Surviving this Semester: A veteran’s guide

Another year of droning academics, due dates, long caffeine-fuelled nights, and beating your head against a desk.

Welcome back to uni.

Whether you’re a newbie or a veteran, staying motivated is a skill we’d all like to improve. Nothing focuses energy better than a good list, so here’s to surviving this semester, step by step.

1. Manage yourself

Keeping your head above water is a matter of strategy. I’ve already expressed a love for lists. Write your own. Number it, colour-code it, whatever you like. Break down your assignments into small tasks: 1. Brainstorm 2. Research 3. Structure. Go ahead and put your daily errands on there as well. Intersperse essay writing with grocery runs, and you’ll have some variety while maximizing production.

2. Reward yourself

Recognise your successes, and celebrate each one, even if only with a mental self-five. Hey, you just made a list? Fantastic! Use that momentum to complete the first task. Keeping positive is much easier when you’re making progress. And when you hit those big milestones, go ahead and treat yourself—anything from that dress you’ve been salivating over (no judgment for the guys, either. You know you’ve earned it) to an extra shot of Tia Maria in your cappuccino.

3. Procrastinate better

Are you a procrastinator? No fear! So am I. At this very moment, I am blogging instead of starting my first assignments. Believe it or not, there’s an art to productive procrastination. It’s a tricksy beast, but it’s possible to get crap done while doing your best to avoid getting crap done. Recognise when you’re procrastinating—easy enough, since we can all hear that little voice in the back of our minds telling us there’s an exposition due in a week—and turn your energies to something vaguely useful instead. Remember that list? Is there anything on there you could bear doing? If not, At least do something creative, healthy or altruistic. Go for a long walk or run—exercise is fantastic for energising the mind and body (need another reason to take a walk? I’m so glad you asked). Procrastibake yourself something tasty. Take your mum out for coffee. Peruse your local animal refuge’s adoption pages again (I plead guilty). Feel the good vibes, and maybe you’ll even forget how much you abhor expositions.

4. Get New-Agey

Remember why you’re doing this. Is it for the satisfaction of getting a HD? Knowledge for knowledge’s sake? Or just to get this @$*!# of an assignment done and out of your life? Then take a step back and think big picture. Remember what it is you want, and how graduating will help you get there. Fuel your engines with that image. A sense of purpose is the greatest intrinsic motivator.

5. Look after yourself

That essay might be looming, but you come first. Getting a HD is pointless if your stress levels and ridiculously high Red Bull intake are setting you up for an early heart attack. Getting a good night’s sleep should be a high priority. When you can feel the stress tightening, take a breath, and some time out. Reading, long walks on the beach, Disney movies, surfing, yoga—whatever floats your boat and chills you out, do it for a little while. Nothing good will happen once you hit the freak-out stage.

6. Get yourself a study buddy

There’s safety in numbers. When the long hours get you down, there’s nothing to boost morale like sharing your pain with a mate. Just remember you’re here to study, and try to stay sober (everything you write seems like gold after a few beers, but believe me when I say it’s not).

7. Get to know your brain

Develop your own strategies, because you know what works best for you. Are you a morning studier, or a night owl? Do you concentrate better in the library? In your room? In a cafe? Try handwriting your assignments to see if it flows better.

There’s plenty more advice out there for staying focused, like this post from author Allison Rushby for distracted writers, or this article for motivating yourself during a slump.

Good luck, soldier.

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