Updated: Jun 15, 2022
This is a short 3-part series of a lazy person's Uni tips.
I see myself as a pretty lazy person by nature. Me being lazy means I invest my time into thinking about how I can get things done with the least amount of effort, energy, time and errors i.e. Minimal effort and maximum results. Having a lazy nature makes me think harder to get things done as efficiently as possible, which also forces me to work smart. So, this quote by Bill Gates speaks to my soul lol.
In terms of academia, I am lazy to study but I'm not lazy about learning. I like learning, but I don't like studying. How does that make sense? I did a lot of studying throughout high school and in my undergrad. Studying meant to me memorising facts, dates, formulas, equations, short stories, theories etc etc. to regurgitate in exams, then forget all about them in the next semester or school year. Ask me what I studied in Form 7 Chemistry or my second year of undergrad? I don't remember jack.
Learning, though, I thoroughly enjoy, because learning to me is gaining new knowledge, and thinking of how that new knowledge can be applied in a practical setting. The keyword here being application. Studying, in itself is a way to learn things, and we can get nit-picky here about learning vs. studying. For my MSc journey, I scrapped the whole studying mindset that got me through high school and undergrad and focused on a learning mindset and working smart, which I believe made a huge difference in my Master's degree academic journey.
Tip 1: If you're lazy, get organized and get efficient
Being organized is key for lazy people like me. I dislike exerting more energy and effort than needed and being neat, planning ahead and being organized helps me with that. Things I did to keep in check were:
Having a big wall calendar and writing all my class schedules (lecture, seminars, tutorials etc), assignment deadlines, project deadlines etc on a place easy to see every day.
Then input all those dates and schedules into electronic calendars on phone/laptop/Google calendar with an alarm with a reminder.
For assignments/projects, save the ACTUAL deadline, and REVISED deadline (more on it in next tip below).
For classes, I'd set an alarm an hour ahead, so I could review the lecture slides and readings, eat, get dressed and walk to class without rushing. (Lectures hit different when you go prepared).
Keep readings organized and staying on top of readings.
Break down required reading for all courses and track using a checklist of readings completed (I used an Excel spreadsheet for this). I'd also take notes of what I'd learnt from the readings and incorporate it into my lecture notes. My reading tracker looked like this:
Keep notes organized. During lectures, I would write notes, then type them up after class (more on it in Part II)
Tip 2: Break work into small pieces and start early
Organisation and efficiency are also crucial for coursework and assignments. Nothing is more stressful than doing things last minute. Some people like to leave work/assignments etc. until the last minute, because they "work better under pressure", but that's not my style. Life is already stressful and I don't need to put extra unnecessary pressure on myself that I could have prevented by getting organized in the first place. Terrible for your mental health.
Also, so many things could go wrong at the last minute like your computer breaks down, or internet connection is bad and you can't submit your assignment online on time or you can't print your assignment if it's a hardcopy submission etc. So it's best to get things done ahead of time and decrease the hassle and stress you put on yourself.
For assignments, I'd give the most time and energy to the most difficult assignment, even if it's the latest deadline. Once the hard things are done, everything after will seem easy.
For assignments that are all equally hard and all due around the same time, (for example 2500 word essay for 4 courses due in 2 months time) I would break it down to smaller bits of work that needs to be done and set an approximate timeline:
1. Bring the deadline forward: If the final deadline is 25th March, I bring it forward by a week and would aim to complete the assignment by 20th March. All writing has to be done by that early revised deadline.
2. Subject research: Allocate enough time for research. I usually spend about a week of research for each essay (so 1 month of research).
When doing research, make sure that the material you're finding is relevant in answering the assignment question. It's always worth looking at seminal studies in your topic (i.e. the original/foundation research) and compare it with more recent research studies on the topic, and how have things changed etc.
3. Set Word count: I would set a maximum of 500 words per day and rotate writing the essays (e.g. 500 words for Essay 1 on Monday. 500 words for Essay 2 on Tuesday. 500 words for Essay 3 on Wednesday etc). That way, work gets done, and I don't get bored working on the same thing all the time.
If I'm on a roll and exceed the 500 word limit for Essay 1, I won't try to exceed that for essay 2. If I feel like a slump in Essay 3 and can't exceed the 500 words, I'll just carry on to write Essay 4 anyway. It's about your mood too and knowing sometimes you have good days and bad days. Even if you can't reach the 500 words, 100 words are better than 0 words on an essay. Slow progress is still progress, and slow progress is better than rushed progress.
4. Spend time for proofreading and final edits: By bringing forward the deadline (#1 above), I complete writing my assignments with a few days to spare, which I spend on final proofreading and editing.
It's important to check format, grammar, coherency, referencing and other things carefully before submitting. Once I'm tired of proofreading, I'll submit the assignment, even if it's still a day or two early. My logic being, I've done all I can and there's nothing else I can do as I've put in my ongoing minimal effort. Early submission = you can chill out and sleep, or go out for a drink while your classmates are probably still working all night on their assignments. lol.
Tip 3: Learn to skim read and slow read effectively
Let's not lie, there are so many articles and textbooks you have to read in uni. However, you can make it easier for yourself by learning how to read effectively. What helped me is:
Read the intro and conclusion of the article/chapter/whatever you have to read first. Main points/summary are covered in both.
Skim/speed read first, then slow/deep read for comprehension
Time yourself (about 20-25 mins) to complete reading a chapter section or an article. Try and absorb as much info as you can in this short time. When time is up, take a break and reflect 3 mins on what you were able to take in that short time and make notes. Then, read again, more slowly to double-check if what you speed read was right or not.
When I first started doing this, I got so much info WRONG from the skim read when I double-checked with the slow read. This was ok because I learnt more from my mistakes, and over time and with practice, I was able to skim read correctly/effectively, thus reducing the time from slow reading.
It's worth learning how to read effectively, and to do your readings before lectures and tutorials/seminars. The lecture hits you different when you go prepared and it's easier to follow what the lecturer is talking about.
You can do this skim read and slow read for exam papers too. When I skim read an exam paper, I make note of the difficult questions worth more marks vs. questions I think I can answer easily. While I start off with harder questions with more marks, I make sure to carefully read the questions I initially noted as "easy" in my skim read, just in case it's not actually as easy as I thought lol.
That's it for Part 1 and hope it helps! Good luck and more in Part II. If you have any uni tips, feel free to leave them in the comments!
Summary: Tip 1: If you're lazy, get organized and get efficient. Tip 2: Break work into small pieces and start early. Tip 3: Learn to skim read and slow read effectively.