How to Stay on Top of School (Without a Mental Breakdown)

When it comes to school, I have precisely two modes. Either I am living my life as if I have never before attended school, as though for all intents and purposes I am the human equivalent of a tumbleweed, drifting through life with no burdens or responsibilities; or I am a sleepless zombie editing the same sentence of a paper that isn’t due for three days until the sun rises. There is absolutely no in between.

Since high school, I have dedicated all of my energy to making sure that I do not revert into Anthropomorphic Tumbleweed Mode, which means it’s been all school obsession all the time. In the hopes of preventing a mental breakdown or two, I’ve been trying to chill out a bit. Here are some of the ways to maintain that balance.

1. Make To-Do Lists

I have to put this one in the top spot because it is the single thread that ties me to my sanity and ability to feign having it together. I make a to-do list every single day. It ensures I know what I have coming up and what I absolutely need to get done at any given time. The relief that comes with knowing what my tasks are and that I’ll have the time to do them = my drug. (Please mentally sing that last part to the tune of “Your Love is My Drug” by Ke$ha if you can fit the syllables in.)


2. Have a Planner

Every single semester at the end of the first week of classes, I take each of my syllabi and input all of the due dates for each course into a planner. In color-coded pen. It makes me feel like a cute Instagram girl with a bullet journal and a bunch of succulents or something. Less importantly, it helps me stay aware of what’s coming up every week. And yes, this tweet is based on me.


3. Use Your Free Time Well

If I am not careful, I can spend hours mindlessly scrolling through a random person’s Twitter likes, or watching a show on Netflix I am not even enjoying, or basically just emotionlessly looking at a screen. Then before I know it, a whole afternoon is gone and not only have I not been productive, I haven’t even had fun and, oh my god, what is happening, what is time, we’ll all die someday, and boom, mental breakdown. So when I have free time, I make sure I’m doing something I genuinely enjoy, usually something that makes me feel happy, relaxed, and/or productive. For me, it’s usually writing, reading, or watching pirated episodes of British quiz shows on YouTube. (Don’t ask because I have no answers.)


4. Schedule Fun Stuff

Just as I can allow hate-reading listicles on Buzzfeed to eat an afternoon, if I’m not careful I can spend a whole weekend slowly becoming one with my couch. Which is excellent for a few hours or so, but I feel a million times better and happier if I get out and do something at least once. Last year, my roommate and I agreed we would go somewhere new in the city every Friday; this semester, we have a standing agreement to try a new bar at least once a weekend. Some of my school-related breakdowns come from sudden freakouts that I’m wasting my ~college experience~, and this is a good way to stave those off as well as make sure my life isn’t all school. Just mostly.


5. Taking Care of Yourself

I don’t just mean the face-mask-and-bath-bomb type of self-care — although, fun! — but actually keeping your fundamental needs in check. This may seem ridiculous from someone who just ate five fun-sized Kit Kats or someone who just yesterday managed to be underfed, dehydrated, hungover, and exhausted all at once, and yes both of those someones are me. It seems ridiculous because it is: I do not do this one very well. But I do know that at those moments I have managed to drink water, sleep enough, and eat something besides cookies, I have felt a lot more capable of taking on the goddamn world. Or at least that upcoming essay.


6. Know Your Learning Style

That unbearably lame quiz you were inevitably forced to take in some completely random high school class can actually be…helpful? For example, I know I’m a reading/writing type, so when I’m studying I handwrite study guides. Studying in a way that’s most helpful for you cuts down on the amount of time it takes and leaves you feeling more prepared. Also, taking quizzes is fun. You can find out your learning type here, or also on infinite other sites because this test is absolutely everywhere.


7. Take Advantage of Every Opportunity

This isn’t some cheesy thing about living it up in your college experience, because my ideal evening involves pajama pants and solitude, but rather a Scheme. Whenever my professors offer office hours or meetings about an assignment, I am there in a flash. Not only does it help you gain a better understanding of the assignment and thereby feel more prepared, but it shows the professor you’re putting in basic effort. And then they’re just overwhelmed by the need to give you an A.

And living it up during your college experience probably isn’t a bad idea either.

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