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Lean thinking: How to find value from your time as a fresher

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Undoubtedly the single most important concept I learnt in my university life was ‘lean thinking’. If you’re studying something engineering or management related, you will hear about it at some point. So the following will not only give you a head start on sweet academic catchwords, but you’ll also learn how to muddle through your first year at uni. And get something out of it. Sort of.

The truth really is that you’re now fully responsible for yourself and your time. You can do what you want, when you want, and nobody can or will tell you otherwise (pretty much). You could do nothing. You could acquire valuable networking skills at Wednesday POP. You could choose to focus on your studies and your grades. Or you could get involved in one (or several) of the societies. The university’s departments also provide opportunities for students to get stuck in to all sorts of activities. There are workshops, training courses, volunteering or part-time work opportunities, language classes… the list goes on and is overwhelming to say the least.

Some of you will start snugly and take a few weeks or months to adjust yourselves, not doing much aside from going to compulsory classes. Some of you will want to dive on in headfirst and just do all of the above. And have a relationship on the side probably. And how about working out a bit in the gym. Sleep would be nice too.

Don’t become doubtful when you notice you have more on your plate than your peers; if it works for you, that’s totally fine

Now, there is nothing to say against either; both options are absolutely fine and legitimate. Don’t believe that one fellow student who tells you someone who doesn’t become executive ninja of the future billionaire society in the first year can’t have a career, that’s just higher education passive-aggression by the people that try to compensate for their own insecurity. Similarly don’t become doubtful when you notice you have more on your plate than your peers; if it works for you, that’s totally fine.

However, there is something I would like to share with you. It is the very essence of lean thinking, several books and dozens of articles condensed into two words: value and waste.

What you need to do is figure out what activities provide value to your life and what you (unconsciously) regard as waste. Value is commonly defined in lean thinking as everything someone would pay for – money, time, effort, emotional energy, and so on. Waste on the other hand is anything that costs, but which somebody wouldn’t pay for because it doesn’t create value.

Spending these resources on activities that add value to your life is crucial

Students usually don’t have a lot of cash and it buys little for you in university anyways, so the latter ones are more important.

Spending these resources on activities that add value to your life is crucial. It could be anything, I’m not going to discriminate here and I don’t believe anybody should actually. As long as you can confidently tell a stranger why you spend twelve hours a week on an opaque cupcake enthusiast society during exam time, everything is fine. And if the answer is just that you like the people there and enjoy spending time with them planning your next cupcake event, that’s perfectly okay.

If you couldn’t answer such a hypothetical, you’re probably doing something that doesn’t give you enough in return… either because you signed up early without considering what you’d have to put in later, or maybe you’ve just developed a habit. As harsh as it may sound – stopping and pouring your heart and mind into something else would be the logical consequence if you really can’t find a reason why you spend your days with those cupcake people after some reflection.

Sitting down for a day and having a good think about what you want to get out of your time at university might help

The difficulty here is that current-you and future-you might argue about the correct definition of value and waste. Current-you will probably want to think more short-term. But priorities and plans change over the years. So in a job interview in a few years you might regret having tanked that one module because you were busy otherwise. Sitting down for a day and having a good think about what you want to get out of your time at university might help, but I realise that sounds incredibly common-sense and hence absolutely ridiculous and we won’t talk about that anymore.

But still – in the end it comes down to balancing what generates short- and long-term value for you. Both are important. There are many things to do at Warwick that contribute to either or even both. I would recommend that finding the ones that suit you should be your immediate goal as a Fresher, although you will probably look around for the majority of your first year. Use the university’s resources, you’re paying for them. Talk to your fellow students, you’re not alone whatever may occupy your mind. You are studying at an exceptional institution – you deserve to be here and will enrich your new community. I wish you a great time at the University of Warwick and that you make the most of it.

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