It’s that time of year again folks: the blasted exam crunch time. Previously, I’ve written about how to stay physically healthy and how to find the study system that works for you. This year’s edition is more focused on mental health and stress-reduction strategies. Intrigued? Read on!
I find that this time of year requires a lot of discipline, focus, and motivation. Those things aren’t always easy to find, especially not when you also feel frazzled, stressed, and probably lonely. But finding time for fun activities can be so insanely hard, especially when you always have this looming dark cloud hanging over you, telling you “YOU SHOULD BE STUDYING RIGHT NOW”. How oppressive! I’m sure a lot of you are nodding in agreement – there’s always this sense of obligation or duty to be studying, and even taking an hour to catch up with someone at Starbucks feels very wrong.
The more we’re isolated, the more awful we feel; but the more we take time off from studying, the guiltier we feel. Stress central! Here are some of the strategies I’ve been exploring to stay sane this exam season.
1. Minimize Distractions
It would be completely unrealistic and unfair to ourselves if we decided to ban all “fun” during exams. I know many people block their Facebook accounts, or stop watching TV, and I applaud that. Good for you! But mindless, fun activities can also be an outlet and a relief for your poor little brain during this stressful time. It all depends on how much you engage in them, and this is where self-control comes into play.
The first step would be to pinpoint the activities you find the most fun. For me, these would be baking and blogging/writing, because these are the things I find myself wanting to do the most when I’m chained to my desk learning neuroanatomy! Maybe yours include watching episodes of a favourite show or playing an instrument, or just spending time with friends. The next time you’re sitting down to study and feel an urge to do something else, pay attention to what that “something else” is. Monitor what types of activities you’re longing to do, and then choose 1-2 for the exam season that can be your outlets.
Once you’ve narrowed it down to a couple of things, make a promise to yourself to try and minimize all other distractions. Bargain with yourself: “I’ll let you take an hour to make salted caramel if you work on your essay without going on Facebook” or “You can watch the new episode of HIMYM after you’ve done a solid review of that chapter without scrolling through Pinterest”. Try to get yourself to value the few fun activities and use them to replace the ones that take up time but give you no real satisfaction (ex. checking Facebook/Twitter updates!).
Once you’ve decided on the activities that you would like to work in, try your best to slot them in. I’m aware that everyone and their mother (and especially my mother!) is very, VERY busy at this time of year, but that’s not to say that we don’t all waste some time every day. Nobody is 100% productive around the clock!
So for a day or two, assess your daily habits and determine how you spend most of your time. Could you save time anywhere? This time of year might make it pretty tight – maybe all of your time is spent studying! If so, you’re superhuman, and I bow down before you. But it’s likely that a lot of your time might be wasted checking and re-checking email, social networking sites, browsing the internet aimlessly, or Facebook stalking. Check out this site for a list of tools that will monitor your internet usage/time spent on various websites. Useful! Also, probably very shocking!
Once you’ve isolated some areas where you’re spending a lot of time, perhaps unnecessarily, see if you can streamline some of your activities. Some examples are only checking or responding to email twice per day (a Timothy Ferriss tip!), only logging onto Facebook once a day, or using Focusboosterapp to get solid, focused chunks of workflow into your day. It’s useful to group similar activities together, because it ends up being much more efficient. For exams, this could mean doing completely focused hours of work which would lead to much higher productivity than if you did an hour which was punctuated by checking social media sites every few minutes.
3. Schedule Fun!
This one is the most important. Once you’ve decided a few activities you’d love to work into your crazy hectic exam life, schedule them in! Since this time of year is so stressful, it is not practical for us students to take whole days off to visit a museum or go ice skating. But walking downtown for a 30 minute study break and getting coffee with a friend, or just looking at all the gorgeous Christmas lights is reasonable. So is breaking up the monotony of studying in your apartment with baking a batch of cookies: you can study while you wait for them to bake, then cool. Study dates are the best idea! Even if you’re not studying for the same subjects as your friends, meeting up with them in a café is a fun way to hang out, chat, have quality time, and still get some work done. Having a quick dinner together to catch up is easy enough, and shouldn’t take very long. Meeting up with friends for an early(ish) brunch is an amazing way to make sure you don’t sleep in too late and really get your day started in style.
Hour-long nuggets of fun can be worked in at almost any time. Going for a walk doesn’t take very long but the fresh air will perk you up. Reading a Byliner Original will make you feel educated and happy to have finished a book in a short time!
When you make a commitment to create some space in your hectic schedule for a little chunk of fun, your brain will thank you. Having a relief from the stress and urgency of studying is a terrific way to refresh yourself to get back to it! Taking the time to do something fun is a way to reward and motivate yourself, and it will be something to look forward to through your long cold days of studying! When you take the time to properly recharge, you usually are repaid with lots more energy and motivation for your crazy studying. It’s important to take time off, you can’t burn the candle at both ends and expect to see great results! Take the time to live and love your life, even in tiny little doses.
When exams hit, things can get rough. Take a few minutes to create a plan, make a promise to yourself that you’ll have some fun, and make sure to take care of yourself. All of these things will work in harmony to actually help you do better at your exams! I know the common stereotype and mentality is that it’s best to just work yourself into the ground, study as hard as you possibly can, never sleep, eat poorly, and isolate yourself at all times. But that just isn’t practical, nor will it work. You have the power to take good care of yourself and still do well on your exams.
What techniques do you use to motivate yourself? How do you study for exams? Do you think you have time for fun during this crazy time? Why or why not? What would you do for fun if you had the time?