Staying on Track

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I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished in school, and I’m on track to graduate soon. But, despite having some success, I’ve never really felt like I was comfortable as a student. I don’t think my habits are very good: I don’t study regularly enough, I stay out late partying, and so on. I’m hoping that I find that the working world suits me better (no homework!), but I also think that I might end up back in school someday pursuing a graduate degree. So I’d like to get some advice on how to be a better student. I’m looking for big-picture stuff here, please–I’m looking more for lifestyle advice than for a cool new note-taking strategy, if that makes sense. Experts, can you help?


School can be tough, but it’s certainly tougher if you don’t have good study habits! But try not to worry too much: while you may not be happy with your own study habits, a lot of your peers are in the same boat. An incredible 87% of all students in high school and college consider themselves procrastinators, for example. It’s easy to be unhappy with one’s study habits!


Of course, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t all strive to improve our habits as much as possible. Your desire to become a better and more effective learner is extremely commendable. And, as it happens, we have a few big-picture tips that we think are just the sort of thing that you’re asking for.


Let’s start with the biggest picture of all: your daily life. One of the most important things that you can do as a student is to balance your schedule between work, play, and sleep–with the last of those being a particularly big factor. Sleep is connected to your health in all kinds of ways, and it’s connected to your academic performance, too. So the fact that more young people than ever are not getting enough sleep is a bad thing.


There’s a good chance that sleep issues have something to do with your conviction that you have poor study habits. Cutting loose and enjoying a party isn’t a bad thing (in fact, it can be a good thing–more on that later), but you need to be careful about how late you stay up and how you consume alcohol, which can affect your sleep.


Of course, a little alcohol in moderation can be an enjoyable and safe part of your lifestyle, say the experts at a popular liquor store in Lawrenceville, NJ. And taking breaks is a key part of staying motivated and effective in your school work. Studies show us that overworking and skipping breaks can create “burnout,” a very real condition.

That’s why it’s important to carve out time in your schedule during which you will not be studying. By setting up boundaries and declaring personal times and spaces, you’ll be able to get more rest and will feel more motivated and energetic when you actually are studying. Squeezing in a bit of studying before bed–or, worse still, in bed–can be counterproductive; you may be telling your brain that your bedtime and bed are not restful spaces, which can hurt your sleep patterns. The next day, you may find that it’s more difficult than ever to study at your regularly scheduled time–meaning that, overall, your decision to leaf through your books in bed was one that hurt your academic performance rather than helping it!


Balancing your work and your life is a skill that will benefit you throughout your career, too. Remember to take vacations—workers who use their personal days effectively are actually more productive than workers who skip vacations, say the travel pros at the Greater Lansing Convention & Visitors Bureau, who have lots of activities to recommend—including sensory-friendly activities in Lansing, MI.


One of the tough things about balancing your work and life as a student can be the structured nature of school itself. This is particularly true of students in middle schools and high schools, where early class times are harming young students’ sleep. But you have some advantages here: as a college student, you may be able to set up your schedule in a way that is complementary to your sleep schedule.


And you may have significant power to balance your graduate school schedule, too, say educators behind an RN to BSN degree program. Thanks to improvements in technology and education science, universities and other places of learning are better-equipped than ever to accommodate the busy schedules of their students.


If and when you choose to return to the world of academics after your graduation, you will have options. You may choose to enroll in one of the many accredited online degree programs offered by reputable universities, for instance. Other options include part-time programs and low-residency programs. It is possible to fit a graduate degree program into a busy working schedule or simply to arrange your working time in a way that encourages your sleep, work-life balance, and–therefore–best study habits.


Creating a balanced school life and personal life is easier said than done, of course, and throwing in the factor of your future work life can only make things more complicated. But the principles that we have laid out here form the foundation of the approach you’ll need to take in order to be a better student. You’ll need to carve out times and places to study and times and place to not study, and maintaining those boundaries will be key to maintaining your effectiveness as a student while remaining energized and motivated.


From here, of course, you have plenty of specifics to address. As promised, we won’t get into specific note-taking techniques or clever “study hacks”–that’s all up to you. We encourage you to research strategies for maintaining work-life balance on a student’s schedule. And don’t forget about key things like organization and attention to detail–our strategies will help you show up each day ready to learn, but you’ll still need to focus your attention and energies on your work in effective ways. So while we won’t tell you which note-taking method to use, we will say that you should have one and use it consistently and in an organized way!


Again, this won’t always go smoothly for you. That’s okay, and you shouldn’t get discouraged. As we saw at the start of this answer, most of us are unhappy with our study habits. Your goal should be simply to always strive to improve. We hope we’ve given you the tools you need to do so.


“Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm, and harmony.” — Thomas Merton