10 uncommon lessons I learned in college (Part 3)

Common: Doing everything or nothing under the label of “student” – often leading to either burnout or dropout.

Uncommon: As I mentioned in Part 1 and Part 2, “This week marks an important milestone in my life. I am no longer a full time student of conventional education.”

In this final post of the 3 part series, I explore the last 3 uncommon tips I learned while marching through my conventional college education.

8. Do not waste downtime – and there is a lot of it.

Only on a few rare occasions did I do school work on weekends (and this was usually because of business commitments during the week).  If time is used wisely, schoolwork need not dominate all areas of your life.

Due to the inherent nature of college, there are a lot of interruptions: moving from class to class, waiting for professors, running into friends, eating, travelling to and from campus, teacher rambling, etc. Most students have absolutely no idea how quickly these transitional minutes add up.  For instance, let’s assign the preceding examples a conservative duration for a student with 4 classes:

  • Moving from class to class: 5 minutes before and after each classes X 4 classes = 40 minutes
  • Waiting for professors (this could also be setting up/ preparing for lecture): This varies each day, but on average let’s say = 15 minutes
  • Running into friends (unplanned): 3 X 5 minutes = 15 minutes
  • Eating: Lunch 25 minutes and snack 15minutes: 40 minutes
  • Travelling to and from campus: 10 minutes each way: 20 minutes
  • Teachers rambling (non-important time in lecture): 15 minutes

The grand total? 145 minutes or 2:25 hours! That is A LOT of time. And I continually saw student after student allow these minutes to slip away, writing them off as unavoidable.  Not me. These minutes were golden.  Some personal examples:

  • If I were walking, driving, eating, or standing waiting, you would see me listening to an audio book. Sometimes class texts were available through Audible. If not, I listened to many non-fiction audio books in my iphone library.
  • I took advantage of my commute time (20 miles) by riding the bus (this allowed me to read and work).
  • I minimized my on-campus travel time by purchasing a skateboard. This alone more than halved the time spent walking.
  • I kept assignments and class notes in easy access folders on my computer for quick retrieval when I had 5 or 10 minutes.
  • The instant there was a down moment in class, I would Google the class subject to subsidize my notes. I would also communicate with business partners via Skype chat and email to avoid doing so later.  If you can control the urge to squander time playing games like solitaire or visiting sites like Facebook, You Tube, etc., a laptop is a very efficient tool. Programs such as RescueTime can aid your self-discipline by disabling certain programs and websites during set periods of time.

Finally, while in class my goal was exceptionally clear: work. There were other opportunities to socialize, but for me, the classroom was not one of them.  To minimize studying later and to free up time to do other things when class ended, extracting every ounce of value from each class period was imperative.

9. Procrastinate strategically.

The word “procrastinate” makes me cringe. I hate it. Why? Because I am a Type A person. Any unfinished projects looming overhead make me very uneasy. Procrastination is not in my nature, but I have learned that being overly proactive in some circumstance can sometimes be a disadvantage.  Here are three examples.

  • Things that are easily tackled should be prioritized, grouped, and completed when possible, but tasks that involve multiple steps, interdependencies, and have specific recall requirements should be strategically scheduled. For example, I was often assigned long essay assignments early in the semester. My inclination was to get started immediately so I would not need to think about it again. However, whenever I did this, I found myself revisiting the essay several more times through the semester due to new information I had learned or adaptations to the assignment brief (something that really aggravated me). In the end, I probably doubled the amount of time invested into some projects.

  • From a young age I was told to study a little bit each day or at the end of each week to increase my performance on tests at the end of the semester. It took a while for me to realize it, but this was largely a waste of time. My engagement was low and I still had to review all of my notes again before the exam. The total time spent reviewing my notes was inordinate for only a slight improvement in retention. Consequently, I stopped studying in advance. It was much more productive to schedule intense and uninterrupted time (see tip 3 for more detail) a few hours from the test.
  • My daily to-do list is always long. Being a Type A person, I would often place important projects on hold just so I could cross certain bite-sized tasks off the list and not think about them. My intentions were good, but I realized that doing some things too far in advance meant that many things eventually proved to be unnecessary and unneeded. In other words, in the passing of time, some items on my to-do list would naturally fall by the wayside as life took unexpected turns. So, the time I invested crossing certain things off my list was wasted. Talk about sunk costs.

Ergo, some things in life are best delayed until absolutely necessary.  Focus on what is most important in the current window of time rather than always trying to clear your plate of future tasks and projects that are prone to being changed.


10. Working on unrelated projects can be beneficial.

Although I am not one for prolonging tasks and activities I do not particularly enjoy, taking breaks between semesters to pursue timely business opportunities served me very well for 4 reasons:

  1. I was able to create passive income to offset education costs and live comfortably (the Ramen-noodle-college-diet was not appealing to me).
  2. I developed a more holistic perspective about the overall college process that allowed me to recognize trends, discrepancies, and insights (such as these 10 tips), which boosted my academic performance.
  3. A diverse set of projects and goals continued to revitalize my curiosity and improved my mental alertness.
  4. Engaging in more activities forced me to become more organized and efficient (see Part 1).  As the saying goes, “If you don’t have time to complete a task, give it to a busy person.”

I hope you enjoyed this 3 part series. Be sure to check out Part 1 and Part 2.

Your thoughts?

What have you found works best for you – as a student and/or professional?

Stay uncommon,

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