Don’t Just Survive, Thrive: How to Be Productive When the Stress of School Overwhelms You

During my time as both an undergraduate and a graduate student, I inevitably found myself feeling overwhelmed by my workload, deadlines, and upcoming exams as the end of the semester neared. Of course I wanted to excel, but I wondered how I would manage to get my assignments completed by their due dates. After having to pull a full all-nighter and dragging myself to class the next day, I began learning to be more vigilant and organized. It was eye-opening to realize that, even when I started to actively plan out my time, assignments often would take longer than I assumed they would.

Over time, I discovered strategies for dealing with school-related stress that allowed me not only to survive the semester, but thrive throughout it.

Create a to-do list for assignments

When taking multiple classes, all of which had both short and long-term assignments, I found that making daily and weekly to-do lists helped me to stay organized. I also made sure to write down what I had to do in more than one location. I used my Google calendar online and a desk planner that I would check every day. Being able to visualize what was due and when was vital for allowing me to prioritize time-sensitive tasks. While I may have wanted to dive into the research for a term paper, I knew that doing the reading for my American Literature course in preparation for next week’s quiz had to come first. 

Plan a realistic schedule

I consider myself to be an optimist, and this usually works in my favor. But, when it comes to planning my schedule, I learned through trial and error that being a realist works far better. When I underestimated how long it would take me to write a paper for my English literature class, I ended up feeling stressed about getting it done on time. After silently willing my printer to print out the ten pages for that class in the five minutes before I had to dash out the door, I vowed never to cut it so close again. 

Knowing my strengths and weaknesses helped me to assess how long certain tasks would take. Math tends to be harder for me, so I knew that I needed to allow extra time for my math homework. It also helped me to complete shorter assignments first, so that I got them off of my plate and felt a small sense of accomplishment. Putting off homework wasn’t worth the stress of struggling at the last minute when it could have been avoided. It’s better to give yourself more time and be pleasantly surprised.

Stay organized

When I was in junior high school, my teacher said that “organization is the key to success.” Her words have always stayed with me. For me, finding a filing system that worked was crucial. I bought different colored folders for each of my classes. I wanted to be sure that I wouldn’t inadvertently grab the folder for the wrong class on my way out the door. On my computer, I created folders for each of my classes so that I could file documents for easy future reference. 

Know your best time of day

If you’re a morning person and feel most energetic in the early part of the day, tackle your work before you lose steam as the day goes on. Conversely, if you’re like me and find that you do your best work later in the day, carve out quiet time to study in the afternoon or evening. The key is to honor your own rhythms.

Take breaks

When studying or working on a school project, there can be a point of diminishing returns. When you hit a wall and can’t do anymore for one day, it is not only okay, but vital to take a break. Catching up on Netflix, taking a nap, or doing something physical are all great ways to de-stress and let your body and mind recharge. 

Ask for help

If you find yourself really struggling with a task, ask for help sooner rather than later. When I was unclear about the expectations for an assignment, I emailed my professor. When I struggled to understand how to do exercises in an advanced math class, I got in touch with a family friend who was a math professor. Reaching out for help is never a bad thing. Just don’t wait until the last minute. 

It is normal to feel overwhelmed at times when you’re a student. But, it is possible to minimize anxiety and stress in order to be as calm, focused and productive as possible. 

Originally published on October 21, 2019.

Content Survey (Inline)

We want to know what you think!

Lauren Jonik is a writer and photographer in Brooklyn, New York. Her work has appeared in 12th Street, The Manifest-Station, Two Cities Review, The Establishment, The Oleander Review, Bustle and Ravishly. She is working on a memoir about coming of age with a chronic illness.