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How to treat college like a full-time job

Studying hard

Amelia Buzzell
July 31, 2017

When you’re in college, it can feel like everything in the whole world is vying for your attention at once. When you aren’t in class or studying, there are extracurriculars to join, friends to make and parties to attend. With all of these demands on your time, it’s easy to forget why you’re there in the first place: that whole learning thing.

Who else has to juggle so much work and so many distractions? Full-time office workers. Sure, they may have traded in their Solo cups for cans of LaCroix, but the time management habits of the average office worker can serve as revelatory life hacks for over-extended college students. 

1. They work about 40 hours per week.

The first step to treating college like a full-time job is remembering how much time jobs usually take up. Tell yourself you need to spend 40 hours on schoolwork every week, and ideally, you’ll find yourself building your schedule and habits around that base expectation.

You may spend only a quarter of those hours physically in class, but you can use the remaining time to keep up with your reading, labs and papers. If you’ve already committed to devoting that many hours to your “job,” it won’t feel like an imposition to get started on your work. Plus, it’ll make any reprieves, such as canceled assignments or holidays, feel even sweeter.

2. They keep regular hours.

As Dolly Parton reminds us, traditional office workers follow a general 9-to-5 schedule. If your class schedule allows, consider making schoolwork as much of a literal day job as you can. Let’s say your first class starts at 10:15. Think of yourself as “on the clock” until 6:15, and use your downtime during the day to get a head start on reading or polish off a paper. If the bulk of your work is finished by dinnertime, the rest of the night is yours — completely, gloriously yours — to catch up with friends, attend club meetings or treat yourself to a mini Netflix binge.

3. They take care of themselves.

Things that are unavoidable: death, taxes and catching the flu.

Things that are avoidable: hangovers, sleep deprivation and hanger.

It may sound obvious to say, "Take care of your physical and emotional health,” but its importance can’t be overstated — and it’s all too easy to put health on the back burner when the stress of juggling a busy college life, or the stress of balancing a post-college life, takes hold. Lean in to the mundanities of drinking enough water, getting some sleep and eating a nutrient every once in a while. If therapy is your thing, make an appointment with a practitioner near your new home. Whatever it takes to keep functioning as your best self, do it. After all, you can’t do your job if you can’t get out of bed.

4. They set goals.

When the work you do every day feels like it’s leading to something bigger, those everyday tasks feel more important and therefore more fulfilling. Your goal in college — graduating — may seem clear, but you may feel more motivated to apply yourself if you set smaller and more specific goals throughout each semester. Try challenging yourself to earn an extra point from a famously persnickety professor, answer a question faster than the class know-it-all or land a coveted internship as an undergrad. 

5. They have fun to look forward to.

It may sound like the punchline of a Dilbert cartoon, but “the grind” can feel painfully real. Whether you’re cramming Spanish vocab words or looking up MLA citation guidelines for the millionth time, relentless repetition can feel like a chore instead of a satisfying use of brain cells. How do professionals avoid this burnout? They sprinkle their calendars with fun escapes.

For office workers, that can mean a weeknight social event or cashing in vacation days. Translated into the college experience, this could mean buying tickets in advance for when your favorite band comes to town, or planning a weekend trip home with your friends, or hanging a giant calendar over your desk and ticking off the days until spring break. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what it is you’re looking forward to — as long as you remember that fun is around the corner, you won’t feel stuck.