04/24/14

4 Tips to Starting the Semester the Right Way

The beginning of a new semester is an exciting, informative, and optimistic time of year. However, if you haven’t been in “school mode” for a few weeks (or months!), each new semester brings a stark realization that free time and sleep are at a premium, and responsibilities seem never-ending. Here are a few tips for getting the semester started on the right foot (unless you’re in marching band, in which case you ALWAYS should lead with your left foot!):

1. Be Over-Prepared

There is no better way to start the school year than to have everything ready that can be. Take some time to think of any possible obstacle you could run into in your first few weeks, and do everything you can to preempt the problem. Here are just a few ways you can prepare yourself for the school year BEFORE it begins:

  • Get supplies before classes begin. You may not know exactly what you’ll need for each class, but an extra notebook or two will certainly not hurt you down the line!
  • Go grocery shopping. It seems menial, but the hour or so you would have spent at Publix in the first few weeks of classes will go a long way towards getting work done!
    • BONUS: Take some time to prepare dinners for your first week or so, and freeze them. You’ll be glad you don’t have to bake the chicken from scratch when you’re finally ready for dinner at 9:30pm your first day.
  • Clean your room/apartment. Another seemingly menial task, but coming back the first night of classes to a clean place and a made bed will take one level of stress out of your evening. Make it a point to do laundry as well!

2. Get a Head Start

All of us become procrastinators at some point during the semester. The first week of classes, however, is NOT the time to do it! Was a term paper or large project assigned on the first day? Take even twenty minutes to get a bit of research done or pick a topic that day. It will make your life a lot easier down the line once other responsibilities have picked up.

One great way to get a head start on your work is by simply to define what your work is. For example, if you find out on the first day of class that you have a term project due at the end of the semester, and you only think about it as “the term project,” you’re not likely to get started on it. However, if you break the project up into smaller, more easily attainable chunks like this:

Term Project To-Do

  1. List potential topics
  2. Do ten minutes of research on each potential topic
  3. Choose a topic based on interest and research
  4. Decide what form the project will take (powerpoint, video, etc.)
  5. Do research
  6. Write a draft
  7. Revise
  8. Practice Presentation/Film Video/Etc.

then all of a sudden, it is a lot easier to get started on your term project! Breaking your large projects and assignments up into small, attainable tasks from the beginning can help you with this.

3. Establish a Routine

By the middle of the semester, most people have established a routine in terms of when they go to sleep, when they wake, and what they do during the day. However, if you make a conscious effort to decide on and establish this routine from the first day, you will find yourself being much more productive down the line. Here’s how things normally work:

  • Weeks 1/2: Not a lot of homework, so I’ll stay up late hanging out with all my friends, and sleep in until right before class
  • Weeks 3-5: Homework is starting to pile up… so I need to stay up late doing homework and get up early for [insert extracurricular activity here] and I’m not getting much sleep!!
  • Weeks 6-8: Miterms are coming up, and I have more work to do than hours in the day, but I am not motivated to do any of it because I’m not getting ANY rest!

… you see how it could continue. If, however, you established a routine from the first day of waking up early and going to sleep at a reasonable hour, all of a sudden you have many more productive hours in the day (we are generally more productive in the morning hours – if we’re well rested – than late at night, anyway) ALL semester.

Routines don’t have to just be specific to when you sleep and wake. Set a routine in your practice schedule, so that from day one, you are used to practicing at a certain time. This will prevent you from being flexible with your practice time down the road because you would rather [insert any other activity, including "kiss a naked mole rat"] that day. Other potential things to set aside time for:

  • Blogging: Want to write more frequently on your blog? Get in the routine of setting aside time to write each day/week
  • Reflecting: Are you doing field experience/student teaching? Set time aside each day/week to reflect on your experiences
  • Score Study: I was told once by Gary Green (Director of Bands at UMiami) that anyone who wants to be a band director should study as many scores as possible, just to learn from them. If this is something you believe, set aside some time each evening for score study!

4. Set Goals

I have written before about the importance of setting goals in your life. The beginning of a new semester is a fantastic time to decide on some long-term goals for the coming months. Consider setting goals for yourself in the following categories:

  • School - What do you want to learn in your classes?
  • Extracurricular - Are you involved in a student organization? What do you want to achieve in it? If not, do you want to join one?
  • Professional Development - Are you going to attend any conferences? What do you want to learn outside of the classroom?
  • Personal - What, if any, goals do you have for your personal life?

Don’t forget to check out my post on staying productive by setting goals for some tips on goal-setting.

What tips do you have for starting the semester off on the right foot? Leave a tip in the comments!

Related posts:

  1. Organization Tips for Music Education Majors
  2. How to Stay Productive: Part 1-Set Goals
  3. Majoring in Music Education: Graduate vs Undergraduate
  4. Hire Me! Tips for Finding Your First Music Teaching Job After Graduation
  5. Don’t Waste Your Electives!
About Andy Zweibel

Andy Zweibel is a Music Education major at the University of Miami Frost School of Music in Coral Gables, FL. He founded MusicEdMajor.net in June 2009, and has also been blogging at http://andyzweibel.com since the Fall of 2007. You can also find him on Twitter at @Zweibz7. In his free time, Andy enjoys spending time with friends, and exploring new technology.