Sunday, January 30, 2011

Smooth Sailing of Life via Organization & Time-Management ~ For Students

There's a trend in much of the Eastern part of the world of arriving fashionably late to gatherings such as dinners and weddings. If an invitation card claims that the event will take place at 8:00 PM, the event will most likely start at 9:30 PM, and much later if it is a wedding. If some naive soul turns up at the door at 8:00 PM, he would most likely have to wait quite a while for his food - maybe even alone. "Desi Standard Time", as people of the subcontinent fondly call it. This is where you add half an hour to 3 hours to the original time, as stated by an online dictionary.

This is one thing we should learn to appreciate from the West- their general organizational skills and punctuality. If somebody turns up an hour or two late for a dinner, sadly all of the food will be gone. Things are systematic here, and there isn't always a battle to get a job done. Of course, we cannot change entire nations in one go, but we can start off with ourselves.

What we need to first of all consider is the importance of sticking to a schedule. Let's turn to the 5 daily prayers - at dawn, early afternoon, late afternoon, sunset, and twilight. The fact that we pray at 5 different times rather than all in one go elucidates the importance of doing things consistently and in an organized manner, rather than lumping everything together when we want to. This is what we call procrastination, a disease widespread amongst the youth, causing bright and capable students to get lower grades than they could potentially achieve, and also increasing their stress levels.

"You live life once", people say, so you should enjoy it. Others say "you live life once", and they mean that you should accomplish something in the little time you have. Although I lean more towards the latter, I would say there should be a balance. This is hard for most of the youth because it's a time where they want to be carefree and enjoy every second of life by doing exciting and risky things. I remember when I was in university, sometimes my friends would want to ditch classes and go out somewhere. I would be the only loner saying "Uh, I don't think this is such a good idea". A couple of times I gave in when I knew nothing important would happen in class that day. But obviously, I had to call my mom first, "Assalamu Alaikum, Ammi. Can I have permission to ditch class and go to the mall today with my friends because it's not such an important lesson?" My friends would always laugh at my silliness and I would laugh along, but I knew that my mother would always trust me if she knew I would responsibly tell her what I'm up to, and not once have I had to hide from her to do something because of that trust. It's true that the youth should enjoy their life and create memories for when they are older and can look back to their childhood or teen years and smile, but they should also remember that according to many ahadith, this is the most beloved time to Allah for people to turn to Him and act responsibly- not in old age as people usually do.

So, how should we keep organized in our life? Here are some pointers from a student who took 22 credit hours every semester for 2 years:

1. Determination

If you want to achieve something, there has to be will-power. You have to firmly believe that you can do it, and Allah is always there you help you. Allah (SWT) is capable of doing anything- He created the sun, the moon, the oceans, mountains, the entire universe and everything in it, including us. Never underestimate the power of dua. Allah is only waiting for us to ask Him. Have faith in Him and yourself.

2. Goal-orientation

Figure out what you're going to try to achieve in the next couple of years. Starting off with brainstorming helps. Include both academic and non-academic activities, and some sort of spiritual development as well. This will help you organize your plans. For example, my academic goal was to complete university in early 2009, which was going to be earlier than I was supposed to. For this, I had to write down which courses I will be taking each semester 2 years in advance, keeping all of the prerequisites for each subject in mind and planning accordingly. This made my goal more focused.

3. Planner

This is a necessity for students to keep them from forgetting important dates. With numerous quizzes, presentations, projects and finals, with different dates for each subject, keeping a planner is a must. One can also write down what they will be studying for that day. It's ideal to prepare for a class beforehand and revise afterwards, but with a lot of courses it can be difficult. We should aim to do this as much as we can, nevertheless. Also, make a general schedule for the day. Making an hour by hour schedule will most probably not work. I usually made my schedule revolve around the prayer timings. I would usually be in university until after Zuhur. Sometimes I would hit the books from Asr to Maghrib (yes, nerdy, I know), then Maghrib to Isha was always family time, and then the studies continued after Isha. The schedule obviously varies from student to student, depending on the number of courses they're taking, and how much work their professors give them. And no, the professors who give you the most work are not "cruel"; you will miss them the most after you graduate inshaAllah :)

I would also advise students to do things ahead of time; if there's homework due on Monday, don't start it Sunday night. The night before something is due you should be revising and looking over it, not starting it! If you leave for school at 7:00 AM, try to pack your bags and get everything ready the day before. Simple things like these make life less hectic and more calm.

Do things on time according to your planner, we don't need more people running according to DST!

4. Neatness

Some would call me extreme, but neat and tidy notes were always essential in my life, and they still are in my current classes. I was more picky about it in university though. It came to the point that I could not even bear to look at my notes if I had scribbled something on it during class. I would actually rewrite all of it, using color coordination with highlighters or colored pens (black, blue, red), and of course, post-its. I feel like this really helped me in my exams. Firstly, since it was neat and colorful, I would actually want to look at my notes and study, rather than a messy scribbling written in pencil. Secondly, I remember during my exams it helped me because I would be sitting in the exam hall, remembering any diagrams I had drawn or colors used for something particular. That's when the answer would click. I also used a lot of acronyms throughout my student life, which made it much easier to remember things. Making a funny story to link things also does wonders :)

Aside from neat notes, I felt that keeping my room clean while studying also helped in clearing my thoughts. A cluttered room leads to a cluttered mind, in my opinion. Cleaning up helps in not getting distracted and organizing the mind as well. This may not apply to all people, but growing up, I was taught that a messy room should make your eyes "sting", so it was always something important to me.

5. Breaks and outings

Last but not least, it's crucial to enjoy yourself! Studying too much can lead to too much stress and burning out. Taking breaks to rejuvenate oneself and refreshen ones mind is important in student life. In between studies, get up to grab a snack or drink (halal!), talk to family or friends, or just go for a short walk outside for fresh air. Every few days it would also be a good idea to go for an outing to anywhere you enjoy, and then come back home with a clear, refreshed mind. Let's face it, we all need breaks!

With these tips in mind, I hope we all strive to excel in whatever we are learning. Remember, learning is a lifelong process! رَبِّ زِدْنِي عِـلْمً