Looking at the age demographic of my blog views, I can see that there are probably a fair few of you who are completing your final year of uni. For anyone who has January exams this means a mixture of mince pies, family interaction, exam textbooks, referencing, presents, Christmas dinner, essays, tinsel, and tearing your hair out. It’s a bit of a bizarre mix.
Christmas for uni students in their final year can be an exceptionally challenging time (don’t laugh). I came home and basically went into burn-out mode, and it’s taken me around a week to chill out and find my work-relaxation balance again. Just in time for Christmas. So, anyone else with two 3000 word essays to research and write, next semester’s books to begin reading, and a creative writing portfolio to complete (to be honest, this is my own fault; I want to enter it into a poetry competition)- this article is for you. Perhaps you even have more than that. Whatever level of stressed you’re at, I hope these tips help you out…
You may need to take some time out
Having arrived home on the Friday evening, I took the weekend away from work. And although it didn’t completely chill me out, it did clear my head enough for me to see what I needed to do work-wise the next week. Time out is so important: every evening set a cut-off time for doing work, and stop at that time. After that the evening is yours. This mini relaxation break every evening will mean that you sleep better, and wake up more inclined to get stuff done.
Get up at a decent time, 5 days a week.
You have 7 days to play with. If you desperately need that late, late lie in, then choose two days to take that. I’m an early morning person, so this one is easy for me, and I’m often up at 6am Monday-Friday, then 8am latest Saturday and Sunday. Perhaps you need a few hours more than this, but try and keep your wake time fairly constant to keep you in a routine. Which brings me to…
Establish a morning routine.
It doesn’t have to be the rush a uni morning can be. But a morning routine that means you’re relaxed and ready to work can really help. Mine usually involves getting up, washed, dressed, then doing a quick meditation and gratitude journal (totalling 10 minutes max), and then having breakfast and watching a couple of inspirational vloggers. After that I’ll either go to the gym, or on a quick walk, then sit down to begin work by around 9am/9:30am. Awake, motivated (well, most of the time), and sharp.
Plan out what you need to do – EVERYTHING.
Okay, before you begin chipping away at all that work, it’s a good idea to write everything out. This way you know how you’re progressing, what is left to do, and where you are relative to finishing your work. It also means you don’t spend all day working, as you can easily see how long it will all take you. Spread it out. So, for an essay I would need to do the following:
- Read the primary texts and do some secondary research
- Analyse my primary texts according to my essay idea, picking out certain parts that are relevant and doing close reading
- Plan the essay I want to write roughly
- Run the plan past my lecturer (often done before I leave uni for Christmas)
- Edit the plan, adding in details from the primary text
- Read all of my secondary critics in detail, and add them into the plan (list them as well, and tick them off as you read them)
- Draft the essay in stages (this is where it gets easier- a detailed plan is the hardest bit)
- Redraft a few times
- Reference, and add in all of the finicky bits like page number, footnotes, bibliography etc. (for the footnotes this is best done as you go along, and then use them to make the bibliography with some slight adjustments)
- Swap with someone and peer edit.
- Print, and breathe a sigh of relief.
The planning would take me roughly a week. Then the writing of the essay around 2 days. Then I would set it aside for a couple of days, and return to it with fresh eyes to edit. This means I can see the process would take me around 2 weeks.
You’ll have lots to do, but each day write out a mini list, and highlight three things. These are your priorities, and they are what you need to get done. I spread my priorities through the day, but you might want to do them all first thing. You can be efficient without being productive, doing a large number of small tasks efficiently, but not actually completing the most important ones – though they may be a little more time consuming. Don’t fall into this trap.
One thing at once
Don’t try and multitask. Do one thing at once, do it properly, then it’s done.
Acknowledge when you’ve completed something
After each major task I do is completed, I give my brain 10 minutes to rewire itself. If I’m writing on my laptop, I might watch one video from my “watch later” playlist on YouTube. I might go chat to someone, or play with my dog. Allow yourself to be proud you’ve completed something.
Find ways to relax yourself
Get a list of things that really do relax you, and incorporate a few into EVERY DAY. My morning routine includes four things that relax me: the gym/walking, meditation, journaling, breakfast with YouTube or my family to talk to if they’re up. In the evening I might read (non-course) books, watch GOT or Planet Earth, or catch up with friends or family. Make sure you aren’t working all day.
This follows on from the above. If it’s all too much, then take a walk. A few days ago I really hit a wall, couldn’t work, and began snapping at people. I went for a walk in the cold and dark and looked at Christmas lights. I came home, completed my work, then spent time with my family, took a long bath, and felt much more cheerful and in control. Take breaks in the day as well. Organise meeting a friend for coffee, but stick to an agreed time, go enjoy some Christmas shopping. Having you list of work means you can pick and choose tasks to fit around this.
Don’t work through lunch- or any meal.
Use this as a break. Eat well, keep yourself fuelled, and don’t type while you chew.
Let those close to you know you need some space
When I burn out, I need a LOT of space, and peace and quiet to bring myself back up again. My family have known me long enough to understand this means don’t take my being a monster personally, and that I’ll be back to normal in a couple of days.
You can’t get Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day back- so enjoy
Take these days off, for the love of god. You can’t get these days back, so don’t waste them writing about modernist poetry, or crime in Victorian novels, or revising bio-chem. Personally, I want my first essay drafts completed by 3pm Christmas Eve, and I then won’t be looking at them again until the 27th December. Appreciate that university is a small part of your life. At the end of the day, having a degree won’t make up for missing special days with family and friends. I won’t lie, you maybe won’t be able to go out every time some one invites you to the pub this holiday. Be picky about the events you do go to, and say yes only to those that matter to you personally. But don’t miss Christmas.