Francesca Di Donato
We have all been there: trying to study hard for finals or to get stuck into that essay or equation, when some attractive individual strolls nonchalantly past, catching our fancy. Perhaps a library announcement sounds, taking our focus off task. Maybe even something so trivial as a group WhatsApp feed buzzing away with notifications.
Coming back from a long, relaxing summer break on the bounce, and studying seems like an alien and intolerable activity. Settling back into the old routines is exhausting and when the first assignments start rolling in, concentrating is not something that comes as second nature. Sound familiar? Then you may find this article useful.
I learnt this the hard way while undertaking two bachelor degrees, and simultaneously attempting a balance. Without a personal plan, I'd have been tearing my hair out at each and every unexpected turn or misfortune.
Firstly, we shouldn't overlook why we put ourselves through all the hassle and hard graft. Whether you are working toward that dream career, an ambition to live abroad or solving a humanitarian crisis, or even inspiring new generations through teaching, your future you will be thanking you.
Setting a list of tasks to accomplish and breaking down the end vision into a series of baby steps is going to be the difference between getting up at the crack of dawn, versus enjoying that long afternoon lie in.
Having a vision, great or small, lends perseverance for when times get tough. This vision should be unique to ourselves and so not applicable as a metric for gauging our self-worth and progress against those around us.
Compulsive list-making may work one of two ways. Either ticking tasks off as you go will spur you on or that long line left will demoralise your resolve. Even if the goals are but pipeline fantasies, reaching for the stars, you'll at least make the top of the tree.
Lists keep you grounded and help you rationalise tasks that look daunting and impossible at first. Virtually any problem or assignment, if broken down into more manageable chunks, becomes perceptively attainable and enjoyable.
The world was built and moulded by people no greater than you or me – just hard work, perseverance and the luck that comes with trial and error. The satisfaction of crossing out each completed task is a rewarding process, making the day feel productive and worthwhile, even if it is but simple mental trickery.
A tweak of mindfulness is a kind way of reminding myself that there is something waiting beyond the mind-numbing assignment we're engrossed in at that fleeting moment in time. In the grand scheme of things, university is an ephemeral transition that, if not savoured - the good and the ugly - for the joys and lessons, will saunter on by whether you're on board or not.
Stimulating pictures, quotes and even a daily journal are motivational kickstarters in their own right. To each their own. In short, think grand, aim high and look at the bigger picture.
Relaxation and recharging your batteries is essential for that work life balance and long-term well-being. Universities in Sweden, for instance, close their libraries and study centres by 8 o'clock in the evening, forcing their students to experience new things, socialise and broaden their horizons beyond the narrow remit of study.
Education is, after all, the preparation for life. The wider world is where we get the chance to experience and interact with our that which learnt.
Dedicating a few hours a week to a hobby unrelated to your field of study may go further than taking your mind off things. It could inspire you in ways you may not have otherwise imagined.
Naturally, exam periods or a looming deadline inevitably drains the perceived time to cultivate hobbies. Counterintuitively, it may be the best time. Depressurising for a few hours when under the cosh may leave you reinvigorated and clear in mind and thought.
Some research emphasises breaks approximately every 30 minutes as optimal for increasing concentration and consolidating that already learnt – counter intuitively enabling you to retain more than uninterrupted study.
John P. Trougakos, an assistant professor of organizational psychology at the University of Toronto, describes the brain like a muscle, capable of fatigue after prolonged usage, necessitating recharging. Don’t underestimate the importance of fetching a snack or a stroll to the corner shop or fetching a coffee with a friend during those long study sessions. It could make all the difference.
Finally, don’t worry, or at least try not to. University is known to be hard, as it should be. After all, it is higher education that we are pursuing, so it is only fair that the workload and expectations increase. But it is far from impossible given the appropriate time management. Generations before us have successfully obtained their degrees and we shall too. And hopefully this article will be the nudge that makes the entire process that little less frightening and a whole lot more attainable.
Francesca Di Donato is a German and Russian student at The University of Manchester, currently on a year abroad in St Petersburg, Russia. She also studies for a second bachelor's degree in politics and international relations with the University of London's international programmes (online)
Edited 22-01-2018 for accuracy.