Five tactics for a (relatively) stress-free semester

August 03, 2015
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For us students, a common cause of stress is having to sacrifice huge blocks of our time to complete something we should have started weeks ago. This doesn’t (necessarily) happen because we’re drinking every night and wiling away the days playing Nintendo; usually it’s a simple lack of consistency holding us back. It’s just so freaking easy to lose sight of our goals and become embroiled in the day-to-day. This leads us to feel as though we’re running flat-out and going nowhere.

This is similar to living paycheck to paycheck. Even those who make a good living often fail to build wealth – not because they’re stupid, but because their spending is chaotic. Poor budgeting leads them to frit away their surplus income, which results in massive financial stress when an emergency hits. And so it is with time: in order to avoid stress, we need to be in touch with our goals and consistent in how we pursue them.

Here are five tactics to keep you on track and off the hamster wheel.

Write a semester-long plan (and keep it updated)

Even if you start off the semester with all the project and test dates in your head, you’ll almost inevitably experience a time in which you feel like you’re drowning in deadlines.

If you’re willing to spare half an hour or so, you can avoid this feeling by taking the time to put all your assessments, essays, group projects and whatever else is in your subject guide into a spreadsheet. You might want to keep a diary instead, but personally, I think the ability to see all your obligations on a single page gives you a much better indication of what your semester looks like. Doing this will allow you to foresee potential crunch times and avoid being caught by surprise.

Keep a running task list

List three things you need to accomplish today and cross them off one by one as soon as you finish them. List another three things for tomorrow before you go to bed, and make sure the list is kept somewhere you’ll see it when you wake up, not buried in the depths of your computer. I’ve said it a million times and I’ll say it again: whiteboards are never a waste of money.

Seeing your obligations in front you will take some confusion out of the equation, and crossing them off becomes ridiculously satisfying. Soon enough, you’ll find yourself living for that horizontal swipe.

Every day, do the worst thing you can think of

What’s the task you’re most dreading? Is it doing research for that essay? Is it organising a group study meeting? When the medicine is bitter, it’s best to swallow it as quickly as possible.

Make your shittiest task your top priority; it’ll feel much better to have it sitting in the “done” basket than looming on the horizon.

Hit the gym

Part of being stressed is carrying around a surplus of nervous energy. It’s the jittery feeling you get when you open a Word document, attempt to type the first line of your essay, and immediately think, “Is this the most important thing I could be doing right now?” You’re so keyed up and eager to make progress, you can’t bring yourself to commit to anything that would take more time to finish than a bowl of ramen.

Prioritising your tasks is only half the battle; getting rid of that anxiety is the other. Getting some exercise will not only dispel nervous energy and release those much-vaunted endorphins, it stimulates creative problem-solving and relieves muscle tension. As far as making use of your time goes, exercise offers amazing bang-for-buck. Make it part of your schedule.

Design a kick-ass morning routine

This is a great way to keep yourself from falling into the day-to-day stress trap. Plan everything out: what you eat, what you pack, when you shower, and in what order.

If you have time, I highly recommend scheduling in a daily briefing session in which you review your tasks for the day (in detail), your overall schedule for the week (in less detail) and your long-term goals for the semester or the year (one or two points at most). It takes just 10 minutes, and will help you maintain both focus and consistency.

A solid, highly structured morning routine will not only get you to uni on time, it’ll put you in control of the day ahead while making you feel fresh and organised.

Doing a little each day is far, far better than doing it all in one night. Remember, the key is to be consistent, and keep your eyes on the prize. Good luck!

Joel Svensson

Business major, journalism minor and sometime voice-actor, Joel Svensson pretends to be smart at La Trobe University in Melbourne.

Image: Andres Nieto Porras, Flickr Creative Commons license