As college students and everyday people, we’re especially busy now, as the end of Summer approaches and the beginning of Fall semester (for some, our last Fall semester) peeks through that beautiful sandy shore line. Whether gathering paperwork for some impending financial report from an accountant who won’t return your incessant phone calls or emails, writing personal statements that condense 20-some years of life, experience, and maturity onto one single-spaced page (oh, the HORROR), or finding interesting ways to project the meaningfulness of life-changing work and volunteer experiences, all whilst maintaining normal lives and relationships, it seems impossible to not feel as though you’re failing at life and should just go live under a rock until this all figures itself out. Here are some basic guidelines for how to maintain your sanity throughout the painful process of planning a future after graduation.
1. Sleep: This is seemingly the most obvious yet the easiest to neglect and, quite frankly, the most detrimental for your mental and physical health. I get it—some of us are just more productive during twilight hours and if productivity is at the expense of a full night’s rest, so be it. I was the queen of all-nighters in high school; I would feel accomplished if the proper heading and a creative title on a blank document for my English papers were finished by midnight the night before a paper was due. However, in college, I’ve learned the hard way that even if it can be done, it shouldn’t be. No one starts the day following an all-nighter feeling confident that they’ll ace that practice MCAT they’ve scheduled for the day. NO ONE. Do yourself a HUGE favor—buy yourself a massive body pillow and hug it to sleep at a reasonable hour every night. Lights out, phone out of sight (but set an alarm clock somewhere, duh) and shades drawn.
2. Wake up early: Do yourself another favor and wake up early. Sleeping the day away may seem like a good idea early in the morning. “I’ll just get a few more hours of sleep now and stay up later at night to get everything done.” NEVER works out that way. At night you’ll just tell yourself you’ll wake up early and do it all then. Repeat cycle. I’ve recently started waking up earlier and starting my day with a few very basic yoga stretches (for I am the least flexible person ever, I kid you not), followed by breakfast. My days consist of working and cramming for my impending MCAT exam, and I find this time in the morning really helps to clear my head and start each day with a positive, less “why am I doing this to myself” attitude. And if you’re not a “morning person,” that doesn’t mean you can’t be. My bed is my best friend, but sometimes meeting other people, like a morning chai or yoga mat, is for the best.
3. Check your e-mail: This is a must, especially for college seniors and students in general who have arms and legs being pulled in every direction. Even if you’re not involved in a bunch of clubs, you’ll still need to stay in touch with professors for letters of recommendation, advisors for academic planning, and a whole school of others who will be e-mailing you with information and opportunities you cannot ignore. SO CHECK YOUR E-MAIL. I know its summertime and I would love to just unplug for a month too. But chances are that professor you e-mailed a month ago for a letter of recommendation is not going to take too kindly to a response two weeks later because you were “clearing your mind” down the shore. Few feelings of greatness compare to the sight of a cleared inbox. This also applies for a paper mail. Go through everything as it comes in—even junk mail. If it’s not important, toss it. Watching a pile of unopened mail grow on your bedroom table is a sickening feeling. Better yet do the environment a favor and go paperless for your banking and credit card statements. Try and minimize incoming clutter by setting payment alerts and other appointment reminders in your phone or planner.
4. Respond to your e-mails: Goes without saying, right? Nope. I cannot even recall how many times I’ve put off sending an e-mail because I knew it would have to be formal and well-thought out because of my audience. If you have the time, get it done ASAP. That’s one less thing to worry about.
5. Buy a pretty planner: Okay, some people are not planner people. But when you have this many deadlines, I promise it will help. I’ve recommended this to so many people and they’ve thanked me for it; if you don’t want your planner after all is said and done and your applications have been submitted and deadlines met, go back to storing information in your brain. But just try it. Please? For me?
6. Be productive when you’re being “productive”: In other words, catch up on some work at work. Sorry to those of you who actually have the world to save and objectives to complete at work. Others like me just sit in front of a computer and spend a majority of the day staring at the clock. But think about how awesome this is. You’re getting paid to study those MCAT, LSAT, or GRE flashcards. You are getting paid to fill out applications for other opportunities or for venting about your stresses by writing an article, as such. Either which way, getting personal work done on the clock is a great feeling, so take advantage of this time.
7. Don’t ignore your friends: It’s easy to forget to respond to a text or post when you’re so wrapped up in organizing yourself. But don’t neglect your friends. I’ve been blessed with amazing friends who are going through similar experiences in their own ways, yet find the time to keep me motivated and inspired about my future. In the times when you want to go live under that rock, your friends will be there to remind you that you don’t want the life of Patrick Star—you want to be a social anthropologist, a lawyer that fights for rights, or a doctor that fights to save a life. These ambitions take time and dedication, so don’t neglect the friends that will be there to remind you of this.
8. Neglect the friends who tell you otherwise: Contradictory to #7? Maybe, but you need to prioritize. Don’t let that one friend coerce you into going out when you’re being productive. Don’t let her tell you you’re a bad friend because she hasn’t seen you “all summer.” They’ll still be there after you’re done your applications and such. Shoot them a text when you’ve met your deadlines and are ready to have a celebratory night out. I promise they’ll still be there.
9. Find a space: Go to the local library or local coffee shop. My local Starbucks only has one wall outlet that people fight over like hungry wolves, so no thanks. My local library is where it’s at. Find a corner, take a snack, and spend the morning being productive. Get to the library at 8 AM and before you know it, you’ll have finished so much work only to find that it’s only noon. Then take a break and get some more work done before your productivity high is overtaken by a yearning to binge watch documentaries on Netflix (I’m seeking help soon, I swear).
10. Workshop lunch date: I’ve recently thought of the best idea, EVER. If you’re busy, grab lunch or coffee with a friend, but make it productive. Like I said, many of my friends are going through a similar phase in life, so they appreciate this. Talk about your resumes, cover letters, or personal statements over coffee or lunch. Bounce around some ideas with a friend and allow him/her to do the same. This way, you’re still spending time hanging out with your friends and are also getting work done in a comfortable and relaxed environment. Talking about how to polish your resume or what to focus your personal statement on will also be a much more positive and healthier alternative to your usual discussion about that friend that just graduated and moved back home before you could tell him how you think you’re his soul mate. (A temporary solution to which would be that body pillow. Just buy one, trust me.)
11. Just don’t forget to breathe.