Oh my goodness, one thing I don’t miss about being in college and graduate school is this time of year. Finals is a time that will make or break you as a student. So many final tests are worth a big chunk of your final grade and you have a million end of the semester projects due. While this time can be stressful, it’s important to prioritize self-care during this time as well. I wanted to share my best tips on how to prioritize taking care of yourself during this time.
Start Working On Finals Studying Early
Working on finals early is not a straight up self-care tip, but it is vital. The sooner you start studying for your final exams, the better. If you are thinking about procrastinating, do not do that. I know that is easier said than done, but as students, we often make things more difficult than they need to be.
I will tell you this: procrastination won’t make things easier. It won’t make you a better student to spend so many hours in the library that you burst into tears because you just want to sleep but can’t. Your diploma won’t mean more than mine just because you had to take an illegal prescription drug to stay awake to study at night. Waiting to study and then over-studying won’t make you more prepared. We have to stop thinking about these poor study habits as a rite of passage and instead as a dumb behavior.
So, start working on your tests and papers earlier. Even if you aren’t sure what will be on the test, go back to your notes and start studying them. If it’s a cumulative exam, see what you struggled with in the past and plan to tackle those ideas more now that you have a firm grasp on the class. Refresh your memory on topics you did well on in the past, just in case.
You may not know exactly how your professor will set up the final, but you can think back to what you made on past tests and understand how those tests were laid out. In April I shared my foolproof strategies for understanding your test trends. Go through that post so that you can understand where you should focus your attention for finals week so you can study more efficiently.
Schedule Big Pockets Of Down-Time
I know, I am asking you to schedule big breaks during finals week and the time leading up to it. That may not sound very smart to you, but I promise I have a reasoning.
Only taking short breaks just won’t cut the mustard when it comes to finals week (although we are about to chat about those too!) You need to take your mental health seriously and to do that, you must give yourself considerable time away from your work.
Obviously, you don’t want your entire finals week study time to be full of huge breaks, but don’t be afraid to take a couple of hours each day to yourself. Watch a movie, read a book, go to dinner with a friend, and live your life a bit. Look forward to those big breaks that you have.
When you take those big breaks, I need you to be in the moment. Don’t think about all the work that’s on your to-do list or the test that you are sure you will fail. What’s the point in taking your big break if all you do is worry about the work you could be doing?
This sense of being present goes both ways.
Not only should you be present during your breaks, but you should also be present while you are studying. So many students don't get things accomplished when they are studying because they aren't focusing. Instead, they are thinking about dinner or thinking about the boy in their class or the shopping they want to do. Studying takes so much longer when you don't focus on the task at hand. Cut out your multi-tasking and tune out social media updates. When you are studying you are studying.
This is where the Pomodoro Technique comes in.
Take Small Breaks By Using The Pomodoro Technique
If you have been following the blog for a while, you know that in the past few years I have fallen in love with the Pomodoro Technique. I loved it so much I even wrote an entire blog post singing its praises. This technique is the only thing that keeps me productive, personally, and I love it for that.
I honestly wish I knew about the technique when I was in college. I think I would have been 10x more productive had I been using this method of focusing. I often get distracted, but the Pomodoro technique helps me stay focused by giving me dedicated time to slack off, check social media, and romp around my room.
I use the Focus Keeper app to help me stay productive. I recently upgraded to the paid version of Focus Keeper which was around $1.99 for a lifetime. I love the premium version because I can change a lot of aspects of my Pomodoro experience. For example, while I am working I have my app play rain sounds, when I am on my short breaks it plays Beyonce’s Formation, and then when I am on my long break it is completely silent which helps me take a quick power nap or eat a quick snack while watching a YouTube video.
When you use the Pomodoro technique, it is imperative that you have something to do. I suggest creating a quick to-do list of tasks that you need to get done before you start your first timed session. The technique only works if you do, but if you take it seriously and do what it tells you to do, you can make some major moves during your sessions.
Skip The All-Nighters And Create Better Sleep Habits
As I stated earlier, all-nighters and other dangerous finals week habits shouldn’t be a rite of passage. These types of activities are dangerous for you and your body, and they shouldn’t be praised.
It is crucial that you take rest seriously during this time of year because a well-rested body will tackle the day so much better than a sleepy one will. You will get more done, be more quick-witted throughout the day, and be able to think more critically about tests you are taking. Yes, you may miss out on a few hours of studying by going to bed, but you will be way more mentally sharp due to the hours of sleep you didn’t miss.
I am hopeful that if you start studying earlier and if you utilize the Pomodoro technique you will be able to study more effectively and efficiently without the need to pull all-nighters in college (or at least not as many all-nighters in college.)
Think About What Pain You Are Willing To Endure For Your Goals
I am currently reading a great book by Mark Manson called The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A Fuck. In this book, Mark states, “What determines success isn’t, ‘what do you want to enjoy?’ The relevant question is, ‘What pain do you want to sustain?’ The path to happiness is a path full of shit-heaps and shame.”
This passage is a MAJOR truth bomb, y’all.
You can spend all your life trying to balance self-care and taking care of yourself during finals week and any other week of school. Yes, taking time for yourself is important, but at the end of the day, a break here or there to watch a movie is only going to be a small solace during finals week. Taking more breaks during finals week won’t be the answer to all your problems. So, when you take these breaks, be smart about it.
Smart breaks will help keep you refreshed during finals week, but finals week itself isn’t a unicorn and rainbows factory. Getting through all of this will make you become a better student, and it will help you prepare for life later. How you prepare for and react to finals week will have an impact on how you continue to respond to finals week and other life issues.
I hope that the article I shared today will make you think about how you can see finals week in a different light. More than anything, I hope that you will learn how to tackle finals week head on. I also hope that I get across the point that finals week is hard, and it is hard for a reason.
Once you get through this week, though, Winter Break will be here, and you can prepare to do the same thing next spring. Over time, though, this all becomes easier for you. You will get better at managing your time during finals week and prioritizing your self-care during finals week. This gets better, but you must focus and get through the current rough patch.
Finals week is soon approaching, and I have the utmost confidence in your ability to succeed. I hope that this article will help you consider what you are willing to do to get to what you want in life. Finals week is an obstacle, but if you have your goal in mind, it shouldn’t be an issue. Focus on being in tune with yourself and getting stuff done because with that focus comes a great reward.