Monday, March 20, 2006

Crunch Time!

The arrival of March brings us halfway through the spring term and well into the aptly named ‘crunch time’. For myself, the second semester has felt like a monotonous journey through a tunnel where the light at the end only serves to illuminate the following tunnels. I think to myself, “just make it to reading week Sara….oh wait I have four midterms after reading week. Alright then after midterms are done I can take that breather. Well no, wrong again because you have two papers due characteristically on the same day that require research and a thesis statement, and an outline and WRITING! Papers are soon followed by finals and alas there is never rest to be found. Is summer my only relief?” On the brighter side of things at least I am sharing this expedition with every other weary and overloaded university student; having others to complain with about the injustices faced by students, though it never helps me get things done, really does make me feel better.

Yet I want to avoid all this! I want to escape the tunnel and travel through second term on a warm, sunlit, quiet, and soothing country road. Is this a laughable naïve fantasy? In part yes, but I am optimistic enough to believe that there is some relief to be had. One of the best kinds of therapy begins with the move from the “AHH I have so much to do” approach to the more reasonable analysis of exactly what needs to be done. If you do this in your head it can often be accompanied by a dangerous level of panic. Somehow in your mind tasks grow to more monumental proportions, probably because they are being viewed all together and each with their own subtasks. I find it more comforting and focusing to put these tasks in list form. It never fails to amaze me how this act magically seems to whittle down what I have to do into an amount I can actually wrap my head around.

From there I usually breakdown the assignments and tests into building blocks that I can manage in one sitting. If I have to read a novel over the course of a week for example, and the book has 287 pages well that’s about 41 pages per day, or 32 pages per day during the week and double that on Saturday and Sunday. However you may choose to break it down, smaller components are a lot easier on a person’s stress level especially if one can learn to focus more strongly on these individual parts. If I can think in my head that all I have to read today is 32 pages of a novel, although a minor part of the whole book, I can feel confident and self-satisfied that I can get it done. Even when combined with other minor tasks, parts are much easier to tackle than the whole; planning to do 3 questions on my chemistry assignment and read 32 pages is a lot easier than doing a 15 question assignment and reading a 287 page novel.
Personally I am a big schedule person and aside from separating jobs into smaller pieces, I will assign timeslots to each item. It’s not so much about exactly following what I have set out. Most of the time, I extend or cutback or change the time of day I work on something depending on how the work is going and what I feel like doing at the time. The schedule’s usefulness comes instead from allowing me to calculate the amount of time I have to allot to task in order to get things done, therefore building up my comfort in knowing that the amount of work I have to accomplish is doable.

It’s important to keep in mind that the extent of list-making and scheduling required to alleviate stress depends on the person. Some students will probably stop at evaluating what they have to do and will then be worry-free enough to work from there. Others will adhere to schedules down to the minute. What’s more important is being aware that in times of panic about ALL the things you have to do, figuring out and focusing on the smaller building blocks can be a valuable tool in making it through.


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