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College Chronicles #11: Leena Resists the Student Work Day, Hits Rock Bottom, then Rises from the Ashes with a Stunning Plan of Her Own

College Chronicles is a blog-based reality series that follows real students attempting to overhaul their study habits. Click here for the series archive.

The Leena SagaTime to Change

When we last checked in with Leena, things were not going well. Her overwhelming MIT workload was taking a toll. She was procrastinating, often leaving work until well after midnight. She was falling behind in classes. Her sleep was erratic. Her stress growing.

It was time to intervene. We sat down and made a full audit of her work responsibilities. We then worked out a student work day that would actually capture all of this work. It wouldn’t be easy, but it would give her a handle on her obligations and keep her from falling behind or staying up late. Seeing what was possible inspired Leena.

But things didn’t go as planned…

Leena Takes a Turn for the Worse

It didn’t take long to realize that Leena wasn’t fully embracing the student work day plan. During the first week, she reported that she had tried to start her day working in the comfortable butterfly chair in her room…and promptly fell back asleep. Then there was a group project that forced her to stay up late. Then she noted that her attempts to work at the crowded student center were problematic, as they represented more of an extended social hour than something productive. She began procrastinating on work until 2 or 3 am, so should wouldn’t miss latenight social hijinks in her dorm.

In general, she found the whole work day idea demoralizing. The thought of working straight from morning to early evening was too much. So she let things slide back to the way they were.

Then things got worse. Much worse…

Leena Stops Hits Rock Bottom…then Makes an Amazing Comeback

The erratic sleep combined with the increasing stress of falling behind eventually bloomed into full-fledged insomnia. By Thanksgiving break, Leena was barely sleeping. Work had slowed to a crawl. She was passing out in class. She failed a test and forgot a presentation worth 15% of her grade. Things looked bleak.

While home for the holiday, Leena saw her family doctor. The physician administered a swift kick in the ass. Her message: “you’ve got to start fresh and regain control.” Her perscriptoin: a strict regimen, including…

  1. No caffiene and only light food after 5.
  2. Eat at scheduled times.
  3. Use your room only for sleep.
  4. Fight stress. Meditate. Do yoga. Use logical thought processes to fight negative habits when things get busy.
  5. Follow strict work schedules. Seperate work from play.

It worked. The rules allowed Leena to sleep once again. Armed with the rest — and fearful of returning to her old broken down state — she began to employ, with great fidelity, a full arsenal of improved study habits; an arsenal that includes:

  1. Scheduling the full week in advance. No surprises.
  2. Doing problem set work during office hours, with the TA’s help, early in the week.
  3. Make strict plans and schedules to cut wasted time out of group projects.
  4. Follow a modified student work day that occurs in chunks: Important work in the morning. A break in the afternoon. Labs and office hours in the evening. Try to get work done in the labs and office hours. Every two days, do a fun evening activity with friends. A final work chunk until 1 AM before sleep. “Working at night isn’t bad,” says Leena, “as long as it’s scheduled and you’ve been having fun.”

The result, one of the most low-stress, productive weeks at MIT that Leena can remeber.


What’s the moral hiding in the epic tale of Leena? After reflection, she reports that the key was taking her daily schedule and habits seriously.

This is especially true of hard majors at a hard school like MIT. Students often fail to realize that the number of hours required to be a succesful student. A double-major in a science program, for example, may need to work as many hours as a new lawyer (over 60 hours a week).

Such a schedule demands respect. Without a serious plan things can get out of control. Once you recognize the challenge ahead and start looking toward solutions — as Leena did this past Thanksgiving — your world becomes a signficiantly more controlled and exciting place.

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