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Peer Blog: 5 Steps to Self-Discipline in Difficult Times

Liyi, Engineering, Class of 2024

Hi Gael friends, I’m back!

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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!
  5. 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.

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Peer blog: Taking notes and taking stock

Liyi, Engineering, Class of 2024

Friends! Hi, I hope your school year is coming along smoothly.

This is one of those “in-between weeks” where not a lot is going on, but the preparation for midterms and final projects is creeping into my study life. I have a lot to get on with, but I think I’ve finally found the best way to schedule my life by using timetables and software. Since my last blog, I am happy to say that using timetables to establish a routine has been beneficial! Ensuring that I set aside time to do specific tasks makes it easy to know what I must do. In turn, that limits my indecision from moment to moment.

I generally write out my schedule the night before and try my best to follow it the next day. I have a main to-do list for all the big lectures, tutorials, and practice problems I have to do for each course. Then I have a calendar of all the tasks I have to do each day. I enjoy that spike of dopamine each time I click something as done. Dopamine generates feelings of accomplishment and happiness, but it also motivates me to do the next task. I might check off the most mundane thing, like making my bed, but it gives me a sense of accomplishment: “I can do this.” Although I don’t always complete every task, knowing what I have to complete and what I have already finished brings me a feeling of peace. At least I know I haven’t forgotten anything important. I highly suggest trying timetabling out. It finally feels like after years of changing scheduling methods, it has finally come together.

I’ve also mentioned in the past that I had an issue with organizing notes, as I drown in all those binders and papers. It seems like no matter what method I use my notetaking will never be perfect (and that’s perfectly fine—good enough is okay by me!). I write my notes 100% digitally using OneNote and other programs, though during tutorials I tend to take handwritten notes. After reading week, I am going to start writing everything digitally. There’s something satisfying about the undo button, not having to use whiteout, and never seeing eraser shavings all over my desk. The organizational system and easy transfer to Queen’s OneDrive is a benefit as well. If you work and concentrate best in an organized and tidy environment, I highly suggest writing digitally.

The SASS site has material on taking notes, which I’ve been reading through to develop my notetaking. Now, I change up my approach to what I write depending on the task and the course. For some classes, like chemistry, I annotate on the slides that my professor provides. Annotating frees up mental space for me to listen to my prof as a lot of information and detail is already on the slides. For other classes, like physics, I just handwrite notes from scratch because physics seems to be about understanding concepts. When I handwrite notes, I can focus on really understanding everything that I’m writing, instead of just copying down what the professor is saying.

One method I’m excited to implement is the “after-class summary” SASS recommends. I’ve always had trouble writing down only what was necessary because I have huge FOMO when it comes to course content. I think writing a short summary after class—one paragraph about the key ideas/concepts—will force me to truly focus on concepts. I definitely would like to do a weekly summary, but I’m going to take a small step and focus on the after-class summary first, rather than both. Let’s try together—and I’ll let you know how it goes!

In terms of social media, there has been a lot of troubling news about discrimination against Asians. With more news comes more awareness, which has greats sides but also bad sides. As an Asian individual, I am happy that attention is being brought to the racism against Asians, but each new post is a reminder of the racial injustice, which can heavily affect my and others’ mental health. Staying updated with the news and educating ourselves takes a mental toll, and it’s not so easy to delete social media. I, for one, communicate with my project teams on Instagram, where all of this is taking place. That’s where the line is blurred – fighting racial discrimination but also keeping my mental health in check. I think the best thing to do is use social media sparingly, and only advocate when I have the mental capacity and am not stressed by other factors. Seeing racial discrimination and violence is stressful itself, and should not be compounded with other stressful situations. Here is to hoping that someone creates a distraction-free Instagram, but also that the world also becomes a kinder place. Rahul recently wrote a blog on decolonizing the classroom; you should check it out.

Have a great reading week, everyone! I wish you a restful week. In return, please wish for clear skin for and no stress for me!

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Just keep swimming: improving, slowly but surely

Liyi, Engineering, Class of 2024

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.

A squishy iced frog on an iced cake

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.”

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Apps for time management and notetaking

Liyi, Engineering, Class of 2024

Happy 2021! The winter break has been rejuvenating and very much needed. I sat around a lot, I slept a lot, I ate a lot. It was fantastic. Now, we are back to school and back to the grind. If you did not know, first-year engineers at Queen’s had quadmesters during the fall 2020 term. That meant we only had a maximum of four courses in a quadmester, but we were learning at an accelerated pace – each course lasted 6 weeks instead of 12. Now, for the winter term, our courses are back to normal. Our courses are 12 weeks long, but we have SEVEN courses now, which is a tremendous jump from four. The days leading up to the beginning of the winter term were spent planning how to tackle seven courses and stay organized to maximize productivity.

In a previous blog, I discussed struggling to find methods to stay organized. At the time, I had some agendas and a daily to-do list, but I never found my perfect way to organize. I think I’ve found it now. Recently I discovered Notion, an app you can customize to fit your scheduling needs. A digital creator, Ali Abdaal, created a YouTube video to show all the great aspects of Notion.

Currently, my Notion looks like this:

Screenshot of calendars on Notion app

This page is extremely customizable; I got the template from Janice Studies. ‘Master Schedule’ shows all my big assignments and their dates, including midterms, assignments, etc. For each course under ‘Courses,’ there is a separate to-do list that is divided by weeks. This makes it simpler to see all the lectures I will need to watch and the quizzes/assignments to be completed for each week. Lastly, in ‘Weekly Schedule,’ I have all my reoccurring events listed so that I can remember what tutorials or Q&As I have that day. Of course, your Notion does not have to look like mine (I also promise I am not sponsored by Notion; I am just super happy to have found this organizational tool!).

In my most recent blog, I talked about two big things: trying to stay motivated without the goals from high schools and dealing with notes. Over winter break, I had a lot of time to think. In terms of trying to stay motivated without goals, I do have a goal now: to get some internships. For Module 3 of my Engineering Practice course, we had to interview a professional engineer. One of the requirements was to ask the engineer, “What are the skills desired by engineering employers?” When I asked my interviewee that question, I also asked, “How much do grades matter when applying for jobs? What about work experience, projects, and the likes?” We had a great discussion about why grades were important but weren’t the only thing that matter. I am going to work harder this semester and keep moving forward, hopefully boosting that GPA so I can show it off, but working on other projects too.

I think I’ve resolved some of my issues around dealing with notes too. I scrounged enough money to buy an Apple Pencil and the writing app GoodNotes, which helps to take notes or annotate PDFs. This means that I do not have to think about printing PDFs or organizing loose paper and notebooks. I linked GoodNotes with my OneDrive so that everything will be accessible on the cloud. I am ecstatic to start writing digitally, and I enjoy how much tidier my desk is because of it.

These next couple of weeks will be hectic: jumping from four courses to seven, getting familiar with writing digitally, and trying not to burn out too quickly. I hope I can get through it! Good luck, everyone, and again, happy 2021.

 

 

 

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