself with UG’s earlier article Study Habits that are ruining your GPA, which you can find on our website.
Now, let’s look at how you can start your semester right and keep your motivation from burning out. The two biggest success factors are organization and time management skills. If you get these right – the rest will be a breeze.
Getting Organized and Keeping at It
To start your year on the right foot I suggest getting organized before your classes start. That means:
Familiarize yourself with your timetable
Know what courses you’re taking, where those courses are and what books you will need for these courses. Luckily, UTSC’s Acorn (acorn.utoronto.ca) allows you to view the name of your course, your professor, the time and day of the lecture and the location. You can find the textbooks information on UTSC’s bookstore website: uoftbookstore.com/textbooks.
Organize your university material on your laptop
Create a folder for everything. It may seem complicated, but in truth, you will be able to quickly find any material on your laptop if you organize it by years → semesters, → courses, → assignments and/or by readings and/or by lectures.
Also, save all the syllabi that professors hand out in class or find them online. This is your key to staying informed on due-dates and tests.
Find what works best for you and keep at it. You can find additional materials on how to get organized, as well as other advices on wtfprofessor.com.
Once you figured out your classes and organized yourself, organize your time so that you have control over it, and not the other way around. You know what it feels like to have a pile of homework but to constantly put it off. You always find better things to do – eat, sleep, watch the newest Game of Thrones episode, or catch up on Supernatural. It is important to not let yourself get to this point in the first place, and you can still get organized before your year starts to pick up. Plan ahead and manage your time appropriately. Here are some tools that can help you:
Use a table application, like Excel, to create a weekly calendar to organize your week. Fill in the times of your classes, your travel time, office hours of your professors, part-time job if you have it, any extracurricular activities and some down time. Allocate time for sleep, too. Print it out and hang it in front of you at your study space.
Beside the weekly calendar you should have a monthly calendar, where you organize your whole month in advance. Here you should note the due dates of your assignments, tests, exams, homework and other important events, like work meetings or extracurricular activities.
Analyze Your Time
Recognize where you’re wasting your time most. Then, realize that if you don’t stop wasting your time on these things, you will be forced to give up your dreams of finding the cure for cancer (or whatever it is that you dream of. After all, you’re in university for a reason). Realizing that this is important to you makes you want to begin planning ahead and doing your homework.
A good way to look at where you spend most of your time is to keep a log of your activities throughout the day and then looking over it at the end of the day. For example, you could use Bullet Journaling (bulletjournal.com) or read up what BuzzFeed has to say about it. I know that it sounds boring and tedious, but if you truly want to succeed at your academics, then you will do everything it takes to achieve your goals.
When you’re rearranging your schedule, don’t just cut your activities out and hope that you’ll find more useful things to do. Substitute the time you usually waste with something productive. For example, if you spend an hour a day on Facebook – sub it with reviewing a part of your lecture, or sub the time you’re picking an outfit for the day with making a to-do list of readings you need to do and begin reading.
Figure out how much time you need to spend actually studying. A useful tool for this is The 168-Hour Exercise, which you can find here.
I hope that your year will start well and that you will keep your motivation. These tools with help you to have a successful year!