Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Back to school

Post- Labor day, many of us are back to school.  It means not only the start of late-night homework and exam-study sessions, but also amplified levels of stress, unhealthy eating, abandoned exercise habits and dearly-missed sleep.  Procrastination happens, but even in rare and almost bizarre scenarios, where it doesn't, time seems to be a huge deficit.  No student is perfect and has a 100% smooth-sailing semester (even if some might pretend to), but we can all try to make it less horrible.  Here are some tips:

1.  Once you get all of your course schedules, write down all their deadlines and exam dates into one calendar.  This is crucial so you won't be less than pleasantly surprised later on.  Add personal appointments and dates to this calendar, such as family and friends birthdays, long weekends, celebrations, etc.  Girls, add your 'cycle dates' to this calendar as well.  It will help you gauge when you'll be most cranky and exhausted, and prepare in advance for your natural biological tendencies. 

2.  Organize, organize, organize.  I can't stress this enough.  Having the dates all laid out into a calendar is only a small part of your organization.  You should have separate folders, binders, or files (however you need or prefer to organize them) for each of your subjects.  Within each binder/folder, you should have subfolders for notes, handouts, homework assignments, practice exams, and actual exams.  

3.  Be your own secretary.  When you are a student, you don't have an assistant to tell you when to do what, and where to be.  You need to do this for yourself.  You don't need to have every second of every day planned out, but try to have every hour planned out for all your weekdays.  Include class time, time to meet your advisor(s), professors, TA's, commute time, exercise time, personal cleaning/shower/self-care, and most importantly, sleep time.  Figure out when you are most efficient at studying- is it the early morning hours, or are you a night owl?  Schedule accordingly.  You can make a rough schedule for half your weekend, but leave the other half unplanned.  Trust me, you will need that 'nothing' time- even if you just end up sleeping through it.  

4. Set rewards for your diligence and good work ethic.  Whether it's a manicure/pedicure, hair day or watching/attending a show/movie/concert, having a 'goal' in mind will help you use your 'work' time more efficiently since you'll have a 'reward' in mind for the end of the week.  

5. Breathe and stretch.  There will inevitably be times where despite your best efforts to plan and stick to that plan, that it doesn't work out.  When (and notice, I say 'when' and not 'if') this happens, stop and close all your books.  Step away from your work.  Stretch for 15-30 minutes and take in as many deep breathes as you can.  If you're not a stretcher, try walking around campus or the neighborhood.  Take the full 30 minutes but don't take any longer.  When you return to your work, focus on smaller increments of 'to-do's' and just focus on one at a time.  Remember, you may not feel like you can do this but you can certainly tackle that small subsection.  Just tackle that.  

6. Take 5-10 minutes at the end of each day, to clean up your study area and book bag.  This will prevent clutter and whether you believe it or not, outer order will help hamper internal stress.  It's only 5-10 minutes. Take the time. 

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