How to “Bounce Back”

Falling behind the right way is very important if it’s a strategy you need to employ, but the most important part is getting back on track in all of your classes. However, there is one  crucial point to keep in mind that I should have mentioned in my previous article: If you’re going to fall behind, you need a decent amount of time to catch up. Make sure the timing is appropriate (before reading week/a long weekend). 

Without further ado,  here are some quick tips to get through that pile of work as efficiently as possible :

  • Plan it out carefully and PRIORITIZE
    • You need a clear direction of what you’re going to do to get that work done. You also need to know WHAT you have to get done.
      • Use a task list to write everything that has to get done during the catch up period. The most important/urgent tasks have to be at the top of the list. Also, make sure to write actionable steps that are going to help you get the work done. For example, don’t write “Catch up in X class”, but rather “Read + take sparse notes on chapter 5-9 and answer practice questions.” This will help dramatically reduce your procrastination because an actionable step defines a starting point and an end point to your work. You’ll know what to do from the start which will prevent you from thinking about what you should be doing.
  • GET TO WORK
    • The work isn’t going to complete itself! Get started!
      • Typically, there are two types of “catching up” to do: Reading assignments and/or practice problems (If you prioritized correctly when you initially fell behind, you shouldn’t be late on any project). For reading assignments, I try to compress it as much as possible. Reading is a passive activity which means it’s not very efficient for acquiring knowledge. My approach is to take limited notes while reading to make it as active as possible. Reading, in contrast to many students’ belief is just the base of the pyramid for learning material. Essentially, you want to get it done as efficiently as possible in order to start applying that knowledge as quickly as possible, which is the real bulk of learning. For technical classes where there are practice problems, I literally  jump into solving them without checking my notes. This allows me to avoid wasting time by re-reading my notes (totally useless), while figuring out SPECIFICALLY what I don’t understand. It’s important to realize that if you’ve been skipping class to catch up on other classes, you won’t be able to do this since you don’t even have an overview of the material. Bottom line: Don’t skip class, even when you’re behind.
  • Efficiency is the key
    • You have a lot of classes and you really don’t want to fall behind in all of them. That’s a recipe for burnout. You have to catch up as quickly as possible. You should set a deadline for all your of work to be completed. The best way to do this is to complete your work in an isolated area where you won’t be distracted, and work in short/intense bursts with short breaks.You might need a marathon day or two to get your work done (which I usually don’t recommend at all, but is necessary for catching up quickly) but the key is to make sure your sessions are broken up into short sessions with short breaks. If you have a chronic case of procrastination, a technique that used to work for me when I had trouble diving into my work was the pomodoro technique. Basically, you set a timer for 25 minutes, and during that time you focus on only ONE task.  Once the 25 minutes is over,  you can take a 5 minute break. Repeat as needed. Now that I’ve significantly improved my productivity, I don’t use this anymore because I can focus for much longer. However, I still work around the same principle: Work for a short amount of time and take a short break. I usually aim for 30-90 minutes of intense work followed by a 5-15 minute break. The idea stays the same: If you want to produce better work faster, increase the intensity of your sessions (i.e by limiting procrastination) so you can reduce the amount of time you need.

Next steps….

In my previous post, I spoke about changing some of my productivity habits in order to adapt my schedule to the numerous projects I have (there are still many more to come). Here are MY actionable steps:

  • Run on an autopilot schedule. Basically, my regular school tasks will be done on specific days so that my REAL scheduling can be focused around my non-regular tasks such as projects
  • Stop planning my WHOLE week in advance. A lot of the time, I ended up not doing what I intended to do at the beginning of the week. It’s impossible to predict everything so it ended up being a big waste of time because many last-minute tasks would come up . Instead, I will determine each major goal to achieve for the week (which will be my weekly planning), and plan everything on daily basis, which will allow more flexibility.
  • Being clear on when to expect results from me. I love helping people, but sometimes it ends up cutting into my work time. My solution is to let people know when I’ll be able work on a specific task, give feedback or help them out with something. If I’m unable to get something done, I’ll politely refuse rather than try to satisfy everyone. This might end up upsetting some people, but it’s a necessary action to maximize my productivity. Besides, if I say that I’ll get something done, I get it done! 🙂

Happy catching up and stay tuned for more !

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