By 10 pm on Wednesday, I had reached my limit. I had just finished cramming for an upcoming biology test, and all I wanted to do was collapse on my bed. But I still had several hours of homework left to finish for the next day's classes before I could even think about sleeping.
At this point, I knew I needed to make a change. I was feeling overwhelmed for weeks, but my stress had finally accumulated to the point where it was starting to affect me mentally, physically and socially. I knew if I did not change something soon, I would risk a breakdown.
If you are like a lot of students I know, you have probably experienced something similar. And even beyond studies, it is common to find yourself overwhelmed with the demands of work, family, and friends.
How can you stop feeling overwhelmed and regain control of your life?
It seems impossible, right? To get more done, you need to invest more time. Working a 9-5 job will make you more accomplished than a colleague that only works five. Studying five hours a day will undoubtedly get you better grades than the guy who quickly scans through chapters before the big test. More work = more results.
I strongly disagree. Working smart definitely beats working hard. In some cases working more can actually damage the amount you get accomplished.
Working less and accomplishing more is not simple. It requires creativity to find a more productive way of doing things. But first, you have to open your mind to the probability that your methods are not as effective as they should be. Once you do, you can look for ways to get more accomplished without just increasing your never-ending load of tasks for the day.
As a student who needs to get more done in less time, I have found that applying even one of these strategies can potentially save hours each week.
1) The 80/20 Rule:
The 80/20 rule basically suggests that a minute portion of inputs contributes to a much greater quantity of output. Using this rule means minimizing the time spent in the unproductive 80%.
In application, you can not simply cut everything that does not directly contribute to what you want to achieve. Some things, however trivial, still need to get done. The purpose of 80/20 is to force you to be more ruthless in cutting time in areas that contribute little. But no, it does not mean that you have to cut off your time for having fun and relaxing, both of which are integral.
2) Parkinson’s Law:
Parkinson’s Law states that work will fill the time available for its completion. This is a side effect of focusing on doing work instead of getting projects completed. Give yourself strict deadlines and cultivate a desire to finish projects, do not just check tasks off on a to-do list. For example, if you tend to over-invest in the research stage, you may want to tell yourself that you have to stop after one to two hours. Or, if you struggle to come up with an initial draft, then you can pre-decide how much time you would like to invest in getting something typed out.
3) Energy Management:
Energy management (as opposed to time management) forces you to think of results as a function of energy, not time invested. Working intensely for a short period can accomplish more than working for days, tired and distracted.
Working yourself into low energy can actually make you accomplish less than if you rested. Here are some ideas:
Work in bursts. Divide yourself between complete rest and complete focus. Do not constantly switch in-between, which leaves you neither rested nor productive.
Kill projects. Do not spread tasks that only take a few hours over several days. Sit down and finish them in one sitting. This method keeps your energy focused and time saved.
Rest, health and fun. Enslaving yourself to your work can actually accomplish less. Master the ability to recharge yourself when you need it.
4) Rule With Numbers:
Assumptions are the most prominent waste of your time. When your intuitions about the world do not match how it works, you can never be efficient. The only way to combat false assumptions is to test them and follow them up with numbers. The results of a test can save you hundreds of hours if it shows a current process has no impact or suggests a faster alternative. Try to test out two or more different methods simultaneously. This can allow you to know with greater accuracy which way works best.
And finally, do not be afraid to ask for help. So far, I have talked about what you can do by yourself to stop feeling overwhelmed. But in many cases, it is worth seeking outside help too. This could be as simple as meeting or calling a friend or family member to vent. Talking about it with someone you trust can help you realise why you are overwhelmed and how you can fix it.