And that’s it. The festive holidays gone for another year, assigned to the attic along with the christmas decorations and the presents you don’t really want. How fast it has passed! It doesn’t seem like two minutes ago that summer was upon us and my wife said jokingly “Six months until christmas…” I laughed. She laughed. But it was true! How time flies.
So with 2015 in full swing, it is somewhat belatedly that I visit the topic of new year’s resolutions. I used to love this time of year when I was at high school. I told myself that NOW was the time to make a concerted effort, to pull my socks up and get my act together. I wager it would be hilarious to look back over my old school books. The first few pages after the christmas holidays would be drastically neater than the rest of the exercise book. There would be greater volume of work, more diligently done and with greater care. Such is the power of a new year. It gives us all a renewed sense of purpose, or at least a jolt in enthusiasm.
The return after christmas is crunch time at university.
In my first year, I had the mentality that I was still on school time. Exams were way off in June. I could put my feet up until March time and then get prepped for the exams, safe in the knowledge that there was still time left to learn all that I had to. The reality is that universities operate on a much shorter cycle. Easter descends abruptly at the end of March. You get 4 weeks or so holiday, and then you go straight into exams. It is a pretty stark transition. The teaching time you have left from now until your exams is short. Mid January to about mid March. It passes in an instant.
For academic progress, now is the time to get ahead of the game. I once read the “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey. I was interested in one item particularly – that of prioritisation. Covey had the following square in his book: –
The idea is that you place all of your tasks in the quadrants provided. Then you get to work. Which ones are the tasks you should be working on? Obviously, you need to shift the urgent and important ones first, but here is where Covey makes an interesting point. The most IMPORTANT square is the IMPORTANT but NOT URGENT square. Why? Because this is where you are proactive. If you spend most of your time working on activities that are important, but they aren;t yet important, you are in control, you are ahead of the game. Somebody who works on important and urgent tasks all the time is reactive. They are not in control. They are bound by their urgent deadline. Shift the important and urgent tasks and work – as much as is physically possible – on the important and not urgent tasks.
Got an assignment due in for the end of February? That is important. But not urgent. Get it done. Then, when something out of the blue pops up, you can respond to it safe in the knowledge you are ahead of the game. You are proactive, not reactive.
The take home tip? List all potential activities you have coming up over the next term and split them up into a matrix like the one above. Chances are “revision” will appear. That is one that is important and not urgent. So therefore, one to be constantly doing now!
The return after christmas also signals the impending end to your university career. Such close proximity to the summer holidays should signify to you the brevity of your time at university. You need to plan for your destination upon graduation. Do you know what you are going to do yet? Do you have a plan on how to achieve it? I am a fan of advice you can actually do – so here are the actions you should do now to help propel you onto a graduate career: –
1) Attend networking events – the university will put on plenty. Be there. Meet people. Make connections. It is tempting to hide behind the computer and ping emails or connection requests. It doesn’t work. See the white of people’s eyes and connect properly with them.
2) Skills audit – Google the job you want. Make a list of the skills required to do this job. They may be listed in the job description, or you can find them by googling “Skills to be a ……” Fireman, policeman, surgeon, biologist, judge, barrister etc etc. You will then get a list of the important soft skills that you need to have for the job. List them in a column in an excel spreadsheet. Next, make 2 more columns. Example 1 and example 2. Go through each skill and list two examples in your life where you have demonstrated this skill. Be specific. “Organising a football trip to rome for 40 people” is better than “Football captain”. For the skills you cannot list a good example, think of places you can get this skill. What if you volunteered? Played sport? Learned an instrument? Come up with actions you can do over the next term to fill in the blanks. Interviews nowadays are always of the type “Tell me about a time when you (handled pressure, showed commercial awareness, worked in a team etc)”. By auditing your skills, you are arming yourself with this information, to recall in impressive fashion at any interview you go to. Upload the document to Kloodle.
3) Create an application schedule – It is easy to panic and go for the scatter gun approach. I did. I panicked. PANIC! I applied for every single graduate job there is to know. It was horrible. You end up resenting your computer. It mocks you after a bit. Makes a stupid “tap” sound every time you type the same answer you have written previously. You need to be better than I was. Create a schedule. Apply for one or two positions a week. Research properly. Spend time on your answers. Seek help from others. Make a good, thorough job of the applications. You will be successful, its just a matter of time and care.
The university road is short. It is a fantastic experience, full of great mates, experiences and enjoyment. However, remember that there is a purpose. Give yourself the best chance possible to fulfil that purpose. Happy 2015!