As part of Stress Less Week (April 15-23), Lacey Gibson shares her personal routine to keep her stress down, grades up, and set herself up for success.
Hi there, my name is Lacey and I am a first-year student majoring in psychology and minoring in biology at Mount Royal University. I have so much to tell you about how I stay efficient and proactive while working part-time, volunteering with 4 different organizations, participating in research, maintaining a 4.0 GPA, caring for my pet, and somehow finding time to spend with my partner. Frequently, I am asked “Lacey, how do you have time for all of that?” or “how do you possibly manage?”, well I am here to share with you just how I do it!
I want to share with you how I make my to-do lists, how I organize my day, what I do for self-care, what I do if I am stressed or overwhelmed, and how I stay motivated. What I have to offer is unique because I wasn’t born like this. In grade 10, I could barely manage to keep a 70 average with little of the extracurriculars I do now. Changing my life to be more efficient and productive is how I got to where I am today.
How do I stay organized and efficient?
Mind dump list:
Two to-do lists:
- Compiled one to-do list with everything you need to do with the due dates written beside the task. I make this on the notes app on my phone.
- A second daily to-do list using the following (empty) graph template and schedule. You can make this on a blank sheet of paper daily, or you can make a digital version.
- Mornings: Urgent and important (Because mornings are when I am the most productive and motivated)
- Afternoon: important but non-urgent stuff (because I am still productive and motivated, however, less so than in the mornings)
- Evenings: Urgent, not important things like responding to emails
Note: I start with the hardest stuff first and finish with the easiest stuff. This way I maximize efficiency.
This is a piece of paper I keep beside myself when I am studying where I write all the random things that come to my mind. I know I remember things by keeping them in my mind, a phenomenon called rehearsal. Having additional, irrelevant thoughts in your mind while you are studying takes attention away from the material you are studying. Attention and performance are directly related.
- Thoughts I write include: I need to make a doctor’s appointment, I need to email this person back before I forget, I need to call my friend back.
- I will tend my Mind Dump List list after I finish my studying.
Designated study area:
When I lived with my family and couldn’t afford a designated room, I had a corner of my room where I sat on the floor and used a chair to hold my computer and a textbook to write on my lap.
- I only snack in my designated study area – no meals. Snacking is an exception because it helps with arousal (as per the arousal hypothesis of motivation)
- I try to avoid going on social media in my designated study area
- I try to avoid doing anything that isn’t studying. This is a form of associative learning which is when we link two events that occur close together in time. When I sit in my designated study area, I study. There’s no tolerance for anything else and my mind recognizes that.
Time yourself or do a time lapse of studying to stay on track .
- Hawthorne Effect – individuals will improve their behaviour if they feel like they are being watched. Try this by making a time lapse of yourself and either watch it or show it to someone you don’t want to disappoint.
How do I stay motivated and still have time for self care and stress management?
- Wake up early (I aim for 7 a.m., 8 at the latest), have breakfast, and listen to motivational rap and pop music to wake me up. Some examples include:
- Hall of Fame by the Script
- The Climb by Miley Cyrus
- Crooked Smile by J. Cole
- Glorious by Macklemore
- Touch the Sky – Kanye West
- When I study I listen to one of two playlists. (Yerkes-Dodson law – ideal performance on a task occurs when our arousal level is properly matched with the difficulty of the task. Optimal performance on difficult tasks is when arousal is low- medium, optimal performance on easy tasks is when arousal is medium to high. Music can influence arousal level. )
- If I am studying something that takes a lot of focus or that I struggle with (writing essays or problem solving chemistry questions that I don’t understand) I listen to “Peaceful Piano” a spotify playlist, Experience by Ludovico 1 hour loop, or a playlist of music in a different language (French for example) so I can’t get distracted by the lyrics.
- If I am making notes or reading a textbook that I understand or find boring, I have a custom study playlist of music that is groovy but I do not get distracted by the lyrics.
- If I am doing notes or textbook readings (stuff that I find boring) I take periodic breaks to stretch in front of a window (the sunlight on my skin makes a difference in my mood) and listen to the same music I use to wake up during the morning. If this isn’t enough to wake me up I go on a power walk to Tim Hortons and listen to happy music. Exercise can help wake you up, the sunlight can help boost your mood and its time set aside just for your mental well being.
- Lunch I set a timer for an hour. During that time I look at inspiration or tips and tricks on instagram. Inspiration usually comes in the form of nice style, reading success stories, beautiful architecture, travel, art.
- My phone is always ‘do not disturb’ with the very few close people as exceptions (my roommate and my mom for example).
- Get your sleep, at least 7 hours.
- Stretching in the sunlight
- Walks to Tim Hortons
- Taking a set amount of time for breakfast, lunch and supper. No matter how busy I am, I always take this time.
- If I am feeling overwhelmed or stressed I take a shower because the sound of the water falling is relaxing and it’s time where I can think constructively:
- There are two main constructive coping mechanisms: Emotion focused coping where you change your perception of the event and problem focused coping where you evaluate and change your actions.
- Do I have a reason to be this stressed? (emotion-focused coping) Let’s say that I have a quiz due tomorrow night worth less than 1% and I am not confident in my knowledge.
1. I still have over a day to work on my understanding.
2. It’s worth little, so in the worst case scenario I use this as a learning experience for next time.
3. The time I spent stressing on how I don’t have enough time, I could have spent learning so I was more prepared for the exam.
- What actions I am going to take to overcome my situation in the short term? (problem-focused coping).
- Moving around your to-do list to prioritize what’s stressing you out. One day I had a chemistry lab report write-up due the next day, worth 5%, and a sociology final the next day, worth 25%. I decided to prioritize my sociology final because it was worth more.
- What actions am I going to take to avoid this situation in the long term?
I should have left more emergency time for completion. Always try to get things done as soon as possible and leave as much time for emergencies.
Key idea: Just because something is due friday, it does not mean “do friday.”
- I spent time during the week going out for supper, going to sleep early, working on extracurriculars. I planned to do this work Thursday night and Friday morning; this leaves no emergency time. Try to avoid this situation as much as possible.
How do I manage my finances?
Have something to save towards.
- I am planning a trip to Paris when things go back to normal. When I find myself about to spend money on wants like clothes or eating out I ask myself “do you want this more than you want to go to Paris?” Usually the answer is no.
- TD my spend – an app through TD that allows you to track your spending.
- I can see how much I spend per category which helps me know where I need to cut my spending (eating out in my case)
- I can see how I compare to previous months (if I am spending more than usual I know I need to chill)
- Struggle meals is a free snapchat subscription which gives recipe ideas for under $2.00 a plate
- Always eat your leftovers. If you’re like me who gets bored of eating the same thing for multiple nights in a row you can look up recipes for leftovers. I turned baked chicken breasts into chicken wraps one night then soup the next.