With the beginning of December, we are in the concluding act of the Fall Semester. And with the final act comes the traditional set of laments: exhaustion, stress, far too much work, overload, frustration, and a hope that the holidays, and thus winter break, would come sooner. I am no stranger to these feelings myself, having ritually cycled through them when I was in school, to the point that I could predict which feeling would come next, and for how long they would last.
There was one lesson that I learned from that time that served me well both then and into my professional life.
Be ridiculously organized, and around positive influences.
One would think it simple enough to do, except I often would give myself too broad of goals, not have a very good plan, become overwhelmed, and studied around other students who were equally as frustrated. This just made reading and finals week a more miserable experience than it needed to be.
I share now what I found to be effective study habits that allowed me to earn some of my highest marks, and keep my sanity in check, even with a smile.
Make a study/work schedule that makes sense. As best you can, anyway. Things will be shaken up. Classes will end, you will have all of your outstanding projects due nearly simultaneously, and the exams, engorged to encompass an entire semester, will fall within days of each other. And stick to you routine. If all of your morning classes are done, don’t sleep until noon. You will curtail your productivity. Eat three squares a day. Stay hydrated. Don’t abandon your daily routine.
Follow the 5/55 Rule. Simply put, during each hour of work, make sure that you take 5 minutes as a quick break. Stretch your legs. Refill your water bottle. Use the lavatory. Walk up and down the corridor. You’d be surprised how many more hours you can work in a day without having to push yourself more and more to make it to the end. Even today, I make it a point after I finish a class to just sit, close my eyes, and enjoy the silence for a few minutes.
Have dedicated downtime. It doesn’t have to be extensive. It can still be the usual time you go to the gym. Or thirty minutes of playing video games, Skyping with friends, watching a program on Netflix, or just listening to music as you veg out. Again, be disciplined, and stick to your schedule. If you are giving yourself thirty minutes, make it an honest thirty. Also, it is a good idea to give yourself a little downtime before you go to sleep (yes, stick to your routine!).
Lists are your friend. Invariably, you will be juggling many more things that usual. Projects will be multifaceted, papers filled with citations, and exams will have a multitude of topics. It is a vital strategy to write down a quick list of what you want to accomplish each day, as well as have an overall study plan for each assignment and exam. By creating lists, things do not get dropped, you do not have to waste time trying to figure out, and then decide, what you will do next, and you will have a very clear sense of what needs to be done, and what the next several days will look like. Believe me, when you start organizing yourself, the stress comes down a few notches, and it is really comforting when you cross things off of your lists.
Be positive, and around positive influences. “Misery loves company” is not just a proverb that we heard, nodded for a moment that it is actually true, and then went about our day not impacted in the slightest by it. The end of a semester is very stressful and high stakes. It doesn’t take much to be overwhelmed, get down, or stress out even more. You have enough to contend with; why add your own emotions to the list? So, don’t go near events, situations, and people that don’t help the cause, if you can. Be with your friends, talk to your family, a favorite sibling, your boy/girlfriend, or just that person who is beyond hysterical that your side hurts from the laughter. They will keep you positive, place things into perspective, and let you know exactly all of the great things that you are doing, while giving you a chance to let out a little bit of your own stress that has been building up.
Keep things manageable. I’ve lost count how many times I have spoken to students about how they think they ought to study, or work on a paper, and the plans that are concocted are just untenable, and a recipe for disaster. It’s not a good idea to say, “learn all of chapter 1 – 5;” what does that kind of a statement mean, anyway? Give yourself manageable, and attainable, study goals, such as, “I will be able to perform an integration by parts.” It is clear, concise, and you know what you need to do. Another example is, “I will redo Exam 1, and identify topics I need to work on.” (In fact, check out “So I Got My Test Back, Mr. Berman…” to get suggestions on how to use your past exams to study with.) Put these tasks/goals on your list. If you finish everything on your daily list, start working on tomorrow’s list.
Celebrate the victories. Goes along with staying positive. I find that people spend their time fretting about what they need to get done. Theoretically, if you have a list, if you defined your study time, if you have a schedule and a routine, and you are around positive influences, the time you spend fretting will be significantly reduced. Take it a step further, and congratulate yourself on a job well done each done. You got through your lists, you achieved your goals, you nailed that paper, you gave the presentation of your lifetime, and you aced your exam. Share with your circle and your family.
Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it, from your teacher, your tutor, your classmates, or from home. You want to do the best that you can. No one does anything alone.
Best of luck!