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Hold It Together

November 30, 2011

The end of my graduate semester is so close I can smell it.

And it smells like glorious, freedom-filled heaven.

I’m pretty good at holding it together during the semester, even while taking two graduate courses, teaching full time, writing state curriculum, keeping my long-distance relationship afloat, training for a half marathon, and generally trying to have a life. (Yikes. I sound way busier than I generally feel. How does that work?)

But without fail, the last two weeks of the semester always send me into a tailspin. I’m talking full-on adrenaline/panic/minor breakdown mode. It’s not cute. When you suddenly realize you have a ten-page paper, an eight-page paper, a debate, a literature review, a written final exam, and two more chapters in that stupid philosophy text book all due in the next fourteen days (on top of the 250 or so papers to grade, the plans to write, and the stories to re-read before you teach them), a freak out is probably inevitable.

I took Thanksgiving off from working because, well, it was Thanksgiving. I had turkey to eat, wine to drink, and Christmas movies to watch. (Yup, I’m a Jew, yet no Thanksgiving is complete without Home Alone and Elf). I busted into my work head first on Friday, sitting my sorry ass in a desk chair for over seven hours (and banged out a sweet ten pages of racial achievement gap analysis). Then I did the same thing on Saturday (six pages on the influence of “highly qualified” teachers on student achievement). Besides a lot of coffee, good music, and the occasional hug from Nick, this is what I relied on to keep myself sane:

1. Pacing. This is something I’ve worked on quite a bit since starting grad school. I am NOT a procrastinator; I never have been and I probably never will be. In fact, I’m quite the opposite. I would rather finish an entire assignment in one fell swoop three weeks before it’s due than spread it out or wait until the last minute. This ends up being a problem though: I can’t always expect to finish major assignments in one day and be done with it. For these papers, I got my research done slowly, I took notes, and I did a little bit of organization. That way, when I sat down this weekend, I was ready to write. It felt good to sit down with even a skeleton of an outline and some reputable sources and just type away. Ok that’s a lie. It didn’t feel good. But it felt better!

2. Visualizing. I hate to go all new-agey on you, but this really did work for me. A couple of times, when I was just feeling too overwhelmed, I had to stop and let myself visualize how good it would feel to be DONE with these assignments. At first I was afraid this would cause me more anxiety, but it happily did the opposite: it got me energized to keep plugging away.

3. Taking breaks. At least once an hour, I made myself get up from my computer, get a drink/snack, spend a few minutes hanging with Nick on the couch, or even check Facebook/my email/blogs/etc. On Friday, I also went on a walk around my neighborhood. I needed to get out of the house and move my body, and lo and behold, I returned more energized than before, ready to write.

4. Having something to look forward to. Friday it was just the thought of eating T-gives leftovers and watching a movie. Saturday it was going on a date with Nick to celebrate our unofficial five year anniversary (yup, we celebrate two anniversaries: one “unofficial” and one “official.” We’re those people). Just knowing that there was an end point and something desirable at that end kept me moving. It was my carrot on a stick, and it tasted delicious.

5. Exercising. I started both Friday and Saturday with a hardcore workout, not only to get back on track after Thanksgiving, but to get my blood flowing and my brain functioning. I have great ideas when I’m running, and starting my day at the gym usually makes me feel way more productive than I would otherwise. It, as always, worked like a charm.

Any other ideas you think I should try for holding it together? I still have two weeks to go and could use all the help I can get!

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. November 30, 2011 9:03 pm

    I really have no idea how you are managing two grad classes and teaching. One grad class is enough to drive me insane.

    You are a champ!

  2. December 1, 2011 2:05 pm

    #3 was SO key for me when i was studying. without stepping away from what you’re doing your brain cannot work at its highest potential! congrats on juggling so much 🙂

  3. December 4, 2011 6:23 pm

    Wow, that sounds like a lot of work! Your tips have been really helpful, especially #2. I’ve never tried visualizing myself being done all the crap I have to do, but it has really helped. So, thank you!

    • December 4, 2011 7:06 pm

      I swear it sounds way worse than it feels most of the time! The visualizing thing is what pulls me through most weekends paper-reading and writing…until I hit the wall about a week before the semester ends (aka NOW). Then I just want to sit on the couch and eat cookies ; )

  4. December 21, 2011 10:09 am

    Ha! I just wrote about how I had a mini meltdown circa Thanksgiving. It must be that point in the term where you realized OH MY GOD there aresomanythingsdue. And then freak out. I love these tips! I feel like we seriously have similar personalities. We should form a Freak out Free Grad School Club. 😉

    • December 21, 2011 6:48 pm

      Oh, Erin. Yes, yes we should. And I loved your last post because I obviously could relate to it. Here’s to a less intense spring semester!!

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