By Caroline Webb, author of How to Have a Good Day: Harness the Power of Behavioral Science to Transform Your Working Life (Crown Business, February 2016).
Going to college is one of life’s big leaps. For the first time, students are expected to take responsibility for their choices – and there are a lot of them to make. They need to pick classes, sign up for extracurricular activities, and decide how often to do their laundry. They’re figuring out who they are and working out how to impress their new peers. And somehow, amid all that, they need to organize themselves to get work done. It’s as if they’re taking an unfamiliar new job in a foreign country, but without the benefit of any past life experience to draw on.
So how do they handle this wrenching, exciting transition? When I was a college student, I got feedback on my class contributions and term papers. But there was no guidance on the business of managing myself from day to day. As a result, I did what a lot of students do. I stayed up late. I ran every deadline to the last minute. I got upset when social situations felt challenging. I took on far too many activities – debating, singing, writing, student politics – then had something close to a breakdown when I finally started worrying about my grades in my senior year. That was when I was given some useful life advice for the first time. A favorite professor told me, “When you’re feeling overwhelmed, go sit in a park for a half-hour. Take some deep breaths. Think about what really matters.” I tried it, and of course it helped. I calmed down, refocused, and ended college in good shape.
But wouldn’t it have been great if I’d gotten that advice earlier? And wouldn’t it have been great if my professor had had more good advice to give – about prioritization and goal-setting, time management, relationships, being smart, getting heard in class, handling setbacks and boosting my energy? Wouldn’t it have been great if he’d been able to recommend a book describing all of that? No doubt about it, I could have really used How to Have a Good Day back then – an easy-to-read book with advice that’s grounded in scientific evidence, written with a sense of humor and summarized with an eye to busy schedules (and short attention spans).
I wrote How to Have a Good Day with my student days in the back of my mind, so I’m excited about the possibility that it will give a whole new generation of students a road-map to making the most of every day at college – and help them build habits that lay the foundation for a lifetime of good days.
CAROLINE WEBB is a management consultant and executive coach who has spent fifteen years at McKinsey and at her own firm, Sevenshift, showing clients how to use behavioral science to boost their professional effectiveness. An Oxford- and Cambridge-trained economist, Webb and her work have been featured in the Financial Times, New York Times, Washington Post, The Economist, Forbes, and on the BBC. She divides her time between New York and London.