Here’s what I hope you will think is a humorous and helpful account of what revision 25 days before my exams begin looks like at my house. My study room and office look like something of a omnishambles right now. Books, bundles of legal size writing pads, pens and highlighters are everywhere. They cover my desk, which is really an 87 inch dining table seconded for my higher purpose. I made a special shelf for each course in my book-case, just in reach of my ‘desk,’ where work for each course that will be needed in the days prior to exams is organized. There is another area dedicated to three-hole punching and binding in notebooks. Lamps for reading and table trays are fitted in near every chair, except my collie dog, Jelly Bean’s. Her pink pillow and super comfy purple chair are sacrosanct, though the same cannot be said for my husband’s.
The casual, disinterested observer might walk through and wonder what happened here, in this melee of books, office supplies, and oddly juxtaposed furniture. What they would really be seeing is my tried and true method of organizing a high volume of work. In my office, just next to my study room, a similar scene is waiting, set like a stage for my entrance. At work it is annual report and board meeting time, which means huge amounts of writing and 60 hour weeks until 21 April.
My wonderful husband, who occasionally wanders through my special rooms, is neither a disinterested or casual observer. He has watched me refine this way of working for just about 3 decades now. As a psychiatrist specializing in Occupational Therapy he has long recognized the sly genius behind my plan and its expression in physical space.
Plans in action actually do look and act like something physical. For me, it is helpful to recognize how this affects what I do and the results achieved in the end. For example, getting out and putting away materials every time I study is a big waste of time and is incredibly frustrating. I frequently want to reference my work in one course for another one, and sometimes have very limited time to study. Other times I find myself with fifteen or twenty minutes that can be used if busy work, like shelving and un-shelving books or finding pages, is eliminated. I like to have a quadrant of my desk devoted to materials for each course. When I have a thought, or a question, or a few minutes to devote everything is right there in its space. My chairs, table trays and reading lamps work the same way, one for each course is always ready, and set to go.
My husband’s practice also studies the impact of work space and work flow on productivity, health, and well-being. His job is to maximize work place performance. Once, when we had known one another for just a short time, he asked me to talk with his colleagues about my organization strategy. I wasn’t sure if it was because he found it valuable and interesting, or if it was something he thought they could treat. I often tease that he married me as a professional curiosity. You can chuckle over it like he does, though it might be interesting to note he has never denied it.
Why am I waffling on about my desks and my husband? Because it is really, really handy and validating having someone with his perspective around during a fairly high stress, high stakes time like this. It’s fair to say, I think, that most of us are feeling a time pinch and maybe some anxiety or stress about outcomes as we revise for exams. My fixation is how on earth I am going to remember all this material exactly when I need to. Having or not having my study things organized in my particular way affects me and my family and will affect my exam results. It helps me to have a work strategy that facilitates my efficiency, comfort, confidence, and convenience. Knowing that the person I share my space with supports why I am working this way is empowering. Having his ‘buy-in,’ and reminding myself that this will last for the 25 days until my first exams, then escalate for the nine days over which they occur, helps me plan and execute the things I need to do. It minimizes anxiety and stress. What might look like a wreckage of paper products to others is my best way of working. My husband understands. He just came back from IKEA with a bigger table.