How I Get Through College Without Thinking

I used to be a computer engineering major with a 2.6 GPA.

Now, I’m getting 4.0’s as a psychology major, assisting in two research labs. I’m close to submitting a paper to an academic journal for publishing, as first author. I also manage a large student organization.

All while I almost never do homework past dinner time, nor on Saturdays.

How was I able to academically rebirth myself and still have a crap-ton of free time?

Other than the fact that I grew to love psychology, there’s one technique has helped me drastically.

I’d like to share this technique with you.

The Two Types of Work in Life

Whether you’re a full-time employee at a large company, an entrepreneur looking to start your own business, or a college student like me, I’ve realized that there are two types of work in life.

They are:

  • Regularly occurring tasks
  • Non-regularly occurring tasks

Regularly occurring tasks are tasks that you do repeatedly. Like completing homework problems, or preparing a project status report.

Non-regularly occurring tasks are big, important projects, or work that inevitably pops up. Like a senior thesis, or an assignment from your boss via email.

It’s important to distinguish these two types of work to be able to prioritize your focus.

Through learning how to identify my work, I’ve learned to never do regularly occurring work on-the-fly. Deciding to do this work on-the-fly takes away my focus from things that really matter to me.

I’ve learned to make these decisions automatic.

I’ve learned to set my work on autopilot.

So how do you autopilot your work?

How to Autopilot Your Regularly Occurring Work

Step 1. Specify your regularly occurring tasks.

What are the tasks that you do every week?

Work on stuff for criminology class” isn’t a task.

“Complete weekly reading assignment for criminology class” is.

Don’t be vague; Be specific.

Step 2. Assign every regularly occurring task to a specific day and time.

The specific day and time will be your trigger to start it.

Here’s how Step 1 & 2 looks like for me this school quarter:

  • Prepare for weekly meeting with Kat to discuss big journal paper: Tuesdays at 4pm
  • Complete 10 hours of participant running and/or data cleaning in Pressman Lab:Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 2pm
  • Complete any delegated tasks from Joey in Social Behavior Lab: Thursday afternoons and sometimes Friday mornings
  • Do statistics lab assignments: Fridays at 2pm
  • Prepare and facilitate board meetings for student organization: Prepare half-an-hour right before meetings on Sunday afternoons
  • Do student organization tasks for the week: Sunday afternoons, after board meetings
  • Do my Weekly Review: Sunday evenings
  • Dance: Monday and Thursday evenings (Okay, maybe this isn’t work, but it could be for our purposes)

Some crucial pointers for Step 2:

Know when during the day you are most productive. Are you a night owl or a morning person?

For instance, since I’m more of a morning person, my more cognitively-wrenching work is in the morning (like my big journal paper), and my more mindless work is in the afternoon (like cleaning data for my research lab).

Give yourself a little extra time to complete each task. For example, if you think it takes you an hour to write a three-page paper, give yourself an hour-and-a-half.

The buffer time will come in handy.

And if possible, batch up work to specific events, like preparing for club meetings right before the meeting, and doing club tasks right after the meeting. These triggers will help you get started.

Step 3. Execute, reflect, and tweak.

If you don’t get the autopilot schedule right the first time, don’t sweat it. It’ll happen to the most of us (I still tweak my autopilot schedule to this day).

Simply try it out. Then reflect on your week. See what worked and what didn’t work, and tweak your schedule from there.

My partly-planned Week 6 of this quarter. I like my evenings and Saturdays completely free of academic gunk.

Why the Autopilot Schedule Works

  • You will drastically reduce your work stress.
  • You will be able to focus 100% on important projects in your life.
  • You will be able to relax 100% during your free time.

Textbook readings and weekly assignments rarely cross my mind because I know this work will be taken care of.

I also hit that low-stress sweet spot where I’m able to focus 100% (or as @champagnepapi says, one-hunnid) on projects that really matter. Like my post-grad plans. Or this darn journal paper.

And during my free time, I don’t feel guilty when I browse through the interwebs and relax on my couch for 4 hours.

It will do you wonders to your stress levels, your delivery on important projects, and your free time.

Start Your Autopilot Schedule

If you constantly feel like you don’t have enough time for things, I highly suggest you give the autopilot schedule a try.

Feel free to email me, message me, or leave me a comment below and let me know how your autopilot schedule works for you, or if you’d like me to help you get started.

Happy autopiloting!


I originally posted this on my blog, here.