We are rapidly nearing the end of the semester, final projects are due, exams are coming up. It's time for the final push. Unfortunately, students and professors, alike, are feeling burned out these days. The best cure for burn out is re-prioritizing yourself and getting necessary rest, and hopefully, for many of you, rest is just around the corner as summer approaches. But in the immediate term, the only way to reach summer is to get through the end of the semester. The best advice I can offer you for a (relatively) painless end of the semester is to get really organized and to create systems for yourself that will make life easier, rather than harder, for the next few weeks.
I've been thinking a lot recently about the topic of mess: living a messy life and leaning into it. Some of us (ahem - me - ahem) prefer order. We prefer to be organized, we watch The Home Edit and we try to Marie Kondo our lives, both personally and professionally. That's fine, maybe you prefer order in your life too. In fact, there's some evidence that order and organization bring us joy, partially because they give us a sense of control in our lives. But I'm fairly convinced that, even if you're someone who loves order, the path to joy comes through embracing mess.
To be clear, I don't mean that you should give up on doing dishes and start living in squalor. Please don't do that, your roommates, parents, and / or families would hate me. What I mean is that we need to embrace the fact that we cannot perfectly plan out our lives or impose perfect order on the world around us. Instead, we need to be flexible enough to find joy in the messy parts of life, just as much as we do in the perfectly color coded and organized parts.
Do you ever have the kind of day when your head is not in the game, you can't focus, and you just don't want to do the work? That's okay, I get it. It happens to all of us sometimes. And sometimes you can afford to play hooky and take a day off. Unfortunately, on other days, playing hooky is simply impossible and it raises the million dollar question - how do you get work done when you are very, very distracted? There are a few strategies for this but the most important thing is to start with baby steps.
Ordinarily, I recommend doing a difficult task first when you are still fresh. But on a day when you simply cannot bring yourself to do anything at all, I recommend going in the opposite direction. List everything you need to do and pick the easiest thing. Get that one thing done. Then reward yourself in a small way, but not a way that will lead to further distractions. Do not reward yourself by watching TikTok - that path will suck you in and lead you nowhere (at least in terms of your to-do list). Reward yourself with a handful of m&ms or something.
Once you've done one thing, it might get easier to start on that to-do list. Research shows that setting small goals and accomplishing them releases a dopamine boost to your brain. If you're still struggling to get into a deep flow of work, pick another small goal and do that one next, then give yourself another small reward.
If checking off two small goals still doesn't get you in the flow, it may be time to accept the reality that today might not be your best day. If this is looking like the case, then it's time to prioritize the things that absolutely MUST get done. If you're only going to accomplish a few things in your day, then make it the stuff that is absolutely necessary and for which there could be large consequences if you fail. Not every day is going to be your best, most productive day. You are not a robot. Some days are going to be days when your brain and body need rest. If today is one of those days, then it's time to do the bare minimum. That means, do anything that is absolutely REQUIRED and cannot be postponed - the assignment that is due tonight, perhaps. Then just call it a day. Some days you're going to knock it out of the park and accomplish everything like a freaking rockstar, some days you're going to do the bare minimum. If today is a bare minimum day, then do not sit at your desk, staring at your computer and feeling bad about yourself. Do the minimum to get by, then give yourself a break. When you sit at your desk and do nothing but feel guilty, you waste your day entirely because you neither accomplish anything nor do you get the rest and respite that you so obviously need. If today is not your work day, then go out and find some joy, some rest, and some peace.
Clare Brock is a professor of American Politics and Public Policy at TWU. She works primarily in the areas of food policy, lobbying, and money in politics.