Scheduling and your Syllabi

Your syllabus is probably the most important document you’ll receive in a class. It’s your schedule, your contact info, your lifeline for the next semester. How many of you know how to actually use it to your advantage though?

I’ll admit, my first year in University, I didn’t pay much attention to the damn things. I’d write down in my day planner when my exams were and when papers were due. Then, I’d stick my pile of syllabi in a folder and throw my day planner in my backpack. I didn’t check it regularly, and the “F” on my transcript is my proof of that (damn you History and Politics of Asian Religions!!!!).

I wised up a bit my second year. I’d check my planner once or twice a week, keep my syllabi with my class notebooks, and thought this was good enough. Actually, this is what most students do. And this is why so many students try to write 15 page research papers in two days, pull all-nighters cramming for exams last-minute, and spend more on coffee and Monster than tuition.

This method lulls you into a false sense of scheduling security. Yes, you have everything you need written down in front of you somewhere. And yes, you actually check what needs to be done the beginning of the week. But what do you have next week? Or a month from now? Can you open your day planner to a random page from this semester and easily figure out which classes will take up the most of your time and resources at a glance?

In my third year, I came up with a system. The first week of classes, I got all of my syllabi in class or on the class websites. Then, I took a whole afternoon to go over them and start scheduling. (Come on, it’s the first week of classes. You can spare a few hours to make the next few months a little easier!) All I needed were some coloured pens, sticky notes, and a day planner.

First, each class was assigned a colour. In the day planner, go through class by class and fill in WHEN each class is. I know you think you’ll remember that you have that Post-Modern Comic Theory class every single Thursday at 1pm. In a month or two, when you’re running on no sleep and ALL the caffeine, though, you may not even remember you’re enrolled in that class, let alone when it is. This also puts it right in front of you, in writing, when you are committed to be there.

Then, for each class, make note of your exams, papers, assignments, labs, and anything else that is a part of your grade. Write down when these things are, and a detail or two about each (like exam rooms and times, paper lengths, etc). This gives you your deadlines.

Now, for each major grade event that you need extra time for (like paper writing or studying for exams), give yourself at least one weeks notice. Flip back one week in your day planner, and make a section for this. Some planners come with a Notes area each week you can use. If you don’t typically have much planned for weekends, you could always use your Sunday space for this. Or, you could use the sticky notes I said to grab. (You can never have enough sticky notes in your life). Write down the day, time, subject, and how much of your grade this is worth. This ensures you have extra notice, so things don’t creep up on you at the last minute.

And now, VERY CAREFULLY read through each syllabus. Each syllabus is your professor’s notes to you on how to get as high a grade as possible. Take a page in your planner and write down each professor’s contact information, office hours, the course you are taking with them, and the course time and place. Then, read their instructions. Some professors will throw in exactly what they expect for assignments, or a grading rubric to help you plan our papers. They also give details about your exams, like if the final exam is cumulative, or only covers materials you learned since the mid-term.  Some will break down exactly what chapters to read each week, what online material to look up, and what they expect to cover in their lectures each week. Make note of ALL of this! You need to know what you’ll have to do before each class, or else you can’t actually do it.

I know this seems like a lot to do all at once. This is the simplified version of what I did for three years, though, and what a lot of friends and colleagues have said have worked best for them. When my schedule got really tight (4-5 classes, two jobs, 6 volunteer positions, fraternity events, family obligations, sleeping, eating…..), I used a day planner, a one-month wall calendar, a 4 month wall planner, a system of 4 separate To-Do lists, and email reminders to keep everything straight. Compared to all of that, this is a walk in the park.

This also helps make your semester run a little more smoothly. Imagine, never checking your schedule on Monday to find out you have a paper due Wednesday that you forgot about; never again forgetting about your Monday midterm until Saturday night; never missing a party because you have to pull an all-nighter to finish an assignment you forgot. Sure, this will take a few hours to get done in one day. But think of all the money you’ll save on energy drinks, caffeine pills, coffee, and everything else you’ve been using to keep you up for those last-minute all-nighters.

Most of all, think of all the stress you can save yourself by giving up one afternoon to write stuff down with pretty coloured pens. You can plan things out like those real grown-ups you see in the movies, with their leather-bound planners and appointment books, snootily telling people “sorry, I need at least 3 weeks notice. I’m already all booked. Are you free in May? I may have an opening in May sometime.” This one afternoon with your day planner could be all it takes to put you on the path to becoming Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada.……. or it could at least free up enough time for you to remember you love that movie, and actually watch it again.

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Taking Time For You

As I said on Friday, you need to slow down. Yes, you. The one reading this right now.

I know sitting at your computer, reading random ramblings on WordPress, doesn’t seem like something you need to slow down from. But what else are you doing? Are you at work? Studying? Writing a paper? How many tabs do you have open right now, and be honest with yourself. While you’re reading this, you’re probably reading 3 or 4 other websites, have a notebook open somewhere near you, maybe an open book or stack of paperwork, and are thinking about what you need to get done later on today.

Is that really relaxing?

I had a friend, after my health crisis in University, try to get me to meditate. It had always worked for her in the past, helping her relax when her brain wouldn’t slow down. I followed her steps, met with her meditation group, lit the candles and chanted the mantras. All that happened for me was I wound up sitting there for an hour, wondering how much other stuff I could have gotten done in that time. While the dozen or so people around me seemed to transform from tightly wound workaholics to completely relaxed and chilled out, I was more stressed afterwards than when I got there.

Another friend brought me to yoga. Again, this was something she swore by. I already did stretching and random yoga poses at home while watching tv, so it seemed like something I could get into. Instead, I was a miserable stress case. Again, my brain wouldn’t shut off, just like in meditation. But this time, on top of that, I was worrying about the yoga poses. Being a yoga noob, I couldn’t pull off any of the advanced (or even intermediate) poses that I thought looked so easy. I stressed myself out over being so unflexible, and out of shape. Then I got stressed because I was sure unflexible wasn’t a real word, but I couldn’t think of a real word to mean what I thought. Again, I left more stressed out than when I got there.

So, after losing myself in thought on my walk to work one day, I came up with my own relaxation method. I like to daydream. I’m always lost in though while I walk, remembering parts of dreams or story ideas. I’d daydream about saving my co-workers from armed robbers, or learning to cook a fish dish so amazing that Gordon Ramsay shows up on my doorstep in a Speedo to try it. When people offered me rides places, I turned them down so that I could walk and get lost in my thoughts for a bit.

Daydreams are my escape. I can imagine winning the lottery, or the boyfriend taking me to the petting zoo, or my awesome co-worker just being goofy and making me laugh. I can imagine the fantastic or the ordinary, the impossible or the probable. In my head, there are ninjas, samurai, hobbits, narwhals, dragons, and even Batman (or a reasonable (and half naked) facsimile thereof). The world inside my head is awesome, and it’s all mine!

So, every night, no matter how much I have to do or how stressed I am, I go to that world. I imagine Batman coming to save me from danger, and then me having to save him when the danger gets a little out of control, and then him getting to thank me. What a better way to end the day then with that image in my head as I get ready for bed?

My method might not work for everyone. That’s why it’s my method. I made it for me, because it works best for me. As I said, meditation and yoga work great for some people. Other people need books, or a massage, or a sensory deprivation tank. The main thing is you need to find what works for YOU. Only you know what you need.

A Few Words on Self-Care

I’m not going to lie: life can really suck sometimes. It seems like you are constantly on the go, never getting any time for yourself. Then, the rare time you do get a few hours free, you’re so overwhelmed with all the things you need to get done that you can’t just sit and relax. Day in, day out, it’s just go-go-go……….. until one day, it feels like you can’t go anymore.

That, my friends, is burnout. And we all get it at some point.

And yes, it really really sucks.

As I said Wednesday, my schedule is a little crazy right now. There are days, when I finally get a little me-time, when I multi-task my relaxing. I will watch TV, flip through Cosmo, read a book, have a glass or two of wine, and take notes for writing projects, all at the same time. And it’s really not healthy.

There will come a time when all of this go-go-go will start to get to you. It will be harder to get out of bed in the morning, and harder to fall asleep at night. Maybe you won’t be able to quiet your brain at night, or turn it back on when you need it most. You’ll spend your free moments making to-do lists, going over what you need to get done.

At one point in my University career, my health and body just gave up. I was taking 4 classes a semester, working two on-campus jobs (research assistant, and teaching assistant). I was on the Board of Directors for an activist group, and headed up their Fundraising and Events Planning committee. I volunteered in our campus Academic Advising Centre. I helped run Welcome Week events, gave talks to parents of prospective students, recruited students for multiple on-campus organizations, volunteered at local Fraternity events, joined the association for my major AND the one for one of my minors, and did independent research into what I had wanted to do a Psych Thesis on.

Then my health got in the way. First was the ear infection that winter, which got so bad it gave me random bouts of vertigo. This resulted in me passing out in a 7-11 near campus, and having to be rushed my ambulance to the hospital.  Then, the food poisoning hit me that summer. After spending 7 months researching e.coli as part of my job, I got a mild case of it. And by mild, I mean I spent 4 days in the bathroom, and had to be put on an IV for fluids more than once in a two week span. The real kicker came at the end of the summer, when I was gearing up for the next school year.

In the midst of thesis advisor meetings, preliminary research, summer class finals, a new workout regime, Welcome Week preparations, and a long-distance relationship, my mother had to rush me to the hospital. One day I woke up, and was so weak I couldn’t get out of bed. It took me 45 minutes to crawl across my bedroom, and down the hall less than 8 feet to the bathroom. Once there, all I could do was vomit. Then the headache started. I was put in isolation at the hospital for three days, while they gave me morphine and dilauded to try and stop the pain in my head (and they didn’t work, either). After blood work, a lumbar puncture, brain scans, and a fever of 105, the doctor told me it looked like West Nile.

This was my wake-up. I had to slow down, or else my recovery could kill me. I was under strict orders not to exercise, or over exert myself. I dropped down to 3 classes, and eventually dropped my Thesis due to the stress. I started planning more, procrastinating less, and getting things done bit by bit instead of a giant panic all at once. I even (mostly) gave up my all-nighters. Instead of trying to run committees I had no interest in and didn’t even like being a part of, I stayed home and watched Buffy on Netflix with the boyfriend (once he was back in town for school).

Basically, I gave up what I didn’t need. Why bother staying a part of an organization I was getting nothing out of, and wasn’t fully contributing to, when I could focus on the things that mattered most? When I had some health set-backs (most likely due to that fever that wouldn’t break causing a bit of damage that needed time to heal), I didn’t have to worry about getting in touch with 40 people to cover all my extra-curriculars while I was in hospital. I could just focus on being healthy.

Today, I still have a hectic schedule. I take time for me now, though. I’ll watch Netflix on my phone on my lunch break. I’ll make a point of painting my nails once or twice a week, so I’m forced to relax while they dry. Once a month, I take a half-day on a Sunday to just do all the stupid beauty crap I would normally put off, like dyeing my hair and putting on a face mask.And I take 20 minutes each night, right before bed, to just sit in my room, alone, and daydream.

I take care of me, now. And you should do the same for you, too. Yes, you can have your packed schedule, and your Do-It-All mentality. But you also need to have a Don’t-Work-Yourself-Into-An-Early-Grave mentality. When you start to feel worn down, that is your body’s way of telling you slow down a bit. So schedule in some time to relax, do a little something for you each day.

In the immortal words of the 90’s sexiest FBI agent, Dale Cooper, “Every day, once a day, give yourself a present. Don’t plan it. Don’t wait for it. Just let it happen. It could be a new shirt at the men’s store, a catnap in your office chair, or two cups of good, hot black coffee.”

Damn good coffee!

Share The Load

I know, I’ve been quiet for a while now. I’m on assignment on a temp job, working 8:30am until 4:30pm, which means I’m up and out of bed at 6am. Some days, after a full 8 hours in the office, I have my awesome night job, which is 5:15pm until 9:15pm. Weekends are filled with my awesome night job, doing ALL the laundry and grocery shopping, catching up on chores, and having a little too much wine with my dinner.

There are days where I leave the house at 8am and don’t get home until a little after 10pm. That’s 14 hours of work and commute. Add to that the 2 hours of prepping for the day in the morning, and night time prep for the next day (and for bed), and studying for my product knowledge tests for my night job…… and I’m running on empty here. There have been days when I don’t have to go to my night job, and just go home and collapse on my bed for a few hours out of sheer exhaustion.

(It also doesn’t help that the boyfriend seems to be dreaming that he’s a chainsaw or a motorcycle every night, complete with impressions right in my ear. That really cuts into what little sleep I can get each night.)

Needless to say, I can’t keep up with everything I did around the house when I was only working 12 hours a week. And honestly, with 4 other people living there, I shouldn’t have to.

You see, as much as one of my roommates would argue against this, I am the main roommate when it comes to cleaning things up. Yes, he likes to scrub the bathroom and wash the towels and clean the counters. But I am the only one who sweeps, vacuums, mops, washing crud off the walls, organizes the cupboards so things can fit in them, cleans the fridge (even when it’s someone else who spills stuff in there), or does anything else that everyone else should be doing.

And it’s driving me up the wall.

I may have mentioned before that the two roommates who live in our basement (we refer to them as The Tweedles: TweedleDee and TweedleDumbass) don’t exactly clean. They leave food dried to the counters and stove, wash their dishes with cold water, and leave crud stuck to the outside of pots and pans. Last week, while the school was on Winter Break, I had to go into the basement to check the seal on their shower…… and I broke out in hives. I’m allergic to mold, and their bathroom is full of it. It hasn’t been cleaned since they moved in this past September! Their bathroom was also, for some reason, full of cups, glasses, silverware, and bowls. They have bags of garbage piled up in their common room (which they have claimed completely as their own, and use as a giant laundry hamper now).

Last night, after coming home from a very long 14 hour day, I walked in on them using MY dish soap and sponges to clean off their dinner plates. Then, they left dirty pots, pans, and glasses all over the food-encrusted counter.

And I have bloody-well had enough!

No one should have the burden of caring for a shared house/apartment/dorm room/shared van down by the river all by themselves. If there are multiple people living in a space, then there should be multiple people cleaning and caring for that space. It’s not hard: clean up after yourself! Divide up the larger jobs, like mopping and vacuuming, and do your share.

So if you seem to have a cleaning fairy that swoops in and cleans up all your messes for you, wake up! If you’re not cleaning up after yourself, then someone else is. Unless you are paying that person do clean for you, they are not your maid. So be a grown-up, and clean up your own damn messes.