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Regardless of your major or credit hours, time management is crucial for academic success. As a first-year student last year, I struggled to find the right balance between having fun and completing assignments on time. Even when I studied, I would often become distracted by chatting with my roommate or friends that lived down the hall.

I wanted to solidify friendships at the beginning of the year, and to do so, I would push back completing my homework to hang out with my new friends. This habit caused extra stress in my life and resulted in many late nights at the library. Realizing this lifestyle was not sustainable with the academic expectations I had for myself, I sought out ways to refine my time management skills. 

A large part of properly managing your time is determining what works best for you. Merely placing a multitude of tasks on your daily schedule doesn’t mean you’ll complete them. Finding ways to be productive with the time I block off for homework and studying has significantly improved my time management. Time blocking allows you to focus on one thing at a time. It also helps force you to do tasks you normally would procrastinate.

Prioritizing your tasks can also make you feel less overwhelmed. Ways to manage your MITs, or “Most Important Tasks,” include planning the week or night before, limiting your tasks to five a day and ranking them by what you expect to take the most time and energy. Everyone is different so knowing yourself is a major part of being productive. You can start to evaluate your personal needs by asking these two questions:

When during the week are you most productive?

Personally, I am most motivated earlier in the week after recovering during the weekend. This means that my longest, most difficult tasks are put on my agenda for Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. 

What time of day are you most productive?

Do you have more energy and motivation in the morning or at night? Use this knowledge to your advantage. I can complete an assignment in one hour if I do it early in the morning, while it would normally take me three hours at night. This choice also helps me complete assignments without procrastinating or dragging them out. Recognizing this information implies that I block off my mornings to do homework and try to leave my evenings open for plans with friends, going to the gym or just going to bed early.

Another form of self-reflection that can guide your productivity level is deciding if you work best alone or with others. My roommate enjoys doing homework with her friends because it holds her accountable for completing assignments. In contrast, I prefer to work alone so I’m not distracted by my friends or tempted to talk instead of studying. Knowing I work best alone means that I’m not going to do work with my friends if efficiency is a priority.

I also understand how music affects my productivity and what type of music works best. Some students work efficiently in complete silence while others prefer music to stay alert. I need to listen to music so I don’t fall asleep on top of my textbook, but to focus, I avoid listening to my favorite songs or artists while doing work. It's hard to comprehend what you’re reading if you’re also singing a very catchy bridge in a Taylor Swift song. If you need to listen to something while you work, try lo-fi or instrumental music or even movie soundtracks. Listen to something you will enjoy without it distracting you from your studies.   

Although it may feel counterproductive to completing school work, I have found that making time for yourself or spending time with friends improves productivity later. Avoiding burnout is important to stay consistent. Similar to blocking off time in your day to do work, try to allot time off for hobbies, self-care or fun activities. I have found that maintaining a balance between schoolwork and doing things I enjoy helps me push through difficult assignments or exhausting study sessions.  

Rewarding yourself for your hard work also helps you avoid burnout. Maybe it's allowing yourself one episode of your favorite Netflix TV show for every Webassign you submit or planning to go to Crumbl Cookies with your roommate once you finish taking notes on a physics chapter. You’d be surprised how much faster one can take notes when cookies are involved! 

With looming exams, papers and projects, it can be difficult to avoid burnout. Although we may not be able to evade all stress, we can take steps to gain control over our busy schedules. With time-blocking, planning “MITs” for each day and personalized study habits, we can be academically successful while still enjoying college life.