We've all had those moments nearing the end of the semester when suddenly you have a paper to write for a class where you've done exactly zero of the required reading, plus looming finals, plus your side-job... You get it.
All of a sudden it seems like an entire semester's worth of work has crept up on you, and you have three days to do everything— and that's if you somehow manage to not sleep.
This sucks, and you often think never again, like on those nights when too much red wine gets swigged and you wake up with your head feeling like it's been replaced by a cement block. Well, luckily it's just about the beginning of a new semester and there are a few things you can do to make sure this full-scale meltdown disaster situation doesn't happen again.
1. Set up a self-care routine
This one is first because it's one of the most important, if not the most important. You can't do very much at all if you're neglecting yourself, pulling all nighters to get work done, spending 10 hours a day hunched over a desk, binge drinking on the weekends, and eating like garbage.
Make time to do the things you love, to disconnect for a few hours, and spend some time relaxing. I know it's hard to get out of the hustle-mindset, but trust me when I say the more you practise, the easier it gets— and it never stops being incredibly important. Schedule a block of time every week where you can set aside school, work, and even friends to be with yourself and check in with your needs. Showing up for yourself is NOT optional.
2. Set a cut-off time
Part of this self-care practise is setting up a cut-off time— except this isn't just something you do occasionally, it's something you do everyday. What works for me may not work for everyone, but you need to set a time that works for you where you can reasonably be getting done all you need to, without staying up until 11 every night reading (no one is learning anything if they're nodding off mid-sentence). For me, it was 8pm. Nothing work or school related happened after 8pm, and I stuck to this through my entire undergraduate and graduate degrees.
Realistically, this cut-off time could have been even sooner. The funny thing about being busy and productive is that the more you have to get done, the easier it is to do. You have no option but to just simply do it. There's no room for excuses or procrastination. Ever notice how the busiest people are also the ones who are willing to cram a hangout session into a half hour? Yeah, this.
3. Meal plan
Planning out your meals ahead of time, like at the beginning of the semester, is a life saver. Now, I'm not talking about writing in each day for the next four months exactly what you're going to eat and when. What I'm talking about is creating a list of meals that are easy, quick, affordable (and taste good too, I guess), as well as their ingredients and making sure that you have something planned on a week-to-week basis. Seeing how many days in a row you can marathon subsisting off of ramen is not going to get you very far.
If you want to take meal planning to an elite level, take one day a week to meal prep when you know you're going to be having a super-busy time over the next few days. Make a ginormous batch of soup, stir fry, chilli or anything else super-size-able and stick individual portions in the freezer.
4. pre-schedule those readings
It's like there is a theme happening here, one involving lots of calendars and planners...
Each month I would fill in a large whiteboard calendar with which readings need to happen, and when, at the very start of the semester. This way, there was no excuse for not knowing where to find them or not getting them done in time. I put stars beside the ones that are really essential, so I know what to drop from the schedule if it really comes down to it. I also mark in papers on this calendar, so I can see everything at a glance, and where the schedule starts to get heavy.
5. Prep for projects & papers asap
I used to be a major procrastinator. World-class. Nearly failed a year of high-school (okay, so there were some serious anxiety and depression issues happening here too, but I can't deny a huge chunk of it was garden-variety procrastination). Since then, I've discovered something that really helps, and I use this little technique in both school and business/blogging.
When writing, I always make an outline, and I always give that outline room to breathe. This helps in two ways: a) It's really easy to spend only five or ten minutes putting together an outline when you know you don't have hours and hours of writing looming directly after, and b) it's a whole lot easier to get started on an assignment when you're not faced with the blank page.
When you get an assignment, jot down what topic you're considering, and maybe one or two sentences about how you might like to approach this topic as soon as you get it. That way, when the due date starts to get closer, you have already done some thinking, and have a solid starting point.
6. have a weekly check-in
I like to take stock of what exactly has happened during the week Saturday evenings. Look back on your week: what went well? What didn't? Were there things you wanted to get done that you didn't? Were there times or places that you were particularly productive?
And looking ahead: what needs to get done for the next week? What is the most important task? When am I going to schedule in some rest-time?