Keep Your Desk Tidy (No Matter How You Use It)

What is your main working space like?

When you sit down to study, what do you encounter?

A haven of minimal zen mastery? A sea of junk that’s pretty stormy at its best? A makeshift area of whatever space is currently available?

Because where you work matters. Presentation shouldn’t be left to your work. You need to get serious about your surroundings too!

A typical student's desk. Okay, okay, perhaps the mechanical stamp is a step too far...

A typical student’s desk. Okay, okay, perhaps the mechanical stamp is a step too far…

Some desks are (supposed to be) for nothing more than study. In reality, that leaves a lot of space begging to be used.

Other desks have multiple purposes. Work, entertainment, storage, you name it.

However you use your desk, let’s take a look at how to keep the space tidy.

For a dedicated work space:

Use your desk as a desk – A smooth surface is such an easy dumping target. It’s easy to succomb to temptation. Make sure you have a system in place and remove things you don’t physically need there.

Accessibility is key – Keep the important items nearby and find appropriate housing for everything. Boxes, holders and folders give active spaces for everything and keeps you focused on your work, rather than where your stuff is hiding. A focused mind is crucial, since it can take around 23 minutes to recover from interruptions. Ouch.

Love your space – You need a welcoming area to inspire you. But there’s a fine line between too sparse and too distracting. Have just enough to inspire and cheer you.

Have a 2-minute clean-up process – You know how quickly things can get messy. Clear up each evening so you’re ready for the following day. If you don’t create too much clutter, you could do a 10-minute clear once a fortnight instead. Think ‘little and often’. A short and simple system is easy to keep on top of when you get used to it. Make a habit of removing the rubbish straight away.

Not everyone has the luxury of a work station. When you use your desk for several purposes, remember these things:

Prepare your space – The stuff around you competes for attention and importance. Make sure you have enough space to do work. Arrange the space in advance as far as you can. A makeshift space at the last minute doesn’t help productivity at all.

Stick to priorities – With junk all over the place, you’re easily distracted. You can also spend too much time looking for necessary books and equipment when they aren’t laid out in a suitable place. Consider the priorities you need, not the priorities you want. When coursework and reading is important, ensure your desk is primed for that priority. Everything else takes second place. If other uses take over, it’s time to take action.

With no dedicated study space, a basic order is a must – I used to put everything in random piles so I could hide them out of sight very quickly. I soon realised that it’s far better to give everything a suitable home. It was easier for me and it looked even more presentable than keeping everything hidden.

You live and learn! And now you’ve read this, you can start as you mean to go on. You tidy, wonderful person, you!

10 Ways to Spend a Night In

A big part of uni life is spent going out. Away from the dorm is the norm.

But that’s not strictly true. When you’re not studying, doing a part-time job, partying, or doing one of a billion different activities, there are bound to be times when you’re chilling out on the inside.

Then there’s the summer break and other holidays when you’re either back at home or making do with a more limited range of activities on campus.

For all the fun, I’m sure you still spend a lot of time in your digs. And even if you don’t, there’s always the odd night when you’d just rather stay in your room and lay low. However, this doesn’t mean you need to have a dull time, or stop being productive. There are many ways to have a great night resting in your dorm if you’re not in the mood to go out. Here are 10 specific ideas to consider:

dorm (photo by ainlondon)

1. Have a Cheap Meal Night

Chances are you have a tight budget, so clubbing together with mates for some posh but cheap grub is a great treat. Perhaps none of you are ready to make an elaborate meal from scratch, but it’s still cheaper to buy some big meals from the supermarket. Whether it’s pizzas on BOGOF or several family-size ready meals, these quick meals will often prove cheaper than ringing for a takeaway.

2. Learn Something New

Okay, so you weren’t ready to make that meal with your own ingredients. All you need is an open mind and a bit of time exploring. Time to learn something new!

It’s nice to focus on something that’s educational, but not necessarily part of your degree. And it doesn’t have to be about food, of course. Whether you have interest in history, science, a particular language, or a specific software program or business, take some time out to teach yourself something new.

3. Listen To An Old Album

University means growing up, and that gets a lot of people feeling nostalgic. For that reason, one fun activity to practice on a solo night in the dorm is to break out some old music to listen to. Just tune everything else out and listen straight through an old favourite – you might notice something new, or enjoy it more than you have in years. I did this the other night with some old Gomez tracks and it was lush!

4. Watch A Film Or Two

You may not have packed a DVD collection for uni, but now you can usually find a fun film or two to enjoy on various online streaming sites. Log into Picturebox Films for some nice selections, and take some time to just watch, whether you’re alone or with friends.

5. Catch Up On Assignments

This isn’t the most entertaining option, but you might be glad to take the opportunity to catch up, or get ahead, on study. Read that next chapter in the textbook, get a jump on your next big paper, etc. Productivity in a university environment is never a bad thing.

6. Catch Up With People From Home

If you’re closing yourself off in a dorm room for the night, why not take the time to catch up with people from home? Email, write letters, call, or Skype your old friends from home, and family members who will be thrilled to hear from you. This is a surprisingly rewarding way to spend a few hours on a night in.

7. Organise Your Computer

There’s plenty to organise and “clean up” on the average computer – from deleting old documents, to clearing out an email inbox, and even doing work on your social and professional profiles. Gizmo’s Freeware is a good place to find the best free software that’s usually on par or better than commercial offerings. Often, once you get going with this kind of project, you’ll be at it for hours. So don’t use it as an excuse to procrastinate!

8. Meditate

Meditation isn’t for everybody, but for those who enjoy it or practice it regularly, a weekend night in is the perfect opportunity. You can meditate for all sorts of reasons: to help clear your mind; to alleviate stress; to increase productivity – all very positive things for a busy student.

9. Read For Pleasure

Many university students miss the freedom to read for pleasure! Often, curriculum reading and work occupies so much time that it’s just too tough to delve into a novel for entertainment purposes. A night in by yourself, however, gives you just the chance you need to read something you enjoy.

10. Organise Your Room

Finally, you can also take the time to set up your room. From hanging new posters, to cleaning up clutter, to simply rearranging things, this can be a great way to make yourself feel productive, and to get more comfortable in your surroundings.

What do you like to do when you have a night in?

How to Ensure Living With Others Doesn’t Resemble Fresh Meat

Have you been watching Fresh Meat on Channel 4? How does it compare with your university experience?

The show follows a bunch of Freshers who are stuck together in a house off campus because there isn’t enough room in the halls of residence for everyone.

Joe Thomas plays Kingsley in Fresh Meat (photo by damo1977)

Joe Thomas plays Kingsley in Fresh Meat (photo by damo1977)

After the first episode, I thought the Telegraph summed things up best:

“Fresh Meat has two types of joke. One, somebody says or does something embarrassing; two, somebody says or does something cruel. And that’s more or less all you get, again and again, for a drainingly bleak hour.”

That’s not to say the show isn’t any good. It’s just consistently excruciating. You’ll no doubt squirm and cover your eyes when you watch it. Or, if you’re hard like me, you’ll just stare open-mouthed and wide-eyed at the insanity of it all. 😉

But Fresh Meat doesn’t portray living together with others as you might experience it:

  • It’s too isolated;
  • The coincidences are too forced to be realistic;
  • Everything happens too quickly;
  • There’s no let up from the awkwardness;
  • The truths and stereotypical situations are exaggerated for filmic effect.

Living with others isn’t always easy, even if it’s not usually as uncomfortable as Fresh Meat portrays. So how do you live together with others and survive to tell the tale?

HackCollege explains how easy it is to establish house routines early. In a new academic year, everything changes, even if you’ve already spent a year living with the same people in the same house. That situation is easier to deal with, certainly, but new timetables and different working circumstances introduce a new dynamic. Don’t think you’re home and dry, whatever you’re doing this year!

Wherever you are and whoever you’re living with, it helps to sort the housekeeping, rotas, admin, bills, and so on, as early as possible. Here are five quick tips (or 4 + 20 tips…) to make sure your experience doesn’t resemble one off Fresh Meat:

  1. Respect requests – You may not agree to every last wish of a housemate, but communicate with them and be reasonable. Try to find a compromise. If you can’t do that, look at other ways to handle the problem, even if it won’t result in your housemate getting closer to what they want. It may only take a friendly ear and you resisting the temptation to raise your voice in exasperation.
  2. Have regular meetings and LISTEN! – People see issues from many perspectives. Before you start thinking your other housemates are crazy, find out how they see the situation. The reason for regular meetings is not so much about formality, but more about continued communication. Keep talking and keep listening, because communication breakdown doesn’t help anyone.
  3. Keep notes, rules, rotas, and all important information up to date and close to hand – Avoid last minute scrambles to find crucial documents. Ensure everyone is fully aware of what’s expected and required. Commit to five minutes of admin once every week or two so you don’t have to timetable several hours later on when you’re busy doing more important things.
  4. Consider your housemates at all times – You want to feel at home in your own accommodation. And so does everyone else! Remember you’re not living alone. Flip things the other way… When you come home late at night, making huge amounts of noise, would you be happy if one of your housemates did the same thing when you were trying to get some sleep?
  5. Read my 20 hints for living with others – Loads more information to help you tidy, pay bills, and party with ease.

Deal with the best and worst of university open days

Open days provide a fantastic way to find out about each university.  You get a direct feel for the place, to see how it suits you as an individual.

photo by Toni Blay

photo by Toni Blay

In 2009, The Student Room asked over a thousand students about the best and worst things about open days.  Using the top answers given, let’s explore how to make the best use of what you’re likely to encounter:

Best things

  • The friendly atmosphere. The universities obviously want to make the visit as beneficial as possible.

So…Don’t hold back.

Find out as much as you can. Ask questions, speak to as many people as possible, explore as much of the place as you can.  Don’t worry about relaxing; you can chill out later.

Each presentation and tour is designed to look as good as possible.  You needn’t be overly sceptical, but do expect an over-emphasis on what they want you to see.  Nobody is going to highlight how awful a particular aspect of the uni is.  Just remember that nowhere is perfect.

The Student Room is a useful forum for speaking to current students about what you’re most interested in.  If it still gets the thumbs up, that’s a good thing.

  • Freebies!

So…Take what you can, but don’t let it influence your choice.

Free stuff will make you feel good, but it’s not a sign of a good establishment.  The goodies are great, but unrelated to how the university will actually be.

  • Being able to get a feel for the place.

So…Explore as much as you can.

Go beyond the official tour route if you can.  And visit the surrounding area too.  Because you won’t spend all your life on campus!

  • Meeting new people and feeling more independent.

So…Don’t hold back.

It’s great to experience this type of thing on your own, because you’re not being drawn into other people’s opinions.  While it’s great to hear what parents think about the place, the only person needing a solid opinion is YOU.

  • Getting to talk to students and lecturers there.

So…Ask important and relevant questions to you.

Leave basic points and anything you can check in information packs later.  You can always email or call up if you still need a specific answer to something.

If possible, be armed with one or two big questions you want answered over everything else.  That way, you have your priorities clear.


photo by Goodimages

photo by Goodimages

Worst things

  • Being alone and with people you don’t know!

Solution…Treat the day like a fact-finding mission, not a social experience.

You’re going there to make notes, not friends.

That said, if you do get chatting with other potential students, it’s all good!  Getting to know new people is something all new students have to become accustomed to once they hit campus for the first time.  Unless you end up attending uni in your home town, a move away forces you to make new friends.  And that’s a good thing.

  • Events do not give you much time to explore the university yourself.

Solution…Get there early or stay a bit late.

Consider staying nearby overnight if you can stretch that far.  If you’re serious about the place you’re visiting, spend enough time to cover all you want to know, including about the surrounding area. Nothing beats first hand experience of a place.

  • Limited access to the full range of accommodation.

Solution…Check brochures, the prospectus, the university website, and so on.

Email the uni to ask for more information.  Ask current students (via The Student Room again…hurrah!) what the accommodation is like.

  • Being nervous, not having enough time to find out everything you want to know, forgetting questions you want to ask.

Solution…Prepare questions in advance.

And if you’re too worried to speak up, note the names of people you want to speak to and try getting in touch with them after the open day itself.  Email addresses, Twitter accounts, and so on, for staff and student reps aren’t difficult to find or ask for.

  • Travelling – “Driving with the parents”.

Solution…Discuss with parents what you want out of the day beforehand.

If you want to prepare in silence or with headphones on, tell them in advance and explain why that way of preparing is important for you. But remember it’s natural for parents to get excited about your future, nervous about your future, pushy about your future, etc.

Alternatively, you could go alone.  I know that’s not always possible.  Your parents may not even allow you to go alone…

But it’s no big deal.  There will be more than enough independent time once you *are* at uni. You can look forward to that. And then you may just start to miss your parents a bit. 🙂

  • It gets crowded and there are long queues.

Soultion… Look for a less crowded route.

People tend to follow each other in a set route, even when a route hasn’t been set out.  If there’s no route, don’t act like you’re in a crowd.  Move out somewhere else and check out the crowded bit once it has died down.

Failing that, you may be able to hang back until people move on.  It doesn’t matter if you’re the first or last person to see the information.