I talk about stress every so often and by that I mean that I talk about stress so very often, but I don’t see any other way around it: being in academia, whether you’re just starting out or well into your career, can be extremely stressful. Let’s take a moment to relax together.
You know that “to do” list you’ve got sitting on your desk or in your computer? Most of us have one and the ones of us who do not almost certainly have a “to do” list circulating through their mind. These lists are fantastic–they organize thoughts, prioritize deadlines, and keep track of what needs to be done. Maybe most importantly, they keep track of what has already been done, giving us a log that reflects where we’ve come from and how much we’ve accomplished. But there’s a good and bad way to deal with these lists, and I found it out the hard way.
Initially, when I made these lists, I’d plan out a series of things that needed to be accomplished each day. I planned out my week ahead of time and made adjustments as they came up. However, I soon let my laziness get the best of me: instead of prioritizing and separating out items across the week, I just lumped them all together, and moved what didn’t get done from one day to the next. This was a horrible, horrible idea.
Instead of giving myself an accomplishable goal for each day, thus giving myself something manageable to work towards and totally not overwhelming, I did the exact opposite. I spent the beginning of the week trying to finish everything all at once, and by the end, I was exhausted, overwhelmed, and disappointed in my lack of progress. Instead of taking things as they came, one at a time, I shoved them towards my brain-gullet all at once, inducing monster-movie levels of panic.
Given conversations that I’ve had with my friends, I know that I am not alone in feeling overwhelmed. I also know that it doesn’t have to be that way. I mean, it’s impossible for all stress to be eliminated, and some books I’ve read on the subject suggest that some low level of stress is actually pretty awesome. But there’s no reason to create more stress when there isn’t any. When all the work that has to be done in a week becomes overwhelming, take a step back and think about when exactly each one needs to be finished. Recognize that while you’re thinking simultaneously about all the things that need to be done, they don’t have to be done all at once.
And with each little bit of work you do, you’re one step closer to getting through that massive “to do” list. Each little step matters. Recognize them and appreciate the work that goes into it. Now take a deep breath–and back to work!