Life At Lawrence: Surviving the Grind™

The longer you have been at Lawrence, the more you will understand that the trimester system is both a blessing and a curse. When I first got here, I thought our term schedule was ideal: bite-sized 10-week periods of classes that end just when you need them to and always with a good chunk of break to enjoy afterwards. However, after the rose-colored glasses of freshman year fell off my face, I began to see the key flaw in the system. Because we have so much less time in a trimester than in a semester and the same amount of material to cover, learning is rushed and our workload gets heavier. Oh, and don’t forget about your clubs, social life and, you know, eating from time to time. Though your terms here may find you overwhelmed, there are things you can do to get yourself out of a bind, and to help stay out of the trap. 

One of the easiest ways to manage your time is through basic organization techniques, like making a calendar and to-do list. No matter how good your memory is, having all of your ducks in a row on paper can make a big difference in your mindset. Seeing gaps in your planner, for example, gives you the knowledge that you have more time than you thought previously. Perhaps in that 20-minute period before class you can write a few emails, start working on homework or even take a nap on the nearest couch — there’s no judgement to be found on this campus for spontaneous napping. Moreover, having all of your tasks written down and ready for crossing out gives you a sense of concreteness and achievability. Your paper is no longer a menacing, amorphous beast haunting your thoughts when you break it down into five pieces that you get the satisfaction of crossing out. And crossing out five bullet points that were all emails? Nothing like easy productivity to motivate you through the tough stuff. But maybe enumerating all of your to-dos is intimidating; there’s so much and who knows where to start! Well, if you write everything down, you can start to prioritize your tasks by urgency and importance and planning your completion schedule around your actual needs without letting the nonsense cloud your vision. 

Even after you organize your days and weeks, sometimes you do have simply too much to do on a general basis. Your prioritizing skills will help you again here, but now the challenge is figuring out what to drop rather than what to do first, as you need to free yourself up a bit. My go-to place to start for this is non-academic responsibilities. Clubs usually come first, as we Lawrentians tend to join a lot and then feel obliged to do something with all of them. Identify the clubs that are the most important to you — clubs that give you the most satisfaction when you engage with them and ideally have the least amount of drama and time commitment — and keep those. As for the others, really weigh the benefits and detriments; if the feeling of being overstretched is worse than the benefits of being in the club, definitely take a step away. Remember, it’s just a club! You can always come back. A similar methodology can be used in managing other responsibilities too, such as volunteer commitments and jobs. Once you narrow things down to only what provides you the most benefit (personal, financial, etc.), you can feel more fulfilled and liberated from obligation. 

Even with all of this effort put into getting your life sorted, Lawrence may very well still make you feel overwhelmed the way it does best: in classes. This enemy is truly one that is difficult to contend with, as in this institution we simply get too much work. That is all there is to it. We could be so much more productive and effective if we were given less to do in the short periods of time between classes, but sometimes that’s the way it is. While I would encourage conversations between students and faculty about this issue in order to make a positive impact on student health, there is a slew of factors that work against such dialogue, and so in the meantime, I can give a few pieces of advice for times of academic duress. 

First and foremost, do not be afraid to ask for an extension on an assignment. So long as you are asking in advance, your chances are typically good and if you feel comfortable explaining yourself, that can go a long way. What if the worst-case scenario happens and  your professor says no? You don’t have a whole lot to lose. In more reading-centric scenarios, find your best method for getting as much information as possible with as little reading as you can. When you have 60+ pages to read for a class (or even for multiple classes) and you do not have enough time or you’re a slow reader, do not read all of it. Trying to do all the reading thoroughly is a one-way ticket to staying up far too late or throwing your schedule out of whack. Get a summary of the reading from a friend or the internet and then focus on reading a part that interests you or gives you something to say in class — it is okay if that is all you can manage.  

Finally,  communicate! If you’re feeling overwhelmed, chances are that other students do too. Talk to your classmates about what problems everyone is facing and meet with your professor to talk about how everyone can get the most out of the class. Or, if it is personal, meet with the professor yourself or write an email about what is going on and how you want to work towards a solution. Education is about knowledge and personal development and students and faculty alike know that, so talk about how to achieve those goals when you need to.

Stress is present in everyone’s academic experience, but it doesn’t have to dominate it. This term, work on eliminating the unhealthy stress from your life by focusing on the things that benefit you as a student and as a person the most. Good luck in your studies, I believe in you!