5 Tips for Getting Back Atop Your... Work!

We’re at that low point in the semester: assignments have piled, finals and final projects loom, unfinished readings haunt your bookshelf, and everything seems uphill. It’s bleak whichever way you look, backwards at the work you’ve already done (or failed to completely do) and forwards at all the work you have still ahead. For me, this always coincides with a lack of motivation anyway, the vaguely depressed atmosphere as the light fades and winter begins to hit. Plainly, simply, autumn is a hard season. I never feel like I have my life together. I fall behind on readings, can’t seem to make my professors’ office hours, accidentally skip meetings, ask for extensions on assignments I know I should’ve—hell, could’ve—finished the previous weekend, if only I had the energy.  But I don’t. I have so little energy, and so the problem only compounds.

I’m not saying there’s an easy way out, but there are a few tips I’ve learned to help manage my workload again, to help get back atop my responsibilities:


1. Take small steps

It’s easy to balk at everything you have to finish, feeling absolutely overwhelmed with no idea where to start. I always kick myself for leaving everything and feel as though I have to accomplish it all off the bat, get as much done as I can in as little time as possible, which ironically makes it harder to start: it’s a monumental pile for which I don’t have all the energy, and so I keep pushing it along. This isn’t feasible. It takes time to organize and work through tasks, and that’s okay. Start slowly, wherever you can, and treat yourself gently. Maybe finish a reading you’ve been procrastinating, or make an essay outline/schedule as a way into actually writing an essay you’re stressed about, or respond to emails before tackling larger projects. Breaking tasks into smaller subsets will make them seem more manageable and make you feel that you’re actually finishing work, increasing motivation and keeping you on track.


2. Prioritize

Make a list of the tasks you most need to finish (or, of the ones you currently have the effort to finish, the most important). At least start and plan for those bigger projects when you have the energy; the more you tackle of your most stressful assignments, the less looming anxiety you’ll have hanging over you, meaning you’ll feel calmer and more successful. Also, after a pile-up of work, sometimes you don’t finish all of it: some readings never get done, for example, and while that’s okay (it happens), you want to make sure these overlooked projects aren’t the big ones that count significantly for your grade. Minimize the damage.


3. Ask for help

Don’t feel like you need to manage all your work and stress alone. You can get support in small ways (asking your roommate to borrow her highlighters and sitting on her bed while you finish work, knowing she’s at least implicitly holding you accountable to doing it, or asking a friend from class to study together, or talking to a therapist about your lack of motivation), or in larger ways (like emailing a professor for an extension, which, seriously, I wish someone had told me I could do sooner). Whatever form asking for help takes for you, know you don’t have to struggle to regain your footing alone. You have people.


4. Break apart tasks

Slogging through assignment after assignment for the same class will only feel monotonous. Try spending an hour on English reading, then switching to Political Science, moving between different types of work. It’ll keep up your interest in each and allow you to mix perspectives in your work, bringing new energy to each project. It’ll also make you feel like you’ve done more, since you can cite multiple things you’ve finished rather than just work for one class.


5. Build rewards into your studying

I struggle with feeling like I don’t “deserve” breaks because I’ve already wasted time not-studying previously, during whatever crisis or lack of motivation led me to not do work and need to catch up now. But this is a fallacy: there’s no maximum time you can “deserve” to spend away from work, a legitimate inability to finish tasks isn’t the same as blindly wasting time, and productivity isn’t necessarily correlated to the number of hours spent working. Sometimes you need fresh air or other incentives to push you along, and to let you come back to your assignments with new perspectives and renewed motivation. Take that time from yourself: it’ll help your work, not hurt it.


Overall, just remember: you can do this. Trust me. Find what helps you, and you can get back atop your workload.

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