October 15, 2015

Taking care of you: academic self-care

As the semester progresses, how do you keep your course work manageable? Mebbie Bell, of the Student Success Centre, shares strategies that offer the highest impact to help you with your academic self-care.

Between juggling assignments and exam prep, it can feel difficult to stay engaged with all that you have to do. We often talk about  emotional and physical self-care, but self-care can also occur in our academics. Using high impact, easy to implement academic strategies can make the biggest difference in whether we feel in control of our course work. Try one or two of the following strategies. 

Make the most of your class-time.
Everyone knows they should go to class, but ask yourself if you are truly engaging with your classes and making the most of your time with your instructor:
  1. Preview. Skim quickly (5 - 10 minutes maximum) any readings or powerpoints before class. Don’t worry about the details; you are building your familiarity with the content to better understand the lecture. Make a short list or diagram on a sticky note to help you keep on track.
  2. Sit at the front, where most distractions are behind you.
  3. Review your notes within 24 hours. This helps you rapidly build connections to new concepts. Add anything you remember and identify questions or gaps to look up in the textbook. And, prioritize this note review even in a hectic week.
Ask questions.
We wonder and worry about the ‘unknown’, whether it is about unclear course content or information about an upcoming exam. Instead of using your valuable time and energy focused on these unknowns, ask questions as soon as you have them or when you first encounter a problem. You can clarify concepts, gain good information, and strategically refine what you need to do for assignments and exams. 

Most importantly, asking questions will put your mind at ease, reduce your stress, and help you focus on the tasks at hand. 

Break your work and time into manageable chunks.
Smaller tasks, such as a single paragraph or one question, are less overwhelming. Set a timer for 15 minutes, and tackle one specific task in that time. Then, set the timer again and pick another small task. Spread these chunks of focused work throughout each day and week: they add up quickly, and it’s easier to talk yourself into a 15-minute session than an 8-hour study marathon.

Banish boredom.
When boredom sets in, you know your motivation is being tested! Instead of staring at the page: 

  • Take a short break. Stand up, stretch, or go for a walk.
  • Then, change at least one thing about how you are studying. Change locations, switch topics or courses, or use a different approach - particularly an active study strategy such as quizzing yourself.
Tame your technology.
Many of us feel beholden - even shackled - to our smart phones. As we need both mental space and time to learn, becoming more aware of your screen time can increase your productivity and reduce your stress:

  • Download one of the many technology blockers or trackers now available. The Bored but Brilliant technology challenge, for example, gives you a week’s worth of apps, strategies, and tracking data with which to decrease your phone time.
  • When you reach for your phone, ask yourself: do I need to check my phone now, or can it wait 15 minutes? Wrap it with elastics to make it harder to use!
  • Or, turn off your phone entirely (not just on ‘silent’) when you study; zip it inside one bag that you put inside another (and, perhaps, another).
  • If you worry that friends will expect an immediate response or be disappointed that you’re not there:
    §  explain in advance that you need to focus and will check in with them later,
    §  make plans to meet online or in person at a specific time,
    §  ask them to join you in a technology ‘diet’ to boost study productivity, and
    §  remember that setting boundaries is both healthy and important.
  • Decide more deliberately when to engage with your texts and posts. Check your accounts and connect with friends on a study break, or as a reward for a task successfully completed.
  • Finally, if your technology use is still getting in the way of completing your tasks, meet with a counsellor or learning strategist for in-person advice.
Integrating some of these strategies into your regular academic routine can help you to improve your overall well-being. I encourage you to use them alongside the other self-care activities you already do to ensure you are taking care of you as best you can. If you find that course work or other areas of your life are becoming more stressful or difficult to manage, there are many supports available to you.