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“The 20s are like the stem cell of human development, the pluripotent moment when any of several outcomes is possible.” – Robin Marantz Henig, The New York Times

Ever hate how Cameron is so good at networking? Or wonder how Charmaine manages to get away with 6 hours of sleep every night? Is it possible for you to keep up with these other people with seemingly natural aptitudes and advantages?

The answer is with habits. As Timothy Wilson explains in this book review, “…fortunately we also have the ability to operate on automatic pilot, performing complex behaviors without any conscious thought at all.”

It may be difficult to imagine right now, but school can be a phase of life that’s relatively less taxing. 20 or so hours of class per week means that there’s still plenty of time to experiment with life. In contrast, work (whether it’s at a 9-5 job, freelancing, or starting your own business) is a lot more strenuous than school is.

The key is to tomorrow’s success is to build useful habits today. Let’s get into seven that you can start building this evening:

1. Biphasic Sleep Cycle

Benefits: More Time, Greater Capacity

Before you smirk and wonder if you really need the extra one or two hours at the moment, think about all those times you wished you had more hours in a day. Think about the future: what about when work starts to pick up? What about when exam season rolls around? How about filling out two or three more job applications everyday, or spending a bit more time with friends?

With the biphasic sleep cycle, you will be functioning perfectly on six hours of sleep without caffeine. You’re going to start sleeping in two phases: one 4.5 hour phase, and one 1.5 hour phase. This cycle takes about 10 days to adapt to, and the adaptation isn’t too difficult. The key is to make sure you don’t skip either cycle, and try to keep the larger chunk within the 4.5-5 hour range. In this case, a sample cycle if you have early morning class: 10PM – 3AM sleep, 5AM – 7AM sleep (assuming it takes 30 minutes for you to fall asleep, which is a pretty large threshold).
If you’re planning to go out that night, then set your alarm for 4.5 hours right as you’re about to pass out (do your best) and catch up on the nap some other time during the day.

2. Working Out

Benefits: Increased Energy, Self-Image

Here’s an oldie, but a goodie: Who doesn’t want to go to the gym more? You may have even taken a stab at this a year ago or two years ago.
If you don’t have this habit built-in yet, here’s what you’re going to do differently this time: Go to the gym three days a week and use the rest of the time finding a solid workout regimen to stick to. Some days, you’re not going to feel like showing up: that’s quite alright, just pack your stuff, go to the gym, sit down at the reception area for five minutes, and leave if you still don’t feel up to it. Don’t ever flop completely, though. The point is to build the habit.

Working out has many more benefits than just improving self-image: entrepreneur Richard Branson claims that working out supercharges productivity. If the president finds a reason to put it in his daily routine, perhaps it’s worth giving a try.

3. Wake Up Earlier

Benefits: Creativity, Productivity

While sleep keeps us healthy and happy, the first hour of the day deserves more than what we use it for: rushing to get out of the house. During the beginning of the day, we’re in the unique phase where we’ve just woken up and we’re somewhere between sleep and consciousness, which allows us to be more creative.

The first hour of our day sets the pace for the rest of our day. Whether you choose to work out, build a part of something awesome, or get a head start on work, it’ll help build momentum for the actions you choose to take throughout the rest of the day. If you’re looking for ideas, Fast Company highlights what successful people do in the first hour of their day.

Wake up half an hour or an hour earlier, and spend that time doing something you’re interested in.

4. Skip the Snooze

Benefits: Punctuality, Consistency

Snoozing sucks. If you’ve ever cut class or went to work late because you slept in, skipping the snooze will be a great habit to build in to your life. Steve Pavlina summarizes it pretty well: simply practice this until it becomes a habit. Literally take a night (or an afternoon) off, and set your alarm to go off in five minutes. Then crawl under the covers, and wait for the alarm clock to go off, and get out of bed when it rings. Rinse and repeat until it becomes second nature to get out of bed right away.

If you can’t stand the shriek of your alarm clock, wake up to your favorite tracks with computer-based alarm clock software.

5. Attending Networking Events

Benefits: Social Experience, Professional Opportunities

Networking isn’t just a business school thing. Everyone knows that connections and “who you know” really matters; however, meeting more people can be a bit of a mystery. Don’t wait till you’re in your mid-30s before you step into the arena of networking events: being young has its advantages. Everyone will be more willing to help a green student or a fresh grad out, and you’ll get a bit of leeway despite being shy or nervous. In fact, you may even be able to get free or discounted tickets to networking events because of you’re a student.

Try to dodge the “networking event” branded events (like information sessions or job fairs). By this, I mean if you’re interested in entrepreneurship, go to a local accelerator’s demo day or a hackathon. If you’re in science, scope out the next banquet or science awards. If you’re in art, go to the next gallery party. And so on.

If you’re racking your brain for something to say to strangers: “Hi, I don’t know you yet. My name is x,” is a pretty straightforward way to meet someone. Then, “What brings you here tonight?” followed by a, “What’s keeping you busy?” will keep the conversation going for a while. Don’t hang around if it gets too slow, and either exchange contact information or politely excuse yourself and have a walk around. Show up to these once or twice a month, and you’ll be comfortable mingling with professionals in no time.

6. Find Solitude

Benefits: Greater Capacity, Clearer Mind

Despite complaints about not having enough hours in a day, I can always point out patches of my day I didn’t use to the fullest. For me, it was about getting distracted when studying, or not focusing on the right things at the times I was supposed to. That’s when I started disconnecting from the internet, and this has done wonders for my productivity and focus.

In terms of retention, my studying for three hours will be equivalent to six or seven hours before. I know I can’t choose to focus, but I can choose to remove distractions. If you’re interested in spending a smaller part of your day studying, here’s what you do:

Log out of Facebook, e-mail, and Twitter on your computer. Put your phone in a backpack or in your drawer, and set a timer to work for 25 minutes. During this time, you’re not going to check any of those social media feeds: instead, all you’ll do is study. After the timer is complete, then you’re free to check whatever for 5 minutes. Rinse, and repeat. Run these sessions for 3-4 times a day, and then slowly increase the number.

7. Read, Read, Read

Benefits: Creativity, Memory, Social Experience

While it can be easy to watch movies and TEDtalks, there’s still a ton of knowledge and wisdom out there that can only be found in classic book format. Reading can be much easier and faster than watching (or listening to) a lecture. Apparently, reading can also make your memory stronger. The brain is a connection machine, so if you’ve got information for it to retrieve then you can make more connections – and thus, become more creative.

Reading also contributes to your social experiences: Interesting people always have something to contribute. Where do you get your facts, synthesize more ideas, and refine your own opinions on issues? Reading.

Okay, fine – if you find absolutely no benefits to reading, at least read 15-20 minutes before you hit the hay. It’ll help you get to sleep faster. No more tossing and turning!

Laying the Groundwork

These seven habits are just the beginning. Habits can take from 21 days to 2 months to build. If this is your first time building a habit, don’t take on all 7 at once: instead, focus on 1 or 2, and focus on school, and enjoy the rest of your semester. It’s my hope that this not only helps you lay the groundwork for future success, but also gives you some insight into building habits for the rest of your life.

About the Author:

This guest post was written by Herbert Lui. Herbert is the author of Brick by Brick, a catalyst for student success. You can follow him on Twitter.

Image credit: xtrah