Photo Credit: University of Toronto
How to get work done and still feel like you’ve got your life together
By Tannaaz Zaraineh, Lifestyle Editor
There’s no such thing as a real break while you’re at school, especially during midterm and exam season. A common complaint among students is that having midterm after midterm, and assignment after assignment doesn’t exactly give you a reason to sit back and have time for yourself. What happens to hobbies and maintaining a work-life university experience? How can you make sure that you’re excelling in both areas? These are ways that have helped me as someone with a history of bad time management and gets distracted easily.
One of the biggest problems for students is procrastination. Especially for those with bad time management, it can be difficult to figure out exactly how much time certain assignments need. Plus, if you’ve done it before and it didn’t hinder anything, you’re more likely to do it again. But if you’re only getting average marks and not reaching your full potential, it doesn’t make sense to continue this practice when you can simply figure out what upcoming assignments and tests you have, see which are the most important, and make them priorities days in advance. The point is that the day or night before the due date, you should be reviewing what you already know, not going back to relearn half the material that you forgot to look at before.
I take lecture notes on my computer and like to go back and rewrite them by hand. As I do so, I’m reteaching myself along the way. Sometimes using different highlighters for certain topics helps to create ‘categories.’ One colour for names, one colour for dates and so forth. I then begin to memorize what I’ve written, pretend to have an audience, and teach the material to myself and my wall, who is a great listener by the way. Teaching, or the Feynman Technique, is actually said to be a great method for reviewing material, and it’s worked for tests that required me to regurgitate my notes.
That being said, when you have multiple assignments and tests back-to-back, you’re always itching to check your phone, or get up and do something more relaxing. It’s important to take breaks, but you must set specific times and stick to a rigid schedule to stay on task. Sometimes I would leave my phone on the other side of my room and put it on silent. If I got a notification I wouldn’t see it, and by the time I was focused on my work, I seemed to forget I had a phone in the first place! If what I’m working on takes a lot of time and energy, I’ll use the Pomodoro technique, which is studying for a specific amount of time (in this case 25 minutes), then taking a break for five. If I know how long my work will actually take, I might just carve out time during my day to do something longer, like go outside or watch a short show, but once I get back to work, I have to spend more time and take fewer short breaks. You have to assess your own schedule first to figure out which methods are good, and you’ll probably have to try a few before you realize what works best.
Having a decent support system is also helpful. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, reaching out to friends and family to discuss or even sending a few texts might relieve stress because it’s almost like you’re socializing. Even planning something fun ahead of time might be an incentive to work harder, because you’re looking forward to it after you finish that test or major assignment. It can be as small as getting your favourite food. And it’s not just people who can support you; technology can be your friend! You can use timers to fix your schedule, use different note-taking apps, or play music in the background if you can’t focus in silence. And if you’re like me and do like silence, sometimes using headphones without playing anything drowns out even the most miniscule noises, and your only focus is whatever you’re working on.
Lastly, your study space definitely has an impact on your work habits. Early on during the lockdown, I worked a lot in bed. Sure, it was comfortable, but I also felt more tired than usual and my relaxing sleep space had also doubled as a stressful workspace! Now I exclusively work at a separate desk in an area that’s not cluttered and has minimal distractions. If you get bored midway though, there’s nothing wrong with switching your space with a cubby in a library or a café. If you’re comfortable in the space you choose, you’re more likely to perform better.
When you’ve figured everything out, you’ll likely feel less stressed, allowing yourself to have more time to use for hobbies. Sometimes, merging time for activities you have to do with stuff you’d rather be doing can help, such as listening to music while doing laundry, or watching an episode while eating dinner, which then lets you feel like you’ve taken a break and feel fulfilled enough to continue your work.
Studying can be tiresome, especially for long periods. That’s why being proactive in creating schedules, using different learning techniques, and adjusting current habits may help ease the stress and still allow you to have time for yourself. Now, I don’t feel as guilty when I watch an episode of You with a friend before I go to bed. Great show, by the way.