Effective working

Those of you who are part of an academic institution may be reaching the midway point of your first term! With this you may be beginning to feel stressed about the oncoming workload, or something along the same line of thought. But fear not! In today’s post I hope to put forward some practical steps you can follow which will allow you to organise your learning so that you can maximise your time and 减少压力 🙂 I too will need to be following these more closely as I embark on my fourth week of University.

This happens to be one of the topics I have been somewhat planning for quite a while in advance and simply had to wait for the appropriate time to convey. Unfortunately I have misplaced the points I had noted down in preparation 所以I will write this as I go along; which may be more sincere anyway~ Lastly, I wanted to point out that this post will be beneficial for your general learning techniques but is not specific to studying Chinese. Therefore I may compose a separate post about ways to revise Chinese in the near future. For now you will notice however that the points will be numbered in Chinese for the sake of passive revision of Chinese numbers.

一 Firstly, the reason I have posted this at the start of the academic year, now that you may have adjusted to your new learning environment is because effective learning starts from ‘day one’. I’m sure you may have heard this before as it is very sound advice, but you essentially need to not leave things till last minute. Easier said than done, trust me I know. When you are set a task, perhaps record it on your planner to make yourself aware of the time you have to finish it. You could also set yourself a deadline earlier than the actual due date in order to tackle procrastination. But even simpler than that and something you may not have been told is that you should just start. Put pen to paper and just write (depending on the task of course). Your work will only begin once you start, and if you attempt the task early on you will leave yourself time for development. It would also be very satisfying to have finished a task prior to a deadline which gives you time to do other things. It’s okay if the result you reach is not reflective of your highest standard because you will be giving yourself time to improve its quality. Do heed this advice and try at least once to start the task you are given early on and then continue from there. A teacher once told me to “not think and just start”, but I would alter this and advise you to not overthink and just start.

You may reflect on some of your past days as being wasted, however that is also not the case. Credit yourself for the work you have done and skills you have gained to prepare you for the rest of your course(s). Is there a task you have been too anxious to begin? Give yourself some time after reading this post to start jotting down some ideas and just do it!

二 Another point I think is very important is to remind yourself that it’s okay not to be okay (-thanks Jessie). It’s completely natural to experience stress and although I have talked about this in a separate post, just remember that it’s fine to feel low sometimes and it’s not a sign of weakness. Certain stress could indicate that you have been working too hard, and if that’s the case then take a break and resume your work once rested (there will be more on this below). Once you have taken time out of working to reflect on your personal well being, use your stress to propel you to work harder. There are constructive ways of going about it, but at first you can use your stress or frustration to motivate you to complete your work so that it’s simply put behind you (in ‘the dustbin of history’).

三 A smaller point to bear in mind as you work is to prioritise certain tasks over others. Some tasks will require more time than others to complete due to the nature of the task, but you will also need to decide what to dedicate your time to depending on your own personal reasons E.g. Having difficulty processing thoughts may mean that you will allocate more time to completing an essay and less time creating a summary poster for a recently completed module.

四 Following on from this, it’s a good idea to try working in different settings to figure out where you work most effectively. It’s probably best to get this out of the way at the start of the year because of Point One in this post, but if this advice is reaching you a little late then that’s okay too because you can now find a new environment to work in to change up your routine and keep things interesting. Working in a different space every now and then can also be helpful in keeping your brain engaged in your work. It’s also a good tactic for refreshing your mind as an extension of Point Two. Don’t use this point as a distraction from actually doing your work, but do try to venture out to a few different spots to see where you work best. Some examples include:

  • Library
  • Café
  • Park
  • A desk at home
  • Common room
  • Lecture hall/classroom
  • A friend’s house/dorm
  • Random (safe) hipster building

五 One good exercise to try when working is to keep a pen in your hand with some scrap paper. You don’t need to write anything intelligible, simply write what comes to mind without thinking or just scribble (if it works properly it’s also a great to find out what’s been occupying your thoughts!). The movement of your hand will stimulate your brain as you will be working more actively. This is especially effective for tasks that consist solely of reading.

六 One of my past teachers once told me that an effective way of maximising your revision is to engage multiple senses. This can be achieved in different ways of course, but so you get a sense of how to go about it, I’ll list some techniques below that you can try for each sense…

  • Touch – Try step five.
  • Hearing – Try listening to this on low volume on the background as you work. Mozart is a good option too. Try Point Seven。
  • Smell – Get some fresh air and leave the window open for a while if you are able to. Try burning oils when studying. A good combination is rosemary, basil (three drops) and peppermint (two drops). The scent will be associated with your revision and therefore should be burnt out at the end of a study session. For your exam you can also put the same scent on a tissue or your sleeve to act as a memory trigger.
  • Sight – Try using different coloured pens and papers for different pieces of work
  • Taste – Eat healthily and drink water as you work. Lentils and fish are supposed ‘brain foods’, but basically do not neglect your greens and try to vary your diet. Certain foods will slow you down, and being hungry can demotivate you to work so try not to skip meals (我的情况也是这样的).

七 Something I tried during my A-levels was recording my revision notes. 例如 I asked a few friends to record certain quotes from my literature texts that I was expected to know from memory to help me remember them. We recorded the scripts in various weird accents that made the quotes more memorable, and I would say it was quite effective. What’s more, you can make audio recordings of long pieces of texts that you need to be familiar with (like a model essay for instance) and then listen to them when you have nothing to do whilst travelling, on the treadmill at the gym, need to fall asleep…and well you get the idea. Subconsciously at least you will definitely pick up some key information.

八 In this penultimate point I wanted to talk about a method of motivating and inspiring yourself if you ever find yourself overwhelmed by work, or feel that all hope is lost. This is something I created myself towards the end of last year and I recommend you to try it for yourself, although you may be apprehensive at first. What I did was write down a few motivational messages on small pieces of paper, fold them up and put them in a small box. Simple right? The plan was to randomly take one out of the box if I ever needed an extra push, but a strange mental stigma usually prevented me from doing so. However knowing that they existed did the trick anyway. For this to be effective, you should write down messages that are personal to you, rather than the typical quote you can find in search engines that are later used as photo captions. You can remind yourself of a certain person who has faith in you, a phrase that keeps you going, or simple logic like ‘if so many people get through this each year, so can you!’. Simplicity is key with this, so once again don’t overthink but try to note down some meaningful sentiments. Write your notes in different colours for extra appeal and then store them in a jar or a box and take one out when you feel like you really need it. Lastly, try not to refer to the notes too often so that they are more potent in your rare moments of despair.

九 A lot of the points I’ve put forward are likely to aid the system of work you have already put into place for yourself. Therefore assuming that you already are, or soon will be into the swing of work, you also need to make sure to 休息 –rest. If you overwork yourself you will eventually ‘burn out’ and prevent yourself from sustaining a good pace of work. Try following the advice I have given, and don’t become so engrossed in work that you neglect your physical and mental needs. 不要睡眠不足! Try to get enough sleep, and give yourself time to relax.

As this has been a slightly lengthy post I hope it has given you time to reflect and has provided you with some practical advice you plan to put into practice. Let me know if you try any of the points I have discussed, and feel free to ask questions about the topic.

If you want to work more effectively, good luck 世界.

从欣妍 – From Xinyan.