To all of you who spent the holidays blissfully ignoring the subject guides like me, the New Year rings in the realisation that there are hardly 4 months to the final exams. As 2016 begins to fade into a glimmer and we are faced with a lot of catching up in terms of study goals, I would like to share some of my strategies for coping with post-holiday time crunch.
I recently graduated with a B.A. (Hons) in English from University of London, under the academic direction of Goldsmiths, University of London. This year I continued with University of London because I loved the flexibility, academic excellence and engaging courses. I am currently doing the Graduate Diploma in International Relations, a course developed by London School of Economics and Political Science. Due to the immense mobility of the degrees offered by UOLIP, I am able to study wherever in the world and whenever I choose while also continuing my work in dance and social work. This year I am living in Montreal, Canada and I am able to continue my studies while applying for postgraduate programmes for a 2017 intake at the same time.
For a literature student to transition into the world of hard facts and figures of International Relations requires quite a shift in terms of thinking and approach. However, I find that a lot of the tools which I was able to develop during my undergraduate studies in English are highly relevant in the new endeavour that I am undertaking. The skills of textual analysis and academic writing are wonderful assets. The importance of history in my current studies brings me back to my studies in ‘Approaches to Text’ where we analysed the thin line between history and story. In that context, I am able to read a lot of the recommended texts with a critical awareness and scepticism which we were encouraged to develop in the BA English degree. Furthermore, in ‘International Political Theory’ we study concepts such as post-structuralism, feminism and Marxism which are all familiar topics from our theoretical readings for literary analysis.
With this background, I would like to share my tips and strategies that enabled me to maximise my study output while continuing normally with most of my other activities. Here are my top 5 productivity hacks that have helped me throughout the last three and half years of my study through University of London:
- A Room of One’s Own:
Virginia Woolf stressed on the importance of having your own space to be able to produce meaningful work. It does not have to be a room, it can be your desk, your special spot on the couch or even somewhere outside of your house such as a library. Back home in India, that special space was my desk. I would sit and instantly feel charged with a sense of purpose and my study mode would switch on without much effort. Now here in Montreal, I am yet to build that space: I have my desk but I sometimes sit on the couch in front of the coffee table or at the dining table. This kind of indecision unsettles me, it may work for some of you but I always like to have a little spot of my own which I can come back to and is solely for work. Also, do read Ana’s post where she has wonderfully penned her own thoughts on ‘A desk of one’s own’.
Now I am a big fan of quirky stationary and lots of colourful pens but when you want to be efficient too many options and too many study tools often distract and also consume more time. I like to streamline my coursework into efficient components.
As I always have four courses each year, I have a notebook for each where I write everything including my answers to activities, my study planning and my observations. I have a single binder per course for all other printed journal articles, chapters, VLE forum posts and reading lists. Then, when it’s closer to the examinations, I create a binder per course where I keep past examination papers. I write my essay answers on loose leaf papers which I later file next to the exam papers to be able to reference more easily. Thus, in total I have one notebook, one binder and one exam binder per course and it never increases from that since I try to also read and research on my laptop to decrease paper waste.
Similarly, I like a single brand of pens which I keep in black and blue and tend to use them throughout the year and for the exams because then my hands would have been trained to write efficiently. I keep highlighters, preferring yellow most of the time but sometimes other colours for labelling and going over readings again. Keeping your study kit compact allows you to focus and is a great time saver.
At the beginning of each academic year I print out those calendar templates available online or create my own using Word and table tool. You can also use a calendar which you have. The calendar becomes my guiding mechanism for scheduling my studies. Counting backwards from the exams I allocate weeks and months for reading, research and essay practice. I also note down important dates such as Exam Entry deadlines, local exam centre fee deadlines, formative assessment deadlines and advance exam timetables. This has been the simplest tool for me to keep track of my days. While one can transport the calendar digitally, having this piece of paper stuck on my wall constantly reminds me and motivates me to work hard to be able to sit the exams with confidence.
- To-Do List:
While calendars are a great way to measure months and days, it is vitally important to maximise the 24 hours available at our disposal. Every day, I set myself tasks that I intend to complete. It may be reading a journal article, a chapter of a subject guide, completing an activity along with other chores such as doing the laundry or paying bills. It gives such satisfaction to tick off those tasks one by one. Trust me, it will be so fulfilling to look over your list at the end of the day and see how much you can accomplish just by writing down what you have to do. Also, do not worry about the tasks which you were unable to finish due to any reason, you can carry them over to the next day. There are times when everything does not go according to your plan and one has to make allowances.
Sometimes, there is a huge pile up of carried over tasks on the to-do list. To tackle that problem, I list them according to their order of importance and set about completing the tasks one by one. That way the most necessary tasks which you may be putting off are completed because you were able to prioritise them and you cannot escape doing them anymore.
- Using Social Media as a Motivational Tool:
Most of us use Instagram, YouTube, Facebook and WhatsApp very frequently. Are you guilty like me of checking your phone the first thing in the morning as you open your eyes instead of giving your loved ones a hug? I enjoy watching recipes on YouTube, keeping in touch with my family and friends and reading blogs on DIY projects. However, if I am not careful I may end up spending my precious study time doing these activities.
I have come round to a way of managing this extreme dependence on the internet by using it as a reward system. I set certain tasks which I need to complete before I can watch the recipe for the tiramisu that I wanted to make for example. For the period of hours until I complete my studies I sometimes put my phone out of sight and therefore out of mind. Until now, this system has worked because my mind is not constantly bugged by the new information supplied through an internet enabled phone. By the time it’s exam time, I have always taken more extreme measures such as switching off my phone during study hours. Nevertheless, most of the time the anxiety and panic associated with exams is enough to make me forget my phone.
Everyone has their own idiosyncrasies and tips for working through the academic year. I would love to know and learn from your strategies. Please do share your tips in the comments below.
Cheers and a Happy New Year!
1. ‘UOL Subject Guides’: own
2. ‘Make Good Use of Today’: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/99431104251068964/