Sometimes you just have to work a little harder. The trick, I think, is to work as smart as possible, maximize the results and get everything done on time and to the highest standards. That might be easier said than done, as the old saying goes. Still, I am an optimist, so every day I review my calendar to decide what must be completed today and outline the best way to get it done. For me the most difficult things are switching from one task to another, making sure all of my library materials are on hand when I need them, and getting to bed early enough to wake up refreshed and ready to go at four o’clock in the morning. With three weeks until my first exam now is the time to set a few lofty and inflexible goals.
Do you ever feel like you cannot work fast enough? As exams approach, I am feeling a bit like Lucy and Ethel in the chocolate factory on I love Lucy. This might be the busiest I have ever been in my life. Over the years, some wonderful role models and mentors have given me some very good advice about time and project management. I will share them here because they are particularly helpful to me now, as I prepare for four exams. First, you can only do one thing at a time. Second, if something is unmanageable, it helps to break it down into pieces that are easy to manage. Third, keep the monkey on the other guy’s back. Finally, good time management means doing what has to be done, not a little bit of everything every day.
It turns out that this was not the week to begin any DIY projects or move the furniture, especially since I am planning a nice big project right after my last exam on 14 May. This week, my project was limited to a cleaning fit in my office. Sometimes a task that lets me lose myself and my thoughts in something other than my major preoccupation is very helpful. Cleaning my office always feels productive, and does not really affect any other area of the house, like where I study. Cleaning and letting go of my thoughts helped me put my revising in perspective and make an inventory of my ‘Reviser’s Best Friends,’ including a day to clear my head and refocus my attention and efforts.
My very best revising friend is the Examiners’ Reports available online as both past exam papers and the examiner’s summary of answers to each question. Examiners’ Reports summarize most of the questions on each exam with points about what makes good answers. They also point out problems with answers and things I can avoid when writing my essays at exam time. Right now, there is a lot of conversation in our student chat rooms about how to prepare for exams. Nota Bene: use the Examiners’ Reports.
Today I feel a real need to rearrange all the furniture in the house or start a DIY project. Much to Jelly Bean’s and my husband’s dismay, these are my two favorite ways to relieve stress. That would be a very welcome thing just now.
I do not move Jelly Bean’s bed, the chair she likes to sleep in right next to my desk, or the sofa near the window where she naps and watches the neighborhood. My creative rearranging process is limited to her toy boxes, which she watches carefully. My husband is not as lucky. He has never asked me not to rearrange his domestic sanctum, so I rearrange at will. Some of my DIY projects are legendary. We laugh about most of them. I can tell that my husband is still a little confounded by my DIY inspiration and motivation, regardless of my stress relief prescription.
This week has been stressful. My darling little Jelly Bean has not been feeling well, my job is more demanding than ever, and my course, ‘Victorians’ is bothering me to distraction. That is a prelude for moving almost every stick of furniture in the house or grabbing my hammer or paint brush. No matter how much I study, I do not feel like there is enough time to master ‘Victorians’ sufficiently.
Week one of my preparations for exams is complete and my anxiety about Victorian literature has reduced considerably. I did not accomplish as much as I wanted to but I am not exactly behind schedule, and the work I accomplished is high quality and satisfying. Today, while reviewing my week’s work and remembering last year’s exam prep, I realized one week per course is probably not realistic. But if I switch to a two-weeks per course timetable it will take my revision right up to my first exam, which feels a little risky. Here is the first time and material management puzzle to solve on the way to exams.
It is almost exactly eight weeks until my first exam. The schedule is printed and framed on my desk so there is no mistaking the timeline. Since the last few weeks have been so busy professionally, I have had to adjust my study plan. An hour each morning and an hour at night have been all the time available. I do not feel too far behind, but I also feel that I am a bit behind. This weekend I made some notes about how to manage the next four weeks then begin to revise in April.
Last week was full of professional deadlines and next week is going to be even busier while exams are just 9 weeks away. It is a major crunch and I wonder how to manage it. The first quarter of the calendar year is usually rather quiet professionally but not this year. The projects I am working on are very exciting and stimulating but they require a lot of time. With just a few weeks to go before my first exam and a mountain of secondary reading on my desk, it feels like I need to regroup a bit to be sure my study outcomes stay on schedule. Read the rest of this entry »
This week my reading and study time settled into a particularly productive schedule. It is kind of a relief because I have been waiting to hit this study sweet spot. Something clicks, the penny drops, it all comes together – whichever phrase you think best describes that moment of increased confidence in, and command of, the topics and texts I am studying. How and why it happens is an open question. How to maximize this opportunity and develop a better grasp and expression of my material is the more urgent one. Read the rest of this entry »
Do you know that first line? Today I read that Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s sonnets have some of the most recognizable first lines in the English language. This week I decided to add some Valentine’s Day appropriate study – Victorian love poetry. Do you have a favorite Victorian love poem? Victorian poetry, or even Victorian sonnets, is a wide topic, surely too much to study properly in one week. To narrow the field somewhat and make the best use of my time, while still being a bit indulgent, my focus will be on Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning. Theirs is a love story in verse if ever there was one. Read the rest of this entry »
After some seriously cold and snowy weather, we have just had two or three rather warm days and steady rain. Jelly Bean and I were going to play outside all weekend in between study sessions. She is not feeling well and most of the snow is gone leaving some good, thick mud. Staying inside, cuddled on the sofa seems like the better plan. It was Super Bowl and Ground Hog Day weekend here in America, which means spring must be around the corner, if we can just be patient for it to arrive. It is also my ‘Odd Man’ weekend and time to dedicate study resources to Victorian Literature, the course that was carried along in the wake of my focus last week while preparing three other units for exams.