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Megan’s High School Hacks: How I Bought Back Time With Extracurriculars And Hobbies

In this article, Matrix Scholarship holder and North Sydney Girls High School Student, Megan, shares how she bought back time with extracurriculars and hobbies. Read on to see how the challenge of doing more leads to more time for you.

Are you time-poor? Struggling to fit it all in? Maybe you’re going about it wrong. In this article, Matrix Scholarship holder and North Sydney Girls High student, Megan, shares how she actually bought back time with extracurriculars and hobbies rather than being time-poor.

Megan’s High School Hacks: How I Bought back Time With Extracurriculars And Hobbies

Read on to see how to fit it all in without a time-turner!

Me, Myself, and I

Name: Megan
School: North Sydney Girls High School
Grade: Year 10
University goal: Medicine at UNSW or University of Queensland

My subjects for 2022:

In Year 11, I will be doing 12 units.

  • Mathematics Extension 1
  • English Extension 1
  • Chemistry
  • Biology
  • French

I struggle with:

  • Mathematics — I find it hard to revise when there are so many topics. Currently, I have adopted one of my peer support leaders’ giant excel for math homework and exam study.
    Megan’s High School Hacks How I Bought back Time With Extracurriculars And Hobbies Maths Excel spreadsheet
    It allows me to identify the topics I struggle with so that I can spend more time on them. Here’s a link to mine if you wish to try it out!
  • French — Unfortunately, I found it hard to manage my time and find motivation this year so I ended up having French at my lowest priority level. To catch up, I’m trying to find French shows to watch over the holidays and I’ve begun revising all my notes after each French lesson and doing some flashcards at least once a week.

 

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A little about me

HEYY READERS! In case you missed it above, my name is Megan and welcome to my article! I am currently 16 (as of 2021) and well, there’s no specific one thing that really makes me me.

My friends would agree but also I’d say I’m the type of person that loves anything philosophical, deep conversations and has the ability to create something new from a combination of people’s ideas so as to aid others ?. I love helping people! I guess you could say that I’m a bit of a mediator! I’d give you my Myers-Briggs personality type but I quite literally get a different answer every time :,)

 

My extracurriculars and hobbies

So, you’ve read the title, this article is all about how my personal interests have helped me so let me provide a little credibility.

Currently, I dance (contemporary and aerial silks), swim, sing and I am on my school’s Philosothon team.

But those are only the things I do at the moment; extracurriculars have always been a big part of my life and no matter the amount of time I spent on them, I always felt like they served a purpose (even if it was me playing kiddy soccer in kindergarten!) in helping me learn more about myself and improve my confidence. Personally, I never delved into the music side of extracurriculars until I started singing lessons this year, but I did have a period where I tried to learn the guitar (I cannot strum for the life of me) and for singing, I do need to know how to play some chords on the keyboard to follow along to.

In terms of hobbies, now these seriously do change a lot and I do think that’s a good thing! Hobbies allow me to explore my interests without fully requiring me to commit and are a great way to just relax after a tough day. Usually, I draw and watercolour paint but occasionally I’ll journal, smash a few keys on my keyboard to sing along to or go on a run.

 

How I struggled (and managed to!) get organised

2021, so Year 10 for me, has been such a wild ride and the sudden forced academic independence caused by lockdown definitely impacted my study routine as I began to look for a way to more easily self-direct my routine and search for the ‘perfect routine’. But long answer short, there really is no routine that works for everyone or all the time so instead of only limiting you to the method that I use now, I felt it’d be more beneficial to outline all the ones I tried this year. Different things just tend to work for different people, so I really suggest you give some if not all of these a good try to see if any work for you 🙂

Here’s what I tried:

1) Colour coding my weekly schedule on Google Classroom

This was the first major organisation method I tried.

Megan’s High School Hacks How I Bought back Time With Extracurriculars And Hobbies colour coordinated timetable

Okay well, tried because it did not work. I seriously thought this was the system but it didn’t even last a day for me and I tried it on and off for weeks.

But I did give this timetable to my friend for her to change to suit her needs and it really did work for her! She’s the type of person that gets distracted so easily- if she suddenly feels the need to play her saxophone, she will just up and leave her work and will do that! But a blocked-up study timetable that separates her times of the day really helps her stay on track.

So maybe it will help you!

 

2) The paper method

In Year 9, my window used to be filled with sticky notes with random formulas I kept on forgetting and a bunch of inspirational quotes I’d write up the day before an exam. I recently moved desk areas so I no longer have this anymore but I am thinking of bringing it back because it certainly helped with motivation and memorisation.

Megan’s High School Hacks How I Bought back Time With Extracurriculars And Hobbies paper calendar

On top of that, I also had a paper monthly calendar that I’d regularly fill in with exam dates, events etc. rather than using my school diary. I really loved this method as it was always there, all I had to do was just look up and I’d know what’s going on.

But I did change this method and it was because my to-do lists would just get lost as they’d be separate from everything else. It was also difficult to prioritise tasks and often the ‘not-so’ important ones would be lost.

 

3a) Notion

My current study routine when there isn’t a potential exam looming over me is quite mouldable and depends on the tasks that I have that day or week. I know that a lot of people really like structure, and I thought that was me for the longest time too but I find that this new group of methods I started incorporating recently works best because I already can study for long periods — I just need to actually start. So, a tightly rigid blocked up schedule only seems to restrain me as it no longer gives me the freedom to choose what I want to do at that specific time.

So a couple weeks ago, I switched to Notion!

Notion is this online website that allows you to plan out your, well, life if you let it. It’s especially good if you’re organising an event with a large group of people and you don’t want to constantly chase them up — I’ve attached that one too:

image of Megan's notion for planning and organising events

Basically in terms of my study routine though, I put absolutely EVERYTHING in Notion. After revamping it this year to suit my needs, I now have an online calendar that I can access anywhere, a master to-do list split into four priority brackets.

 

Megan’s High School Hacks How I Bought back Time With Extracurriculars And Hobbies Notion Calendar

And a weekly to-do list.

 

Megan’s High School Hacks How I Bought back Time With Extracurriculars And Hobbies Notion Weekly To-DO

Download a template here!

I find it super effective because I can use the calendar to visually see what I have to do and when I have to do it so I can plan out my tasks accordingly. It is also super accessible anywhere with an internet connection and has everything all in one place.

When you plan your time, I urge you to PLEASE PLEASE value your down-time, your hobby time, your kicking around a half-flat soccer ball to the same degree as your lowest or second-lowest priority task, rather than their own section.

Okay, I do group this stuff into my creatives list but I make sure to schedule in when I want to do something from that list.

And why do I say this? Because listen to yourself. You know that you’ll just end up mindlessly scrolling or binge-watching a Netflix show. Which of course is okay from time to time, but it doesn’t benefit you as much as unwiring and connecting to your personal favourites.

I really find that taking a break from studying to just sketch up a drawing and watercolour paint it, or going for a run helps boost my mood so much, gets my energy levels all the way up so I can leave studying still feeling energised, or go back to a second study period without feeling as fatigued as I would use to.

And how do I really incorporate things? Well, drum roll please as I present to you my current study technique that forms part of this organisation method:

 

3b) ‘The Fantastic Four’ technique

Yes, it sounds like some really old superhero squad but it was only while writing this article that I realised I had no name for it- so boom! First thing I could think of. Basically, it’s a technique I actually stole then developed from one of my friends currently studying for the HSC.

Each day I will aim to do four things. Three of the four things are all study-based, while the fourth I always dedicate to a hobby. In practice, that means I pick three tasks to do from my urgent or semi-urgent pile on my Notion to-do list, and then pick one fun task from my ‘creatives’ section to do after I complete the first three tasks.

I don’t always do the fourth fun task every day and in fact, I won’t even do the third work task if the first two tasks are too heavy. But, being able to have a set list of things to do each day avoids added bulk at the end of the week (like how in lockdown I was often trying to catch up on a week’s worth of work) and also keeps me feeling motivated and proud! Adding on, it fits into any daily schedule as long as that day is not too packed and you do the tasks when you want. It’s incredibly flexible!

image of the master to-do list

 

What I love about this priority set-up is that:

  1. I don’t forget about work that I keep on putting off.
  2. On the days that I don’t feel the most motivated, I can still do tasks just by clicking on my ‘do only if you have time’ or ‘semi-urgent’ section.

I know that setting something ‘fun’ as a task almost makes it feel like a chore but I’ve found that I honestly won’t partake in my hobbies otherwise. Of course, don’t ever force yourself to do something when you don’t feel like it or if there’s a deadline the next day but at least aim for 1-2 days in your week where you spend time singing, dancing, painting, something away from the screen so that you can let your body relax. It’s personally really helped me to take time for myself, stop focusing on the future so much and helped me live in the moment and certainly stopped me from overworking myself.

Before, I used to pile up all the things I wanted on my to-do list on Notion (before I revamped to my current setup) and ended up feeling bombarded because I always ended up doing the highest prioritised work only for too long, which already took up a lot of energy as is. Then, I’d waste the rest of my time either before or after just on social media which is okay from time to time or on boring train rides, but it only made me feel worse and more stressed about the work I had to later complete.

Now, with this new method, I can give myself a set list of things to do so that I never have an unproductive day when I do want to opt for one but at the same time I try my best to balance it out with things that are actually hobbies that I enjoy.

Bonus! But for many days, especially weekends where I seriously do have way too much work, I will plan it all the night before just in the notes app. These plans will often be thorough.

screenshot of Megan's Notion notes

 

How do extracurriculars help?

Here’s a whack question:

Do you ever feel like you have too much time?

I know that a lot of high school life is trying to meet deadline after deadline, trying to fight procrastination but sometimes right after an exam block or a couple weeks before, it feels like you weirdly have too much time on your hands and even though you still have small manageable tasks to do, you won’t find the time to do it until the last moment.

I’ve found my friends that don’t really have much extracurriculars end up being less on top of schoolwork because with that much free time on your hands and no incentive to sleep early, it’s hard to allocate time that you do have and manage your tasks accordingly. So, they end up spending too much of their time on few tasks. To be fair though, I definitely do these sometimes on days I don’t have any extra-curriculars, so it’s not like you can always escape it.

To ‘reduce time’, or as I like to say, use time more effectively, of course, you can do chores to help your family, but to truly kill time while having fun, you have to indulge in extracurriculars. Don’t restrict yourself, at least until you actually are finding it hard to juggle all of your schoolwork.

Dive into the interests you’ve always wanted to explore, be unafraid because it’s never too late to learn and explore the things out there to broaden your mind and maybe even find your absolute favourite sport or activity in the world. Maybe if you love animals, volunteer at the RSPCA or if you watch sports regularly with your family and friends, try that sport out for a day. If you do dance, explore the different types of dance out there because often skills do transfer and you might even secretly be needing that change to enjoy everything else a little more.

On another note, you’ve probably heard this at least a billion times but there have been numerous studies that show how good keeping physically fit is for your body and mind and to perform at your absolute best.

You must be at your absolute best in terms of health for the HSC, and extracurriculars can seriously lift any mood while giving you the ability to have ‘less time’ to more effectively delegate tasks so that you never end up feeling unproductive again.

You’ll end up efficiently using the limited time that you have because you’ll know you have so little of it.

 

Keeping everything together during the holidays

Holidays tend to be different though because my extracurriculars don’t usually run then. However, all this spare time is definitely manageable as there are only 2-3 weeks of it (Christmas holidays are longer but you wouldn’t want to be aiming to be working for the entire holidays in junior years — you really need that break).

For the holidays, I tend to have a schedule that oversees all two weeks rather than a day by day or week by week plan.

On my Notion, you may have seen my holidays tab and that will include most of the things I wish to do in the holidays. This is later fleshed out so that I can begin allocating them to certain days.

Term 2 week holidays:

Megan’s High School Hacks How I Bought back Time With Extracurriculars And Hobbies Notion Calendar

 

Here are my steps to a perfect productive break

1. Draft a giant bullet list of every task you want to achieve.

Remember that, sometimes we’re not going to always get through everything so have a priority list e.g. “this is things I have to do” while “this is something I’ll only do if I have time/ to further my knowledge”

2. Split everything up.

Split major assignments into separate parts, split exam studying into separate topics, skills and things you noticeably struggled with during the year.

3. Allocate tasks to days.

Fill in buffer days to catch up once a week + break days. Fill in days you’re going out with friends/family too!

My hot tips for getting assignments done in the holidays:

1. Be realistic. Be consistent.

Ensure the workload is fairly balanced, make daily tasks as achievable as possible, and don’t be afraid to do less than you usually would during the school term.

2. Just make a start.

Start assignments early! This will give you an idea of how long you need to complete them and break that mental block that makes starting hard. For essays, it will give you plenty of time to take a break before revising your first draft.

3. Schedule your breaks.

If you don’t have a lot of work, aim to finish all of your tasks in the first week so you have the entire second week to do whatever you’d like.

This definitely does depend on person to person but I definitely prefer having a few days of intense studying to be rewarded with more than a week of free days rather than doing a little every day as it almost helps in me not losing track of the main goal of the assignment.

  • Otherwise, have 1-3 days per week for breaks
  • Have some time each day for hobbies, try to schedule it in with your normal routine e.g. running before breakfast, painting right after you complete one task, journalling right after dinner. This will ensure you actually do this.

Again, having hobbies and if you can, extracurriculars are what is going to keep you in a good mood and help you manage your time much more efficiently.

For example, last holidays, I was able to whip out two first drafts in a day. This was because I was told that I would have philosophy training for a week in the holidays, but I wouldn’t be told until the day before. This really scared me into realising that I didn’t have much time, so when I do, I needed to use it efficiently!

Compare that to the holidays before when I did not have anything going on: I ended up starting this 3000-word essay and video assignment in the second week and ended up stretching it out for about 2-3 weeks — completing it just a day before it was due. So, I did not end up getting the rest I needed as the increased amount of time made it harder to maximise my productivity as it became difficult to organise all the time that I had.

 

How I peak for exams

Exams are treated much differently from assignments as doing a little every day rather than short bursts of energy is essential.

Usually, our school gives us enough time during the school term to prep so holiday studying for these is only beneficial if you are falling behind and need to catch up. So, I really recommend you only plan out how you will study for it during the school term instead of trying to start in the holidays — you won’t get this time back for another 10-11 weeks!

If you will be studying in the holidays, try to either work consistently for the whole 2 weeks or just the last week so that it is fresher in your memory. If using the whole 2 weeks, go easier on yourself so as to give time for tasks and assignments.

Make sure to understand before you memorise!

And fit revision time before, after or even in between.

Blocking your days into morning, afternoons and evenings will help you manage your time better. For example, allocating the morning to spending time with friends, evening with family so that all studying must aim to be done during the afternoon. This will also make sure you don’t overexert yourself.

 

How to not give in to lack of motivation

Motivation is never constant, yet consistency is key so here are some tips to staying on top!

 

1. Find a purpose to why you’re doing what you are.

Maybe you always wanted to do this subject before, maybe you want to make your parents proud, achieve a certain ATAR, learn certain skills.

2. Try to pop on a study with me YouTube video that uses the Pomodoro method!

I use the 50/10 videos and sometimes even the 30/8. Or if you prefer to use a timer, study for a certain amount of time/ however long you want past a certain aim and then take a break for 1/5th of that time. Then repeat.

3. Change your study space!

Sometimes I’ll sit outside or sit near my mum so that I don’t get distracted and switch tabs or something.

4. Balance your time with hobbies and extracurriculars!

They’ll keep you smiling and maybe even motivate you if you use them as a reward.

5. Put up some sticky notes with motivational quotes.

6. Listen to your favourite music to get you in the mood.

7. Never underestimate an ad blocker chrome extension or an app on your phone such as ‘forest’.

8. To study languages, watch a movie/show in that language.

 

 

My subject hacks

English Ext 1

For all of my schoolwork, I switched to OneNote to type up class notes as it allows me to be able to efficiently compile them into set sections and access them whenever. Additionally, I have a giant word document for literary techniques and my personal examples (I really recommend having this!).

Megan’s High School Hacks How I Bought back Time With Extracurriculars And Hobbies Literary techniques list

Matrix this term has helped significantly with my writing process and so I usually look back at my notes before starting an assignment and additionally use the feedback given to matrix homework to check over any school assignments and look out for my usual mistakes. Matrix has taught me how important it is to have multiple drafts rather than just constantly editing the first one and using this concept has significantly improved my marks so I really do recommend doing this!

 

Maths Ext 1

I compile all my school Maths work in my notebook and for matrix Maths, I summarise notes after every lesson in my mini-book.

image of maths ext 1 notes

Additionally, I sometimes will also add any hard questions from the homework + solutions here.

As I mentioned earlier in this article, I have a really big excel that essentially serves as my online mistakes and questions book. I will write up answers to these questions in my summary notes for exam preparation.

 

Chemistry

Funny story but I always find it incredibly hard to stay constantly motivated for chemistry and instead I’d cram right before an exam. But the teaching style of Matrix has incredibly boosted my love for the sciences and kept me wanting to regularly revise after a lesson, do all the homework, redo questions I found hard or got wrong.

For school notes, I write all my notes on loose pages kept in my binder, I have a flashcard set for terminology and before an exam, I will summarise all my notes onto a cheat sheet.

For Matrix chemistry, I summarise all my notes in my mini-book after each lesson.

Image of megan's chemistry notes

 

Biology

Again for school notes on Biology, I will handwrite all my notes as this helps with memorisation and put any terminology straight onto flashcards rather than onto a glossary page or an online flashcard system.

image of bio flashcards

For Matrix notes, I generally don’t summarise regularly because I find that the content is so heavy but I will create flashcards for terminology.

 

My achievements

This is probably a small achievement in terms of the value it holds outside of myself, but I managed to substantially improve my marks in Maths, they went from an average of 75% (which was essentially only a little bit higher than our grade average) to above 90% and in one test, me even getting a 96% :). This really meant a lot to me because it meant that something was really working and my hard work was paying off.

 

My regrets

Not spending enough time revising Maths. I felt as though I am pretty good when it comes to exam preparation but I really struggle to contain knowledge for longer than a termly basis. It makes some topics that use past knowledge really hard to do 🙁

Not spending more time with my friends and balancing study with my personal and social life. Year 10 is the last year we have before the school workload starts getting more content-loaded and difficult so it really is important to value the time you have and spend it working on yourself and spending time building connections.

 

My advice to future Year 10 students

At the start of the year find a reason why you want to improve and exactly what you want to achieve. For me, my biggest goal was to have a Maths test where I got at least above 90%. Find any singular purpose and write it out, keep it somewhere where you can look back to mid-year, before a test or at the end of the year. You can never improve unless you start believing you can create change and start motivating yourself to take the first step. After that, I promise it will get so much easier.

 

4 things you must do in Year 10

  1. Explore and develop your personal study routine while keeping up your extracurriculars. You will need this in senior school!
  2. Explore your hobbies and interests, these will keep you going throughout the year
  3. Pick at least one goal that you have for this year. Maybe you want to achieve a higher average, ask more questions in class, begin assignments earlier. Make a plan and stick to it, evaluate and adjust the plan if it’s not working.
  4. Don’t forget your connections! Continue to hang out with your friends, branch out to people and create meaningful connections. You will befriend people that you know will always have your back and even help you out with your studies.

 

2 things you must not do in Year 10

  1. Value study above your mental health. Plain and simple but you cannot perform at your best if you’re not feeling your absolute best.
  2. Lose sight of what you wish to achieve and your past achievements.

Written by Guest Author

We have regular contributions to our blog from our Tutor Team and high performing Matrix Students. Come back regularly for these guest posts to learn their study hacks and insights!

 

© Matrix Education and www.matrix.edu.au, 2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Matrix Education and www.matrix.edu.au with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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