“Try to make sure that you, and those around you, are looking after yourselves”Paloma Villarreal at INSTAGRAM/paloma_kua

“How do I find the right balance between productivity and relaxing/socialising-with-long-lost-friends-finally-in-person-again time, particularly during exam term, and how can I avoid ‘burning the candle at both ends,’ and get enough sleep?”

For most of us it’s been a while since we’ve done an exam term, so finding that balance between revision and relaxation is extra tricky. The fact that there is a lot of work to be done doesn’t mean that you have to press pause on all fun, social activities. Taking some time out to go for a walk, see friends, or make a nice meal could actually help you to work more effectively. I often find that if I arrange to see people in the evening then I get much more done during the day. Knowing that at least an hour or two of my evening might be taken up pushes me to work harder so that I can feel as though I have earned that free time later. Scheduling your social life may take away some sense of spontaneity, but it is a way of being certain that you have added balance to your day. Getting into a routine is a really good way of maintaining that balance. My friends and I ritually attend Medwards brunch on a Saturday, even if we don’t manage to see much of each other during the rest of the week, we always know that we can catch up then.

“There is no ‘right’ balance, you have to discover what suits you best”

Commit to the moment

The most important thing is to give 100% of your energy to whatever you might be doing at a given moment. Maybe have your phone somewhere far away when you’re working, so that you don’t keep breaking focus to reply to a text. Similarly, you want to be able to give your friends your full attention when you see them; don’t let your mind wander back to the conclusion of that essay while you’re trying to find out how someone’s big date went last week. Commit yourself to your activities and own what you’re doing.

Don’t feel guilty for working now so that you can party later

One of the most difficult aspects of exam term is that you can’t say yes to everything. Sometimes you have to sacrifice going for that drink for the sake of your vocab, or your essay plan. Don’t let people make you feel guilty for choosing to stay in, only you know how much work you need to do and it’s your decision. In a few weeks, exams will be over and you will be back out there celebrating! All that fun to look forward to can be a good motivation to do that extra bit of revision now.

Set realistic work expectations

While you definitely should prioritise your work when you feel that you need to, don’t set outrageous expectations for yourself. I recommend coming up with a (reasonable!) list of tasks that you plan to accomplish by the end of the day. This helps to give some structure and enables you to work more efficiently, as well as allowing you to monitor the amount of work you’re doing. Leave yourself enough time to make plenty of tea, to enjoy your meals, and to get to bed at a reasonable hour. Ticking off items on your to-do list helps you to see that you’ve managed to get things done today and that you deserve a rest. Breaking your work down into these smaller tasks makes it seem much more manageable, and you may even sleep better when your mind is not constantly whirring with worries.

Take a break to do a hobby


Mountain View

The importance of taking breaks

Of course, socialising and revision are not your only alternatives. Especially after months of lockdown, going out and seeing people can feel almost as exhausting as work. If you’re not feeling up to much social interaction, then it’s important to find other ways to spend time away from your desk. This year, one of my favourite ways to take a break has been cooking. I love planning my dinners for the week and every day from about 6.30pm onwards, I find myself itching to start chopping up ingredients. One of the best things about cooking is that it forces you not to think about your work. You have to concentrate so that you don’t burn things, spill things, or just create general chaos. Cooking might not be for you, but try to find out what is. You could take a break by doing something crafty, going for a walk, painting your nails, reading a non-course-related book, taking a nap, whatever will make you feel rested and happy. Adding a couple of breaks to your day allows you to come back to work feeling refreshed and productive.

Everyone works and relaxes in completely different ways. There is no ‘right’ balance, you have to discover what suits you best, which may even vary from week to week. Try to make sure that you, and those around you, are looking after yourselves — in this frantic build up to exams it’s more important than ever.

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