How to Build a Routine at University
While movies glorify how little routine university (or “college,” as it’s called in the US) students have, the reality is it just doesn’t have to be like that. University will pull you in multiple directions, making time management difficult. But here’s the thing: time management and having a routine go hand in hand. They are different, but equally important things.
Put simply, time management is how you handle your time. It means you have way more tasks to accomplish than you have time to do them in, so how do you prioritize and focus? On the other hand, a routine is about your rhythm and how you fit yourself into your prioritization schedule.
The two principles fit together and empower each other. A good routine gives you the peace of mind to know that you have time to accomplish necessary tasks. A good time management practice helps you more easily prioritize so you know what you can get done - and you do it well using various tips and strategies.
If you’re struggling on the time management side, check out our guide on time management for university students. If you’re looking for tips on creating a routine, keep reading.
1 - Map your school and work week
In university, the world runs on weeks. You’ve got classes, sections, office hours, study groups, practices or rehearsals… everything runs on a weekly orientation. If you have a map of campus (hopefully you kept the one from orientation!), point out your locations day by day.
The idea behind a mapping your week is that you’ll get a visual sense of where you physically need to be throughout the week. You can identify things like transit time and begin to understand what gaps of time you have - for example, between classes.
2 - Identify life’s non-negotiables
Part of a routine is carving out time for what you need to do outside of school or work. This could be things like:
- Going to the gym
- Some “me” time to decompress
- Necessary chores - grocery shopping, cleaning, laundry
- Specific weekly priorities you have in life (prepping for travel, etc.)
- Hanging out with friends
- Spending time outside
Note that this tip is to identify them. Don’t schedule them yet. For example, you may not be able to eat lunch every day at the same time in the same location. However, you can figure out which dining hall is closest to you or if you should pack a lunch to bring with you.
With all of these non-negotiables, write out the frequency. The gym may be 1-3x per week, groceries might be weekly or biweekly, etc. Knowing frequency will help you put things into a written routine later.
3 - Plan your sleep times
Yes, you read right. It’ll feel like you’re a kid again and your parents are talking about “bedtime” except you’re now an adult and planning your own bedtime.
Studies are clear that going to bed and waking up at the same time each night can actually give you more energy, even if you don’t get the number of hours you’d like. This is because you train your body with a routine, so it’s expecting you to be in bed at a certain time.
The best way to pick sleep times is a two-step process:
Identify the latest you need to be up (study groups or evening lectures, for example) and the earliest you need to be awake (morning lectures).
Find a 7-9 hour block of time between that and make that your sleep time.
This won’t always work, between late-night paper writing and parties, but the more on-routine you can be, the better you’ll feel.
4 - Plan your routine in a calendar
Once you know what you have to get done for school, what you want to get done in life, and when you’re going to sleep, you’re ready to build a routine.
Borrowing a tip from time management, use a calendar to plan out your weekly routine. Depending on class schedules, this may alter slightly week to week, for example, if you have classes that meet biweekly instead of weekly. However, you begin to get a sense of what your “flow” will be like.
5 - Tweak as needed
As you begin your routine, there may be times that you find it looked good on paper but doesn’t work in reality. For example, you may have planned to go to the gym right after a lecture but you’re always so tired (or the gym is so packed) that it doesn’t feel good. In this case, a tweak is easy - find another block of time that you think makes sense for you and plug it in there.
You can also adjust purely based on feelings or if new opportunities come into your life. If you join a new study group, for example, or have a class that isn’t near a dining hall but you don’t want to spend tons of money, you can tweak your routine to accommodate.
The goal of a routine is to help you feel more in control of your time and rhythm, so don’t be afraid to change if needed. A good routine will help you feel less stressed, not more.
Bonus: Tips to help you stay on your routine
Have snacks handy in your bag. Granola bars, protein bars, nuts and seeds, etc. Snacks will help you in a pinch so you don’t have to go super out of your way to find food when you get 'hangry' or need to stay later than you initially planned.
Start and end the day with water. A big glass of water at the beginning of the day will help you wake up and feel more refreshed. A small glass of water right before bed will keep you hydrated through the night and, in all likelihood, help you wake up more easily the next morning because you need to use the bathroom.
You don’t have to schedule your whole life. Leaving purposeful gaps in your schedule is great for emergencies. This could be needing to do extra work for class or sneaking in another workout. It could also serve you well if an emergency or unexpected thing pops up that takes you out of your routine for a bit - the gaps can serve as your make-up time.
Plan a clothing routine, too. One of the most annoying things about planning a routine is not being dressed for it. For example, if you forget your gym clothes on gym day, that could ruin our whole routine. Or if you don’t have a sweater on an extra cold day. So as you’re routine planning, think about what clothing you’d need for each day. This mostly applies to the gym, but could also apply depending on the weather and which buildings you need to be in.