In the past, I've had the nasty habit of holding this pattern : waste time in the beginning of the year and become overloaded with stress towards the end. This year was the end of that! Or, rather, the beginning of the end of that - this habit, like any, will take time to develop.
So what did I do to cut my stress? First, I got as far ahead as I could in all my classes and other responsibilities right off the bat. This was a huge blessing with my Counterpoint class; it's known for being a real beast and for people pulling long, difficult hours on their projects, but in reality, we were given plenty of time to do everything so long as we don't start the day before it's due. (Funny how that works out, isn't it?) My main goal was to finish, or at least get the best head of steam I could, on everything on the day it's assigned. All too often, the average college kid will begin something the day (or night) before it's due, so since it can be done in a day, I put it on the front end and thus spread out, minimized, and managed my stress, avoiding distress and maintaining eustress. Basic when it comes down to it, yes, but it really works.
Secondly, I took some advice and avoided the "teacher's lounge." In the music building, there are a set of flesh magnets called "the couches" that are kind of like the monkey bars: it's where all the cool kids hang out. It also happens to be the best place to get swamped in gossip and the worst place to be productive. Nothing against the couch-dwellers themselves, cool people in their own right, but when I stopped spending time there, I was more productive and more positive. More out of the social loop? Sure, but gossip won't help you with finals.
Finally, I dedicated time for sleep. I set hard limits for when I would make myself turn in, hard limits for how early I could get up, and tried to get no fewer than 7 hours of sleep. Many college students would wonder at the potential for so much sleep every night, but I found that if I made that a priority, other things just worked out around it. The flaw in this plan was that a series of concerts and tours put the people in both band and orchestra about two weeks behind in our classes going into finals, so I spent some late nights getting work done, but boy, could I tell the difference! I don't know how I had gotten this far on such little sleep, because seeing the difference back-to-back really made it that much more obvious that good sleep can be just as important as good study. The trick is finding the balance. (As an aside, I tried working my butt off for six days and doing squat-nothing on Sunday aside from Church, and I found that that's not enough time off; my body can't unwind that much in a healthy way in only a day. A lighter load overall really does the trick, plus an easy-going-but-still-productive Saturday to complement the God-family-and-friend-oriented Sunday)
For those in or just entering college : your mileage may vary, but I hope this helps.
For those of you working types, I'm curious : does reading this prove to you that 18-to-20-somethings are more alike or different than "in the day?"
Thanks, and a belated happy new year!