Moving onto University, many students face an exponential increase in the number of difficult assignments and an expectation of self-directed learning. This often leads to an increase in stress and a decrease in health and well-being in students, especially if they are not prepared for the intensive academic rigor.
The increased stress can make it hard for students to enjoy their time in university and decrease their motivation to study as the workload piles up. How is it that some students seem to prosper even with their high level of commitments (internships, sports careers, volunteering, work, etc.) even though they have the same 24 hours as the rest of us?
Part of the answer lies in their routine. As a person who juggled being a national athlete while handling the responsibilities of a student, I can assure you that with a routine, your ability to succeed in academic life will improve.
The value of the routine
So, what makes having a routine such a game-changer? Why do elite athletes and national champions emphasize that routines are essential for success? One word: Consistency. Routine helps set the tone and the discipline to get the job done when motivation wanes. It helps to maximize the 24 hours allocated to every single one of us living here on this planet each day.
A routine helps to eliminate the mental effort needed to motivate yourself on difficult days. It’s very easy to formulate grandiose plans when emotions are running high when talking about your goals. However, on the days when things aren’t going well, the effort it takes for you to carry on and achieve your goals becomes an insurmountable and paralyzing task. It is days like those where you just want to curl up into a ball and give up on your aspirational goals.
“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” – Mike Tyson, Professional boxer
Create a routine and stick to it
If you do want to achieve your aspirational goals for studying, it is wise to come up with a plan to achieve them and focus on adhering closely to that plan. This way, you can form a good habit when it comes to studying and it won’t feel as much of a chore.
According to a study done by Dr. Arlinghaus on routines, he reported that it took an average of 66 days (around 9 to 10 weeks) before the routine becomes a habit for the participants. This is good news for students like us as our semester lasts around that time as well. By the time the good studying habit is formed, it will help us well in studying for the final exams.
“It is all very well planning what you will do in six months, what you will do in a year, but it’s no good at all if you don’t have a plan for tomorrow.” – Hilary Mantel, Award-winning author
Do something small first
There are some tricks that one can use to initiate a routine. For my routine for my goal of hitting the gym every day, I simply put on my gym clothes. I do not think about the training to be done (as it has already been planned in the planning phase), but I simply concentrate on making sure that I have packed my things ready for the gym. It makes the task much easier to do and decreases the chances of me skipping my gym sessions.
James Clear, the author of the book Atomic Habits, calls this trick the “two-minute rule”. Usually, when we try to make a change to our routines, we make the mistake of trying to do too much too soon. With the “two-minute rule”, he states that “when you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do”. Most habits can be scaled down to a two-minute version, for example, “working out at the gym every day for 90 minutes” becomes “putting on my gym clothes every day”. Overall, the main idea is to make sure that the routines are as easy as possible to start.
This technique can be used when studying. A goal might be to ensure that you read a single page or view a single slide of notes every day instead of saying that you will study an entire chapter daily. Very often just that act alone allowed me to read another page and another after that which eventually leads me to study the entire chapter. Most of the time, this leads to accomplishing the things I need to get done by the end of the day with little effort.
Advantages of routines
Other than ensuring consistency and forming a good habit, having a routine helps you to be better focused and more productive overall. With a routine, you start your day with an end goal in mind such as a list of tasks that you need to get done for the day, and the amount of time allocated to completing that task. Tasks lists are very tool important in achieving your goals for the day.
In the book Atomic Habits, James Clear also mentioned that habit tracking via task lists builds a visual cue that acts as a reminder to work on your goals. It also helps us be honest with ourselves in measuring whether we are adhering to our routines. Moreover, the task lists also act as visual proof of the hard work we have done over time, which can be a good confidence booster on bad days.
Doing this ensures that never again will your day start aimlessly, and will you waste precious time before deciding what you need to do for the day. Moreover, with a routine, it becomes much easier for you to implement studying techniques, such as spaced repetition and pre-class preparations.
“If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” – Peter Drucker, Management Consultant
Disadvantages of routines
There are certain disadvantages of having a daily routine. One is the risk of boredom and monotony. It can be quite mentally draining to repeat the same daily routine for weeks on end even though it may help you get closer to your goal. You may even lose sight of why you ever wanted to achieve your goal in the first place and leading to eventual burnout. That is why it is often important to review your goals and adjust them as necessary.
Another disadvantage is the lack of creativity and inspiration from having to repeat the same daily routine with no significant changes. Again, using different strategies from making task lists to adjusting your goals and varying when and where you do the work (e.g., studying by yourself, in groups, in the library, at Starbucks) can help significantly to reduce these issues.
Overall, there is a net benefit to having a routine. To be in university and pursue further education is a blessing, however, we must also remember that sometimes higher education can be quite overwhelming. By setting a routine, one can be able to achieve their goals more efficiently which then allows more time to spend on other things which are also important in life, like time with family and friends. With a routine, you are building good habits and instilling self-discipline in your life. I hope that you will consider creating a routine and eventually forming a daily habit for yourself with the goal of becoming a better, smarter, and happier you.
Arlinghaus, K. R., & Johnston, C. A. (2018). The importance of creating habits and routine. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 13(2), 142–144. https://doi.org/10.1177/1559827618818044
Cherry, K. (2020). The importance of maintaining structure and routine during stressful times. Verywell Mind. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/the-importance-of-keeping-a-routine-during-stressful-times-4802638
Clear, J. (n.d.). Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones.