For those who don’t know, I am back into a full course load. Even though I haven’t ever stopped being a full-time student, the 2 years MSc. experience was really more like a job than actually taking courses. Well, now that I’m back in full swing, let me tell you, it feels a little weird, but at the same time, very refreshing and enlightening. But, as we’ve all gone through it, when exams are around the corner, we all wish we could just fast forward and get it over with. Needless to say, it’s nearing the end of November and I’m finding myself in that deja vu again. The stress that comes with work-overload is inevitable. I’ve been doing nothing else than school work this whole month! Getting projects done, assignments done, trying to keep up with classes, editing my thesis on the side… etc etc. So writing this blog right now is actually quite therapeutic to me, and a way for me to get motivated for the final stretch.
When things are piling up to the point where I can’t even keep track, I naturally fall into 2 phases. The first phase is avoidance and denial, where I just sink, and sink and sink. I have learned that no matter how hard I try, I cannot get out of this phase until this phase decides to end itself. I have tried to write a list of the things I should get done, I have tried giving myself deadlines, but so long as I’m still in the avoidance phase, my mind, my body and my concentration will not tune in. So now time is ticking away, but that’s totally okay! I full heartedly live out the saying “When you’ve hit rock bottom, the only way to go is up”. I allow myself to hit rock bottom. I will waste days doing nothing, I will go out, I will procrastinate, to the point where I cannot afford to waste another day. And then I get into business.
This is my phase 2, what I call beast mode. Nothing drives me to work better, and to be more productive than knowing that I need to climb back up. A lot of people deal with stress differently and the most common suggestion is to the do something to get your mind off the task. For example, working out, taking breaks, taking naps, doing a hobby. But if you find yourself in a situation where time is not on your side, it can get pretty overwhelming. This is how I go about facing my pile of work to feel the most productive, and to most effectively reduce my stress levels:
1. Make a full to-do list:
List out every single item you need to get done for the length of time you’re dealing with (a day, a weekend or a week). This may increase stress when you notice how long that list may be for a short period of time, but this gives you perspective and hopefully, some determination. Seeing the items listed out organizes your brain to think concretely, and to feel less of a blur.
2. Get organized:
I consider myself a pretty organized person, but still, when things get a bit lazy, my notes are sometimes not in order, and I will have files unopened and unsaved on my computer. Getting things together helps you see the big picture and gives you a place to start. This is as simple as cleaning your work space, getting your books ready, opening up and reading the project outlines or assignment questions.
3. Choose to do the quickest and easier tasks first:
This one makes all the difference to me. If I have a short assignment and a project to do, I will complete the assignment first, even if I feel more stressed about the project and even if the assignment is due later. Usually projects are time consuming and ideally will take several days to complete. But if I complete the assignment first, at least that’s one less thing to worry about. I hate finding myself in a situation where I spend a few days on something, fail to complete it, and then still have to worry about something else, no matter how small it is. Crossing an item (or better yet, multiple items) off the list on the first day is extremely motivating. Do the longer things last.
4. Know your peak hours:
I love to sleep in more than anything in the world, but when it comes to work, I am a morning person. I am the most productive during the morning and early afternoon. If I know that I need full concentration, I will make sure to get up early and take advantage of my peak hours to get the most out of it. Once the clock strikes 5-6pm, I start to lose concentration, and once I have dinner, forget it. I cannot get any more work done after that. Knowing what time interval your brain functions best will give you the best productivity. At the end of it, you will want to give yourself a pat on the back (or maybe I’m the only one congratulating myself…).
5. Get enough sleep:
Nothing kills productivity like sleepiness. If you have a big day ahead, plan ahead to get enough sleep! Start the day fresh and well-rested.
That’s about it really… just get things done! There’s no better way to erase stress than going to the root of it. No matter what situation you’re in, whether at work, at school or at home… don’t think about it, just do it!