I hope all of you are continuing to have a productive, enjoyable, and amazing winter semester. With the end of the year in sight, my to-do list keeps on growing by the day. My friends in other programs are all in a similar situation. Now more than ever, you need to get a handle on the thousands of tasks: creating a comprehensive list of all the tests and assignments due over the next few weeks can help you avoid pulling an all-nighter for an assignment you forgot until the day before. Even better, crossing off an item on a to-do list just feels so good!
Online studying is changing the feel of my workload this year. I feel like I’m in a never-ending cycle of days in front of a monitor. Sometimes I don’t even leave my home for a couple of days. I not only find this lifestyle inefficient (as I constantly keep taking “breaks” to watch Netflix), but also draining. No one wants to sit in front of an online textbook for 8 hours a day for a week straight. If you can, try to take your work offline by listening to lectures while you take a socially distanced walk, printing papers to read outdoors, or just get outside for a quick break!
Around this time of year we are also getting a lot of grades back. When you get a mark, yourself if this what you hoped to receive at the beginning of the semester. If it is, great job and continue what you are doing! If not, try not to dwell on the bad news. Take a glance at how you approached specific assessments and ask yourself why these methods didn’t work out so well. If you’re stuck, go to office hours: they are a fast and effective way to answer questions.
As I have mentioned many times before, my goal for the semester is to make my study sessions more effective. Last semester, I was easily distracted by my phone, Netflix, YouTube, and a million other things. I even remember being distracted by watching the first snowfall of the season. Since my last blog, one method above all has helped me to make the most of my study sessions: writing the tasks I would like to finish during my study period before I start. I write a list of things on a sticky note and I place it on the wall behind my desk. Whenever I feel distracted or feel like giving up, I see the goal I set for myself and feel motivated. I try to keep my goals attainable so that I have a realistic chance of finishing them. The last thing I would want is to write five long tasks to end up only finishing one of them, which would defeat the purpose. Check out Liyi’s new blog post for more ideas on dealing with distraction—she has a whole 5-step plan worked out!
As we embark on the second half of the semester, I feel as though I have finally found my groove and I am motivated to finish the semester off strong. I think finding that work/life balance has helped me stay positive. Remember you can always ask your professors, peers, or Queen’s staff if you need some support as the year draws to a close. If you need help with specific skills like writing a lab report or essay, follow the SASS Instagram page for reminders of new seminars about university tips and tricks!
Between my last blog post and this one, I have had lots to do: midterms, assignments, and the like. I want to acknowledge how tough midterms and tests are, even though the majority of mine have been open-book or take-home assignments. University? Yeah. This is hard. And it’s not just midterms. Yesterday, I had a 2.5-hour meeting, and the entire time I spent it wondering what else I could be doing. It was one of those meetings where your presence is appreciated but you don’t really have to talk much. Even though I could have muted the call and focused on coursework, my FOMO (a double-edged sword) prevented me from doing that. So I just felt like I lost a whole afternoon. Then today I had a 4-hour phone call that needed me to be hands-on and attentive the whole time. My ears and body ached after that one.
The point is that I want to comfort you, my fellow students: if you’re struggling, I am too. Yes, we ARE going to try our best to push through, but sometimes we need to take a step back and re-evaluate. So, take your time to relax and recharge, and then muster up the courage to keep going. We’re all probably struggling with something different, and hopefully these SASS blogs have been helpful to you.
In spite of the struggle, I’m still trying to find ways to be a better student and a better person. I’m working on self-discipline right now.
I recently listened to Rob Dial’s podcast “The 5 Steps to Be More Self-Disciplined.” In the recording, Rob discusses his own journey toward self-discipline. He has some useful tips, so if you don’t have time to listen, check out my edited version below.
Self-discipline is hard. It doesn’t happen overnight: just like going to the gym for just one day won’t help you achieve the results you want. It’s a matter of persistence and imperfections—and of staying motivated in the face of mistakes or failures.
Discipline is not about being a productivity machine. It’s about winning more than you lose; finishing more times than giving up. Here’s how Rob Dial recommends you tip the balance in your favour:
Work on finishing small tasks. Completing small tasks allows us to believe we can do the big tasks. For example, when you finish eating, you complete the “task” of eating by cleaning the plate or rinsing the plate and putting it in the dishwasher. Building daily discipline by doing the small things makes it much easier to do the heavy lifting when it really matters. If you’re stuck with demotivation and lack of discipline, try focusing on 2-3 small tasks you can achieve every day, day in, day out. Build up from there, even if seems like a long way to getting everything done.
The second tip is to plan. That’s it! Just plan your schedule, your goals, etc. This reminds me of when I talked about my fear of timetables, which, in hindsight, was just planning out my day so I didn’t get distracted by other things. If the plan is right in front of you, then all we have to do is show up. All we’re trying to do is to remove the resistance and make what we don’t want to do as easy as possible. If all we have to do is show up, then we can focus easier. If you’re not a planner, start with a small routine: one part of the day, or just a few minutes a day, when come what may you’ll show up. Even 5 or 10 minutes is a good start.
Removing distractions and altering our environment helps us be more disciplined. I strongly believe in “out of sight, out of mind.” A lot of our environmental difficulties revolve around tech. In another blog post, Kate talked about turning off all her notifications from 8 AM to 8:30 AM and deleting the messages bar from her MacBook. I have and love a Chrome Extension called “DF Tube” for distraction-free YouTube viewing, as I’ve noticed I spend way too much time scrolling through YouTube even if there isn’t any new content I like. Spend some time looking for apps, widgets, and plug-ins that will help you too. Our environment includes our peers and friends too. Surround yourself by people who support you and help you become a better person. All we’re trying to do is to create an environment to us in building our discipline. Choosing even 1 or 2 simple ways to improve your environment will help your self-discipline.
Our journey to self-discipline is about progress, not perfection. I don’t think anything has been drilled in us as much as, “You don’t need to be perfect, but we can learn from our mistakes.” We can constantly improve from our failures and mistakes by making adjustments. We can’t be too hard on ourselves. We know that life isn’t perfect, so we can keep taking steps forward instead of dwelling on difficulties. Spend time each week reflecting on things that went well and setting a small goal to work on next week. You’ll get better over time!
The last tip is to reward yourself. Building discipline is tough, and we will only burn out if we don’t take breaks and give ourselves rewards Setting up small rewards gets us excited to do what we need to do. It could be as simple as checking off a task on a to-do list, getting some chocolate, or watching a YouTube video. In your self-discipline planning, decide on what rewards you’ll give yourself—but don’t cheat by rewarding yourself before you’re finished!
Rob underlines the importance of setting up our life to have free time and rewards. Having free time allows us to focus on the intense work periods. In the grand scheme of things, we are all reaching for a goal in life, and we deserve rewards for working hard and getting through the times where we struggle. Try a few simple things and, before you know it, they’ll be snowballing and carrying you on toward greater self-discipline—even if this difficult period of a difficult year!
Stay happy and restful, Gaels! We’re almost at the finish line.
Hello friends! How is your winter term coming along? I hope it is going well and that you’ve been finding a bit of time for self-care.
My last blog was the first blog of 2021. I wrote that before the winter term started. Since then, it has been absolute chaos. Juggling seven courses, club meetings, design projects, and other extracurriculars is a struggle and a half. I had to take time off from my job at the beginning of January (which I had planned to do so since September 2020) because I knew how hectic the month was going to be.
At times I wish was just sitting and relaxing as comfortably as this frog on a cake. But I’m just not there right now.
The reason these past couple of weeks have felt like pure chaos is the massive amount of content to learn for each course. There are hours of lectures, tutorials, quizzes, and labs, and since the fall term, I haven’t been to more than five Q&A sessions. It seems like no matter how productive I think I’m being, things just haven’t been working. It’s frustrating. Though, like always, we have to push back on the complaining and continue forward. Harsh as it is, I don’t want to waste time complaining about things I can actively change about ourselves. This week was where I did the thing I’ve always been scared to do. I gave myself a timetable.
I bet you’re thinking that I’m silly because I’m scared of numbers on a schedule that dictates what I’m supposed to do every hour, but it’s true. I’ve always disliked that specific method of planning since I was afraid of the guilt I’d succumb to if I never finished a task as I had planned to.
Since last week, the week I dove headfirst into the second semester without a schedule, felt too spontaneous, I wanted that to change. On Sunday at 2 AM, I wrote down my schedule for Monday. Miraculously, on Monday, I abided by my list and it felt great. I didn’t finish everything I had planned to do, but that was fine. It was still better than diving headfirst without a game plan. So now, each day, I can see the schedule that I should abide by, and then check off the things that I completed on my Notion. Finally facing my fear has been anticlimactic, but I still felt proud and satisfied.
In conjunction with my new schedule, I’ve also been using the app Flora, which I mentioned in one of my earlier blogs, and a timekeeping app that grows a tree each time you put your phone down for a specific time. It has been useful to stay off my phone when I need to be productive. I also found that Santosh’s (another SASS blogger!) tip of leaving your phone behind your laptop has been extremely helpful. Since it’s out of sight, it’s also out of mind. Now I’m finding it easier to get started and to stay focused!
Another reason I’ve been feeling the heat of the second semester is the Ontario Engineering Competition, for which my friend and I qualified. We were tasked with making a twenty-minute presentation, full script, and abstract in three days. This wouldn’t have been terrible had the weekend been calm, but my partner (he’s an ambitious one) signed himself up for Hack the North the same weekend, and again, we had several quizzes, assignments, group reports, and lectures to finish. Neither of us knew how to write an abstract either (though you can check out this tutorial one of SASS’ staff made for a 3rd-year Physiology course for some abstract-writing tips). Just to ratchet up the nerves further, my partner’s internet kept cutting out. Eventually, we found our way and submitted the required documents at 11:57 PM, two minutes before the deadline. That night was the night I truly felt like a university kid, racing to complete everything I needed to do on a Sunday and barely getting any sleep the night before—but it’s not an experience I can recommend or that I want to repeat regularly.
Although my studying and school-life isn’t picture perfect, it is improving, slowly but surely. There are always things I might not finish (extra homework, readings, and practice problems), but I’m still going to try my best. I’m in school full-time. I guess it’s my job to do this, for me, the school, and my future. As Dory says, “Just keep swimming.”
I hope you have settled into the semester and are having some fun learning new concepts! As a science student, it’s been fun to learn some coding skills in my statistics course this semester. It’s very easy to forget to have fun learning during a hectic semester, but finding the fun always makes learning more enjoyable for me! As Aristotle once said, “the greatest of all pleasures is the pleasure of learning”.
Unfortunately, the first week of the semester was anything but fun for me. It was as though a whole (never-ending) pile of work was thrown at me in a matter of days. I felt drained and demotivated. I did have a lot to do: a quiz, two assignments, and a lab report. However, I think the thought of having to do so much work was more mentally draining than the actual work itself.
I tried to overcome this feeling as I trudged through my work from Monday to Wednesday. But on Thursday, mental burnout hit me hard. I had a few more assignments to finish, so Thursday and Friday was spent finishing those off—but this burnout really prevented me from maximizing my study periods. My overall mood was down, and I felt exhausted just thinking about university.
Yes… this had all happened in the first week of the semester! I knew that pushing this negative feeling aside and continuing my work would not be sustainable. After all, the goal I set for myself in my last blog was to make sure I utilize my study periods to the best of my ability. Once I finished my last task for the week, I knew that I needed to take a break and rejuvenate myself. Therefore I took the entire first weekend of semester to enjoy some time off.
If you are also burnt out, here are some things that really helped me to relax and re-motivate myself:
Get a good night’s sleep
Watch my favorite show
I made some of my favourite foods (homemade panzerottis) and ate them as I watched Captain America: Civil War for the 10th time.
I finished off creating my to-do list for the following week to get me primed for week 2!
In a few quiet moments, I felt like I could be a little productive, so I took the chance to do some light work, creating flashcards or writing notes for about just a few minutes. By Sunday night I was motivated and rejuvenated to get back to my normal schedule, which set me up for success for week 2.
Throughout the week that followed, I decided to stop doing work after 10pm. Instead, I took an hour or two to relax before bed! While studying online it is easy to become overwhelmed by the amount of work, so it’s even more important to take those much needed breaks to help propel you through the semester.
I’ve also been trying to work on that goal I set for myself to make my study periods more productive. This was an addition to my general time management goal from last semester. I’ve tried to experiment with new methods to see what works for me—and what doesn’t—when it comes to making my study sessions productive. Here are my takeaways from my first two weeks:
Have a goal on what to finish for a certain study block
Have a home set-up that stops you needing to move much or continuously get up from your seat. Have that coffee and all your materials ready before you sit down!
Go into a study session without an idea of what you want to accomplish. Even a small, rough goal will help your focus.
Use the study time to decide what you want to accomplish. Do it in advance, either that morning or the evening before.
Keep any distractions within arm’s reach. Put that phone in a different room altogether.
I still have a way to go before I can reach my potential with this goal, but I feel as though I have made a few baby steps since the first day of the winter term!
I hope this blog has helped you understand that if you have a setback, making an effort to fix it can really help you make vital stridesforward! In this unprecedented academic year, we have faced so many hurdles that we need to appreciate the work that has been done!
I hope all of you had a much-deserved break over the past two weeks. I know I used this time to catch up on all the lost sleep over the past four months. On a more serious note, the winter break gave me the chance to relax, enjoy time with my family, and reflect on my first remote semester. Fall 2020 was an unprecedented semester for everyone, but we all learned a great deal on how to achieve success while studying online. Here are a few things I noted about this past semester:
Some of the things that worked for me:
Creating a daily list of tasks helped me to keep a good work/life balance and was a source of motivation.
Taking breaks throughout the day. Simple things like going on walks, playing video games, and chatting with my friends and family relaxed me when university got a bit stressful.
Using the Pomodoro method to make sure I was focused during my studying periods: 25 minutes of studying without distractions is better than 1 hour of studying with Netflix in the background.
Joining Facebook group chats. Group chats are a great way to communicate with peers about the course content. In addition, you can meet new people and build study groups over the semester. If you’re stuck, search for the Class of 2024 group as a start.
Being active on discussion boards and going to office hours to fill in content gaps. Don’t wait until the exam period to ask your questions; go get help today!
Stay on top of your coursework throughout the semester so you can have more time to do the things you love to do. Even a little work every day—5 or 10 minutes to get you started—adds up over 12 weeks.
Some things that did not work for me:
Studying on my bed: this is a trap! It feels comfy, but it took me several instances to learn my lesson that the bed is created for a person to sleep and not to study.
Having my phone near me while I am studying this is another trap! Keep it out of your sight so you even forget that it is there.
Having Netflix or YouTube open on a different tab: yes, another trap! It’s all too easy to switch to the fun stuff while you’re working on a tough problem for class.
Another really helpful thing that I did early last semester was to thoroughly look at the syllabus and timeline of each of my classes. The syllabus is an amazing resource that provides the course content, grade breakdown, and required materials needed for the course. Taking a look at it will help you understand how to best allocate your time to maximize your grade. The timeline, meanwhile, gives you an overview of due dates and a general understanding of the work that must be completed each week. Exploring the timeline from one class and comparing it those from other classes can prevent unnecessary stress from building up when you have three large assignments due in the same week for multiple classes (true story, unfortunately). Overall, just looking at these two resources helped me have an idea of how the fall semester will unfold and to stay on track by getting to work on big tasks during quiet periods, while having a careful (but not too burdensome!) plan for busy weeks. I recommend doing this for the winter semester if you haven’t already!
You might remember that my goal for last semester was to manage my time effectively. It was a tough goal to accomplish but thankfully I felt as though I was able to achieve a good work/life balance by the end of the semester! This semester, I want to step it up a level by not only managing my time but also making sure that the time I allocate to certain things is spent dedicated to doing that specific task—and not aimlessly browsing social or watching TV in the background. I noticed that even when I was able to allocate my time well, I just wasn’t able to concentrate for long periods of time. Therefore, quality work hours is something that I am going to strive to achieve this semester. What goals have you set for yourself this semester?
Overall, I think we all learned something about how to (and also how NOT to) succeed in online university over the past four months. It’s very important to take everything we learned and create an ideal schedule for ourselves. I hope all our blogs have gotten you excited and prepared to start this semester off strong.
Good luck Gaels. Let’s conquer this semester together!
The most successful university students plan their time and prioritize their tasks effectively. Reading Week is a great opportunity to get back on track, push forward, and get ready to finish the semester strong. This worksheet is designed to assist you. If you need more help, check out the SASS site, learning and writing advice appointment booking, and SASS’s calendar of drop-in workshops.
Netflix and Facebook got you down? Have trouble sitting down to work for more than a little bit at a time? Learn how your brain likes to focus, maximize your attention span and cope with online (and offline) distractions.