By Carthel Starks, director, Columbia College-NAS Jacksonville

It is a trap that is easy to fall into. You juggle your job/career, your family, your health and college. There are times you may struggle to keep all the balls in the air and wonder if it would be easier to just let one drop. Should you keep them all in the air? Which one would drop? Are you overthinking it? I can’t answer any of those questions for you. However, I can give you three simple tools to help you get out of your own way and maybe allow you to keep juggling them all: plan ahead, manage your time and communicate.

Plan Ahead: Every Instructor in every college course I have ever taken made a course syllabus available to me on the first day of class. That syllabus normally describes everything you will have to read and every piece of homework you will have to complete along with their specific requirements, as well as the deadline for it all. My advice to you — Read it! Know it! Always remember where you put it. Use it to plan out your term. Know what reading needs to be done before you get to class, then actually read the material.

Carthel Starks, director, Columbia College-NAS Jacksonville

The more you are familiar with the topic before you get to class, the better chance you will have of understanding what your instructor is talking about when you get to class. Use the syllabus to determine when your biggest workloads will be so that you can plan your time accordingly.

Manage Your Time: Manage your week. When I was in school, I took my books with me wherever I went. I would sneak in a few minutes of reading whenever I could, whether it was while I was waiting for my turn at the doctor or the dentist or some government agency with huge waiting lines. I made sure to schedule a block of uninterrupted time for times when I knew I needed to focus. Everyone in the house respected my schedule because they knew I had also included time for them at some point.

Determine what time of day you study best. Personally, I knew if I planned a study time during the afternoon, it would most likely start with me cleaning my desk and end with a nap and/or being distracted by any shiny object or roving squirrel. Try and pick a time of day when you learn the best and don’t wait until the day before your assignment is due. You may think you work best under pressure. I think that just may be your rationalization for procrastinating. When you are planning your study week, don’t forget to plan for family and relaxation time, too. That is just as important to your well-being.

Communicate: Last but not least. I can’t count the number of times a student answered “no” when I broached the question, “Did you talk to your instructor?” If you have an unexpected life event or just can’t connect all the dots, talk to your instructor. They can help you, but only if you let them know you need it. Don’t forget your classmates, too. You are all trying complete the work and learn something new. I found that I learned quite a lot just by talking things over with classmates and sharing the problem solving with them.

Planning how you are going to get through your course is no different than planning anything else in your life. Know what the problem is and know what is expected of you. Do the research and come up with a solution you can live with. Plan how you are going to get it done, then manage your time in such a way so you can avoid that last-minute panic when you realize you waited too long to execute. If you run into a speed bump, communicate — ask for help.

Paying attention to these three things will go a long way toward moving you forward and helping you to get out of your own way. And if you ever need any help, the staff at NAS Jacksonville is happy to assist.