The UnCollege Blog

What I Had To Teach Myself During College: The Thirty Minute Hustle

Girls go to college to get more knowledge, right? While the jingle may be fun to chant, college isn’t the only educational environment out there. In fact a lot of what I learned during my three and a half years in higher education was prompted by the hustler inside of me and not by the institution.

When I arrived on campus, as a wide-eyed little freshman, I threw myself into my classes. I was eager to engage in stimulating intellectual conversation (ahem, debates) on the works of my discipline. As an English major I wanted to dissect Ahab’s twisted obsession with my peers. I wanted to discuss the impact Beloved had by arriving at 124 Bluestone Road. I wanted to come together and appreciate the rhetoric being used by the greats so that we could brainstorm ways to use it ourselves.

Unfortunately, I quickly realized my freshman year of college was turning out to be a repeat of high school. I was assigned worksheets in class that isolated me instead of prompting group discussion. I was told what was being said in the text instead of being asked to analyze it myself. I was raising my hand and being graded on class participation.

I was feeling stuck.

After class I would sit at my desk, staring at the pile of worksheets. According to the syllabus we were expected to do nine hours of independent study a week to reinforce the hours spent doing worksheets in class. My professors had assigned enough homework to keep us busy until graduation if I completed it at the same pace we were going at in class.

On top of that, I could hear my classmates chatting on campus. I wanted to be out there with them, talking and learning, instead of filling in the blanks and ticking off homework items.

This is where a huge aspect of my self-directed education came into play. Instead of wasting away my time completing one worksheet after another, getting up to make a cup of tea, changing the song, throwing in a load of laundry, and sending an email home to mom and dad, I taught myself to group my actions together and set an impending deadline to get them done by.

At first I’d set a timer on my phone. I’d give myself half an hour to get all my tedious homework done. Then I’d have to put the finished worksheets in my folder and walk away. The first time I tried this I was a mess. I was used to giving every task one hundred percent effort, so forcing myself to leave spelling mistakes and strikethrough wrong ideas instead of reshaping them made my heart rate climb. I’m not going to lie, at times I actually felt myself sweating under the pressure. But I got it done.

The timer on my phone helped. Knowing the blaring alarm was going to rip through the air at the end of each session pushed me to use every second of my remaining time to get my task done. When I really needed to hustle, I’d do this activity during designated quiet hours in the dorms. I’d have no choice but to finish the work and stop the timer before the alarm went off and woke everyone else up.

Eventually I got the hang of the thirty minute hustle and started tailoring it to other tasks like sending emails and doing research. Whatever I couldn’t get done in thirty or even twenty minutes of giving it my all was probably better saved for another day or maybe wasn’t even useful at all.

Before the end of the semester I was completing four months worth of homework in a week of scattered mini hustles. Although I was still being assigned tasks to complete both inside and outside of class, I was starting to feel better about how I was spending my time. I was in control of the workload. I was taking charge of my college experience and making it work for me.

It’s only in hindsight that I’ve discovered there is actual science behind this method. While searching for even more productivity tips, I found research that shows switching between different tasks causes a person’s productivity to dwindle by up to 40%. I agree that it can be challenging for professors to design enough cohesive course material to fill a three hour class period, but just because we can’t optimize our productivity in class doesn’t mean we have to sacrifice it on our own time. Thankfully I’ve taught myself ways like this to get the most out of my time.

If you’re feeling frustrated with your output, try the thirty minute hustle. I’d be thrilled to hear how it works for you.

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