Category: Tools and Strategies
Once upon a time, I had to defend the “prospectus” or plan for my dissertation to my committee members. I spent many months researching, drafting, and revising my prospectus. I focused on making my ideas clear. I memorized the main points of my argument. When my prospectus defense began, I shared with excitement everything I had learned and planned to do. And the first question a committee member asked me in response was: “So… what’s your dissertation about?”
It was late one night in December, and, with what seemed like hundreds of other people, I was in the library. I had been working on a paper about the U.S. intelligence community for weeks—reading articles, finding book chapters, and typing page after page of notes—and my head was spinning.
I have a confession: I’ll set my phone timer to remind myself to drain some pasta before it gets mushy only to completely forget about the garlic bread burning in the oven. While phones are helpful kitchen companions for finding the newest recipe on Instagram, they just don’t cut it when it comes to a crucial element of cooking: timing. Even when I open multiple tabs to keep time for different components of my meal, I still can’t remember if the roasted potatoes or the chicken thighs need to cook for another ten minutes. (Spoiler alert: the timer was for the broccoli.) I found myself thinking that there must be a better way! Enter MultiTimer.
Normally, the papers I write for class don’t require exhaustive research, so I can get by just keeping everything in my all-purpose Word document (or, as my roommate calls it, the “portal of chaos”). This spring, though, I was assigned a final paper that required me to sift through a lot of primary sources, and I was getting tired of scrolling. So, to keep everything organized, I turned to a program that I’d purchased a few years ago: Scrivener.
I love the feeling of sitting back after a long day and having a sense of accomplishment and progress. In this new normal of working and learning from home, this feeling can be very difficult to achieve. I often find myself feeling burned out, distracted, and generally unproductive. The first hour or two of studying often goes pretty smoothly. However, soon after that first hour I begin to really lose steam.
To say the least, the transition to remote learning this past spring was anything but ideal for me. Amidst the strange times, focus went right out the window, and I did what I could to scrape by in my classes until the end of the semester. When planning for the fall semester, I was less than thrilled to discover the majority of my classes would be completely online.
Even in the Before Times, I struggled to hold myself accountable for getting work done. Big term paper for a class? No problem. I’d write it the night before. Final project with classmates? My motivation to contribute to the group kept me going. I found that even my master’s thesis could be knocked out with a few weeks of intense effort, as long as the pressure of an impending, high-stakes deadline was there. But unfortunately for me, the same strategy isn’t exactly feasible for a 100-plus-page dissertation where I’m fully responsible for motivating myself for years at a time. As I progressed in graduate school, I eventually realized that something had to change.
Have you ever felt the desire to do anything but study, especially when you have an exam coming up? I can relate. That was me this week. Anything seemed better than sitting down and being productive. I had to somehow get out of my procrastination zone and into the study zone. To do that, I decided to try the Optimizing Attention worksheets from the Learning Center–I was amazed by how effective they were. I was able to re-think my study conditions and make a study plan that helped me thrive.
For me, staying focused at school is always difficult. Even after adjusting to remote learning, I still struggle to stay on task while sitting at my desk for hours at a time. One particular weakness of mine: Buzzfeed Quizzes. Should I finish my Econ 410 problem set or find out which Disney villain I am? The choice is obvious, I think. In all seriousness, prioritizing school work is significantly more of a challenge for me now, and the challenge has only increased with the complete loss of my daily routine.