10 easy ways to use the summer break to prepare for next year

The summer months are a good time to rest, catch up with family and friends at home, get some work (i.e. money) in, and so on.

photo by j-ster
photo by j-ster

The summer months also represent the perfect time to prepare for the next academic year. And you don’t need to spend much time to reap the benefits when you return.

Below are ten things you should do to get socially and academically fit for when you next hit campus:

  1. Read up in advance – You know roughly what you’ll be studying, you have reading lists, and you have a year or more of degree study behind you now. This is the best time to casually research your new topics and scan through (or even read) a few books.
    Work out both what you’re already familiar with and what leaves you confused. The whole point is to be confused in places and to get stuck once in a while as you check through. That way, you won’t approach the work blind.
  2. Write opinions and thoughts – After the initial research, get some notes down. Again, just be casual. You’ve got nothing to worry about, so say what you like. Even if you later discover you’re barking up a completely different tree, your eureka moment will be stronger and the detail will more easily lodge in your head. Result!
    As a bonus, anything with no right or wrong answer gives you an opportunity to start finding your way through the subjective minefield long before others are even aware of what’s going down.
  3. Write initial questions and concerns – Like I say, it’s good to find confusion and uncertainty in your initial dealings with new topics. The only way you can get a serious grip on finding out more is to tackle it head on with questions. There are no stupid questions. And you won’t be asking them anyway. These notes are for you to be aware. You might get answers in the first few minutes of the first lecture back. Even better, you’ll notice straight away once you’ve prepared, which is a more natural approach.
  4. Get administrative affairs up to date – Now is a great time to get stuff filled in, filed, organised, and set up in advance for when they’re needed. Don’t leave the paperwork and boring stuff until the last minute as you’ll end up losing it, forgetting it, and having to do it at the same time as EVERYTHING ELSE!
  5. Financial check – Do you have a spending plan? Will you need more money? How much will you rely on credit cards? What bills will you have? What is your shopping budget? How much do you have for evening entertainment?
    Nip those money questions in the bud with a proper budget plan. For any definite shortfalls, work out if you can cover them another way. If you can’t, seek advice on your options as soon as possible through your university and students’ union. Don’t go straight to more credit cards and commercial loans, because there are other, far better, avenues to try first.
  6. Use the Internet to find websites, crib sheets and summaries in advance – A quick look online can provide you with a wealth of information on what you’re studying. Just a couple of rough Google searches and a quick check in Wikipedia is enough to uncover major sites and subject summaries. And if you delve further, the sky’s the limit. You’re not limited to websites either. Use Google Books and Amazon ‘Look Inside’ for previews of books while you’re not near the uni library.
  7. Read your past essays and assignments – Never discard your old work. You might look back at something from only a few months previous and cringe. “Did I *really* write that!?”
    Yes you did. So learn from it. Examine tutor feedback and consider what you’d do instead next time.
  8. Spend a couple of hours on your future plans – What goals do you have for the year? Do you want to better organise your social calendar? Is there anything you can do to start on career plans long before you graduate?
    All you need is an hour or two to ask yourself questions about the life ahead of you and give the answers careful consideration. You may get stuck for answers, but at least you know what you’re up against when you get back to uni. You will be in a much better position to confront the issues and go in, guns blazing.
  9. Confront issues from previous year(s) – Just like reading past essays, looking back on past difficulties can be helpful. It’s not always best to dig up the past, but neither is it healthy to bury your head in the sand. When you want to do things differently next year, get your mind on the same side. Face those fears and limitations. You are more amazing than you realise.
  10. Prepare for a year of surprise and new experiences, not same old, same old! – There is always something different to enjoy at university. Even a tiny institution in the middle of nowhere has a veritable banquet of delights awaiting you. But you have to grab what’s out there. If you don’t, the initial excitement of ‘uni life’ turns into an ‘everyday life’. Excite yourself; dare to do something different!

None of this takes too long to do, so you’re free to enjoy most of the summer as you normally would. Yet you’ll still save you loads of time when you do get back to uni.

All for a little bit of forward planning. Good times!

20/20 – Day 5: 20 uses for 20 minutes

Pushed for time?  Got some spare time?  Don’t want to waste time?

Whatever the case, 20 minutes isn’t very long. But it’s long enough to do all sorts of things.  Day 5 of 20/20 explores some of the things you can do in a seemingly small space of time.

  1. Wash your clothes. Gather up a load of washing, stick it in the machine, throw in the detergent, and you’re away.  Even if you have to walk to the laundrette, it shouldn’t take you more than 20 minutes to get this done.  And if you want to wait for the load to finish, it’ll give you more time to do some more of the stuff below.
  2. Wash the dishes. One of the jobs we love to hate.  You don’t really see dishwashers in student digs, so the washing up has to be done at some point.  Get it out of the way when you’ve got time to spare.  When it’s done, it’s out of the way.  Now all you need to do is never eat or drink again…
  3. Have a shower. You’ll be clean, you’ll be refreshed, you’ll be stimulated. Not bad for 20 minutes work.
  4. Start writing an annoying essay. Time yourself and see what you write. It’s just a way to ease you in. When it works, it’s awesome. And it works more than you think it might.
  5. Read.  If you need an excuse…
  6. Power nap. A quick rest to give you more energy for the rest of the day. What’s not to like?
  7. Walk somewhere nearby.  10 minutes each way, but make it 20 minutes each way if feeling adventurous. Get your mind working, enjoy the view, think about stuff or ignore everything. Up to you. A walk brings many benefits and it’s healthy too.
  8. Send a postcard. It’s a great way to keep in touch with people you care about.  It doesn’t take long and it’s a novel way to make someone smile.
  9. Make a phone call. Not just any call. Ring someone who’ll really appreciate the fact that you’ve taken the time to make contact.
  10. Watch educational videos online.  Get a short burst of mental stimulation.
  11. Write something different. A short poem, a manifesto, a journal entry.  Make your mark in a way you wouldn’t usually consider.
  12. Make a list of the things you want to do before you graduate. To get an idea, check Savvy Student’s suggestions.
  13. Make a social media splash. Not just chatting on Facebook. Start a professional profile, follow influential people on Twitter, get a blog started, if you’ve already got a blog then write a post for it.
  14. Work on your CV. Never too early to make it shine.
  15. Tidy up. There’s never enough time for stuff like clearing your room. There is if you only spend 20 minutes on it.  You won’t finish, but it’s better than doing no tidying at all!
  16. Take stock.  20 minutes is all you need to see how far you’ve come and note what you need to do going forward.  It’s actioning those plans that takes the time.
  17. Write a list. Who knows where it will take you?
  18. Listen to a genre of music you’re not used to. Experience the new. If you don’t like it, you’ve not wasted much time. If you do like it, you’ve got so much more goodness to explore.
  19. Do something different. However big or small, change your perspective and do something you’ve never done before. Or do something old in a completely different way. Do it just to see how you react. Obviously don’t do anything dangerous. I’m saying do something different, not stupid.
  20. Just stop. Celebrate silence. A few moments of pure nothing is wonderful in a world where we’re always doing something.  You’re allowed to have a breather.

Title image: original by tiffa130 (cc)  /  Bottom image: Robbert van der Steeg (cc)

Never Underestimate Time

We’re notoriously bad at ‘doing time’. Memory plays tricks on us.  We remember several years ago like it was yesterday. Yet it’s hard to remember what dinner was four days ago. The last time you saw a good friend felt like months ago, but it was less than two weeks back according to your diary.  Then, when you meet up again, it’s like you’d hardly been apart!

Yes, time is weird.

photo by TW Collins

photo by TW Collins

How much time do you think is available?

Whatever the event, whatever the deadline, it’ll feel like a long way away at first. Say you’ve got a month to complete some coursework. You don’t think it’s worth starting so soon. Anyway, it shouldn’t take more than a few hours of your time.

But it’s bound to take longer than you imagine.  Maybe a few extra hours tidying up and formatting, maybe a couple of extra days researching.  The deadline of one month slips away without you realising and it’s hard to recover without a solid plan of action.  What seemed like long into the future is now a race against time.

Don’t underestimate how long you’ve got. Life has a tendency to get overcrowded. A lack of clear goals will only make matters worse.  Get timetabling, Get organised, and start early.

Time shifts.  When is your time?

The 24 hours in each day are not equal in terms of your productivity. For a start, you probably sleep between 5 and 10 hours of every 24.

What about the remaining hours?  Well, it’s a simple goal, but crucial…find the right time of day for you.

It might sound like common sense, but another thing we’re bad at is listening to our bodies. If you’re a night owl, your body will hold you back if you try making an early morning start on your work. So try to get the work done in the evening. While you may prefer to have fun at the times you’re most awake, you must devote some of your most alert moments on work too. Having fun doesn’t usually need as much brainpower as hard work and research.  Depends on what the ‘having fun’ involves!

Got a lot of time on your hands? Is that actually a good thing?

Having too much time is just as bad as not having enough.  The combination of too much time on your hands and a low willpower (which can often go together) leads to a damp squib.

Fill some of that time up.  Do some volunteering in your field, join a society, make some cash with a part-time job, do something you’re interested in.

Don’t fill the time up with pointless exercises or just act busy.  The secret is having a select number of focused goals and interests.  They don’t have to be full-on passions, so feel free to experiment!  You’ll know when the right thing hits you.

With less free time on your hands and a greater focus, you’ll feel more energised than if you were just bumming around half the time.  The renewed energy should have a knock-on effect with everything else you do.  What have you got to lose?

Why can’t time be simple?

While we’re on Earth, we live through every second of every day of every week of every year.  We use time everywhere.  We look at the time.  We wait for the right time.  We set timers and alarms and reminders.  Yet time controls us.  It just has to be a strange relationship.

Every second counts.  That’s why the better we work with time, the more we get out of it.  Plan your time in advance, know when the time is right, and use the time wisely.

When you do this, you respect time.  And time may well nod in your direction and respect you back.