8 Life Hacks To Help Busy Students Do It All

It’s hard to get everything done, I know. What with studying, going to class, seeing friends, remembering to shower, eating sometimes, and saving the world from villains, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Wait, we’re not superheroes. No one can do all of that, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try. Here’s some hacks from my own experiences to help you get all that you want out of life.


1. Use an agenda.

Seriously, use a really, really big agenda. For the first 20 years of my life, I had no appreciation of what a glorious tool an agenda can be, but now I have seen the light. Having an agenda can be so essential that you just may not know how you were able to function without it. Top it off with a variety of highlighters, and you’ll never forget to do something ever again.



The secret to getting the most out of your agenda is writing everything down. EVERYTHING. Have a regularly scheduled class? Write it down. Want to study specific book sections on a certain day? Write it down. Have a bill due? Write it down. Getting lunch with a friend? Write it down. EVERYTHING. WRITE IT DOWN. Highlight each event with a coded color scheme for easy identification and cross it out with a single line when complete so you can still refer back to it if need be. Even if you don’t end up going to, say, a class (we all do it at times), don’t cross it off as complete until you’ve gone over the information you missed to make sure you make up the time.


2. Re-write your agenda.

It is far too easy to write something down and then entirely forget about it (such as a final project that you don’t realize you have to do until 48 hours before the rough draft is due… true story). I cannot stress it enough that while writing information down in an agenda in advance is helpful, looking back at what you have written is essential for more effective planning.

More specifically, it can be helpful to plan on a weekly or biweekly basis as well as yearly or monthly in an agenda. That way, you can reflect on your workload for each day and optimize your time. To keep an easy access reminder, I start out each week by transferring events in my agenda to a new document that I post above my desk as a quick reference for the week.




3. Adopt a positive attitude.

While planning helps you keep track of everything that you need to do, one of the greatest hurdles in actually getting all of it done is believing that you are capable of doing so. Write yourself notes to boost your confidence, post motivational quotes all over (a motivational quote wall is a great addition to a study space), or simply say “screw you” to any negative thoughts that get you down. Thinking that you can get everything done is the first step to actually getting everything done.


4. Respect time.

I learned early that “If you’re early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late. And if you’re late, don’t bother showing up.” Your time is precious, but so is other’s. Show that you respect others’ time by being early and they will be less likely to waste your time.


5. Efficiency is key.

Multitasking may not be for everyone, but efficiently planning out your work can be. Minimize your travel time by planning courses, meetings, etc. according to their location. Listen to your favorite show while you read. Eat meals while you write out study plans. Call home while you walk to class. Seriously, CALL HOME. If anything, you’ll make your parents happy and perhaps they’ll be more prone to sending a care package or something else your way.


6. Study with friends.

If you think that being a good student means having no social life, you’re doing it wrong. You just might need to slightly redefine your social life. Find friends who are also dedicated to studying and make plans to have study parties. That way you can keep each other motivated but you can take breaks to hang out with your friends. It’s a win-win situation.




7. Prioritize.

Take the time to reflect and determine what should get your greatest focus. Do what’s highest priority first so that if you don’t get around to the lower priority items, it’s a less devastating outcome. I know you’re probably thinking, “But, but – that’s time away from working!” Sure, reflection takes time, but it will be essential for helping you get the most out of your time spent working or studying, so the time spent is definitely worth it.


8. Redefine “everything.”

            Doing everything does not necessarily mean doing EVERYTHING. Along with picking priorities, it is important to remember this little fact. Each person has their own maximum productivity, so comparing yourself to others will likely only make you feel worse. Rather than straining your body and your mind to do more than you are capable of doing well, work to understand your limits and try to find satisfaction in doing what you can. Make yourself a superhero by appreciating the work that you get done rather than fixate on the work you could (or should) get done. This can help you be more confident in your abilities and more efficient in your work.


Flickr | Occupancy Heroes


Now go forth and conquer all of the things that you want to do!



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Hanna Erickson, "Almost" MD/PhD

Hanna is a MD/PhD student at the University of Illinois and an aspiring physician scientist who aims to specialize in hepatobiliary cancers. She is also passionate about teaching, leadership, and advocacy. The energy she once used to pep up crowds as a college marching band member is now directed toward exciting and educating others about science and medicine, especially through her tweets at @MDPhDToBe and her blog at www.mdphdtobe.com.