Crunch Time: How to Smash This Semester’s Assignment Period (Without Losing Your Head)

Harvey Dibden-Angus is a Second Year History Student and this years News Editor. Featured Image is Open Book Library Education by lil_foot_ from Pixabay.

 It’s probably fair to assume that for most students currently studying at university, the latest wave of deadlines and dissertations have brought with them an array of never before seen challenges. The past year we’ve experienced lockdowns, self – quarantine, groups of six, two metre distancing (to say the least).

Many, if not most of us, have experienced some degree of obscurity and helplessness in our lives, feelings which have been unsurprisingly provoked by the pandemic we’ve found ourselves in. It is impossible to completely rid ourselves from the many anxieties of the modern world; trying to juggle such pressing levels of existentialism alongside a university degree is a weighted feat, and it would be a fool’s errand to try. Plus, wallowing in despair isn’t going to put pen to paper. Even if it does, no one produces their best work wallowing in despair.

I’ve done my best to comprise a short list of things that I believe have helped keep me on top of my workload, but more importantly have kept me on top of my mental health during busy assessment periods. My only disclaimer is that I for one have not always kept on top of this list myself. Some days, nothing on the list gets done at all; but it’s a good place to start.

The Pomodoro Technique – A good friend recently introduced me to this study technique and it is already working wonders. Time is often the biggest enemy students face. Too much to do, too little time. This method has been proven to yield results, and it works perfectly for someone trying to manage a few modules at once. Francesco Cirillo invented the Pomodoro Technique in the late 1980s as a time management tool. The technique employs a timer to divide work into cycles of 25 minutes each, separated by brief breaks. Each interval is referred to as a ‘pomodoro’. There are six steps in the original technique:

  1. Decide on the task to be done.
  2. Set the pomodoro timer (traditionally to 25 minutes).
  3. Work on the task.
  4. End work when the timer rings and put a checkmark on a piece of paper.
  5. If you have fewer than four checkmarks, take a short break (3–5 minutes) and then return to step 2; otherwise continue to step 6.
  6. After four pomodoros, take a longer break (15–30 minutes), reset your checkmark count to zero, then go to step.

For the purposes of the technique, a pomodoro is the interval of time spent working.

The ‘plate spinning’ analogy – Picture this. You spin a plate – your job, for example – you get it spinning steadily enough that you can leave it alone for a while. But one of your other plates (assignments, social life, relationships, side projects) starts to wobble, so you rush over to it and give it your full attention. Obviously what happens now is that your other plates are wobbling too, so you need to see to them. At first this analogy sounds overwhelming, but looking at your responsibilities this way will force you to become hyper aware of every aspect of your life that requires attention. You can’t give all of your pursuits and hobbies your undivided attention at once of course, you would simply combust. Keep all your plates spinning; some may be spinning faster than others, but so long they are all spinning at least a little bit, you can’t fall far behind.

Where’s your head at? (Where’s your head at) – Move swiftly on from the ode to Daft Punk, this is your degree we are talking about here. Do you know exactly when everything you’ve got due in is actually due in? Like many others, I have been eager to go back to work and earn some decent money. My first week back I actually went full time, much to the detriment of my uni work. I started to panic that I was spending too much time working at the pub and not enough time working at the library. This is where I would have really benefited from the spinning plates analogy. Noted. Post – miniature meltdown, I sat and jotted all my deadlines, all my shifts at work, and any free time I have coming up. Knowing now exactly when things are due has alleviated many of my former anxieties, just from being aware of how much time I may (or may not) have to complete everything. Deploy every and any tactic you have in your arsenal to make life as stress free as possible; you will probably thank yourself in the long run.

“Relax, man.”  – This last point arguably goes against everything I just said. Therefore, I believe you could read this point first or last and it would have the same effect. Life has genuinely been very different and for the most part very challenging since Covid first came on the scene. Your degree is important, but so is having a good time. I do mean that. What I’m really trying to say is, if you don’t give yourself the odd breather you will inevitably burn out. You can’t run a car down to basically no fuel and expect it to keep functioning how it would with the tank full. Have a beer, have a lie in – just do your work too. Do it all; just do it all well.

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