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The Balance of Joy in College

By Emma, a Peer Tutor

Coming to college is filled with so many emotions. Loads of excitement to establish yourself, but also some anxiety surrounding classes and finding your place in a large community. As a member of the Covid Class of 2020, last fall was my first “normal” semester at UNC. It was my first time having the college experience I heard about from my parents and the semester that had been promised to me ever since August of 2020 when I moved into and out of my dorm within a week and a half. After patiently waiting, I was beyond ready to have a typical college experience for myself. I was so excited to get involved and really find my place on campus last fall. I knew I needed to make up for lost time.

High school graduation in Spring of 2020

This caused some of my overachieving tendencies to kick in. I attempted to spread myself as thin as possible by agreeing to sorority events, going to dance practices, taking on a job on campus, and attending all the sporting and social events that I could. I was doing this all while I took two rigorous Economics classes within a 15 hour course load. The amount of things I wanted to do was overwhelming, but it all added to the anticipation and excitement of a new semester. I had run a pretty busy schedule in high school so I anticipated handling a busy college schedule with ease. However, I quickly noticed some things slipping through the cracks.

I wasn’t prioritizing the things I should’ve been because I was always out doing something. Whether it was office hours, sorority functions, or anything in between, I was busy and continued to fill my schedule. It was admittedly fun at the moment, but it became exhausting quickly and I couldn’t keep it up for very long. I barely had any time for myself to recharge before I had to turn around and do something else. My grades started to fall below where I wanted them. I felt like a ship passing in the night with most of my friends as no one got more than thirty minutes of my time before I had to be at my next meeting, event, or class. By having so many interests and so much excitement, I began to do a lot of things “fine,” but did nothing “well.”

I knew there was a better way to manage my time and I needed to reset. The clearest and easiest way for me to do this was to figure out what I HAD to do first. For me, this was classes, required sorority events, work, and dance practices. These were things I did not want to cut out of my daily routine. So, I identified when those things were and told myself I was not free during those times. By sectioning off the time I did not have free, I was able to easily identify the time I DID have free. From there, I could decide what I wanted to do with that free time. I always tried to incorporate a nice balance between necessary library time and a fun social activity like a trip to Alpine with a friend.

The best tool for me to make this was the Weekly Planner split into thirty minute intervals. I love the version with thirty minute intervals because it allows me to schedule and segment my day with more detail and intention. By working in thirty minute increments, I am zoning in to give myself a specific goal for those thirty minutes, even if the goal is to relax. If I could advise you to do one thing this semester, it is to use this. This sheet became my lifeline for the majority of my fall semester and all last spring. By using this resource, I could mark off times when I’m in class or busy with required commitments to see the availability I actually do have. It helped me see when I should grab a bite to eat, if I’m able to attend my professor’s office hours, or anything in between. Seeing blank spaces of free time on this planner helped me divide my free time between all the things I was interested in, without overwhelming myself.

An example of what a weekly planner could look like. The green sections are chunks of free time in between activities that can be helpful to identify little pockets of time.

I would take time each Sunday to plan out my week. It became a little piece of my routine that made such a big impact on me. Organizationally, I was able to see what I had going on that week. Mentally and emotionally, I was always prepared for the week ahead and aware of what I was facing each day.

This scheduling would be most helpful for me on a week with an exam. Midterms are always a chaotic time and never over the course of just one week. Planning for the hectic time of midterms is crucial to be as successful as possible in each subject and not let any class slip through the cracks. Exams involve studying in advance so by taking the time to identify your total amount of free time and how much of that you need to spend studying, you can still find space to relax and hang out with friends. For example, if I had an exam Wednesday I would choose to spend most of my free time on Monday and Tuesday studying because I knew that I could spend free time on Thursday and Friday hanging out with friends. Being able to see my entire week and make compromises with myself before it started helps me keep everything straight. This past semester, I had a big Economics midterm on a Tuesday. I knew that even with all my prior studying and preparation, as much of my free time about 24 hours before the exam needed to be dedicated to only Econ. I made sure to work ahead in other courses so I didn’t miss any content there, went to the library after work even though that is something I normally try to avoid, and got up early the morning of the exam to review. By pushing myself before the midterm, I rewarded myself afterwards by spending a little extra time with my friends. Midterms and finals are a stressful time, but stress levels will decrease the more prepared you are. By taking the time to evaluate where compromises need to be made you will be able to see that your hard work is worth it in the long run.

Over the latter half of the fall semester, I was able to stay on top of my schoolwork, spend quality time with friends, and take time for myself to reset. I started to find joy in the little things because I was able to stop for a second and look around. Getting YoPo with friends on Wednesdays, going for walks with my roommate on Sundays, and enjoying lunch at my sorority as often as possible were each happy habits that I picked up once I realized how I wanted to prioritize my time. By prioritizing myself with this scheduling tool, I was able to have my best semester so far this past spring. I felt like I finally found the perfect balance between being the student I wanted to be and the friend I wanted to be. The more I was aware of my schedule, the better I got at creating the best balance for myself.

On a walk with my roommate, Sophie, this past Spring

By choosing what you want to prioritize and identifying your free time around that, you can really enjoy the activities you’re doing. You can make the most out of college without getting run down. College is such a fun time to gain a lot of independence and using this planner is a helpful way to keep yourself grounded.

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