It is Monday, the public holiday, and I am gearing up to return to work tomorrow and run headlong into October, November and December. Yes I do often work on my days off. Not because I am required to, but because I enjoy the work and find it one of the more fulfilling things in my life (that is a separate story).
For you, students, this is the final term of the year, with exams as the penultimate event.
Between now and then you have assignments to complete, information to memorise, lectures and tutorials to attend and readings to complete.
If the thought of what you have to get done between now and exams is a little overwhelming, then I can assure you that you are not alone. I’ve spoken to staff and students and they are all feeling varying levels of trepidation–>anxiety about the work to be completed before the end of the year.
So how does one manage that ‘overwhelmed’ feeling?
First, you need to map out everything you need to complete and allocate time in your diary to do so. I just did that and my diary for October looks packed. People have different preferences for managing their to-do lists and calendars, but I like to have it all in the one place. I use my Google calendar to record where I need to be, and what I need to be doing for each day.
If a task comes in via email or from a discussion with a colleague, I put it straight into my calendar. If I have a presentation to give, I put the date/time of the presentation, but also book out time a week before to prepare it. You should put in the due dates of assignments, as well as book time to work on those assignments.
The purpose of this is to reduce the pressure of holding all this information in your head. The human brain is not well set up for holding lots of information (dates, times, schedules) in working memory. A well used diary/calendar is not a cheat, it’s a necessity if your life is varied and complex.
Second, you need to ensure you have time mapped out for activities that are cognitively refreshing. Study, reading, writing, learning are all cognitively taxing. They need to be balanced with activities that refresh and re-energise you. I can’t tell you what those activities are for you, although I can say that generally, good quality sleep, regular physical activity and time spent with friends and family (that you like) are activities known to be re-energising.
You’ll have to be deliberate about ensuring these activities are present in your week, because people tend to get caught in fairly predictable traps when it comes to this stuff.
- they overbook themselves with no time for rest and recuperation and eventually burn out.
- they rely on activities that they think help them unwind and relax (e.g. drinking) but that actually set them back further.
- they procrastinate on self-care in the same way that they procrastinate on their work (e.g. keep putting off going to the gym).
- they base their work/life balance on the activities of others, rather than working out what their own balance is.
- they book work stuff into their diary, but not leisure stuff which leads them to neglect leisure activities.
- they view ‘leisure activities’ as being self-indulgent, rather than opportunities to do cool and interesting stuff outside of their work.
Don’t let this be you. Get things in your diary that give your life variety and colour and refresh you emotionally, physically and spiritually. If you don’t know what activities do this for you, commit to finding out.
Third, you need to consider the possibility that those feelings of stress and overwhelm you are experiencing are actually a good thing. They are a reminder a) that your study and your success at study is important to you, b) that you are at the edge of your capabilities and therefore in the best space for learning and personal growth, c) to expand your personal skillsets around self-care, so you can become better at stress management (try our self-care guide).
I’m not saying that feelings of stress or overwhelm are always good, but I am definitely saying that they are not always bad. Stress can be a powerful motivator and a signpost of you doing something important in your life.
A strange quirk of being human is that we divide our emotional experiences into positive and negative categories. We chase the positive ones and try to escape the negative ones, even though often the positive experiences are fleeting and the negative ones are a more powerful avenue for growth. Take a moment to consider that some stress in your life is actually what is needed to push it forward.
Fourth, I want you to stop for a moment, and decide on the attitude you are going to take into this final term. Is it merely ‘just another term that I need to get through‘ or might it be something different?
‘I’m going to push myself this term to see if I can improve my grades’
‘I’m going to practice getting more balance between my studies and the rest of my life’
‘I’m going to dig a little further into some of the study topics that I find most interesting to help me think about my future career’
‘I’m going to do some professional development via Horizon to improve my career skillset’
‘I’m going to try adopting new study habits’
Essentially, I am encouraging you to adopt a more ‘active’ attitude towards this term, stating what you hope to get out of it, rather than a ‘passive’ attitude which is to simply cope with it.
Now don’t be discouraged if part way through the term, you find yourself ticking along to a very different attitude. That is perfectly normal. But when you do, remember back to the point, early in the term, where you committed to taking on the term in a very specific way and ask yourself whether you can return to that goal.
For me, I am letting my work schedule get very busy to test how well I can deal with things ‘on the fly’, rather than my usual method of having to prepare well ahead for everything I do.
Consider this my formal welcome back for the final term of 2019 🙂
If you are like me and feeling the pressure of what needs to get done, then join me in developing your 4-point term smashing program.
- stress as your friend
I’m confident we can all get to the end of this term and actually be better people.
Am I deluded?