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Peer blog: “How am I already behind?”

Sarah, Health/Environmental Studies, Class of 2022

This is the question I’m asking myself after the first week of the fall term. In my last post I mentioned I was a somewhat reformed “master procrastinator.” Now I think my lack of organizational skills are now contributing to falling behind in school and don’t help an inner feeling that I’m always lacking something. My organization has always been minimal. Armed with a journal and planner, I got through on-campus classes perfectly well in second year. However, online classes are a whole new ball game.

Matrix for organizing work

Currently, I’m trying to work with a paper matrix. I divide a large poster paper into 5 slots, one for each class. Then, at the beginning of the week, I write every assignment, reading, lecture—literally everything for this week—onto its own Post-It. Then, I arrange them by what is most pressing for the week. That gives me a simple visual to-do list. At the end of the week, when I’m finished, the notes go into a pile of miscellaneous paper to be recycled. This approach is a work in progress, and I feel a little like the Post-Its are just band-aids covering my disorganization. I’ll let you know how this system’s working out and how I develop it in my next post!

That isn’t my only time management issue right now. I find taking breaks with online school more difficult than I imagined. My eyes hurt from staring at a screen for many hours in the day, and my back aches from sitting in a chair for so long. There are at least two mugs from my coffee and tea rotation on my desk, sitting alongside the empty Perrier can that has now called my study space home for a few days.

Sarah's study spaceWatching Netflix is no longer really something I look forward to; I feel such animosity towards my screen. The constant pouring in of information, both audio and visual, is so much I can no longer really engage with the shows that helped me turn my brain off, as I have begun associating my laptop with online school. But I’m learning from mistakes and trying to take regular, different breaks. I’ll keep you updated on which strategies are working best for me over the next few weeks.

Tackling these organization and focus problems can be hard; and I find my confidence affected. I knew this would be a problem for me going into September. Even before the pandemic, I was incredibly hard on myself. I am highly self-critical, and known to be up late at night working away on a problem and trying to battle my problems with self-deprecating humour rather than following a healthier approach.

To help me out and avoid a spiral, I mind-mapped how I want my third year to look. I wrote down my goals, hopes and ambitions for the year, and keep the finished map visible in my study space. Reminding myself that there is an unprecedented global pandemic helps me to not be so hard on myself.

I am finding that this year it’s the little things that count, in spite of the mounting frustrations, screen animosity, and general “up in the air-ness” emotions I have been feeling. Queen’s Student Wellness Services has a great strategy to find positive emotions in difficult times. It’s simple: you write 3-5 things that you’re proud you did or that you are grateful for on a particular day. I’m changing the strategy up to describe 3-5 things I am proud of from the first two weeks of online classes and a unique third year in Kingston:

  1. Showed up and met my professors, formally introducing myself.
  2. Tried a few new ways to practice procrastination management and organizational skills.
  3. Was able to do 30 consecutive push-ups for the first time (ever!).
  4. Cut my Netflix usage down to about an hour and a half per day.
  5. Cooked myself a real meal last night.

So, I’ll leave you with this technique: what are 3-5 things you are proud of since starting school this year?

Good luck—see you again soon!