Let’s debunk the idea that an over-hectic, overwhelming schedule is worthy; undergraduate or postgraduate, we’re more productive and successful when we’re relaxed and happy.
I’m writing this in the Garrick, sitting in the window, looking out onto Natwest and Wright’s Bar; English Breakfast tea and a far-too-modest slice of carrot cake next to my laptop. It’s heavy on the cinnamon – not that this time of year isn’t normally run-amok with cinnamon, but it’s now an essential if you desire get your ‘hygge’ on (apparently) – but it’s comforting and feels sort-of ‘treaty’, especially with a free night ahead of me.
(*Insert the sassy red dancing lady emoji*).
You see, rather bizarrely, for the first time this term, I have an evening to myself. I don’t mean an evening of eating dinner in front of ‘The Missing’, balancing the MY451 coursepack on my lap. I mean having no plans from 4.30pm. No classes or lectures, no part-time work, no responsibility, no prior commitment, no essay writing, no reading so urgent to be done this evening. For tonight, I’m free. Why has this taken so long? Why has getting my first blog post out there taken so long?
I could fob you off here. A hodge-podge answer. Multiple answers even, of various lengths. But that’s not why I’m here at all; when I decided to become an LSE Student Blogger, it was on the assumption that this would be an honest and fair representation of my life here – for you, but also for me – and I really do intend to keep my side of the bargain. So, the honest answer? I took on too much. I put so much in my shopping basket, I could barely drag it along the shop floor. And, a week ago – unhappy, under-pressure, overworked, slipping into old habits – that’s how it all felt; one massive drag.
Last week, I had a pretty shoddy date. Certainly not horrific, but one that left me feeling low and frustrated, already utterly exhausted. (I’ve since learnt not to go for a consolatory cocktail with a pedant you’ve just – somewhat bumpily – turned down; it’ll turn increasingly sour and lead to a super awkward argument in the Be At One next to the Lyceum Theatre). And it just felt like the last straw. As I finished re-telling the previous night to my friend, Lizzie, she nudged, as good friends do: “are you sure there isn’t something else?”
And then they went, the flood gates, just like that, letting through the pressure of postgraduate studies compared to those undergraduate years, the intensity of learning quantitative skills (MATHS), a new home with new housemates, poor sleep in a terrible bed in an overheated bedroom, a dirty kitchen, a dirty shower, part-time work, earning enough to eat/live/be, needing a job at the end of this year, dating, finding a volunteering role, writing a dissertation, an extracurricular coding course, new coursemates, this blog, that tricky research methods module. I was drained.
Sometimes, being able to keep all of this inside your head tricks you into believing it’s all actually manageable, as if your brain falsely convinces you that it’s normal and, worse, worthy to juggle such an amount, even if it’s making you unhappy. And that’s when you know something isn’t right. But I needed that nudge. And once it was out, all those commitments and responsibilities and pressures became ‘real’. I could start to sift through them, reconsidering those causing the surge of dread each week and those that, although had merit, weren’t essential to my life right now, and then create a plan for dealing with the rest. Swiping my way through them; ‘Life’ Tinder.
The verdict? It’s one sort of swiping I’m absolutely on-board with.
You know what ‘all is well’ feels like for you. For me, ‘all is well’ is a sort of contentedness that comes with a Saturday morning spent enjoying my gender reading, Graham Norton on Radio 2 in the background; it comes with the scent of Ariel clinging to my crisp bedsheets because I’ve had time to put a wash on; it comes with a Thursday free from 4.30pm, starting with a slice of carrot cake and finishing with wonderful friends and cheap white wine, because I’ve prioritised time for ‘me’ as well as LSE.
It is possible to begin with or rediscover that balance, to take on just enough, to complete your degree with an ‘all is well’ contentedness, even if your shopping basket currently feels like a trolley. In case you need a nudge, I’ve thought of a couple of the first-steps in approaching an over-hectic, overwhelming schedule – they might just help.
- Listen to yourself. Are you thirsty? Are you desperate for the loo? Are you happy? Respond to your emotions as you would other feelings. It’s almost comical to imagine us putting off going to the loo because we’re “too busy today” or we’ve “just got to get through this term first”, but these justifications sound more realistic when we’re considering our unhappiness or anxiety. You don’t need to be able to resolve these sorts of emotions; only to recognise they’re there.
- Chat. Talking to someone you trust can help; partly because of the advice they’ll impart, but also because articulating the problem(s) verbally can aid your own understanding of them and, sometimes, can clear the mist surrounding the resolution. Interestingly, when I spoke to Lizzie, the biggest things, the most overwhelming things in the list, came out last.
- List. Make a list of everything that feels overwhelming/troubling/etc. It might seem unnecessary; you’ll only be listing what’s already in your head, right? True, but, as with the previous point, making a list is akin to having that conversation with yourself, but now you have a hard-copy to refer to, add to, show others, tick-off, cross-off – you get the idea.
- Timetable. Start-up Excel or get your ruler out – you’re about to make a weekly timetable. Obviously your lectures and classes need to be scheduled in first, then fill in any part-time work or crucial commitments, and finally add in everything else. Importantly, schedule in time to work outside of your contact hours for reading, homework, essay prepping or writing. The idea is to create a ‘typical week’. From here, you can slot in essential time for friends, sport/exercise, time for yourself/downtime. Does anything stand out to you? Is it realistic? What’s not working? What could work?