I am a notorious procrastinator. As a person whose idea of a wild Friday night consists of curling up with a cup of tea and watching a movie with friends, perhaps working down to the wire is as close to living on the edge as I will ever come.
I am a slow learner, but I’ve finally realized the toll that my procrastinating lifestyle has taken on my mental and physical health. Pushing things off until the last minute has led to prolonged periods of anxiety and stress, and has resulted in late nights spent at Earl Gregg Swem Library or at home, finishing papers rather than spending time with friends.
But, my fellow procrastinators: There is hope.
The strategies that I am trying to adopt this year are ones I have learned from people who inspire me with their ability to expertly balance work and play. Here are some of their techniques and practices that boost mental health and decrease stress:
1) Work to your strengths:
There is no “one size fits all” approach to time and stress management. It is best to be honest about your strengths and preferences, rather than holding tight to what would be ideal in theory. While your best friend may feel invigorated waking up at 6 a.m. to do work before class, it could leave you feeling exhausted by 10 a.m. The Daily Grind may be your most productive study spot, but could drive your easily distracted roommate crazy. We each have unique characteristics, and there is no one right way to manage time effectively. By asking yourself some questions about your work habits (Does music or noise help me focus? Do I retain more information writing or typing my notes? Do mid-day naps make me feel rejuvenated or sleepier?), you can develop an excellent action plan. And if you are still using trial and error to figure out what works best for you, like I am, that’s okay, too.
2) Become friends with your planner:
(Or your Google Calendar, to-do lists or apps). Writing in your deadlines, social events, meetings and other commitments can help you plan ahead and budget your time accordingly. Color-coding these activities and recording plans as soon as you make them can be beneficial in maximizing your time. Be realistic (don’t schedule non-stop study marathons), and make sure to schedule time for breaks and relaxation.
3) Practice prioritizing:
While prioritizing is tough, it can be helpful to think regularly about things you value most. Having a more solid set of general priorities (strengthening your friendships, challenging yourself), can aid in ranking more specific, short-term priorities (applying for internships, delivering a great performance). Looking at which deadlines are coming up soonest and thinking about roughly how much time assignments will take to complete can help you decide which task to start first. Think of what you need to accomplish versus what you want to do. Non-academic needs are still needs, and are just as important as academic priorities: sleeping, socializing with friends and family, eating meals, and taking time for yourself are not low priorities; your overall wellbeing is much more important than even the best grades.
4) Be study smart:
Going to your professors to ask, “What is the best way to study for this exam?” can ease your anxiety by clarifying both their and your expectations. Also, chatting regularly with professors to ask questions or informally discuss your opinions about class material can help you retain knowledge along the way. While this is easier said than done, holding yourself accountable to start early and “chunk” your studying or writing time over a longer period — such as an hour per day for a week — can prevent late-night cramming sessions.
5) Treat yourself:
Reward yourself for accomplishing your goals — even small steps in the right direction are important. It may take some time to develop your perfect plan, but don’t lose heart. With persistence and practice, you will be able to get your work done and still have time for fun.
Email Andrea Aron-Schiavone at email@example.com.