Avoiding Assignment Blues

Deadlines. Deadlines everywhere.

Have you found yourself staying home from lectures to finish assignments? Do you struggle to remember the last time you had an active social life? Are you just not as happy as you usually are? Has your sleep pattern changed without any real reason?
You might have developed assignment blues.

If you don’t develop assignment blues at some point during your degree, you might just go ahead and claim the nickname Ubermench straight away.

But for those of us who get caught up in it all or fear the blues might be lurking around the corner, what is there to do?

1. Get on top of things.
Grab a calendar or notebook, write down when everything is due and how many words each written assessment requires. You don’t want to end up with a rogue essay deadline creeping up on you. Prioritise. What do you need to get done first? If two essays are both 2000 words, which one matters the most to your grade? If one is 40% of your grade and the other 20%, then prioritise the one worth 40%. Check your marks in the course, how many points do you need from these essays to be able to reach your goal? Plan. How much time do you realistically need for these assignments? For a standard essay, I personally tend to take one day for research, one for writing, and one for editing. Know your work style and be honest about the time. If there’s an assignment you really don’t understand, ask for clarification in time. Be proactive, talk to classmates, tutors, lecturers, and people you know who have already taken that course. It’s better to ask for help and clarification in time than to spend a week working on something that completely misses the point of the assignment.

2. Fix your sleep.
All nighters break people. Sure, it is possible to write two assignments in 24h, I’ve done it. However, you’ll probably hate yourself afterwards and it will take several days to truly recover. Instead, try to find a realistic sleep schedule. Know how much sleep you need to feel good, to function, and to recover. Don’t go below the minimum number of hours you need. Don’t sleep too much. Try to avoid taking naps if you know it will be difficult for you to get a full night’s sleep afterwards. Getting enough sleep decreases your risk for depression, weight gain, and is an important component in combating stress.

3. Sin in moderation.
No matter if it’s junk food, alcohol, gaming, netflix marathons, or anything else, try to keep it in moderation during this time. By ‘sins’ I mean things that aren’t necessarily good for you but that we tend to use as a reaction to stressful situations. A coping mechanism, simply put. Use these things as a reward for having worked hard as opposed to a means of procrastination. Did you just submit The Essay From Hell? Take the rest of the night off, indulge in your favourite ‘sin’ and get back to work the next day.

4. Go outside. Get some exercise.
A lot of us tend to become hermits during work-intense weeks. However, taking a break to go for a walk or just sitting outside for a while can help keep your mood in check. Daylight is an important component in how our bodies regulate our sleep patterns, our eyes need to take a break from looking at screens and texts all day, and sunlight has some pretty awesome benefits. Just 10 minutes outside per day ensures that you get enough vitamin D, decreases the risk of depression, and gives you some fresh air. Just don’t forget sunscreen. By going for a walk for 30-40 minutes, you’re also able to get a small amount of exercise that helps you focus better afterwards. Get off the bus a few stops early, walk around your neighbourhood, or spend some time in a park. Personally, I enjoy going to the pool for an hour, get some laps done, and then do some readings in the sun.

5. Food.
Alongside sleep, daylight, and exercise, food is a really important component of your health. It’s easy to indulge in junk food, skip meals for snacks, or simply forget to eat when assignments come up. Again, moderation is the key. If you’ve planned to combine unhealthy snacking with essay writing tonight, opt for a healthy lunch and dinner. If you’re like me and hate cooking for one, go for the healthy options when you eat out. Most unis have healthy food options available on campus and with the current health mania going around the food scene it’s easy to find tasty salads, smoothies, and other nutritious options. Find healthier snack options that still taste good (I recommend blueberries and nuts), keep track of what you eat, and try to get the right number of meals.
If you’re having a really miserable day, let me share this tip with you. For breakfast, I often have greek yoghurt, nuts & seeds, some berries, and sometimes a bit of honey on top. If you’re a chocolate fan add unsweetened cocoa powder. However, for days that are just horrible, there’s a trick. Replace the honey with a small pinch of popping candy. It’s essentially like adding a teaspoon of sugar. But it’s pure happiness. It’s impossible not to feel a little better when there’s rainbow fireworks happening on your tongue.

6. Min-Max
Instead of spending five hours multitasking, procrastinating, and working at a very slow pace, change things up. Work at full speed for an hour, take a three hour break, and work another hour. You’ll probably get more done. It’s also a really important skill to have if you are juggling multiple commitments and can’t afford the luxury that is spending a day doing almost nothing. You want to have the minimum amount of time resulting in maximum effort. If you know you can only focus for 40 minutes before needing a 10 minute break, there’s no point in trying to focus for an hour. Study smart.

7. Do things that make you happy.
There’s a reason universities have started bringing puppies to campus. Few things cure stress and assignment blues better than puppies. Don’t have access to a puppy? Do something else that makes you happy. Listen to your favourite music, catch up with a friend, go rock climbing, bake, or download the new Destiny patch. Whatever works. This includes having things around you that make you happy. Does a cluttered desk make you demotivated? Well, then it’s time to clean. Put some art on the walls. I actually have a 1m tall inflatable t-rex that I often keep in a corner of the room. He doesn’t have a function, but looking at him makes me smile.

8. Talk to someone.
If you’ve reached the point where you just feel overwhelmed by everything, can’t really remember why you’re at uni in the first place, or have stopped enjoying things you’ve always enjoyed before, it’s time to talk to someone. Have a chat to a friend or family member, vent about things, and support each other. If things are just getting worse and you’re just feeling like nothing is really working to cheer you up, it might be time to talk to a professional. Stress induced depression is a real thing and something a lot of people experience in their lifetime. Speaking to a counsellor, psychologist, or even your gp can be an important step in finding out if you are at risk of or have developed depression. Anxiety, panic attacks, depression, stress, and other psychological issues can be triggered by intense periods of work and pressure. Seek help early and your chances of a swift recovery improve greatly. There’s no more shame in experiencing anxiety or depression from exposure to stress and pressure than there is in getting the flu from exposure to the Ekka. They’re all common medical conditions that often get better with professional help.

9. Just do it.
Don’t fall into the trap of asking for extensions just because you let things get on top of you. Don’t be the dick who pretends a grandparent died every time there’s an exam coming up (yes, there are people out there who lie about things like this). You’re an adult. That means that you’re responsible for your own actions. Show up to exams, hand in your essays, and don’t skip all marked tutorials. You don’t have to be perfect, but you do need to be responsible. Sit down, turn off any distractions, and just do it.

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