Category Archives: Motivation & Life Experiences

Featuring past motivational columns and new posts on life as it happens.

Getting Back On Track: Tips For Student Writers

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by Jason Martinez, Writing Consultant

Now that we’re about the midpoint of the semester, take a moment and reflect on how often the urge to stop what you are doing has overtaken you. And think of how much progress you lost because of various factors, some within your control and some outside of your control. It is perfectly natural to take breaks and stop working, and it is inevitable for most of us. Let us examine that problem a little closer to see what can be done to remedy procrastination and surrounding anxieties.

All too often, without intention to set myself back, I will stop what I am working on and lose nearly all momentum on the project. Being away from this blog for so long is an example of me feeling overwhelmed at writing, which is ironic considering my role as a Writing Consultant. But when I tell students that they are not alone in their procrastination and associated anxieties and concerns, this should serve as both confession and proof that most of us struggle to keep on top of workloads.

So, moving forward, let us take a look at some ways to regroup and get back on track when we are surrounded by that overwhelming need to stop what we are doing, letting the project get away from us.

First, it is important to remember that we are only human; we are going to get distracted and that is okay, and sometimes necessary to maintain a sense of balance.  This is a natural inclination that most of us have. However, what is not okay, and is more harmful than good is using the distraction as an excuse for not doing the work. Trust me when I say that starting and stopping is not uncommon. But if possible, do not make indulging in distractions a consistent practice.

For many of us, laziness of some variety may play a role in procrastination (spoilers: I am guilty of this), but there are also other factors like anxiety playing a role in what we often label as laziness. Anxiety that is often linked to behavior considered laziness shows that more often we are truly lazy in the sense that we do not make that first move to get started, or more importantly, to get back to work in a timely manner.

Another reason for not working effectively is perfectionism.  Perfectionism is a good excuse to be unproductive and can give a false sense of entitlement to rationalize bad habits.  So, without realizing it, these bad habits have created this delay and procrastination, further adding to a sense of fear related directly to starting or continuing work on a project.

The need to “be perfect” can allow us to nitpick every element, further setting us back and ultimately overwhelming us to the point of keeping us away from the project for too long. What should be a stopping point to reflect over the progress becomes an extended hiatus, which only re-convenes when time has run down to the point of making life harder for us. We now have to go into high gear, a gear that is usually not nearly as productive at the eleventh hour. This is when mistakes are made, details not ironed out or double-checked, and the work is substandard.

With this being stated, we now have a starting point of understanding some of the root issues with procrastination. And more importantly, there is some context as to why these behaviors can occur. What can be done to improve the situation? Here are a few ways to consider making your life and workflow process easier to handle:

  • Break the process down into smaller, digestible chunks that are not overwhelming, but will still yield positive and constructive results. This means that you might need to agree to only working at smaller increments, promising yourself to work for 10-30 minutes at a time without break. Something manageable and as free of distractions as possible.
  • After your first work sequence is complete, get up and away from your work area. Pack up your things and take a walk around campus, grab a bite to eat, call your parents or friends, go workout, or just rest. But get away from the work for at least a few minutes.
  • If you are working in such small increments of 10-30 minutes, a simple stretch and a snack will usually do the trick. If you are doing an hour or more at one time, definitely move around and get some exercise to be sure not to risk being too sedentary and the resulting health issues.
  • Come back to the work. Always come back to the work as soon as possible so that all your hard work is not lost to sluggish progress and procrastination. Staying away too long will set you back and hurt you in the end.

Being effective as a student writer means being honest about yourself and your daily habits. Be free and vulnerable to say that you are lazy at times, or are a perfectionist. But do not judge yourself. Everyone works in different ways. Embrace the imperfections that make you special. Then use those imperfections to your advantage and move forward; find positives out of perceived negatives. Being an effective student, let alone a student writer, means that you are willing to make a plan, assess that plan and its outcomes, and then execute that plan based on all that you know. Commitment to completing the project is also a requirement. The goal is to be reasonable about your outcomes and to realize that tackling a writing project is a process, not an outcome.

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Is Test Anxiety a Problem for You?

by Sabrina

Salutations, Friends!! Our Director came across a great article about student experiences with anxiety.

I wanted to share it with you all, as test anxiety is something many more people are reporting to experience. For myself, I have come to think that my test anxiety manifested in my falling asleep when I had trouble understanding material or did not know how to answer a question. Either that, or I am just always sleepy!

Check out the article here: ‘I Didn’t Know How to Ask for Help’: Stories of Students With Anxiety

Happy Writing! I hope you are all prosperous in your academic and life endeavors.

 

In the Moment Monday:The Final Push Begins Now

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In this week’s post we remember the time of the school year, as the clock ticks closer to the end of the semester, the end is near.

by Jason Martinez

This week’s video reminds us to never quit when we are so close to the finish line, figuratively, and literally in some cases. There isn’t always physical pain involved in pushing to the end, but when we don’t know where the end is, that’s the challenge. In school, we have a calendar date that notes the end of our responsibilities to show up to a specific set of classes, but that doesn’t abdicate our responsibilities to keep learning.

But, what happens when you don’t have an actual calendar date that tells you when it is okay to relax and not push yourself so much? How do you temper that level of effort so that you don’t burn out? I wish that I knew that answer because it would’ve saved me some struggles during my undergrad years.

The video’s message is not telling you to push yourself to the limits of burnout by going against your instincts of when you should stop. On the contrary, it asks you to become more aware of what your instincts are communicating to you. Become aware if you are being told to stop because you are tired and possibly becoming lazy. Or maybe you are warning yourself that there is hard work still to be done, work that asks so much more of you than ever before, and therefore you might be afraid of what could happen during that time.

This is the time to learn about yourself and your intellectual and physical boundaries. Find out how well you function on less than the recommended eight hours of sleep. See what could happen if you have to sleep less in order to produce more. But always listen to your instincts, for they will always lead you to where you should be.

The most productive student would use this time remaining to begin planning a schedule of school, work, sleep, social life, and so on. Ask your professors questions before the last day of classes leading into finals. Plan your meals, your rest, and your recharge. But at the heart of this period is your responsibility to be ready to work hard and push yourself towards success, always remembering to take care of your needs, but never using your needs as an excuse to become lazy and procrastinate.

You can do this. Watch the video and remind yourself how far you have come. It’s too late to quit. The only option is to give it all that you have, to negotiate with yourself to push those last few feet towards the finish line.

I’m Thankful for the Mistakes – Thanksgiving 2016 Meditation

In this week’s post, consider the message of the video and ask how mistakes play a role in your life narrative. *Warning: Grown-up language in the embedded video.

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by Jason Martinez

Just as the title reads – I am thankful for the mistakes that I have made in 2016.

It was during my lowest moments in a new job in a new city that I was decided to make another risky move. And although technically the new job was only a temporary placement, I quit and made moves to come back to the MFD WC as a Writing Consultant. And making that decision to be in a state of discomfort and adjustment for the next few months was the best decision that I could have made. Even if that decision was made in a moment of perceived desperation. As a result, some would see my decision as a mistake.

I saw opportunity.

When I first moved to Austin in March 2016, I made mistakes. I should have stayed with the MFD WC and commute as I am doing now. Doing so would have saved me quite a bit of money that I had saved for the transition after the move. But, while keeping the status quo of that situation would have saved me some money, I would not have experienced the discomfort of a new job that was not right for me. I would not have been forced to search deep inside to find a sense of purpose. However, that sense of purpose was right in front of me the whole time and I just needed the nudge in the right direction to find it.

In order to transform and find my sense of meaning, I had to struggle. I had to make mistakes, or at least think that I had made some mistakes, in order to be thankful for the recovery of my purpose.

During the aforementioned new job, I began to see myself as a failure. And I saw myself as a failure, not because of the decisions made to get there, rather because of an internal indicator of success. At the new job I did not see success at the end of every day. I saw x-number of entries completed daily in the system, but those figures meant nothing for me. My self perception as a failure was because I knew my strengths and purpose in life, which is to help people. In those moments at the new job I was unable to see that purpose through the haze of doubt and anxiety. Ultimately it was because  of that suffering that I made realizations for my future.

We are often programmed not to be thankful for that which sets us back or makes us doubt ourselves. But, when looking at my accomplishments and my failures, I have learned more about myself than ever before. During self audit, I focus more on my failures than my successes, not because I am a glutton for punishment, but because it makes me uncomfortable. And through that discomfort I can face aspects of myself that can be re-written to fit my current narrative. I find great pleasure and reward in helping people to communicate better through writing, and as a result, I feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of every day after working with students.

Without making some mistakes, and without feeling lost, my sense of purpose would have remained elusive until I was ready to see it.

I am thankful for my mistakes.

Are you thankful?

In the Moment Monday: Making the Pieces Fit

This week’s post is about putting it all together. Little steps. 

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by Jason F. Martinez

What is it about large projects and taking on too much at one time? Why do we often find ourselves in over our heads when trying to accomplish such tasks after we’ve waited too long?

Or maybe it’s just me…

In any case, if you should find yourself in the middle of one project, or possibly juggling multiple projects at one time, attacking the challenge with some sort of plan is key. Being able to prioritize and organize the components to be completed will usually create less stress both before and during the process. And this is a concept that many have to learn the hard way, as is the custom of all good lessons learned.

When sitting down with a student during a consultation, there is often a sense of overwhelming stress, possibly fall across their face, or perhaps I can hear it in their voice as we discuss the paper. The stress is due to several factors, and the one factor that probably takes precedence is the project’s scope.

Finally sitting town to work when the deadline is too close usually removes any confidence about the assignment and its outcomes. When this happens, most begin to panic. Panic won’t change anything, I can promise you that much. Instead, make note of the procrastination and begin planning for the next assignment. Write down what you did up to this current point of anxiety and procrastination and resolve to avoid those circumstance the next go round.

Documenting where you went wrong is the first step.But when you come across your next assignment, you should have a new plan of attack. Here is what I have done at various points in my academic career in order to have better control over my projects:

Step One – Scheduling

  • Make note of all due dates or milestones for the project(s). Use your student planner or calendar feature on your smart device or laptop to do this.
  • Annotate each entry with contact and resource info in case you should need to reach out to your professor (for assignment specific questions) or classmates (for coordination if a group project).
  • Compare the academic calendar against your work and social calendars (so to speak). This should ensure that you do not over extend yourself and commit to things that you cannot follow through with, or that will interfere with your process.

Step Two – Evaluating the Assignment or Project

  • Determine how much research your assignment may require. Make time to visit the research librarians at the library to get any assistance finding your sources and to determine the legitimacy of the research that you find.

Step Three – Engaging with the Research

  • Begin reading your research, making notes and annotations as you go along to keep track of your progress. Consider making a matrix for your research to document your process and have access to information for the future. Some information to include in the matrix (hand drawn or in an Excel spreadsheet) should be: author(s), title, year of publication, direct quotes, summary of chosen quotes, page or paragraph information, and maybe a URL or location of where you found it.
  • Depending on your learning preference, you can engage with the research you have gathered either by traditional means with printed copies, hand written notes, and use of colored pens or highlighters. Or, if you are a true student of the 21st century, you can use other digital tools, such as Adobe Reader or any other modules that can be found online.

And that’s it for this week. This may seem like it’s cut short, but there is much more to the process that requires more discussion.

Take note of this entry and look for ways to implement a more solid process for you to tackle larger assignments.

If you have the time, please take a look at this website, the Assignment Calculator, as it will help to break down the process of organizing a project. The Assignment Calculator will be covered in a future post.

As always, if you have any questions, please come see us at the MFD WC in the Academic Center for Excellence located in Library 101.