Maintaining a work-life balance (in the face of deadlines)
I’ve decided to write this as I’m currently coming towards the end of back-to-back assignments that have lasted from the start of the Christmas holiday and finish in a week. While it’s not been nearly as intense as some courses (some have deadlines every week!) it’s certainly much more than we had in term 1 and at times it’s felt like I hardly have time to rest. So, I’m going to share some of the tips that work best for me when it comes to not being overwhelmed by deadlines. You’ll probably have seen a lot of them before, but I think they’re worth repeating.
Start as soon as possible and set your own deadlines
I was a big nerd in secondary school (still am) so I think it might have surprised people to learn that even though in class I worked hard and was well behaved, I always left homework until the night before. Eventually, I realised that this was getting unreasonable as the workload increased heading towards GCSEs and it was causing me unnecessary stress. I managed to sort myself out and began starting (and often finishing) work as soon as it was set.
At uni, assignments tend to take a lot longer and I actually need to start them ASAP to get them done on time to a decent standard, without pulling a last minute all-nighter. This not only means that I know roughly how much work I have to do, but also means I can do that work at a slower pace. This makes it less stressful, so the work is (hopefully) better quality and it’s better for me — I’ve recently been learning (through an endocrinology assignment, ironically) how bad chronic stress can be for you mentally and physically. As this affected me in my first year before I restarted (read my other blogs!) I know how important this is.
It’s also a good idea to plan a schedule and informal deadlines for sections and the assignment to be finished. I usually put a target for each day in my diary. Normally, this is overly ambitious and I don’t meet it, but it helps break it down and keep me on target. If the deadlines are pretty early, it doesn’t matter if I don’t make them as I’ll still have time left to finish the work.
One at a time
Over the past couple of months, most of the assignments have been back-to-back but a few have overlapped. I find this difficult because while I work on one, the other will be at the back of my mind. Again, I find it best in these cases to carefully plan your time. I do assignments one at a time where possible, starting with whichever is due soonest or is substantially bigger. I’ll set a fairly ambitious deadline with checkpoints and try to hit them. Then, once the first assignment is done, I’ll submit it and try my best to not touch it anymore. Once the second is finished, I might go back and check the first assignment again. I’m not always 100% successful but for me, this is the best technique for making sure all my assignments get done without getting too flustered.
Take care of yourself
I’ve already mentioned that stress can be bad for your health, mentally and physically. It’s really important for me to keep doing the things I enjoy and that relieve stress if I possibly can, even with deadlines piling up.
I make sure I keep eating three healthy meals a day, which I usually make myself. While I don’t love cooking, I find taking time to make my own food a pretty valuable way to take a break from working. I also keep up with exercise, and haven’t missed a GoodGym session yet this year — even with deadlines approaching.
As an introvert, I need plenty of time alone to work and relax. Although I’m a member of several societies and there’s always plenty to do, I don’t make myself go if I don’t feel like it. In my first year, I’m pretty sure part of what stressed me out was that I was basically always at a lecture, working or out socialising. Now, I spend a lot more time just relaxing on my own with some TV or a book and I think I feel better as a result.
Set “work hours” and don’t self-flagellate
Finally, the thing I’ve been working on most recently. Like. I’m pretty sure, everyone, I procrastinate quite a bit when I’m trying to work. At the start of term, I felt guilty about doing this instead of working, particularly on a Tuesday when I had no lectures or tutorials. I also felt bad about getting up late — about 9 am most days. Then I realised two things: I work a full day every Saturday, and I tend to keep working until about 8:30 pm most days. Even starting at 10:30, that’s ten hours a day, six days a week. I’m not sure that would be legal employment in this country.
Since then, I’ve tried to not feel guilty about not spending every waking hour working. I try to maintain a strict policy of not working on assignments after 8:30 pm (unless they’re due imminently) and letting myself sleep until I naturally wake up most days. If I’m getting the things I need to do done on time, I don’t think I have anything to worry about. I’m studying for my own benefit, after all.