New Semester Advice: Take Care of Your Future Self

Umberto Boccioni, States of Mind ("Those Who Go") 1911.
The Futurists understood both the transformative and occasionally cruel aspects of time. 
Another fall, another semester, another chance for a fresh start. One week into the new academic term and this is the time of year I honestly love best, and mostly it has to do with the opportunity, that I share with students, to challenge myself to establish a brand new routine for work, study, and play for the 12-14 weeks ahead. It also means wiping the slate clean of what was left unaccomplished over the summer and learning from what did and did not work the same time last year. 

In the last two years around this time, I have mostly blogged about the kinds of tasks that students should make sure they have scheduled—the New Semester Checklist post is still worth checking out, especially if this is your first year at university. But as I’ve started the process of introducing new syllabi to incoming classes, I have found myself repeating an idea that I have grown to embrace and expand into different areas of my life: do something today that your future self will thank you for.

It all started with my writing. I had discussed some time back the notion of parking ideas on a downhill slope to maintain momentum for when you return to an incomplete project. Over time, I realized that there were many other areas of my day-to-day life that could benefit from the idea of helping out the future me. Simple things like how I sort email, plan meals, and arrange my workouts or downtime have all benefited from this approach.

So in the spirit of renewal, here are some random things you could begin to do over this semester to take care of your future (academic) self. I hope they help inspire you to think of some of your own self-care tactics. You'll thank me later as well.

  • Get a big calendar (analog or digital) and write all of your assignment deadlines and exam dates in it. You will immediately get a visual understanding of how best to manage your time and energy for the semester ahead.
  • At the end of each class or at the end of each week, take 5-10 minutes for each set of notes you have taken to generate a quick list of bullet points that summarize the main ideas you remember from class. When it comes time to study for midterm or final exams, you will be grateful to have a ready-made overview of the main ideas covered for each of your courses.
  • Check that your pens have ink and that your pencils have lead each week. Alternatively, charge any device you want to use for taking notes in class. Power outlets are a rare commodity in most classrooms.
  • Every time you find a great book or article for a paper you are working on, type up a bibliographic citation and save it in a file for future retrieval (even if you are not sure if you will use it). Think of how much time you will save not typing up those citations in proper MLA or Chicago style or fussing with bibliographic software the night before a deadline. 
  • One of my favourite bits of advice is to break up your writing/outlining/reading over several days for no more than 1-1.5 hours at a time, i.e. plan ahead with a calendar like this one. Give yourself the luxury of time to marinate and develop ideas. Your future self will be cursing you out if you try to accomplish all of your projects in 8-12 hour marathons in the final week of a deadline.
  • If you are given a choice when to present a paper or group project, pick early in the semester and avoid signing up for dates within a week of a midterm, final, or research paper deadline.
  • If you use an email account other than your university email more regularly, take a few minutes to set up and forward all of your email to one place. I cannot tell you how many student awards and/or important information was missed because students forgot to keep tabs of all of their email accounts.
  • When your car’s gas gauge is down to a quarter tank, get some gas. If you take transit, make sure you have your pass somewhere handy to find each day. Being late and stressed out for class is detrimental to your mental health and your grades-- trust me.
  • Stock your backpack with little bags of nuts or other protein rich snacks and a bottle of water—they will sustain you in those moments when you can’t get to the cafeteria or the vending machine is out of order. 
  • Bring one of those mini staplers to each class… seriously. You will make a lot of friends on days when written assignments are due.