Updated: November 5, 2013 6:10AM
Dear Mr. Bradshaw,
I am watching my sister go crazy filling out college applications, writing essays and getting recommendations. She literally cries herself to sleep at night thinking she will not get everything completed before the deadlines.
I am a sophomore planning on applying to top colleges such as Harvard and Stanford, but I do not want to face the same anxiety when I am a senior. Can you offer advice on how to handle the pressure?
You need to plan ahead. The key to coping with pressure is how you manage your time. Colleges like Harvard and Stanford open the application process in early August. Other colleges such as the University of California system open their applications Oct. 1. There is a lot to juggle and plan for, and because it will be your senior year, you will be very busy with school work.
You need to create a time- and goal-management system that will help you cope with all of these activities. The time to start now is as a sophomore.
Technology is a tool that will assist you in time management. Buy a smart phone and laptop and sync your activities so your email, calendar and contact information are up to date on each device. Any changes are automatically synchronized.
Master the use of email. Texting is useful for quick communications but it is not appropriate for professional purposes that require the transfer of detailed information. In the course of a year I typically have between 200 and 300 emails per client. Many include attachments. The ability to search through emails for information such as SAT dates and attachments is unsurpassed.
Google Calendar is a great resource. You can schedule, set reminders and make a to-do list all in one place. “Remember the Milk” (www.rememberthemilk.com) is a popular online task management tool that syncs with your phone. There are plenty of online services (todoist, ta-da lists, toodledo) to help make computerized to-do lists. There is always a pencil, sticky notes, a physical calendar and an agenda.
With the help of two Harvard undergraduates I developed what I call the ultimate time-management tool. It is the first module of our Accelerate Leadership Program. The subtitle is “How to Do a Million Things at Once. “
The first thing you need to do is set your priorities. Collect all the things that need resolution in your immediate life. This should include homework, exams, essays, project plans, deadlines and anything that needs resolution. Then prioritize this list.
Once you have collected your list and prioritized it, start working through it. If it is a large task or project then break it up into smaller parts and go through the same process of prioritizing each mini-task.
Make a to-do list, whether it is for homework, for essays and exams, or for larger projects. And, as always — prioritize.
If you want to start a new club, priority A is to write a mission statement. Priority B is to gather membership and priority C is to get school recognition.
If you are studying for a math exam, priority A is to talk with your teacher about parameters for the exam. Priority B is to gather your notes and put them in order and priority C is to do the practice tests and review problems.
And, let’s say you want to become president of Model UN club. Priority A is to write a campaign speech. Priority B is to campaign among your peers at every opportunity.
An important part of time management is making sure you take time for yourself. Make sure to start every task early and lay out an action plan. Schedule breaks and take some spontaneous fun time. Get enough sleep and remember, life is all about balance.