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How to manage your extracurriculars

Fun at college

Amelia Buzzell
August 28, 2017

In college, you’re free to eat cereal for dinner and enroll in classes that interest you — and you’re free to spend your free time as you see fit. It’s a thrilling feeling, but one that can quickly lead to dread if you overcommit yourself to too many college extracurricular activities. After all, schoolwork is basically your job; you can’t remain the president of the Biology Club if your actual biology grades start to slip.

If your life feels too full, and the daily grind is becoming a daily panic, try the following steps for triaging your extracurriculars.

This is fine.

Comic: KC Green

1. Be realistic about how much time you actually have.

Take a cold, hard look at everything you must do each day of the week. There’s sleeping, eating, going to class, preparing for class and commuting, among other basic college-life necessities. Then there’s everything else: attending club meetings; joining friends at a party or football game; random half-hours here and there spent doing laundry or catching up with family on the phone.

How much time does all of that truly take? Try printing and filling out this hour-by-hour schedule to help you understand how many extra hours you’re really working with.

2. Ask yourself what you wish you had more time for. 

If you had an extra hour to yourself every day, how would you spend it? Maybe you’d catch up on sleep or get more studying in before your toughest class. Take the form above, which you’ve already filled out, and see if you can pencil in that hour right now. If it won’t fit, it’s time to...

3. Decide what to cut.

Some things just aren’t negotiable. You have to sleep, you have to go to class, and you have to try to not sleep while you’re in class. If you have to make cuts, where do you start? Try evaluating each activity using the following criteria:

Does it spark joy?

Take the KonMari approach. If you wake up in the morning looking forward to a club meeting, then it's important for your mental health — not to mention for your college memories in the long term. Don’t let it go.

Will it help my career goals?

If you’re majoring in broadcasting, and you have a show on the college radio station, that’s an extracurricular that will help you build your résumé post-graduation. Keep it.

Is my answer "no" to both of the above questions? 

Chances are, the activity you're looking at is a prime candidate for cutting. Perhaps you were trying on a club for size to see if it would unlock a hidden passion. Maybe you joined because your friend had, and you wanted to spend more time with them. But if it’s not making you happy — whereas free time would — then that’s what needs to go.

4. Learn how to back out gracefully. 

Quitting an activity can feel like a big deal — almost like you’re breaking up not just with one person, but with a whole subculture and everyone in it. If you’ve taken on responsibilities within that club, such as managing a listserv, it can make quitting feel even more stressful. But the peers you’re leaving don’t have to feel slighted if you manage the situation tactfully.

Choose your medium.

If you're friends with the leaders of the club, chat with them in person. If you have a less personal connection, choose a succinct email.

Prepare what you’re going to say.

Thank club leaders for everything they’ve taught you, or share your favorite memory as a member of the group. Then explain that for personal reasons — your academic and mental health — you need to take a step back.

Have a plan.

If you need to transfer duties to someone else within the club, offer to continue your work or work with the new person over the course of the next two weeks — as if you were quitting a job.

5. Keep on keeping track of your time. 

Stress isn’t fun. Psyching yourself up to quit an extracurricular activity isn’t fun. Don’t put yourself through that again. Make a point of printing out this organizational form and evaluating your schedule twice per semester: at the beginning, so you can set goals, and at midterms, so you can assess how well you’re hitting those goals. With a little foresight — and a little honesty with yourself — you can easily keep extracurriculars in check.