As graduate students, you have to prepare for your courses, work on your research, and fulfill your teaching responsibilities. You may also need to spend time with your spouse/partner, children, family members, and friends. What about regular, daily household chores such as cooking, cleaning, budgeting, and grocery shopping? On top of all the academic, relational, and (mundane) personal tasks that I just mentioned, don’t forget that you need to carve time for self-care. So, exercise regularly, get your 7-8 hours of sleep every night, and enjoy recreational activities from time to time.
Overwhelmed much? Well, I certainly am. Here are five tips on how to handle feeling overwhelmed from Brigid Schulte’s Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has The Time:
Tip #1: Prioritize important tasks
Think about what you really want in life. An easy way to do this is to shorten your time horizon. How would you spend your day if you only have a year to live? A month, week, or day? Figure out what’s most important to you. Schedule time for tasks associated to this important goal first before anything else.
Tip #2: Set clear parameters and performance measures
Ambiguity is the enemy in the workplace that fuels the overwhelm. Determine what is good enough and determine how will you know if it is good enough. In other words, you should know when you have completed a task or reached a goal, and you should be able to stop. Evaluate your status regularly, and adjust your parameters accordingly. Remember to communicate your parameters to appropriate stakeholders – advisor, committee members, spouse/partner, etc.
Tip #3: Set clear boundaries for your time
Clearly divide your time into different areas of your life, especially between work and home. For example, set your schedule to working on your thesis/dissertation from 9 am to 12 noon today. Do not think about household chores (or anything else) during this block of time.
Also, do not multi-task because multi-tasking is inefficient and leads to being overwhelmed. Specify your task as much as possible. For example, during the 3 hours that I’m working on my thesis/dissertation today, I will revise my literature review and methods section based on the feedback I received from my advisor, committee members, and faculty members.
Tip #4: Pulsate between work and break sessions
According to Schulte, we work best when we pulsate between intense work and breaks. The intense work is 90 minutes at most. Also, take into account that knowledge workers can only work up to 6 hours per day. Anything more than 90 minutes of intense work (without any respite) or 6 hours per day will make us dull (i.e. reduce our creativity and problem solving capabilities) as well as make us prone to making mistakes.
Tip #5: Get support from those around you
Share your household workload with your roommate or spouse. Teach your children to do household chores that are appropriate for their age – this will also teach them responsibility. Share your feelings (of being overwhelmed) with good friends; at the very least, it will provide a cathartic release. Attend Expanding Horizon workshops organized by the School of Graduate Studies that can give you relevant skills to handle feeling overwhelmed. These workshops include: Managing Time, Approaches to Work-life Balance, and Managing Stress.
As a side note, I attended the Managing Time workshop this past September, and it was definitely worth my time. I found several tips to be useful in scheduling my days. Setting a better schedule helps reduce my feeling of being overwhelmed.
You may also find tips related to feeling overwhelmed in previous Gradifying posts:
- Three Strategies to Alleviate Stress by Umair Majid
- On The Weekend Effect by Eruani Zainuddin
- On Finding a Work-Life Balance in Graduate School by Rachel Wayne
Do you have tips that you’d like to share on how to handle feeling overwhelmed? Share your thoughts with Gradifying in the comments section below.