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A slightly disheveled college student surrounded by books and study materials

We’re slightly behind for the traditional September start date, but it’s not too late! The semester at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine started on 2nd October, and (thanks to Beeminder!) I got started back on my studies toward my distance learning MSc already.

I don’t know about any of you, but whenever the new school year starts it feels like a good time to make some resolutions. My life has run from academic year to academic year almost without pause since I was five years old (and now I’m 34!), so maybe it’s only natural that in some ways it’s more of a “New Year” moment than the day the calendar rolls over.

Which got me thinking about the Beeminder goals I wish I’d had back when I first attended university in person (shoutout to any other alumni of Cardiff University).
The stuff that might’ve helped me make the most of it. The stuff that might’ve cemented me in some good habits forever, but also the stuff that would’ve helped me just… enjoy the heck out of my time there.

So without further ado, here are the fruits of that thinking: the five goals I wish I’d had at university.

A studying goal

I know, we’re really starting with the obvious here. (And I actually have a whole blog post on just this — Nicky’s Secret To Beeminding Studying: It’s About Time!) But I’m serious!

I barely knew how to study by the time I landed at university, and I definitely wasn’t managing my time well. When they told me I should be spending X hours a week on the reading and X hours a week on extra research, it went in one ear and out the other. If I’d had a Beeminder goal…

I think if I were to go back and set one up for myself aged nineteen, I’d pick a simple time-based one, linked with Toggl (if that had existed yet). The nice thing about a time-based goal is that how you fill the time is flexible: I could’ve spent it doing the reading, I could’ve included the time I spent talking to my personal tutor, the time in lectures, and the time spent doing extra research. I’d have had a clear idea of my progress and the effort I was managing to put in. Maybe it’d have been a wake-up call when it became obvious I wasn’t putting in enough time!

I think it’s important with studying to think about what your needs are exactly: these days I use both a time-based goal and a goal that gets a +1 whenever I finish a section. That one flat-lines most of the week and then jumps up at the end of the week to ensure I finish sections by certain deadlines. That’s important now because my study is self-directed, but maybe not so useful back then. Roll with what you actually need, and be ready to change if it’s not working out.

Screenshot of a Beeminder goal page

A budgeting goal

I went to university with big plans about how I was going to manage my money. I didn’t stick to any of them…

I don’t think it needs to be fancy, but if I could go back in time, I’d hook myself up with You Need A Budget (YNAB) sooner, plus a goal to reconcile all my transactions every day. Even without YNAB, I think a goal that pushes you to really look at what you’re spending, and plan out what you’re saving for and what ready money you have around in case of need, is completely invaluable. University would’ve been a great time to learn that skill, especially since it was a time of big temptations — white hot chocolate at Shot in the Dark every night, anyone? Though that café is gone now. Boo!

A goal for keeping in touch with people back home

Sure, independence is lovely. And I wish I’d taken even more full of advantage of it, rather than mostly just realising I could read all day and no one could stop me. (Not that I regret that realisation either.) All the same, it’s easy to lose touch with people from pre-college life on a university campus. I made a Beeminder goal during the pandemic to contact — five times a week — any of a set of people I wasn’t already regularly speaking to before the goal’s creation. I’ve had some great conversations because of it, rekindled a friendship, and generally just made my life quite a lot better. All from one Beeminder goal that doesn’t even take that much time to complete!

If I’d had that back when I was at university, I’d have kept in touch with the people I grew up with a bit better, and maybe I’d have felt a bit more grounded and supported when things went wrong, too. Among all the new stuff, it can help to remember that the people back home have your back.

Screenshot of a Beeminder goal page

A goal for trying new things

University is a great time to just figure out who the heck you are and what you like. I was living away from my parents for the first time, setting my own schedule, choosing my own food, all of that. I wish that I’d pushed myself to be a bit more adventurous then, and say yes to a few more outings, done a few more silly things, joined one of the clubs… I don’t regret much about my life, and I had fun reading books in my room, but I’m sure there are people and experiences I missed out on. (Why oh why did I never sign up for the choir?!)

Plus, it’d have been a great time to learn to cook with no one around to scrutinise my mistakes or fix it for me if things went wrong. If I’d just tried one new recipe a week, that would’ve been a great outcome.

Depending on your temperament, maybe this goal would be better phrased as a goal for doing something brave — goodness knows it’d have taken all the courage I had to audition for the choir!

A goal for making healthy choices

It’s never too late for this one; I created one a few months ago and it’s going great so far!

Just imagine the cumulative effect of changing your mind and picking a healthy option instead of a greasy takeout, and taking a walk instead of watching TV all night, and going to bed an hour earlier rather than sitting around not doing much. That’s what my new goal is for: to instill a habit of at least reflecting before I make a choice, at least once a day.

Here’s the note I’ve set for myself on that goal:

“Healthier choices can mean all kinds of things, but for the purposes of this goal we’re talking about physical health. So I would be making a healthier choice when I choose to eat yoghurt or nuts instead of a bag of potato crisps; I’d be making a healthier choice by choosing to go for a walk over lunch instead of playing FFXIV the entire time. Healthy choices can be small, barely impactful in the short-term — but cumulatively, if I’m making at least one healthier choice per day, that’s a lot more healthier choices. However, it’s not a healthier choice if I was going to do it anyway. If I’m heading to the kitchen specifically to grab a yoghurt for breakfast, that’s not a healthier choice, that’s the choice I was making anyway.”

I’ve set the rate to 1/day — but I’m using Nathan Arthur’s autodialer to put my feet to the fire.

Man, if I’d set that up back in university…

Screenshot of a Beeminder goal page

How about you?

I’m sure these aren’t the only goals that would’ve been useful to me back in university. I could definitely have used Beeminder back when I was training for a 5k charity run, for example! But these specific five goals are ones I really wish I’d set back then, because I think they’d have helped me make the most of it. Not that I want you to think I did badly, or that I didn’t love university — Cardiff University was a great place to be, I had great friends, and a great time. (And I won’t be falsely modest: I got great grades, too.)

But maybe I could’ve made even more of it, with a little push.

What about you? Are there goals you wish you could go back in time and set up for yourself at college? Or maybe you are at college, and you have indispensable Beeminder goals that already get you through your day? We’re eager to hear, and maybe I’ll be stealing your ideas…