It’s that time of year again, people. As the temperatures finally start to shoot up and flowers dot freshly green laws, that end-of-year panic is kicking in. Lately, whenever I talk with my peers I’ve noticed the strain in their voices and circles that are growing deeper under all of our eyes. Once one anxiety is addressed, it seems, another emerges in form of a research paper, project, or whatever else the world decides to throw at us. While I wish that finals season could be less trying, I’ve come to accept this time as a necessary evil in the same vein as getting a flu shot (pun intended). Every year, I try to find new tools that help me cope with the craziness. This year, in particular, I’ve started realizing how some of my most trusted strategies are actually worsening my anxiety. A perfect example of this? My habit of making daily to-do lists, my obsession with which I chronicled last year in this post.
I started making daily to-dos in the fall of my sophomore year, when the increasing demands of sports, academics, and extracurriculars literally made my head spin. My nightly list-making sessions made me helped me feel calm and in-control- if only temporarily. And while I did my best to accomplish everything, I was pretty forgiving if a couple boxes went unchecked. Over the past few months, however, my lists became increasingly ambitious, and went from having max ten to-dos per day to having more than could fit on my notepad! I’m sure I don’t have to tell you what happened next. More and more boxes went unmarked, and I started beating myself up for what I saw as a slip in my productivity. Instead of kicking myself in gear, this attitude only made my less motivated to work, and even the simplest tasks went unaddressed. This vicious cycle repeated itself, ending with me in a fog of self-loathing and piles of undone work.
A couple weeks ago, I finally shook myself out of my haze long enough to figure out the issue was not that I couldn’t get anything done. On the contrary, even in my least productive moments I still powered through several important tasks per day. The problem was that I was simply giving myself too much. By cramming my lists with so many goals, I was setting myself up to fall short and experience major stress.
That night, I sat in bed and made my first attainable to-do list in a while. There were five things on it. Five tasks that would require me to work hard yet still fell in the “attainable” range. The next day, I woke more motivated to get stuff done than I had in weeks. And you know what? I got every single thing on that list done, and even had several hours of free time after! I didn’t rush through my to-dos, however: The fact that I had less to do encouraged me to take my time with each task, which resulted in some of my best-quality work in what felt like ages. As I laid in bed watching Netflix that evening, I couldn’t help feeling proud of myself for recognizing the source of my struggle and making a change.
It’s been a few weeks now, and I have to say that learning to set more attainable daily goals has made a serious difference in my attitude. While I sometimes struggle to muster the motivation to write a paper or study for my AP exam, I’m comforted knowing that I don’t have twelve other boxes to fill in. With my respect for practicable expectations, I’m confident that I can attack this exam season with even an ounce less stress than last year.
How are you approaching the end of the year?