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Have you “adulted” today? If you’ve thrown in a load of laundry (and maybe even folded it afterward), run your own errand, or managed to clean your room without a reminder from Mom or Dad, congrats—you’ve started prepping for life post-high school. That’s something to celebrate.
The life skills that you need to learn as you transition from teen to young adult are real—and so is the pressure you might feel to get them right. This transition has gotten a lot of attention lately (#adulting has its own hashtag, after all). In high school, “there is more pressure to excel in academic skills,” says Dr. Holly Swyers, associate professor of anthropology and a researcher on adulthood at Lake Forest College in Illinois. But that sometimes leaves a gap in self-management basics that gets bigger once you’re out on your own.
You’re probably very focused on the “academic stuff” in high school (e.g., studying for SATs and prepping your college essays), so the all-important life skills (e.g., doing laundry or figuring out how to wake up on time) can be overlooked, under-emphasized, or merely part of something you rely on your parents for. Academic skills are super important (and part of adulting), but you may be missing out on other opportunities to learn how to be a grown-up. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to build those skills. Like right now, for example.
Check out the following adult skills, see which ones you’ve mastered and which ones you’re still learning, and find out how to expand your knowledge base on the basics.
The transition from not-being-in-charge-of-it-all high school student to serious-time-managing adult can be tough. In fact, time management is one of the skills teens and young adults say they struggle with the most.
“I think not having a crutch (my parents) to fall back on will be a huge adjustment. I’m going to have to learn to stop procrastinating and develop better social skills.”
—Kate, junior, city and state withheld
In a recent Student Health 101 poll, 70 percent of high school students surveyed said that time management was one of the life skills that was most difficult for them; more than 76 percent of students also said they struggled with procrastination.
“In high school, [you] spend the majority of your day in classes, often followed by sports, clubs, and/or work commitments. [You may] have parents who have assisted you in managing your time and commitments, for example, making sure you’re up in time to catch the bus,” say Laurie Hazard and Stephanie Carter, educators at Bryant University in Rhode Island and authors of the book Your Freshman Is Off to College (CreateSpace, 2016). Sound familiar? This might mean that when you get to college and no one is there to remind you of what you have to do, you could have some trouble keeping up with your tasks, from finishing your essays to waking yourself up in the morning.
Rise and shine...or at least rise
Waking up on your own may seem like a simple skill, but it can be a struggle if you’re staying up late studying, working a late shift, or hanging out with friends. Part of this is biological. In late puberty, the body starts to secrete the sleep hormone melatonin later in the night. This developmental shift alters the sleep-wake cycle, so you feel more awake at night, fall asleep later, and wake up later. Even though you’re pushing back on your physiology, you still have to make it to school on time. But how?
Tip: Get creative with your alarm situation. Try a real alarm clock, one that makes obnoxious sounds, and place it across the room so you’ll be forced to get up to turn it off. Relying on your phone as an alarm doesn’t always work, plus it could make you more likely to lose sleep if you’re scrolling late at night. If you must use your phone, try Alarmy (Sleep If U Can), an app that requires you to complete an activity before the alarm will shut off. You get to pick the action, such as taking a picture of your bathroom sink or doing a math problem, and you’re forced to get up to make that incessant noise go away. You’ll love to hate it—but it works. See what our student reviewer thought of it here.
Get it done on time
Once you’re out on your own, completing tasks on time and managing a schedule that changes weekly (if not daily) are all part of being an adult. If you haven’t been managing your schedule completely by yourself (e.g., you’ve had help from parents, teachers, or coaches), becoming a calendar master can be difficult. And let’s be honest—it’s difficult for most of us.
“I think the biggest challenge I’ll face is managing time on my own to get everything done and remember it all. I’ll need to develop time-management skills and memorization skills.”
—Hannah, sophomore, Rincon, Georgia
Priority number one is making sure you have plenty of time to get your schoolwork done, especially in college. “Make a map of a typical week, and identify specific times that you can commit to your academic work,” suggest Hazard and Carter. “Most college students will need about 25 hours of studying per week to maintain good grades in their classes.” Those 25 hours don’t include the 15 hours you spend in class, so you’re really looking at about 40 hours of academic time here. Break it up over the course of the week to keep a balance, and be sure to schedule in downtime too.
Tip: Get a planner or a calendar that you can write on. If you use an electronic calendar, be sure you can access it from all your devices and set up reminders before things are due to keep yourself on track.
In addition to club meetings, appointments, and events, block out times for “deep work,” a term coined by Dr. Cal Newport, an associate professor of computer science at Georgetown University and a researcher on how technology affects work. Deep work means digging into the difficult tasks (e.g., understanding your philosophy reading or writing a critical analysis of a study) with more focus and less distraction. Putting it in your calendar is key to making it happen. Also, check your calendar regularly, and look ahead by the day, week, and month to remind yourself of what’s coming up.
Everyone makes mistakes, but people who have a handle on adulting don’t necessarily see them as failures. Instead, they use those setbacks to figure out how to do something better next time and build up their resilience in the process.
“Being able to live on my own independently [will be the biggest challenge]; I’ll have to learn a lot of skills in order to successfully be self-sufficient.”
—Domo, junior, Tucson, Arizona
Develop a growth mindset
People have either a fixed mindset or a growth mindset, according to Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (Ballantine Books, 2006) by Carol Dweck, a professor of psychology at Stanford University in California. A person with a fixed mindset believes that intelligence is fixed or unchangeable. That person also believes that setbacks and challenges are indications that they’re not “good at” the task.
A person with a growth mindset, on the other hand, believes improvement in any skill comes from sustained effort that uses setbacks, challenges, and feedback as opportunities to get better.
This shift in thinking can have real effects. In a 2007 study, Dweck and other researchers taught a group of students about a growth mindset through workshops on the brain. Another group of students participated in similar workshops, but didn’t receive any information on the flexibility of intelligence. The students who were taught about and developed a growth mindset saw big improvements in their grades, while those with a fixed mindset stayed stagnant.
Tip: To develop a growth mindset, Dweck recommends embracing the power of the word “yet.” Instead of telling yourself, “I’m not good at math,” tell yourself, “I’m not good at math yet.” Another tip for when you’re facing a daunting task is to remind yourself that the effort you put in will help you get better at something. This positive self-talk can help you embrace a growth mindset.
Use failure as a way forward
“Learn to see failure as a learning experience,” say Carter and Hazard. “Have the mindset that you can change your behaviors to achieve better results. This will be a lesson that you can take with you for the rest of your life.”
Setbacks can be disappointing, but they don’t have to be the end of the road for your goals. “[T]rying to do things [people] can’t do yet, failing, and learning what they need to do differently is exactly the way experts practice,” says Dr. Angela Duckworth, professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance (Scribner, 2016). Failures, also known as mistakes, errors, and setbacks, are part of any success story. They’ll be part of yours too.
Tip: When faced with a setback, make a list of what you’ve learned, what worked, what didn’t, and how to improve next time. Maybe the lesson is to find a path around the obstacle or to discover an opportunity to do something differently. Or maybe it’s simply recognizing our own limitations. Keep track of those “educational moments” and celebrate your efforts to work through them.
What adulting skills have challenged 76 percent of students, according to a recent Student Health 101 survey? Personal self-care, which includes personal hygiene, laundry, and running errands. Remember: There is only one you, so it’s best to take good care of what you’ve got.
“[My biggest challenge will be] putting my health first and taking care of myself. Also, not procrastinating on important things and managing my time and money well.”
—Harper, junior, North Carolina
Eat, sleep, repeat
Neither high school nor college is the time to see how long you can go without washing your socks or find out how little sleep you can get and still stand up. Your friends and future roommates will not be impressed, and your health will probably take a hit. What you may find out, though, is that self-care takes time. But taking care of yourself does make it easier to do all those other adult tasks.
Tip: Try to aim for eight hours of sleep a night by making a regular bedtime part of your routine. You usually will have a certain time that you have to get up each morning, so try to figure out a specific time to go to bed on most nights that will allow you the maximum number of snoozing hours. What else works? Going to bed and rising at the same time each day, avoiding screens before bed, and relishing your sleep routine.
The same goes for doing laundry. If you’re not doing your own laundry already, try it out (you’re going to need to know how pretty soon). Factor in the best time to fit it into your schedule. Go one step further and put it in your calendar. Your family, future roommates, and potential romantic partners will thank you.
Eating at least three healthful, balanced meals a day can be a bit more challenging. One strategy to achieve this skill is to use Harvard’s Healthy Eating Plate guidelines: Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables, one-fourth with protein, and one-fourth with whole grains.
Struggling with studying? On the express train to procrastination? Try this: Celebrate the idea of “productive procrastination,” suggests Dr. Davis Smith, director of health services at Westminster School in Connecticut. If you find yourself putting off your schoolwork, take that time to cook something healthy, throw laundry in, or take a power nap. You might not be getting academic work done, but you’re still making those #adult moves.
Make your own appointments
They aren’t the most glamorous tasks, but they have to be done: things like going to the doctor or dentist, and taking your car in for an oil change. You may have someone else doing these things for you now, but soon it’s going to be all on you. You don’t want your teeth rotting or your engine exploding, and that annual flu shot will definitely lower your chances of getting the flu—so put on your brave face and make those appointments. (It’s OK to ask Mom for guidance on how to go about it.)
Tip: Know what appointments you need and when you need to make them (e.g., once you’re on your own, you’ll want to get an annual physical at your school health clinic or with your health care provider, and hit the dentist for a cleaning every six months.) You can always call to make those appointments, but if you’re not feeling the over-the-phone communication, check to see if there’s a way for you to set up an appointment online. A lot of doctors’ offices and other services allow you to make appointments online at a time that’s convenient for you. Once you’ve checked your appointments off the list, make sure to collect basic health records (e.g., documentation of vaccinations and test results) and keep them in a safe place. This will be shockingly helpful later on—we promise.
Keep it clean
People with a handle on #adulting keep their spaces organized and clean (well, most do). Be one of those adults who doesn’t have to move the old pizza boxes so friends can sit down when they visit.
“We continue to see many students arrive with limited experience and skills on basic self-management tasks such as laundry, cooking, and cleaning,” says Thomas Bruick, assistant director for Retention Initiatives, Housing, and Residence Life at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway. But, Bruick points out, these same students either learn to quickly make some changes or they’re pressured by roommates and residential staff to develop those skills. (This is the good kind of pressure, though; it keeps those #adulting skills moving forward.)
Need a motivator? Studies have shown that people who make their beds in the morning are usually more successful (and happier), too.
Tip: Each day before your leave your room, make your bed, even if that is the only thing you can do. Commit to straightening your room several times a week by setting a timer (10 minutes will usually be plenty of time) and working only within those minutes. Schedule a deeper clean once a week in which you sweep/vacuum, wipe down surfaces, and change your sheets. You will probably need to block about an hour for those tasks. Put cleaning in your calendar until they become habits. (Some of us still have to do this.)
Thomas Bruick, MS, assistant director for retention initiatives, housing, and residence life at the University of Central Arkansas.
Stephanie Carter, MA, adjunct professor in English and cultural studies and director of Academic Center for Excellence, Bryant University, Rhode Island; co-author of Your Freshman Is Off to College (CreateSpace, 2016).
Laurie Hazard, EdD, psychology professor and assistant dean for student success, Bryant University, Rhode Island; co-author of Your Freshman Is Off to College (CreateSpace, 2016).
Davis Smith, MD, director of health services, Westminster School, Simsbury, Connecticut.
Holly Swyers, PhD, associate professor of anthropology, Lake Forest College, Illinois.
Carter, S., & Hazard, L. (2016). Your freshman is off to college. CreateSpace.
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