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How to Be a Successful Adult Student – Overview of Five Life Skills

How to Be a Successful Adult Student – Overview of Five Life Skills

Starting as an adult student is going to have a significant impact upon your life. Some things are going to have to change; in particular, certain skills which were optional earlier are now going to become necessary. You will have to make your efforts more effective and more efficient, which means you need to “tighten up” certain efforts and actions in your life.

Being a successful adult student means that you are going to have to acquire some new habits. These habits include time management, activity planning, organization, prioritizing, and critical thinking. By practicing these skills at a conscious level, they will soon become habits, impressing themselves upon your unconscious and becoming almost second nature.

Time Management

The skill of time management is not about finding more time, it is about using your time more effectively. Time management allows us to do more than we ever did before not because we find the time to do it but because we make the time to do it. By using time management skills, we increase both efficiency and effectiveness of our actions.

Time management skills address two main areas of our lives. The first area is the reduction if not elimination of time wasters. Those activities which take up our time but provide no results are time wasters; such activities include driving, chores around the house, and recreational activities such as watching television. Good time management cannot eliminate these activities; indeed, you still must drive, you still have to do laundry, you still want and need recreation. What time management does is reduce the wastage of time in such activities. To give one example, when doing the laundry, you can also be listening to some audio material for your schooling or your improvement. The second area is to make sure we have the blocks of time needed to accomplish those tasks which move us toward our goals. For example, by planning our shopping trips more effectively, we can reduce the driving time so as to provide a block of time for preparing a presentation. How we put these blocks of time into our lives is the result of time management practices.

Planning Actions

When we become adult students in addition to leading full and busy lives, we can no longer afford the luxury of acting without planning. We need to know what actions will produce the necessary results rather than what actions might produce somewhat effective results. We cannot, usually, simply do things to see what might happen, but instead do those actions which will generate the results we need, whether the results are related to school, work, or life goals.

Planning is the activity of determining what actions must be done to generate the needed results. For example, as adult students we should be planning our meals in advance, and thus reduce the time needed to make decisions, the time needed for cooking, and the time needed for shopping. This is not to say that you have to eliminate spontaneous actions, but most of the normal activity should be planned so as to maximize the effectiveness of what you do. Wasting time, wasting energy, and wasting our thinking become less and less viable as we take on more responsibility, such as being an adult student.


Many of us, myself included, have a real issue with putting things away. I mean, after all, are we not going to simply pull them out again later? Think about it; why put clothes away just to pull them out to wear them later? However, as our lives take on more and more responsibility, I have to say that this attitude just does not make the grade. Now do not get me wrong; I am not a neat freak. But you need to be able to find things and not waste time and energy going through house looking for something crucial. If you know you have to do some reading, you must put the book in a place you will be able to find later.

Organization applies to both your surroundings and your activities. When if comes to activities, organization leads to both effective planning and good time management. When it comes to your surroundings, organization and planning go hand in hand. Good planning can help your ability to organize, and good organization can help your planning.

One of the benefits of good organization is knowing what you need to get. We have all started a project simply to find out that we are missing a key piece. Now the rest of the project has to wait until we go and get that piece. If you are making a cake and have no eggs, the rest of the cake has to wait while you go get some eggs. If you knew you were out of eggs, you could get them before you start making the cake, making your efforts more effective.


Your life is filled with forces and activities which ask for your time and your energy. School, work, family, church, socializing, entertainment – all of these life components need time and energy. You need to determine which activities have a higher priority, and thus which activities get their part of your limited resources. Poor prioritizing leads to wastage of your resources, and the important can get lost in the tide of the trivially urgent.

For example, I have had students who have a job paying minimum wage while working for a professional degree. Their boss asks them to put in some overtime, making them miss class. This happens again and again until the student drops out of the course. Is this good prioritizing? Forgive me my bias, but I do not think so. A student who does this has given a minimum wage job a higher priority than a professional career. It is my belief they should have negotiated with their boss to put the overtime where it would not conflict with their classes; the immediate should not overwhelm the important.

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is not just a school activity, it is a life behavior. A person needs to practice critical thinking in every aspect of their life. By doing so, the person can withstand the pressures of the urgent and determine the needs of the important. Whether it is advertizing, peer pressure, politics, or urban myths, too many people do not critically evaluate the statements that are being made. This leads to ineffective actions and a wasting of resources. We simply do not have the resources of time, energy, money, or action to spend them in ways that do not allow us to reach our goals. Critical thinking allows us to avoid the traps and pitfalls in the world around us.

Starting Now

Nobody is a complete master of these skills; there is always room to improve. However, you cannot acquire these skills without practice. Start at your current level, evaluate your results, and, if you can, get some mentoring, and you will improve these skills dramatically. The results are very pleasant.