Monday Master Class: How to Stave Off Stress with a Mid-Semester DashOctober 20th, 2008 · 23 comments
For most students, the end of October marks the halfway point of the fall semester. Midterm exams loom. The workload has reached it’s full intensity. Deadlines are overlapping. Stress levels are starting their traditional climb from manageable to insane.
From my experience, you have two options at this point. First, you can give into to the chaos and limp through the rest of semester always behind on work, constantly stressed, suffering through one all-nighter after another while you struggle to keep the wheels on the proverbial bus.
The second option, however, is that you give the middle finger to the chaos: fight back the work onslaught and regain control.
Not surprisingly, this post describes a simple system to help achieve the latter option.
The Mid-Semester Dash
Here’s a simple system to stay in control as your semester progresses:
- Set aside next Saturday and Sunday for a “mid-semester dash.” Make no serious plans on these days. This includes a moratorium on partying. Sorry. You need to be a nerd for these 48 hours.
- Leading up to the start of the dash, catch up on your regular assignments so you won’t have this work clogging up the weekend.
- During the first day of the dash, clean out your to-do lists. Complete every non-major thing you know you need to do, but have been avoiding. This will range from the trivial — submit transcript request form — to the more complicated — apply for internship abroad. Your goal is to either throw out or finish all the annoying gunk lurking on your lists and in the back of your mind.
- During the second day of the dash, construct the plans that will get you through the rest of the semester. Develop the study schedule you will use for each midterm and final. Develop a similar schedule for all of your big papers. You’ll probably be surprised by how early you need to start some things to make all the plans work out. (I’ve come out of a mid-semester dash realizing that work on a paper due in two months had to start right away if it was going fit with everything else on my plate.)
- Diagnosis any problems with how you are currently handling your regular work. If certain assignments aren’t getting done in time, or if you’re doing worse on problem sets than you would like, adjust your plans. This is a good time to implement (or tweak) an autopilot schedule. It’s also a good time to identify and eliminate any habits that waste lots of time without producing much output. (Many students build study routines that feel comfortable, but are chocked full of inefficiency.) If you still seem short on hours in the day, then consider either dropping or taking a vacation from some of your activities.
- On the final night of your dash, symbolize your academic rebirth by doing something relaxing that has nothing to do with work. Go to a movie. Or a bar. Or if your parents live nearby, go have Sunday night dinner with them and watch stupid TV; whatever will help reset your mind.
These two days can have a major impact on the two months to follow. The combination of clearing out the stress-inducing small stuff and then developing a plan for the rest of the semester — a plan that you can trust — has a profound impact on how the upcoming weeks will unfold. The work of the dash is not that difficult. But it’s hard to inline into a normal schedule. What makes the dash effective is that you put aside the time needed to do it right.
Of course, if you need more than two days, extend the dash. Some students have such a crazy to-do backlog that it might take two or three days to get their head back above water. Whatever works for you.
The secret, in the end, is setting yourself up for a controlled descent into the end of the semester, not a chaotic tumble.