As students, despite all efforts to keep up with the projects, papers, and presentations that get thrown our way, sometimes we can get overwhelmed. Good time management is of course an invaluable tool for preventing end-of-term panic, but what happens when life gets in the way? And it will; anything from illness and stress to family obligations can blindside even the most well-prepared student. Rather than reiterating the value of organizational skills and dedication, I will deal with the realities that inevitably surround being both student and human.
When you find yourself in a crunch, here’s how to survive:
1. Communicate with your professors.
In my experience—I have largely been fortunate enough to have had compassionate instructors—a lot of pressure can be alleviated with a simple conversation. Good teachers don’t want to see their students suffer, and can in fact provide much needed support. If you are facing an imminent and impossible deadline, express your concerns and your situation: an extension, if requested reasonably ahead of time, might be possible. At the very least, you have nothing to lose.
As counterintuitive as that might sound, it’s one of the biggest favours you can do yourself. While there are enviable sorts of individuals who work better under pressure, the stress and anxiety of surmounting the looming tower of work ahead of you can end up damaging your efforts. Stress can make your brain shut down, inducing further panic. I find it helpful to remember that when you step away from the keyboard, your subconscious will continue to muddle through the material. Don’t feel guilty about leaving the library for a coffee break; allow yourself time to process.
3. Perspective is an important thing to consider.
It is all too easy to get caught up in the work in front you and forget that in the end (in most cases), it is just a paper, not the be-all-end-all of your existence. This is not to say that your work is inconsequential, but it can be helpful to think about the scope of what it is you are really doing. Take a mental step back to breathe—it will be ok.
4. Divide and conquer.
One of the most helpful strategies for transforming an impenetrable mountain of work into something manageable is not to look at the whole mountain. Break up your work into smaller sections, and focus on each of those sections individually. Fear of failure can be paralyzing, so first, deconstruct the threat—it might not be as ferocious as it looks.
5. Focus is an unrealistic expectation if you are panicking.
Once you have relaxed, gained perspective, and organized your workload into portions of achievable size, it becomes much easier to dedicate yourself to the task at hand. I continually surprise myself with the amount of progress I am capable of once I stop worrying about doing it and actually do it. Avoiding your work altogether is the most tempting response. Fight that. This is, again, not to say you shouldn’t allow yourself a short break periodically, but that ignoring responsibilities almost always makes things worse. Once you’re mentally prepared, buckle down and get it done. You are capable of more than you think.