How to manage impossible workloads through laser focus – OurWarwick
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How to manage impossible workloads through laser focus

If you’re like me, then exam stress levels can oftentimes become unbearable. The pressure of wanting and feeling you need to do well or at least survive the season can become a great strain in making positive progress towards the end goal itself.

Although some of my previous posts have focused on dealing with unhelpful states of emotion and thoughts, particularly summarising some of the strategies I have found effective from The Happiness Trap, this post will focus on dealing with the issue upfront: getting work done.

One of the most powerful techniques I have harnessed in approaching what might initially seem an insurmountable task is building laser focus – which are short bursts of time where you use every faculty of concentration to overcome a challenge.

As a side note, a lot of these techniques might not necessarily work with you, so to experiment with different approaches, I recommend reading Make Time, which is a book that has inspired me to confront the effectiveness of my approach to work.

Finding your laser mode:

[1] Turn on DO NOT DISTURB.

This is, by far, the best tool I have ever used on my phone (Android). This allows for Deep Work like no other strategy. I strongly recommend reading Deep Work by Carl Newport – it is a must-read for anyone studying at university with the task of overcoming intellectually challenging obstacles.

[2] Wake up or stay up at unsociable hours.

For me, this means waking up at 6 am and 5 am – I find 6hrs sleep is doable, but 8hrs is the only sustainable amount I can manage on a consistent basis. I cannot express the power of momentum by the time it is 9 am and you have already overcome the most difficult part of your workload.

[3] Harness focus music.

I find lyrics do not help, so I stick to instrumental and more specifically piano-based tunes. Ludovico Einaudi, Mozart or Alexis Ffrench works well for me. Also, a YouTube soundtrack called “Deus Ex Ambient Mix (Mankind Divided Human Revolution)” suggested by a friend that studies Maths at Warwick works wonders. Sometimes it takes a catalyst to get the period of focus started.

[4] Delay breakfast.

Intermittent fasting is a technique I took from Make Time and something I was not comfortable using at first due to food being one of the few sources of enjoyment left during the intensity of exams. However, I soon found that if I replaced the early morning snacks and big breakfasts with a drink, my focus was maintained for much longer. Having said this, when stress levels increased further, I decided to abandon the strategy – as I said, keep experimenting and optimising your approach.

[5] Do not be reckless with the human machine.

A stressful mindset might encourage you to work late into the evening, sacrifice exercise and shorten breaks. This can be extremely dangerous because it can lead to burnout which must be avoided at all costs. Burnout is not just a weak mindset that you need to step out of, it is a very real, debilitating frame of mind that prevents you from being able to focus that can take a long time to recover from.

Balance is key I’ve found, and part of that balance is having the levers to break the periods of deep work e.g.:

  • 20mins of physical activity a day is enough for me – no need for 1hr long but can’t be too short.
  • Having a TV series or movie that you keep coming back to and is so good that you can re-watch is a lifesaver. During A-Levels, I would block out the late evening to watch a small fragment of a movie. The key is to prevent burnout – from an efficiency standpoint (let alone the mental trouble it causes), burnout is devastating.

Hopefully at least one of those tips help you overcome the struggle of this period – the harder the battle, the sweeter the victory.

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