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5 + 1: School Life Hack Edition

If you're in school at any stage----high school, college, graduate, teacher-----you're going to be stressed and you're going to be overworked. It just comes with the territory. I've read a lot of advice on how to manage things, but most of it involves making big life changes that aren't always feasible when you're just trying to make it to Friday afternoon. So here are five super simple things you can do to make school life easier, and one thing that's just a little bit harder.

(The fic people see what I did there.)

1. Break stuff into small chunks. I'm talking really small.

Yeah. About that size.

School involves juggling large, time-consuming tasks (read a 100 pages of this book) with smaller, annoying tasks that tend to slip through the cracks (email this person, update your CV, etc.) When you're halfway through the semester and kinda want to die, the sheer mass of all that work can freeze you in place. I can't be the only one who has moments of, "If I'm working on this thing then that other thing isn't getting done. But the first thing needs all my attention because it's Huge and Scary. Still, smaller things 3-20 need to get done at some point, preferably soon..." The result is a lot of panicking and very little productivity. So break it up.

A 100 pages is daunting. 10 pages? Less so. I can handle that. It goes something like this:

Read 10 pages of candidacy book. Write 100 words. Answer an email. 10 more pages. 100 more words. Do ASL homework. 10 pages. 100 words. Run an errand. 10 pages...

...and on and on. Do this for a couple of hours and suddenly you've made it through a good chunk of your larger projects and seen to those little things that tend to get away from you. Now obviously this "schedule" is pretty flexible----on Thursdays candidacy has to take a backseat to Friday's lesson plan----and this won't work for anyone who prefers finishing one project before moving on to another. I just happen to have the attention span of a goldfish. But ultimately this helps me do what I need to and what I want to. Those 100 words alternate between academic writing (abstracts, this blog) and my fanfiction. Fic is objectively of lesser importance to my career, but I still want to do it. Taking a few minutes to write 100 words a couple times a day allows me to keep posting.

It's all about splitting things up into manageable chunks and finding a balance among it all.

2. Send emails to yourself. Just fill up your own inbox. All. The. Time.

Someone mentioned an event you want to go to? Email yourself the date. Just thought of a piece for your thesis while walking to class? Shoot off an email with notes. Spent the entire day working on a project and thinking of how devastating it would be if you lost it? Email it.

In fact, I try to email myself every night before I go to bed. It takes just a few seconds to attach whatever documents I'd been working on that day, send it, and drag it into a pre-made folder. Sure, you can't avoid the soul-crushing fear when your laptop dies on you and the Apple tech isn't sure he can retrieve all your data, but at the very least you'll know you have your most recent work. Hell, email a friend if you want the extra security.

Now this isn't meant to be a replacement for actually backing up your laptop. It's just a defense against the worry (and possibility) that Time Machine's external drive will break, your USB will be lost, you'll forget your passwords to access things like iCloud, etc.. It never hurts to be a little extra cautious or to use email as a note-taking tool.

The best part? We're always on our phones. They're called "mobile" for a reason. So the next time you're out and think, "Oh, I'll definitely remember that" just email yourself instead... because you probably won't.

3. Speaking of email, find yourself a format and stick to it.

Plenty of people have written about the growth of email culture (I might join them sometime on this blog), but for now the biggest recommendation I can give is to follow a short, simple format:

Dear Person,

I am writing about this Thing. Here is another sentence or two describing why the Thing is important and/or providing you with necessary information. Thank you for your time.

All the best, Your Name

I used this template today to send an email to my advisor:

Dear Advisor,

I am writing about setting up a meeting to discuss my candidacy exam. I'm free next week on Wednesday, before 11:00 on Thursday, and before 1:00 on Friday. Thank you for your time.

All the best, Katie

Lol jk. I did send him an email about meeting but it was a whole lot less formal than that. There's not much need for formailty when your last conversation included asking him why he was dressed like a beach bum and why he's not invited to the super secret meeting taking place down the hall.

So tailor emails appropriately, but having a broad template will help keep you from writing massive ones (time consuming) and also help you out when you're stuck on how to phrase things. This recommendation is perhaps best suited for the high school/college students who aren't always sure how to write appropriately 'adult' emails.

4. Give your hand a break and take notes on your laptop.

I'm helping to teach a class of 240 this semester and during lectures I'm always surprised by the number of students still writing by hand. There's nothing wrong with it of course (for many that's how they learn best), but there are also added benefits to using your laptop. Pretty much anyone in the Millennial generation has grown up touch typing, so it's far faster to type than write. It's wonderfully easy to just spew it all out in a rush and then, with a few simple clicks, fix everything using spell check. It's a more reliable failsafe than hanging onto a single notebook that can be lost or drenched by your coffee (see #2), you can easily share notes with your friends, upload them to a class-wide dropbox, compare numerous documents to one another, etc. What I perhaps like best----and why I keep all my Fan Studies notes in a single annotated bibliography----is the ability to search through a semester's worth of material in seconds.

Need everything the professor mentioned about Specific Historical Figure? Boom, just drop their name into the search engine.

Of course, this depends on the professor allowing laptops in their classroom, but more and more are doing so. Yes, some of those students are updating their status or buying clothes online, but they'd be doing that on their phones under the desk anyway.

Technology, believe it or not, is your friend...

5. use it, especially your phone.

My god, phones in the classroom?? Yep. Trust me, they're already there. So tell your students to use them in a productive manner. I (along with numerous other professors) tend to try and cram too much info onto a single PowerPoint slide. I'm getting better, but every once in a while I'll switch and get voices begging me to go back. It doesn't matter if you're putting the PowerPoints up on Canvas later or if you assure them this info isn't crucial----students will panic if they can't write it all down in time.

So I tell them, "Just take a picture," and they look at me like I've grown a second head.

But seriously, snap a pic of those over-crowded presentations. Or the notes up on the board. Take pictures of anything you want for later, because I'm pretty sure you can't do two language processing activities at the same time. Meaning, if you're taking forever to copy that info down you're not listening to the actual lecture. And that's okay, note taking is still a necessary practice (to help with memorization, teach you how to prioritize information, etc.), but if you're really struggling, just snap a pic and organize your notes after class.

Again, this is something to run by your teacher first, but I hope that more professors encourage this. Besides taking pictures my students have used their phones to record my lectures for later review, quickly fact-checked things we weren't sure about that came up in discussion, and timed each other while practicing group presentations.

tl;dr: Make your life easier with technology.

+1 Except when you seriously need a break.

You definitely don't need me telling you that we're all addicted to our screens and I 1000% don't buy into this "progress is evil" rhetoric.

For your dorm room wall.

However, I do recommend finding a non-tech activity for variety. This would require a little bit of that life-reworking I mentioned earlier, though not much. You probably already have something. Reading is good (with paper books). Going for walks. Doing yoga. I personally like knitting. Just find something, a hobby, that helps de-stress you and gives your poor eyes a break.

It'll help.

Image Credit

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