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How to Help When They Say "My Schedule Stinks!"Sue Ohrablo, Ed.D.
It’s spring and the academic year is slowly grinding to its conclusion.
As April showers give way to May flowers, and the summer sun comes closer and closer to breaking through, it can be hard to maintain the drive necessary to finish the school year strong. Add in the effects of Zoom fatigue, instability and personal sacrifice that many of us are dealing with as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the annual desperation to be released from the stresses of classwork and embraced by the warm freedom of summer is especially palpable.
One way or another, students across the country have to figure out how to reach the finish line in a way that works for them. Through intentional goal setting and monitoring, students can find an effective avenue for persevering through the rest of the school year while growing in areas of personal interest and establishing healthy practices.
This time last year, I was sent home from school and preparing to transition to online classes. I knew I wouldn’t be able to be out and about, and that I’d be spending far more time at home than I was used to.
I also knew that I needed more than just school in my life to stay focused and content. In this space where I felt confined and vulnerable, it was helpful to change the narrative from what can’t I do, to what can I do?
As I began setting goals and tracking them, I realized that they not only made me feel more optimistic about the reality of limited face-to-face interaction, but they provided a respite from the crush of spring coursework and motivated me to work harder in areas that I valued. I set goals in academic areas, such as reviewing notes from my classes at the end of every day for 30 minutes, but I mainly worked on personal goals.
To start, I thought of all the skills or knowledge I’d ever observed and thought, “I wish I could do that.” For me, this included becoming fluent in Spanish, learning to play the piano, and using my bike more often. With a mix of goals stretching from areas of interest into academics, I felt my attitude towards schoolwork shift. I’ve always been passionate about and grateful for my education but that sometimes got lost amidst stress or frustration. Incorporating goals that I knew would help me with my college career and contribute to an aptitude for lifelong learning reminded me of the long-term importance of my education. This in it of itself was a big inspiration.
Over the course of the last year, I’ve continued to work towards my goals, maintain existing skills, and develop new ones. Along the way I’ve learned three lessons that have helped me achieve a healthy balance between my goals, my personal life and school.
The number one tip I can give students who are looking to start setting goals as a way to improve in subjects they are interested in and develop a positive relationship between their personal and academic lives is to set goals that are attainable.
Be real with yourself about how much time you have to dedicate to your goal projects but know that you can be creative with your time as well. Taking a careful look at your existing schedule and making a plan as to when you are going to work on your goals is critical.
Expanding on this, make your goals as specific as possible to ensure you’re able to stay on the right path. To start, think of the big idea in what you are working towards, something like, “I want to become a better cook.” Next, move on to more specific elements, breaking the large skill into smaller sub-skills. You may end up with a goal like, “I’ll cook dinner four times a week using recipes and ingredients that I gather every Sunday.”
Keeping yourself accountable is a valuable skill in every facet of life, and goal setting is no different. Planning a new routine full of exciting new goals is all fun and dandy…until a few weeks have passed and you’ve reverted entirely to your old ways.
To avoid this scenario, it is important to have a strategy. There are many apps on the market that will allow you to input schedules or events and will remind you on certain days and times. You could also just set an alarm on your phone as a reminder for a scheduled goal-working session.
In my experience, it’s beneficial to make your goals known to someone else. If you tell your roommate or family about a specific goal, you can arrange to give them updates. This way, other people will be expecting something from you, and you may feel more obligated to deliver.
Sometimes an old-fashioned to-do list with boxes and checkmarks is the best way to get it done. All of this is not to say that your goals should become a dreaded element of your daily schedule. It simply underscores the fact that, when setting goals, it’s important to make sure they are things you are passionate about working towards.
No matter how well-intentioned you are about your routine, however, it is equally as important to…
No one is perfect. There will be times where you simply don’t get around to doing what you intended to do, or perhaps you consistently drop the ball on an entire aspect of your plan. This is okay, and setbacks are a part of the process.
If you slip up, don’t be too hard on yourself or give up on your goals — just start fresh the next day. And if there is something that just isn’t working, don’t be afraid to take a step back and reevaluate. These are your goals, after all, and setting and meeting them should bring you satisfaction.
When your college student starts their first semester, it’s not just a big deal for them. It’s a big deal for you, too.