I’m sure you’ve already heard all sorts of advice on how to write a first-class essay, so I won’t bother you by telling you once again to go through the bibliographies of helpful articles to find more relevant literature (but if you didn’t already know that – do that). What I’d like to give you instead are some tips on how to stay sane and healthy during essay season. I should note that these techniques are what works for me personally after years of experimenting – everyone studies differently, so they might not all work for you. But these strategies improved my physical and mental health a lot, so I’ll share them!
- Tea podomoro. Fact number 1: it can be difficult to remember to drink enough when you’re super stressed, but your body really needs those fluids. Fact number 2: always remember to take regular breaks when you’re working. Tea podomoro has been my way of killing those two birds with one stone. You may already have heard of the Podomoro Technique which uses a timer to break down work into manageable intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks. The problem I’ve always had with it is the fact is its inflexibility – sometimes the timer tells you to take a break when you’ve just had a brilliant idea that demands to be written down right now, and sometimes you just wanna take a break that lasts longer than 5 minutes exactly. Since you will probably be using your phone as a timer, you can also be tempted to constantly check just how many minutes are left until your next break or feel the urge to check the notification that keep popping up which is…not really the point of the technique. My solution to this issue was to break up my time more naturally: I’m an avid tea-drinker and like to always have a big mug of hot tea next to me while I’m working. This routine involves regularly going to the kitchen to refill the kettle, so I’ve incorporated my breaks into it. By leaving my phone on the kitchen counter and using the time it takes to boil new water, let the tea brew, etc. etc. to relax and be idle, I create flexible, but limited breaks for myself (the tea getting to strong and/or cold is a clear sign I’ve got to go back to work) and ensure I stay hydrated!
- Additionally, try taking a more active break ever so often. I’ve found that going for a nice walk or run in the Meadows, swimming a few laps in St Leonard’s Pool, or even just putting my headphones in and dancing in my room helps me to clear my mind and recharge some energy. Alternatively, another great way to declutter your mind (though unfortunately also to procrastinate) is doing household chores like washing up the dishes, or cooking, ironing, hoovering, cleaning your room…you get the gist. Because they’re such mindless activities, the thoughts just come and go, and I’ve often had the best epiphanies when taking a step back from my assignment.
- If you’re overwhelmed by the amount of information and ideas you’ve collected for your reading, the notes on your laptop don’t make any sense, and your head is just buzzing with bits and pieces of an argument you can’t connect, try writing out your argument on paper. I don’t know why (though I’ve been told by one my professors there’s a science behind it – apparently your brain works differently?), but physically writing down your thoughts, using as many arrows and annotations as you like, really helps me understand the complexity of the issue I’m analysing and wrap my head around what I am trying to argue. You might also try and explain your argument to yourself out loud (you can also grab a flatmate and make them listen to you if they’re willing).
- Another tip for not feeling like you’re drowning in information is going through all your readings again, selecting the bits that you are actually going to use in the assignment and grouping them by themes. However, this can be quite time-consuming, and you need to be careful not lose track of who said what.
- Self-discipline is important both for work and for self-care. You might want to set rules for yourself and enforce them – for example, after constantly working took a toll on my mental health last semester, I decided at the beginning of the second semester that I would do no academic work after 11pm to set some time aside for myself before going to bed.
- Sometimes, I can be really helpful to document your thought process when you’re doing the reading. Make a note of how you will use what you wrote down in your assignment, or a question or idea that occurred to you in relation to it (I usually do it in square brackets directly after the note).
That’s it from me! If you have any additional tips I’d love to hear them!