Filtering by Category: Productivity/Success
One thing that most students seem to find difficult at times is managing our time effectively, as a result, this can lead to much stress when deadlines are approaching. When I was at college studying an Access Course, I was a last-minute 'panicker', convinced that “I performed better under pressure” and left everything until two days before the deadline. However, upon starting university, I realised this way of working was not going to be effective for me anymore!
As a mature student living alone and 20 miles away from campus, this leads to further pressure. Travelling to and from uni during rush hour can take up to an hour and a half each way. Alongside this, work commitments and the demands of occasional care responsibilities means that 2 weekends a month I have to be in Nottingham caring for an elderly relative. As a result, time often feels scarce! Therefore, for me, organisation and early preparation is essential for meeting deadlines and managing the stress often associated with them. To help combat this, I find that being organised is the only way I can manage.
At the start of each term, I familiarise myself with the assessments for each module and their deadlines which are often close together. Once I am familiar with these, I make a list of the assessment methods and deadlines and stick it on the wall above my computer. After that, each time I go on the computer to check 'Facebook' or otherwise waste time, I am reminded that I do not have time to procrastinate! After making this list, I establish the time demands of each assessment; for example, a 3,500 word essay is going to involve significantly more preparation than a 2,000 word essay! This means that rather than waiting until a month before the deadlines and panicking, I effectively have a whole term to complete each assignment. Another benefit of early preparation is that it is much easier to find the books you require from the library before everyone else on your course wants the same books later in the term only to find they are all out on loan already!
Once I have the books, I begin reading around the subject. Some modules reveal the essay questions at the beginning of the term which proves advantageous as you can promptly decide which one you are going to attempt. This means, effectively, that as soon as the questions are released, the rest of the term can be used to prepare and complete assignments. I also find it helps to break down essays- for example, a 3,000 word essay due in 10 weeks equates to only 300 words a week - which feels much less demanding! By tackling a proportion of the work each week, it seems more manageable and prevents panicking in in the weeks immediately approaching the deadline. Working in this way also allows plenty of time to discuss things with lecturers if you are having problems or struggling to understand anything.
I also find that by spending time to work on things each day or week, the assignments are normally completed ahead of the deadlines. Even if you don’t want to submit the work early, it allows time to proof-read your work and look over the assessment criteria (normally outlined in the module handbook) to ensure that you have covered the learning outcomes. It also allows time to make alterations if necessary. Also, once the work is done, you are then free to focus on exam preparation without the distraction or added stress of the other work.
On a practical level, each week or fortnight I go through my diary and identify what time I have free each day to study and devise a suitable study timetable. I usually stick to this rigidly which can be difficult, and at times I fail- as we all do! It involves a lot of discipline, motivation, and sometimes - sacrifices too. Let’s face it, an evening in the pub with friends usually seems more appealing than a mountain of textbooks! It is easy to procrastinate and for things to sometimes seem tedious but for me, when these thoughts or procrastinating takes over, I begin to feel overwhelmed and my stress levels rise, particularly when I think of the demands of my other commitments. This is why this way of working works for me. Yes, I make sacrifices and at time wish I was out doing other things, but ultimately I get the work finished promptly and keep the stress levels to the minimum level possible!
- How do you cope with the stress of deadlines?
- Are you a ‘last-minute panicker’ or do you prefer time to plan and prepare?
By Rebecca Baird Parker
photo courtesy of free digital photos.net - Michal Marcol
You are just back from the end of semester 1 holiday and should be in the process of receiving your grades and feedback. Some of you may return with lots of good intentions about how you are going to be different in semester 2 in order to work harder, be more focussed, and achieve better grades. A bit like New Year’s resolutions, for the majority, good intentions tend to fail very quickly. Perhaps some of you, for example in your third year of study, may be familiar with returning to university with good intentions
Having spent 20 years as a student (from starting primary school to successfully completing my PhD) I am familiar with the creation of good intentions. Let me share with you one example from my life about a period where I had lots of good intentions and had tried to change my behaviour: Secondary School.
I found my first 2 years at Secondary School difficult. I had tried to concentrate more in lessons, I had tried to have more confidence in my academic abilities, to commit to do more homework etc. but no matter how much I tried to change myself and my behaviour it never seemed to work.
I reached a point during the summer holidays at the end of my second year at school when I decided that I had to do something about the situation. I wanted to do well and be successful but on this occasion I somehow realized that the only thing in my way was myself.
Although at the time I never expressed it in these terms, instead of trying to change myself, I simply made a decision to change the story I was telling myself and therefore to see myself differently.
At the time, aged 11/12, the story in my head went something like the following: “I am just no good at this academic stuff. Getting good grades is not possible for me. I am just not intelligent. Those students over there are clever. There’s no point even trying because people like me just don’t get good grades”. Whilst I never verbalized this narrative it totally dominated my thinking and my behaviour. Naturally, I acted in accordance with my story. Further, my story also ensured that each of my good intentions failed.
I had no idea of the magnitude of the effect that changing my story would have on my immediate future and also the rest of my life. Once I changed the ‘story lines’ about myself I completely changed my reality and the results I was getting.
Let me suggest five ways to take control of your story: 1. Become aware of your story: Listen to the story playing in your head. Simply recognize the story which is playing over and over again in your thoughts and mind. It may take some time to detach yourself sufficiently to realize your story, as you may have grown so accustomed to it.
2. Write down the ‘story lines’ that make up your story. Everyone’s lines will be different. Examples could be: • “I can’t do…” • “I am not intelligent enough for…” • “I don’t have enough experience for …” • “People like me can’t….” The lines that make up your story will be particular to you. Listen carefully and simply write it down exactly as you hear it – no editing!
3. Assess whether your story is working for you or working against you. Is your story supporting you and enabling you to achieve the things that will help you move forwards on your course/in your life or not? Be honest.
4. Create a different story. Shift your perspective from one that has probably been based on some total or partial distortion of the truth (which created your old story) to one that is based solely on the truth. I am not encouraging you to lie to yourself or to do some woo woo positive thinking. Rather I am asking you to see yourself as you really are.
5. Start the new story. You have to replace the old with the new. You can’t just say I don’t want to do/be….’ That is a good first step in some respects but to make a lasting change you have to replace the old (negative/outdated behaviour/results etc.) with the new behaviour/habit etc. in order to get the new desired results. Anytime you hear the old story start, simply interrupt it by repeating your new story.
Once I realized the detrimental effect my story created, I created a new story. The long term effect of this was that I went on to achieve a First Class honours degree (the only person on my course to do so) and a PhD from one of the country’s top Criminology School. I also went on to work for Cambridge University as an academic researcher!
Don’t waste any more time trying to change yourself or your behaviour, instead take the first step and become aware of the story you are telling yourself and change that. Then watch and see how much easier it is to fulfil your good intentions and get the results you want on your course/in your life.
1. What story are you telling yourself?
2. What story do you need to create?
As a returning student to university, can you observe a pattern of behavior/habits that has led to you getting the results you have got, during your time at school, college and university? If you are not happy with this pattern or the results you have received, please consider the following 10 points to help you become even more aware of some of the potential reasons for this.
- We keep focussing on our weaknesses rather than cultivating our strengths.
- We keep saying ‘Yes!’ to every social event that we are invited to.
- We repeat the same old habits/patterns.
- We don’t ask for help.
- We don’t give ourselves permission to be excellent.
- We leave things to the last minute.
- We keep thinking the same thoughts.
- We copy the majority and what they are doing/not doing.
- We don’t access the support that is available to us.
- We keep on believing the ‘old’ negative labels of teachers or other authority figures about what is possible for us.
1. Which of the above do you keep doing?
2. What else would you add to the above list?
3. What could you do to get a different outcome?
4. What has led to successful results/outcomes?
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net.