I believe a very long time, I wrote a Saturday blog entry about how to get through exams, using tips from psychology. This is currently not the time in the school semester to be worrying about examinations yet, but it is the hectic and uncertain intermediate, the time when you’re working on essays and projects and presentations. It can be easy to get really overwhelmed at this time, but we cannot lapse into an unhealthy lifestyle because of it! Exalted Salvation is here to help with a few tips on how to keep a stress-free lifestyle and confidently take assignments by the reins.
1. Start early.
I’ve given this advice countless times. Start early. Even if your deadline is a month away, you’ll be shocked at how fast time flies, and how many other things crop up during this one month. Remember how easy it can be to arrive to a destination late? That’s the same situation with assignment deadlines. Don’t assume that time will work for you.
From my experience, if there is a month remaining to the deadline for submission, I will get mentally exhausted about one week in. The exhaustion comes from the anticipation of needing to start work. Usually when we receive our assignment, we start generating ideas in our head about how we want to approach it. These ideas will dissipate in a week’s time, so when it’s time to actually start, your mind will get blank and you get a sense of weariness not unlike writer’s block. Therefore, start early! Even if you don’t start actually writing, at least pen down your thoughts and plan your essay during the time when you’re most creative and least lethargic. Then when you reach your exhausted phase, all you have to do is transcribe your notes, which is a less effortful process.
2. Everything in moderation.
Even though I am an advocate of starting early, I am not an advocate of ending early — not too early, anyway. If we have a month to do something, I believe that we should fully utilise the month and not wear ourselves out doing one thing at rapid pace. I believe that there is a time for everything. There are times when we’re energetic enough to do essays, and times when we just want to sit down and pay attention to lessons, and times when all we want to do is relax and eat something good. I’ve learnt gradually that we are most productive when we let ourselves do what we feel like doing at the time. If we want to relax, there is no sense forcing ourselves to work. We may end up doing it haphazardly and have to waste time correcting ourselves later on. This is why you start early on work, so that you have time to do the work only at times when you really are motivated to do so.
If playing Magic has taught me anything, it is the virtue of patience and foresight. There must be a good mix of “doing things now” and “doing things later”. Always think one step ahead. Will you have other things to do later or will you actually have more free time? Factor in some buffer time for emergencies. When you allow yourself leeway, you become more relaxed, and may actually be more willing to put in the effort now.
3. Play hard enough.
Many people set aside entertainment when it is crunch time. They skip meals, stop playing with games altogether and spend all their time studying. Some of you may be pleased to know that doing what you like is important — if it stops you from getting distracted thinking about it while you’re studying. Imagine if you deprive yourself suddenly of playing a video game. What will you be thinking of during your revision periods? Your video game, of course, and how you’d love to play it the moment your exams are over. After you’re done studying for the day, you get tempted to play your video game, but no, you already promised to play it later, but you’re already done with studying, but you should look for more to study, or revise something all over again, etcetera. You build up some little resentment for what you’re studying, and on the last day of your examinations you’re pretty much counting down the time on your watch before it ends and you can rush home to continue playing.
I think the greatest greatest obstacle to studies or work of any kind is distraction. Try reading a reading and being plagued by messages on your phone every paragraph. You’ll lose track of whatever you had read before. Now imagine the messages are coming from your head, and they’re coming in a ceaseless stream, all the time. I take care to avoid all distracting thoughts or emotions before I get down to studying. And the best way to stop thinking about a game is really to play it. I assure you that there will come a time when you get tired of it. Usually after playing a game for 3 or so hours, you start to wonder if perhaps you’ve gone on for too long. Your neck aches a bit, the activities on-screen become a bit monotonous, and you suddenly find that you’ve completed a couple of milestones. When you stop playing at that point, you actually feel some relief from the strain, and that’s when you can take a short rest, get to studying and find yourself a lot less distracted.
The best times to play are when studying wouldn’t have been productive anyway. Some people work well in the daytime and are morning people, so the best time to play is at night before you sleep. People tend to have inertia to stop playing a game, so give yourself a target. You’ll play till you’re tired and your eyelids are getting droopy, or till it’s dinnertime. Once you shut your game off and get up for dinner, you’ll find yourself reluctant to switch the game on again. Of course, I’m not a very avid gamer and can’t say the same for things like Skyrim, but I find that for most games, the challenge is in getting out of it. Once you’re out, it’s easy not to get back in.
4. Take regular notes.
I find that for most subjects, taking notes (for me anyway) is a very useful way to keep track of what I’ve learnt. When you take notes at the end of every week, for instance, you read your lecture notes at a speed unimpeded by the lecturer’s pace. You can pick out points you never saw before, or rewrite them in ways that make sense to you. For example, you may generate a mnemonic for something that only you will understand. Taking notes every week gets you to contemplate only things you learned in that week, rather than the entire few months as a whole during exam time, and this makes you a lot less overwhelmed and more willing to go through the material carefully.
Leading a refreshed stress-free lifestyle is most important during semester time, mainly because it takes up the majority of the year. Remember to go out to see the sunlight, have some good food, listen to music and socialise as well!