Espresso & Essays: How to Manage Your Time

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A cocktail that you have earned tastes better than those for which you bunked off in the middle of the afternoon. Or at least, that’s what I’m trying to tell myself lately. Because if, like me, you’re doing your dissertation over the summer – or any other form of uni work, really – you’ve probably noticed that being your own boss and setting your own work schedule without the pressure of impending uni deadlines is tough. Especially since, often, the biggest lesson we take away from uni deadlines is how to write a whole essay in the 30 minutes before that Blackboard window closes.

However, that kind of really bothers me because time management isn’t just something we need for uni – it’s for life. Personally, I know that when I feel like I’m behind or not doing everything I can to be my best self, I’m disappointed with myself in a way that hinders both my mental health and my productivity. So, as I work on my dissertation this summer, I’ve challenged myself to also analyse and address the toxic thoughts and bad work habits that keep me from achieving my potential. Of course, identifying your problems is only part of the fight, so in the hope that what I’ve learned can help others, here are a few practical steps anybody can take to make the most of your time and do your best work.

·       Do Small Chunks First

On a typical day, my to-do list usually includes loads of research materials I need to read, dissertation word counts I need to reach, and multiple articles to write, in addition to meetings with my research adviser and all the other household stuff that comes with being a functioning person. Add the responsibility of keeping in touch with your friends and dealing with your own mental health struggles, and it’s pretty crippling. In fact, it’s enough to make you say, ‘Never mind,’ and run off for a cocktail just from the stress of thinking about it (1000% not based on a real example). So, to keep myself from losing it, I try to break that list down into a few manageable chunks that I know I can reasonably do.

Credit: Alyssa Caroline-Burnette

Instead of frantically jumping from task to task, I prioritise one thing first—like ‘read this chapter and take notes’—so that I can do it quickly and easily and give myself the positive reinforcement of checking something off of my to-do list. By doing the same thing with the other items on my list, I’m able to take a lot of stress out of the equation for myself and motivate myself with the evidence that I am capable of getting this done.

·       Create a Safe Space

And I mean in every way. For your study space to be a truly safe place and for you to get the most work done, you need a place that’s both free of distractions and that stimulates ideas. As working alone in my apartment is pretty dreary, and Hartley in the summer is a cesspool of academic depression, I tend to seek out colourful and quiet spaces where I feel comfortable and happy. For this summer, that means doing most of my work in SO: Cake, a sweet-coloured safe-haven of a cake shop off of Marlands Road. The shop is decorated in pinks and yellows – colours which are designed to stimulate feelings of growth and positivity – and they keep relaxing acoustic playlists on all the time, meaning that I feel instantly comfortable here in a way that even my own apartment can’t match. Plus, they serve fancy cakes and, really, what better work incentive do you need?

Credit: Alyssa Caroline-Burnette

While I can’t recommend SO: Cake enough as a study spot, your physical environment isn’t the only factor which defines a safe space – it has to be safe from distractions, too, which means powering down your phone. Studies show that even looking at your phone while you study impairs your focus and lowers your IQ, which is why my go-to safe space study tip is keeping my phone out of my sight. I also turn the volume off as an added precaution, mostly because I know I will get distracted if I let myself go on my phone at all. I know it’s hard, but disconnecting doesn’t have to be a chore. If we remind ourselves that we’re purging distractions to make ourselves better people, to accomplish our goals, and to feel better about ourselves, it gives us the extra boost we need to make healthy decisions that grow into healthy habits.

·       Reward Yourself

This is where the cocktails come in, because as easy as it is to give up and treat yourself before you’ve done anything,  I’ve found that my favourite rewards always taste better when they doesn’t carry the bitter aftertaste of the items on my to-do list I have yet to check off. That’s why I highly recommend taking steps to minimise your stress and maximise your productivity in other ways, so that when you finally sit down with that much-needed cocktail, you can really relax and enjoy it. Because, let’s be honest, you deserve to eat cake while you work. That cake was never going to make it till the end of the to-do list.

Credit: Alyssa Caroline-Burnette
More articles in Espresso & Essays
  1. Espresso & Essays: Kicking off A New Summer Series
  2. Espresso & Essays: How to Manage Your Time
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