I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this next school year. Due to a combination of not choosing a major til my second year of college, not taking as many credit hours each semester as I should have, and key courses not being available, my next two semesters are going to be the busiest ones of my life. In the fall, I will be taking 15 credit hours at the university, as well as 4 at the local community college, because I just need one more semester of Spanish to have all my Gen-Eds done. In the spring, I am expecting to be enrolled for another 15, not including the internship that I need. One of the classes each semester is notorious among music students for being the hardest in the entire major. I will be responsible for massive amounts of homework, as well as knowing long, involved classical pieces inside and out. Also, I still have a part-time job teaching. So like I said, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how I’m going to prevent myself from losing my mind this year.
Better yet, I made a list.
11 resolutions for surviving my school year
Part 1 – The academic resolutions.
1. I will not panic.
I tend to have a problem with perfectionism, procrastination, and anxiety. All in all, this makes large homework assignments far more stressful than they need to be. I want everything to be perfect, but I usually wait til the night before it’s due to start it, which implies that it’s certainly not going to be perfect. Then I worry. I will stop the worrying part this year. Since this is the last year my scholarship will be available, my grades no longer matter for helping pay for college. I will remind myself that less-than-perfect performance is not going to kill me, and if that means prioritizing my homework efforts according to which class I need the most work in, so be it. I also intend to keep track of my grades so I know which class I need more work in; more on that later.
2. I will be prepared for class, and I will pay attention in class.
I love the Music Building, because it has excellent WiFi access. Of course, when I sit in class and surf the internet, I usually don’t pay attention to class very well. I am considering either leaving my laptop at home, or not “taking notes” using my computer while in class. I learn things better when I handwrite them, and it will also prevent me from doing other things on my laptop when I need to be paying attention. It will not, however, prevent me from staring out the window, which is my backup plan in case of extreme boredom.
One aspect of being prepared for class is remembering what the prof discussed in the last class, so I plan to review my notes once between classes.
Part of my teaching job includes a Study Skills program, and I always found it to be ironic that I teach aspects of organization, time management, and goal-setting that I don’t actually use. This year I plan to work on the organization part of that. (Note that I didn’t say time management.) I think I’m going to go back to using a 3-ring binder, annoying as they may be for left-handed people, so I can keep handouts with my notes. Spiral-bound notebooks just don’t provide a good way of adding more pages, and are even more annoying for lefties, as the pages can’t just be removed then stuck back in.
One other problem I tend to have is keeping the policies straight for all my different teachers. I will keep a hard copy of the syllabus on hand for each class, and will highlight the important parts of the policies, for easy reference.
3. I will keep track of my homework assignments, due dates, and grades.
I’m giving up using my computer to track everything for me. If I were in a computer-intensive major where it was feasible for me to have my computer in every single class (or if I had an iPhone) I could track everything that way. However, this doesn’t work in music classes. There’s no point in having my computer out (try writing lines of music down in a text editor) so I forget to put assignments into the system. I’ve decided the most reliable way to keep track of my assignments is good ol’ paper and pen. I have purchased a Moleskine planner, which was cheaper in Europe even considering the horrible exchange rate between the dollar and the euro right now, and will write both my homework assignments and my work schedule in the calendar. Opposite the calendar every week is a sheet of lined paper. I will use this in a light implementation of GTD, to track my Next Actions. Every Sunday night I will go through and see what assignments need my attention that week, and write out a new list.
I spent a lot of time considering what the best way will be to keep track of my grades in each class. Different teachers weight their assignments and exams differently, so I debated using a dedicated app to do this math for me. What I don’t like about these apps is that they would require me to enter all the information for each assignment into the computer, when I just said I wasn’t going to do that. What I really want is a simple way for a system to look at my grades so far and tell me what my overall class grade looks like. I decided that because I’m a math teacher, I can figure out the equations for myself, and if I can do that, I can put them in a spreadsheet. This method will probably require more effort at the beginning of the semester to set up, but hopefully will not require much maintenance as the semester continues. And, of course, it provides a geek with a spreadsheet to toy with, which is probably the only true advantage.
What about those tasks that you have to get done, but don’t actually qualify as homework? Remember the Milk. No, I didn’t forget anything. Remember the Milk is a web application that I have written about previously. I am using it to track all to-do tasks right now, and once school starts, I will use it to track all tasks that aren’t homework. I don’t have space for a full description of my RTM use, so I will save that for a later post. For more information right now on using RTM as a student, see Kelly Sutton’s post on the topic, over at HackCollege.
4. I will make good use of my Tuesday and Thursday mornings.
Why Tuesdays and Thursdays? I don’t start class til almost noon on those days, but I start at 9 the other three days. I am going to wake up around the same time as I do other days, and I’m going to get out of bed. I’ll go to a coffee shop, or on-campus, or just to the kitchen, and work on homework or something. I plan to get my body used to waking up at the same time each morning, and I’m hoping this will help to reduce my constant use of energy drinks. (They’re expensive, otherwise I wouldn’t care.) This is going to be hard. I love to sleep.
5. I will keep my desk clean.
I can’t work at my desk if I can’t find anything. Right now, my desk is a disaster. I don’t really know how I’m going to fix that before school starts, since I won’t return from Europe until 36 hours before my first class, but I am going to clean it sometime that week. I will find some place to put things, and I will actually throw things away that I don’t need anymore. Fortunately, I did start this process before I left for Germany, so it’s not as bad as it could be. I’m going to scan all the random papers floating around that I need to keep, which brings me to my next point.
6. I will back up my files.
This resolution takes three forms. First, I will scan important paper things that I need to keep. Secondly, I will back up my entire system at least once a day. Macs make this really easy. I also have a select few documents that are backed up online in one way or another, just in case. Finally, I will email homework assignments to myself and put them on my iPod (my version of a thumb drive), in case something happens to the hard copy.
Early next week (like Monday) I plan to have Part 2 published, so stay tuned!
Update: Part 2 is posted. Click here to view.