opinionDecember 4, 2022
Heyyy, everybody!! Well, it’s officially ~that~ time of the semester. I don’t think I’m alone when I say I feel like I have negative time to finish all of my assignments, projects and studying.
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Graphic by Emma Kratky

Heyyy, everybody!!

Well, it’s officially ~that~ time of the semester. I don’t think I’m alone when I say I feel like I have negative time to finish all of my assignments, projects and studying.

I also don’t think I’m alone in saying I often struggle with productivity and staying on top of everything I need to do. It seems the busier I get, the more I procrastinate and the more assignments and tasks start slipping through the cracks.

If you’ve ever felt this way, you’re not alone. In fact, there’s a name for this feeling: executive dysfunction.

According to a Wikipedia article, executive dysfunction describes a disruption in task-oriented behavior, which includes things like goal formation, planning and attention. The article says, “executive dysfunction does occur to a minor degree in all individuals on both short-term and long-term scales,” so if this description resonates with you, you are so, so not alone!

In my experience, executive function (and dysfunction) is a lot easier to manage when you recognize your own limits and shortcomings, and work with your brain, not against it. To help you brainstorm, here’s a list of my best advice to combat executive dysfunction and finish your semester strong!

For me, one of the hardest parts of being productive is knowing where to start. It has been IMMENSELY helpful for me to keep a “brain dump notebook,” a place where I collect my thoughts and write out everything I need to do in a certain period of time (usually on a daily and weekly basis). After I write out my tasks, I plan out approximately how long each one will take and make a prioritized list, so I know exactly what I have to get done and at what pace.

Along similar lines, if you struggle with remembering small day-to-day tasks like taking out the trash (or if you’re like me, even things as simple as showering sometimes), it is so helpful to create a notes app reminder as soon as you think of something you want or need to do, and not clear the reminder from your lock screen until you do the task.

If reminders aren’t enough, something which also helps me is creating a buddy system for doing tasks you’d rather avoid. One of my best friends and I have both been saying we’ll get tickets to the River Campus’s production of Carrie for about a week, and we finally did today, after making a mutual commitment to get them.

It’s important to eat regular, healthy meals for your brain to function at its best. When you’re busy (especially for those who live off campus and don’t have a meal plan), this is often a LOT easier said than done. Preparing meals in advance and/or having an easy to prepare, go-to meal and always keeping the ingredients on hand makes it way easier to stay well-fed in a busy season.

For me, this usually looks like a sandwich, or even cheese, crackers and lunch meat. When eating is simple and easy, life is so much better. Also… make sure to keep granola bars or small snacks in your backpack! There’s nothing worse than having to end a library study sesh early just because you’re hungry.

Something else which has helped me immensely is figuring out what times of the day I’m most productive, and scheduling my work and activities around that. For example, I somehow (don’t ask me how, it’s weird for me too) have a burst of energy first thing in the morning. So recently, I’ve been going to the gym in the morning pretty frequently — cardio gives me a much-needed mental health and productivity boost.

When you are studying or doing work, pay attention to the specific conditions that are most conducive to getting work done, and do your best to replicate them. For me, this usually involves sitting at a very specific desk at the library and listening to music I don’t have to think about. Doing my best to avoid situations and places where I know I won’t get much work done has radically changed my productivity level.

Lastly… GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK!!! Point me to one person who works at their best capacity while extremely burnt out, and I will tell you you’re lying.

Schedule at least two hours a day (or however many you need) to do things YOU want to do, and make sure you aren’t just mindlessly social media scrolling (although that can be a nice treat from time to time). In my opinion, you are never too busy for some kind of work-life balance, and the work you do will be more productive if you live a rich, varied life you actually enjoy.

One last thing, for real this time. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep! I know that’s the oldest advice in the book, but when I don’t get enough sleep, I am SO much less productive and mentally present.

Anyway… I love you guys, and really do believe in you. Only a few weeks left. You got this!! :)

This column was written as a part of an honors project for my abnormal psychology class. If you enjoyed it, there’s one more column to come! I’m planning on writing about positive psychology and how to live your happiest, most fulfilled life. Catch ya on the flip!

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