Yes, this is going to be a motivational piece. But this is going to be a very hypocritical motivational piece. ‘Why’ you ask? Well, I am one of those individuals who spends more time thinking about what I need to do, than I actually spend doing what I need to do. Furthermore, I am also one of those people who cannot sit still or relax when I know that I have tasks to complete. I often do this because I tell myself I am ‘too busy’, and so my long to-do-list takes precedence over all other areas of my life.
There is no doubt in my mind that this behaviour is partly due to the heavy workload that gets thrown at me each term. However, the workload is something that I cannot change. In fact, I will always have more to do, and sometimes when I think about this, I feel trapped. Because it is hard to look at the future without feeling quite bleak when you realise that you will always be chasing deadlines.
So, I believe that it is imperative to stop your academic work from consuming more and more of your time, especially if you want to improve your academic performance.
Despite the obvious fact that I will never consistently be on top of things, I often refuse to believe that I will never complete my to-do-list. In defiance, I double down my efforts and devote even more time to my tasks. Then: I start bailing on social events, I miss lectures, I skip tutorials, I evade sleep, and I try to minimise any time spent doing the most mundane of tasks. Gradually my days become swallowed up with work, but my productivity never maximises for some reason. And each day becomes more miserable than the last.
I tried to find freedom by releasing myself from the shackles of my list, but this approach just demanded more and more of my time until I found myself overwhelmed – and often without much work to show for it. On the contrary, where I really found my freedom was in embracing each moment that I spent not working.
I’d go even further and say that I renewed my interest in my course when I spent less time working on my subjects. I am still as busy as I was before, and I still feel rushed most days – but by forcing myself to allocate more time to extra-curricular tasks, I found myself more focused on my academic tasks. Allocating time off is the easy part though, the real freedom comes when you immerse yourself in those moments. In other words, it is just as important to devote your attention as it is to devote your time.
I cannot take credit for this realization, I have to thank Tony Crabble, author of ‘Busy: How to Thrive in a World of Too Much’. Funnily enough, I have been ‘too busy’ to actually complete the book, but Crabble prepared for readers like me. In the preface of the book, he gives a brief run through of the book’s content and one sentence on how to ‘gain mastery’ in life stood out to me. Crabble says we should be “shifting our focus from managing time to managing attention”. He goes further in his book to compare the state of ‘busyness’ to a state in which we are ‘attention deficit’.
So, I believe that it is imperative to stop your academic work from consuming more and more of your time, especially if you want to improve your academic performance. There is nothing wrong in taking a break and forgetting about that piece of coursework that is due tomorrow. In fact, it will not jeopardise your academic career if you watch a long film in bed with the lights out and forget about Imperial for three hours.
Some may call that escapism, but I am speaking from experience. I completed my 1st year happy with the amount of work I put into my degree, but I also felt a pang of emptiness in hindsight. Before Imperial, two of the things I loved doing more than studying were reading, and art. Yet in the whole of my 1st year here, I did not read a single book and I did not touch any of my art supplies. On top of that, I was a student in the middle of London, surrounded by so much culture and opportunities and still I spent as much time as I could slouching over my desk in my small Woodward room. I would be walking past the V&A everyday and yet all I could think about was how late I was. Eventually I recognised that the workload will always be high, the deadlines will come and go, but you cannot reverse time to take back all those hours you didn’t actually need to spend on a task.
I wish I had spent more time exploring my extra-curricular interests, but I cannot focus on my regrets. Instead, I have been slowly branching out by pushing myself to do things I never thought I’d have time for (like becoming a section Editor for Felix) and thus developing a deeper sense of fulfilment in all aspects of my life. For example, I recently attended an Open Theme Art Class held at the Blyth Studio even though I had a lot of tasks I still haven’t completed. For almost two silent hours, I immersed myself in a sketch – without reaching for my headphones to listen to music or reaching for my phone for distractions. Have you given yourself time to have a moment like this lately? If you’re not sure about what hobbies you can take on, I’d suggest that a good starting point is to immerse yourself in the mundane parts of your day, like cooking food.
Ultimately, I want to stress that you should allow yourself to slow down and embrace the moments in-between tasks.