Find the “write” balance this Reading Week

Thursday, October 8, 2020
by Dr. Clare Bermingham, Director 

Gif of a cat emergeng from fallen leaves
Hey, it’s fall reading week! The weather is getting cooler. Time to curl up with your laptop and a cup of tea, and spend some time getting caught up on your work. What do you have on your plate? If you have a lot of writing to do or presentations to plan, this blog post will help you organize your time and be productive, while also making time for self-care and rest. 

Before you get started on strategizing and planning, it’s a good idea to think about the factors that have helped you be successful in the past. 

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Step 1: Know yourself 

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The first step in organizing and planning your time is to understand what studying and writing practices work best for you. Take a few minutes and consider the following: 

What time(s) of day is your brain at its most productive? 

  • If I get up early and start working right away, I can focus and get lots done. 
  • I need to take a walk outside before I can settle in for work. 
  • I need the mornings to sleep, exercise, or do other things. I can really settle down in the afternoon.  
  • I’m such a night owl. I find that I work best in the evenings when the day is done. 
  • Is there another time that really works for you? ________________  

How do you do your best writing?  

  • I need a longer chunk of time to really dig in and focus. 
  • I get distracted easily. I need to break down my time into smaller chunks and take regular stretch and exercise breaks.  
  • My writing improves when I alternate writing with other tasks. I need time away from my writing to see it with fresh eyes.  
  • Is there another approach to writing that really works for you? ______________ 

My biggest challenges when working on writing projects are: 

  • I hate getting started. That first blank page is the worst.  
  • I don’t know what to do first. There’s so much to do and I feel overwhelmed. 
  • Writing is boring. I get distracted easily and then I suddenly find myself scrolling TikTok or Instagram. 
  • I get stuck on how to do what’s needed. I’m just not good at writing! 
  • It’s hard for me to know if what I’m doing is good enough or the right thing at all. I hate not knowing if I’m on track. 
  • Writing gives me anxiety. I just want to run and hide when I think about it.  
  • What else challenges you when you write? ________________ 

The feeling(s) I get when I finish a writing project is/are:  

  • Exhaustion. It’s usually finished right before it’s due, and I just want to hand it in and go to bed. 
  • Pride! I’m may not be sure if it’s good, but I’m happy I got it done and that I did what I could. 
  • Dread. I’m pretty sure it’s not going to get a good mark.  
  • Hope. I think I did enough to get by. It’s not my best work, but it’s enough to get by. 
  • Another feeling? __________________ 

Step 2: Take stock of the things you have to do 

It’s so easy to fool ourselves with the wide-open time of reading week as it stretches out ahead. It feels like you have SO MUCH TIME! You’ve got this! Right? Well, maybe not…. Listen, if you don’t plan your time, you’ll find yourself at the end of reading Week with only a few items ticked off, or pulling an all-nighter right before classes start back. 

Gif of a cat saying I'm ready while it puts on sunglasses
So, start with a list. Write down all of the things you need to do. Try to break larger tasks into smaller tasks. For example, writing a 5-page research essay becomes a series of steps that might look something like the list below. Don’t worry if your process looks different. Do what works for you, but don’t be afraid to try new ways of doing things too. 

Next, estimate how much time you think each step will take. Try to be as accurate as possible. For example, I know that I always think things will take less time than they do. So, I try to add extra time, just in case.  

Now, I may have snuck in some handy links in the list above. But if you need help with breaking a different assignment into smaller pieces or estimating how much time to spend on each part, you should check out UW’s online Assignment Planner to make your life easier!  

Step 3: Schedule your time 

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Use an online or paper-based calendar to block out the time you need for each of the tasks you’ve outlined. Use your earlier reflections to guide when to schedule brain-intensive tasks, and how much time to block off all at once. If you work best in the mornings and you need a focused work time, then block off 2-3 hour chunks. If you need to move and stretch every half-hour or hour, then schedule your time by breaking those big chunks down and giving yourself 5 minutes in between. (Oh, and check out the Pomodoro strategy in Step 4 below, too.) 

Schedule self-care! You cannot and should not work all day. Reading week is about catching up, but it’s also about getting the break you need for the next half of the term. So, schedule a reasonable work day, and then also schedule social, relaxation, and exercise times. Make sure you get outside and soak up some of those fall days!  

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Step 4: Use these fool-proof strategies 

You know all those challenges you checked off at the start of this blog post? Here are some things you can do to head them off and kick them in the butt!  

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Set daily goals! In the morning, decide what you want to get done based on the schedule you’ve set. When it’s done, you’re done. You can relax guilt-free!   

Are you feeling overwhelmed by the task you’re working on? Stop and take stock. What has you worried? Maybe you need to break it down into smaller, more manageable steps? If not, you might just need to take the first step. Sometimes getting started is as easy as starting, and the rest just follows. 

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Confronting that blank page? Writing and erasing that first sentence over and over? Stop erasing it for now. Just keep writing. Don’t worry yet if it sounds good, if it’s correct, or even if it makes sense. A shitty first draft is such a necessary step that a famous writer wrote a whole essay about it. It’s true! Shitty first drafts are supposed to be shitty. Just get your ideas out and make those connections! You can organize and refine the ideas and the paper later.  

Gif of an owl perched on the hand of a person who is writing

Turn off the interwebs! Seriously! Leave your phone in another room. Log out of all your social media accounts or use an app like Self Control or Cold Turkey that will help you shut social media and other distractions away. 

Grab a 25-minute tomato, uh, Pomodoro, that is! Okay, if you haven’t heard about the Pomodoro Technique, I’m about to change your life! No, it’s not a tomato sauce, it’s just the simplest and easiest way to stay focused and get stuff done. Ready for the secret? Set a timer for 25 minutes. Work for 25 minutes without stopping. Take a 5-minute break. Set the timer, and do it again. I know it sounds way too simple to actually work. But it does. I mean, who can’t commit to 25 minutes of work, right?  And there are a million free online pomodoro timers and apps out there, like this one or this one or this one… 

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Check in with us! If you need help figuring out if you’re on the right track, the WCC staff are here for you. Book a 25-min appointment or grab an evening virtual drop-in spot, and we’ll meet online and talk through your paper no matter what stage you’re at. There are no judgements, no grades, and no charge! Just a friendly face and a chance for you to check in with someone other than that editorializing voice in your head.  

Remember those feelings we asked you about in the checklist? If handing in an assignment makes you feel disappointed or worried, we'd love to help you feel more confident or proud, and maybe even a little excited about the work you've done. 

Ready to tackle your list? Ready for some down time? You got this! Have a great reading week, Warriors!

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