Whether it’s the end of the current semester or the beginning of a new one, it seems there’s no end to the list of things we find to stress ourselves out about. From underclassmen who are still learning the ropes to upperclassmen who are eagerly trying to get their last remaining distribution requirements out of the way, there’s a lot to get done and seemingly never enough time to squeeze it all in.

At the start of this semester, when I found myself showered in more syllabi and pending deadlines than I knew what to do with, I just told myself there would be enough time over the next couple of months to get everything done. Most of my pending deadlines were still far away, anywhere from weeks (for the first essays I would need to write) to months (for my midterm and final exams). Some matters were a little more pressing, needing to be taken care of ASAP — namely, getting my hands on the coursepacks and textbooks that contained readings for class sessions less than a week away. With regard to the rest, I took a deep breath, took another look at the syllabi I’d been given and decided, at least for the time being, to let everything slide. I would let things play out as they wanted and see where that took me.

Now, with finals weeks almost here, I find myself in this same mentality, and, oddly enough, utterly lacking in stress. Perhaps that will pick up over the next couple of days when I’m studying for and taking my finals, but somehow I don’t really think so. It has been my experience that things balance one another out. If I read a little bit or hammer out an essay draft on Saturday and save other assignments for Sunday so I can shop for groceries instead of studying, I’m left at no disadvantage come Monday morning. Similarly, leaving my reading untouched at the end of a long Friday has no lasting repercussions.

That has been the case across numerous semesters, not just this one. Saturday is not for homework — it’s for down time, though there have been some exceptions. Again and again, I keep coming back to a memory from last fall, when the due date for a draft of my next paper for my First Year Writing Requirement course was approaching. That weekend, I spent almost my entire Saturday in my room, wearing a fleece blanket and standing at my dresser, the surface in my house that’s closest in height to a standing desk. There, I wrote my way through page after page of raw concepts and unrefined ideas. After long hours, I’d drafted almost 1,000 more words than I needed, and over the next couple of weeks, I sanded that excess down bit by bit. In the end, I arrived at an essay that I still look back on as one of the strongest samples of my academic writing.

For that long Saturday in October, it didn’t matter that I had a collage due for my art class or a case study for my class on sustainable agriculture. I did them the day after, and came into the week in much the same standing I would have been in had I chosen to get those tasks out of the way on Saturday morning instead of Sunday afternoon.

In my handouts from a CAPS workshop on managing stress, there’s a list of suggestions for activities that can help to balance out a load of academic tasks. These other options include tidying your room or your corner of the apartment; taking the time to prepare a meal for yourself; or generally cleaning your house. I’ve found that it can also be beneficial to take a little break from your immediate environment by going to do something fun with friends. And here’s something else that’s never a bad idea: reading for fun. Or going for a walk, or, oh yeah, getting to the gym.

For me, I still don’t always manage to practice these fun and very necessary tasks with quite as much regularity as I’d like, but I keep them in the back of my head. Throughout each day and over the course of weeks and months, I work to keep academic work in check by balancing it with everything else.

By doing so, I think I also help those around me to practice a healthy balancing act of their own. Whether it’s because I am able to help cook dinner one night or because I need quiet for my homework and we all work on academic things at the same time, the way I choose to best use my time can have an impact on others. By keeping track of when my school work is due, I’m able to communicate clearly about it, and talking about assignments can help to reduce my own stress around them. Yes, I have reading, but also, yes, I’ll help with dishes and come with you to the farmers market this morning. No, I can’t come over today, but how about tomorrow? Sorry, I can’t walk the dog now — I’m working on a paper — but don’t worry, I took her half an hour ago and we had a great time.

More and more, I’m coming to believe in the idea of making time for the things I need in my life, not taking time. Time for necessary chores, but also for family and friends, for gym dates, for video games, for scribbling one quick page of the novel I’m writing. And while there may be a piece of reading or an essay draft or a final somewhere in my future, I can be confident I’ll make the time for studying tomorrow.

Sometimes, other things are just a little more important.

Susan LaMoreaux can be reached at susanpl@umich.edu.

 

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