A friend of mine walked into my room the other night, somewhat distraught. “I just realized,” she said, “that I literally do not know what to do with myself when I am not doing homework.” I would have teased her, but I couldn’t–I feel exactly the same way.

Because college has no defined work/not work boundaries, it is incredibly easy to just work all the time and completely lose any ability to do things that are not assigned to you. This isn’t healthy. Side projects and hobbies (for example, this site) are the sorts of things that not only get you noticed from a pack of job applicants post-graduation, but which make you a non-boring, fully-functional human being.

So, inspired by this blog post, I’ve decided to strike back. It’s hard, but I’ve had some successes: for the first time in what feels like months, I read a book purely for pleasure. I have more time to write. Instead of letting college become my life, I’ve confined it to what it is–my job. I’ve set myself work hours (10 a.m. to 6 p.m. during the week, and the afternoons and evenings on the weekends) and I am doing my hardest to use the time after that to explore things I’m actually interested in.

There are four steps to making this work. They are:

  • Know what you need to do: I have very clear lists each day of what I need to accomplish. I know what assignments I need to finish by the end of my “work” time. I’m able to do this because, every three weeks, I write out all of the homework I need to be doing each day in order to hand my assignments in on time. I don’t have to worry about working ahead because I know I will finish everything if I only stick to what’s in the planner. This means that absolutely none of my mental processes go towards worrying about what I need to do.
  • Find distractions and blind yourself to them: It turns out that the actual amount of time it normally takes to do my homework falls easily in the time I’ve set to do it. The issue is that what should really be 20 minutes of work to turn out two pages of an essay winds up being an hour because I have the attention span of a rodent. I can only get my work done in the time I’ve set for it because I ignore Facebook, Twitter, BoingBoing, and everything else during work time. If it’s not in my planner when I’m supposed to be working, I don’t get to touch it.
  • Learn to say no: Overextending yourself with extracurriculars does not make you an interesting person. It makes you burnt out, crabby, and unable to do anything that is really cool. So, the clubs that I was only sort of tangentially involved in (like random honor societies) have dropped off my radar. The clubs which are really interesting to me are the ones that stay, because if they’re something I’m doing in my free time I want them to engage me and put me in touch with people I enjoy. Life is too short to deal with folks I don’t want to when I don’t have to.
  • Develop hobbies: The point of all of this is to get you back to a place where you can do things that are actually interesting for you. I know that college has probably taken a lot of that from you (prior to setting on this regimen my hobby was napping), so I have some suggestions: do anything that gets you away from a screen. Go for walks, read a book unrelated to your major, or write something. Feel free to produce something because you want to or to produce nothing at all. This kind of stuff is what will preserve your ability to talk to people outside of your major, and trust me that you want to be able to do that. A life filled with a single kind of person is the most boring kind of life.

It’s difficult and may sound a little crazy to regiment your life this way, but for me it has given me free time and a level of enjoyment that I had completely lost in college. If you find it useful, or have tips for sticking to it, please let us know in the comments!