These days, getting a good degree (or an equivalent higher qualification) seems more or less a prerequisite for getting into any number of good jobs that you might desire. More people than ever before are going to university and obtaining degrees, in the hopes that these qualifications will set them on the right track for discovering and landing the jobs and lives of their dreams.
Of course, earning a degree is not necessarily an easy, or stressfree thing to do – especially if your degree happens to be in a field like medicine, where the studies last for many years, the days are long, and the stakes are high.
All of this being the case, it’s not very surprising that so many university students find themselves weighed down by stress and chaos, and struggle immensely to try and fulfill the requirements of their courses, in order to qualify with flying colors. It’s not too uncommon for people in this situation to find that they have just about no free time at their disposal, and “fun” can seem like a decadent luxury.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
If you find that your degree is getting you down and that you have no time or mental energy left to dedicate to a more “balanced” lifestyle, it could be that a big part of the problem lies in your routines, and everyday behaviors, rather than the course itself, or your own cognitive abilities.
So, here are a few tips on how to earn your degree will still having fun and having some time left over, too.
Get comfortable with boredom and do some “Deep Work”
The professor and author, Cal Newport, has been on a productivity binge for a few years now and has written various books which have been a hit in the realms of professional self-improvement, time management, efficiency, and so on.
One of his most lauded books is “Deep Work,” a book in which the author looks at the skills and behaviors which are rewarded by the increasingly complex, and tech-focused marketplaces of the modern world.
As he notes, a lot of “simple,” or “shallow” work is incredibly unstable – today more than perhaps ever before. The reason? Simple. Advances in computing and robotics technology mean that if your job doesn’t require some kind of fairly deep skill set or technical knowledge, you’re at risk of being phased out by a robot.
Of course, that’s getting off track, since this post is meant to be about higher education.
In any case – Newport’s proposed solution to the endemic of “shallow work” — where we are all constantly distracted by things like social media, click-bait articles, video games, and so on — applies just as well to a university setting as it does to a corporate job position.
The solution he proposes is that people should “get comfortable with boredom,” and hone their ability to do some “deep work.”
The idea here is that the abler you are to block out distractions, and to focus on the task at hand single-mindedly, for long stretches of time, the abler you will be to maintain a high level of productivity and to acquire effective skills.
That’s not just idle speculation, either. In the book, Newport cites research that clearly shows that even a minor distraction – one that lasts just a few seconds, such as quickly clicking onto your social media accounts – can ruin your ability to be focused and productive for half an hour, or longer.
Even more importantly, the ability to do “deep work” seems to be a skill that is developed through practice; the research of certain neuroscientists apparently shows that the brain undergoes meaningful structural changes when people start to work in a focused, and distraction-free way.
If you are able to commit to doing deep work and are able to filter out the distractions, and the tendency to procrastinate, it appears that you should be able to get far more done, far more effectively, in far less time, and with far less stress.
Not only will this increase your odds of managing to perform well on your course, but it’ll also give you more time to spend on social activities, recreation, hobbies and all that stuff that makes life fun.
While this sounds like a massive task, it’s all about ensuring your environment is conducive to learning, by using apps that block certain websites, but you should also think about making sure you are as focused as can be, all the way down to the right glasses. Even if your prescription is slightly off, it may take a bit longer to get focused. And when you need to dive into “deep work”, focus is everything. Sites like Eyeglasses.com provide a wide variety of glasses, but you should also think about priming your brain for study, such as by having a few rituals and positive self-talk, so your brain knows when it is time to get started.
Find ways to integrate travel with your studies
Many young, entrepreneurial types today, are borderline obsessed with the idea of becoming “digital nomads,” and traveling the world with a laptop in hand, having adventures, and making a good living at the same time.
Since the release of Tim Ferriss’s bestselling book “The 4-Hour Work Week”, and maybe even for a while before that, this dream has been a realistic ambition, thanks in large part to the parallel developments in mobile and Internet technology.
Of course, if the idea of traveling the world while simultaneously making a living as a freelance writer, or affiliate marketer sounds good to you, why not get started on your travels while still a student?
These days, many universities run online courses, such as, for example, Wilfrid Laurier University Online. These online correspondence courses allow you a great degree of freedom, in terms of being able to see the world while traveling.
Of course, if you’re on a more conventional university course, you may still be able to participate in student exchange programs and the like.
Travel can be an extremely life-enriching, and fun experience. And it’s great if you can also earn some qualifications while you’re out on the road.
Pick a subject that you actually find interesting, and can enjoy studying
There’s that famous old quote attributed to Confucius that goes something like “choose a job that you love, and you will never work a day in your life.”
Of course, this quote is not meant to be taken too literally. Choose a job that you love, and you’ll still have to work pretty hard all the same. The point is, you won’t mind doing the hard work.
By all means, you should consider applying the same logic to your choice of a university degree. If you pick a subject that you actually find interesting, meaningful and that you can enjoy studying, you will find that you have far more energy, willpower, and determination when it comes to getting your head down and doing the work.
Not only that, though. You may actually have some fun doing it, as well.
Of course, you should choose a degree which you think is going to help you professionally, in the future. And, of course, you are not going to necessarily love every minute of it. All the same, there is definitely something to be said for not choosing your degree purely based on pragmatic considerations about how much might one day earn as a result of it. If the tradeoff is that you hate every minute of your studies, that doesn’t seem like a great deal.
By doing something you care about and enjoy, you are likely to be more efficient in your work, to be better at it, and to have a better time, too.
Prioritize socializing, and real-world activities, during your free time
These days, we’re all pretty good at “killing time”, by and large.
In other words, we are all pretty good at spending our free time scanning social media, looking up funny videos and Internet memes, reading click-bait articles, and just doing not much of anything at all.
The thing is, there’s good evidence out there that all of this isn’t really good for us, in terms of our emotional and psychological well-being.
It’s fine to chill out in front of Netflix every once in a while. But if this is what you do with just about every free moment you have, you will become increasingly socially isolated, and your ability to work effectively, and feel good about your life, will diminish.
A certain degree of social interaction seems to be necessary for people to thrive. At least, that’s what a good deal of psychological research seems to suggest.
You don’t necessarily have to be a party animal, but if you want to perform to the best of your ability while studying for a degree, you should try and use your free time primarily for face-to-face interactions, and real-world experiences, rather than solitary pursuits designed to waste an evening here or there.
In another one of his books – “Digital Minimalism,” Cal Newport describes this kind of activity as “high-quality leisure.”
Keep in mind, that this “high-quality leisure” doesn’t necessarily have to mean hitting the bars and clubs. In fact, you may want to be careful about how often you do that. “High-quality leisure” can involve solitary activities, such as arts and crafts. But it should also include things that get you face-to-face with other people on a regular basis.
If you’ve always been a gamer and love pitting your wits against your friends, meet up to play board games in person. It might do you a lot more good than playing on the Xbox with strangers online.