How to Feel Less Overwhelmed: 5 Helpful Habits for Busy College Students

For some college students, classes resume on the first week of August. That’s only a few days away, and we go right back to reality! Ironically, during my break, I spent most of it working–except for a few days on the beach. I don’t regret that decision. I’ve met really awesome people and learned so much about my work. It’s been a hectic time, but in a very happy and fulfilling way.

But here’s the problem. School hasn’t even started yet, and I already feel burnt out, overwhelmed, and busy. It’s not a very healthy way to start the semester.

I’m writing this article not because I have excellent habits, but because I have some destructive habits that are slowly taking their toll on me. I decided to research a bit more about it, and want to share it with others who may be feeling the same way. I hope that you find this list very helpful.



Follow the “2-Minute Rule.”

This is something I read in James Clear’s blog. He believes that this rule is a powerful tool against the need to procrastinate. He wrote:

Most of the tasks that you procrastinate on aren’t actually difficult to do — you have the talent and skills to accomplish them — you just avoid starting them for one reason or another…If it takes less than two minutes, then do it now.

I’ve been a huge planner user since I was in Grade 1. I never go anywhere without my planner! But there are things I don’t even have to schedule because I could do them immediately. For example, answering an email or a text message.

There are times when I don’t feel like replying (even if it’s just a simple three-liner.) The emails pile up, until it overwhelms me. This could have been avoided if I followed the 2-minute rule.

I’m sure that there are other things apart from emails where you could apply the 2-minute rule.


 Prioritize environment over motivation.

James Clear wrote:

Environment is the invisible hand that shapes human behavior. We tend to believe our habits are a product of our motivation, talent, and effort. Certainly, these qualities matter. But the surprising thing is, especially over a long time period, your personal characteristics tend to get overpowered by your environment. Imagine trying to grow tomatoes in a Canadian winter. You can be the most talented farmer in the world, but it won’t make a difference. Snow is a very poor substitute for soil.

At the start of every project, I usually set very lofty goals, followed by timelines and a SWOT analysis. This is true for every start of the year and semester, and almost every project I commit to.

The problem is (at least according to what James Clear is pointing out), I focus mostly on my goals. I obsess on how much harder and more efficiently I could work, and what skills I should hone.

When I fail, I go on a destructive downward spiral. I blame myself for failing: I can’t do anything right. Why can’t I follow through? Why do I keep failing? How could I trust myself with my future goals and timelines? And so on.

I like how James suggests taking an objective look at our environment to see what is dragging us back. More than that, James also shared three strategies in designing a better environment, which you could read here. He gives specific examples that would hopefully help you in the application process.



Assess your time debts and time assets.

Most productivity tools and writings focus on short-term life hacks to help you get more things done. James Clear, citing Patrick McKenzie, writes about time assets and time debts. He explains how differentiating the two could help you make decisions that save you more time in the long run.

TIME ASSETS are actions or choices you make today that will save you time in the future.

Examples: Software (It takes a long time to build a software, but it eventually saves you time when you no longer have to manually input and compute data.)

TIME DEBTS are actions or choices you make today that will cost you additional time in the future.

Examples: Email (Each email you send is a time debt because you have to read and reply to responses afterwards.) Not all time debts should be avoided, because some time debts are worthwhile.

James Clear suggests creating a system for how you manage your time. Instead of setting goals, set a schedule or a system which increases your Time Assets and decreases your Time Debts. Time Debts need to be paid. Be careful how you choose them. Time Assets pay you over and over again. Spend more time creating them. (Source)

My favorite example of a time asset would be When in Manila’s FAQ page. Our website and community continue to grow, something we’re all very grateful for. This also means that the volume of emails we get also continue to grow, sometimes in ways we can barely manage! Instead of answering questions one by one, our boss Vince made an FAQ page which answers most of the inquiries we get in our emails. Making the FAQ page took more time than just drafting a quick email to answer an inquiry. However, in the long run, the FAQ minimized the number of emails we manually had to reply to. This is something I also did while working on the internship program. I made an FAQ page and a primer to avoid repeatedly answering the same questions from different people.



Find  a routine.

Back when I was in grade school and I would get asked about my dream career, I was quick to describe what I didn’t want my job to be. “As long as it’s not routine. I don’t want a 9-5. I don’t want to be with the same people in the same place every day.”

Fast forward to a few years later. I got a job that is exactly what the younger version of myself wanted. No office. No fixed routines. Different people and different places ever single day! I love this job! I enjoy the freedom and flexibility. But I’m slowly realizing that freedom and flexibility may be a double-edged sword.

This is something I realized after listening to The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz:

Having too many choices could give you paralysis. I’ve experienced this in my day-to-day tasks. I don’t have a specific time to wake up and go to bed. I don’t have an office to report to, or a set schedule. I realized that I waste so much time deciding what to do instead of actually working. There are optimal times to do certain tasks. I have to come up with a systematic routine that wouldn’t bore me to death but help me have more structure.

A few evening ago, I also listened to Maria Popova on The Tim Ferris Show. It’s my favorite episode so far. Maria was asked, “What is the most significant characteristic that distinguishes people who have accomplished greatness in any given field?”

Maria replied:

I would say consistency. Showing up day in and day out, psycho-emotional rain or shine. If you look at the diary of any great artist or writer, and I read a lot of those so I have a pretty vast sample pool here. The one thing you see over and over is that, whatever happens, whatever they’re experiencing, be it agonizing self doubt, which by the way all of them experience, no where more beautifully than in Steinbeck’s “Working Days”, which I highly, highly recommend…or the intoxicating elation of being in love which makes you unable to think about anything else at all. Whatever it is they’re feeling, they still show up. They still face the blank page, the empty canvas, the fresh roll of film, every day. And they do their thing. And what this doggedness is, is really a deep love of the work, a deep need to do the work in order to feel alive.

I think this is possible through a routine. Maybe it’s writing in a journal every morning. Maybe it’s working out every afternoon. Maybe it’s taking a digital detox once a month. Maybe it’s taking every Sunday off. Maybe routines aren’t so bad after all.

5.) Regularly assess your task management and time management.

One of my most memorable works in When in Manila was Redefining Excellence, Success, and Productivity: 8 New Things I Learned from Francis Kong. It was published way back in 2014, and I got to have a one-on-one interview with Francis Kong!

He said, “I don’t believe in time management.”

This is the statement that surprised me the most. I know many people, myself included, who find it so hard to manage their time. Francis said, “I don’t manage my time, I manage my tasks.” He shared how he prioritizes tasks that would add value to his success goals. Among those goals are his goals for his family.

Maybe the secret of being more productive is not really getting things done in the least possible amount of time, but choosing wisely which tasks are the most meaningful ones and most worthy of our time and effort. (Link to article here.)


Could you relate to any of these habits? What advice would you give to overwhelmed college students? Let us know in the comments! I hope to learn more tips from you. 🙂 Also, we just recently launched a Facebook page devoted to delivering content to students! 

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