Managing Pressure: The NITT Edition
“Come on, Jai! Get up. It is already 8 a.m.” The voice appears to be familiar, but my eyelids seem to be saddled with a hefty weight, and I feel an unwonted sickness right at the start of the day! There is a class at 8:30 a.m. during which I have to submit the assignment, for which I had sacrificed sleep last night. Without wasting much time on the morning necessities, I pack my bag and rush directly to my bicycle.
Swoosh! Goes the tire of my bicycle. How will I reach the class on time? Suddenly the thoughts of being late and failing to submit this major assignment start rushing my mind. Taking a deep breath, I park my bicycle and start running for the class. It is already 8:40. I am losing hope. I feel like the dinner from the previous night is somewhere still being churned in my stomach. I reach the class only to see the door closed. It is already 8:55.
Too exasperated, I am waiting for the session to end.
“Sir, may I submit my work, please?” His eyebrows twitch a little. I gulp down slowly. He hates it when the students are late in class. I am doomed.
“You may submit. What is your roll number?” Is he going to mark negative for my number since I am late? Uncomfortable thoughts start to swirl inside me.
“Sir, my roll number is 111843”. I open my bag and take out the file. Woe is me. The file has everything I need today but an assignment. I have left it in the room. “Sir, I think I left it in the room.” I can see the transition of expressions on my professor’s face. Still, my mind is incapable of processing anything.
“Hey buddy, have you completed the last unit?” asks Hari.
“What about it?”
“Duh chemistry, the phase rule.”
“What is with chemistry right now? We don’t have a class for chemistry today, right?”
“But we have a test in the evening. Now don’t tell me that you don’t remember, and why did you miss the first class?”
Bang! I could feel the sudden darkness in front of my eyes. Why can’t I remember? I have already failed a subject in the previous semester. Is it going to be the same this semester?
I start feeling difficulty in breathing. My legs cannot carry me anymore. I can see the lights, but there appears total darkness, and I want to sleep. I am slowly going to sleep. I feel relaxed now.
Jai was a talented student who always managed to do well in school, be it in academics or in extracurricular activities. As he entered college, however, he started to find it difficult to balance his academics with the plethora of activities that he eagerly signed up for.
What was the reason behind his struggle? Was it difficult for him to adjust to the new college atmosphere or was it his sheer negligence?
When students enter university, they bring in heavy expectations, culture, and mindset with their dreams. If the university’s demands and values contradict the expectations of a student, there comes a disbalance. Every student can have a different reaction to the same situation.
Imagine a situation where three people are holding a glass full of water each. The first one has a mug for 2 minutes, the second one for 2 hours, and the third person for 24 hours. The impact of carrying the glass differs a lot in the three cases. The first one might not feel anything, the second might feel a little painful, but it can be traumatizing for the third. That is how we hold problems in our minds. The time we give on thinking, analyzing, or regretting about a situation differs from person to person and varies the impact.
Deadline pressure in universities: How is it different from usual?
A student might already have issues in various aspects of life, including family, relationships, academics, pocket-money — the list goes on. When they are exposed to the eternal cycle of challenges every day and try to run with the clock and keep things in control, evils like procrastination, thoughts of loneliness, depression, and envious feelings among friends due to jealousy or distraction make things worse.
A question paper with tough questions and a time limit of two days makes it much less stressful than a more straightforward assignment given a time limit of 2 hours. This example tells us how time plays a significant role in increasing stress among students.
Eysenck and Calvo (1992) developed the processing efficiency theory. The theory concluded that high test-anxious people tend to focus more on pressure and anxiety than low test-anxious people, which directly decreases their efficiency and productivity.
Why people are only ‘all talks but no action’
When it is tough to achieve something, our mind tries to find shortcuts for its satisfaction. Imagine a situation in which you have an exam scheduled in a week. Your friend asks you about how you are going to prepare for it. You tell them that you will complete one lesson a day each day and have enough time to revise everything you studied in the week. (You said you will start today, but will you?)
In this situation, you have comforted yourself that the problem is under control, and little effort each day will pay in the end. But due to this short-term satisfaction, you forget the seriousness of the planning, and you pass a few days without actually executing it. Now you have just half the time left. You double your goal for each day. Owing to your fundamental nature, you forget to perform it again for a day. (Now this brings some real stress!)
In some cases, short-term satisfaction will enhance your chance of desiring more and make you work hard, but in most cases, it relaxes our mind, and we tend to take things less seriously.
What is habitually being done and what goes wrong?
With the impulsive motivation that we get at a particular instant to chucking it off the next, some people have never jumped away from the mediocre everyday life they have lived. And we have all been there, trying to set up timetables, shutting off the phones, pulling off an all-nighter, and cramming ourselves to study. But the practical question is, did it work? Or did we learn from it and try something different?
Looking at your schedule might give you a panic attack and switch off your brain. So you start looking at time management tricks. But it all begins with a magical and hopeful tone. It might even work for a few days, but the magic fades after some time, and it only stops working. It only ends up leaving you more anxious and troubled than before. So you look for another technique and give in your everything. The result? We conveniently manage to pressurize ourselves and withdraw from any more attempts.
All of us must have felt guilty at some point in our lives for admitting that we did not have sufficient time. But what we fail to realize is that everyone has the same 24 hours in a day. Some people get the most out of it because they’ve admitted there’s a problem and did something to change their approach.
One Size Does Not Fit All
It is ridiculous to say that two people are the same because they share a common opinion. The fact might be the same, but the context is not. Similarly, what works for one need not for the other. It would be best to analyze what works most efficiently for you and make adjustments when necessary. Many popular techniques that have been developed were in the best interests of those who need not have the same reasoning as you, and feeling sorry for not being able to fit into them is fallacious.
Remember, one size does not fit all.
Ultradian Cycle — Personal Productive Period
We all follow the universal cycle of 24 hours internally. Studies suggest that we also follow 90-minute cycles within, each of which consists of a peak and trough in productivity. These are termed the ultradian cycles. But the question arises, how do we find our productive time?
A possible way of doing so is to work in cycles of 90 minutes and check the time of the day when our output maximizes. You can still work for longer hours rather than just 90 minutes. But your brain and body will end up slowing down, and your productivity only decreases. The best way is to take breaks every 90 minutes, and use those 90 minutes to relax, collect data, make plans for the next cycle to maximize your work.
From being the president of his college to serving as a general in the US army and further growing up to the rank of the supreme commander during WW2 before serving as the 34th president of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower lived a positively productive life. (Phew!)
He had an incredible knack for maintaining his productivity. Thus, it is of no surprise that he developed a decision-making model by prioritizing urgency and importance.
When a task is done once, it can seem easy, but it can be challenging when performed continuously. The Eisenhower matrix helps us to separate these differences when work has to be completed time and again.
Understanding the difference between urgent and important helps us extensively plan our course. Urgent tasks are those that require your immediate reaction (DO IT NOW!). Important tasks contribute to your long-term goals that involve your ambitions and preferences.
Eisenhower’s strategy for productive decision-making is self-explanatory. Using the decision matrix, you will be able to separate your activities into four sections. You can even apply it right now as you read, and the prominent trait about it is you can have short-term plans and long-term goals.
Do — urgent and important.
Schedule — important but not urgent
Delegate — urgent but not important
Eliminate — neither urgent nor important
Ask yourself — “What should I do tonight?” or “What requires my attention this week?” and pitch it down following the matrix. You cut out a lot of pressure and save time. It is that simple! Following the method for a prolonged period yields results; a week and a half will not make you thrive.
Eat That Frog
Yes, literally. What could be the worst thing that could happen to you in a day if the first thing you were to do every morning was to eat a live frog? You can go about your day with the satisfaction that the most demanding task was over. Increasing productivity involves tackling the most challenging problem first. Your frog is the most crucial task that you should not procrastinate, no matter what.
‘I wish it worked that way but I have multiple tasks to accomplish, and this doesn’t apply.’ Great, you now have two frogs! Eat the uglier one first. Start with the most significant and challenging task. Successful people jump early into their responsibilities and complete them with substantial commitment. You’ll be amazed how starting slowly and consistently can lead to meaningful accomplishments in the long run.
Glass Jar Theory
This theory is a beautiful metaphor for how we wish to work on our tasks. The analogy goes like this: Imagine an empty glass jar, some rocks, pebbles, and sand placed in front of you. The jar represents the time you have. The rocks refer to the critical tasks that you have. The pebbles are less essential, and sand grains are the tasks worthy of a second thought or elimination. To fill the jar (to be the most efficient with your time), it would be wise to add the rocks first (important tasks) followed by the pebbles (less essential tasks) and you’ll find just enough space for the sand grains. Ensuring that the big and important tasks are done first enables ample time for the unimportant ones and the leisure ones to follow.
Pomodoro means tomato in Italian. More appetizing than a frog, it might sound; this technique might be the most relevant to students. It was introduced by a university student who used a tomato timer. It involves focusing on a task for 25 minutes and then taking a 5-minute short break. The break helps in relaxing your mind and also improving concentration. Avoiding tech and being with nature helps in replenishing the drive for the next 25-minute session. This technique highly encourages you to complete a task within a time limit and works if your to-study list grows faster than your snap streak. (No, seriously)
It is also referred to as the ‘80–20 rule’. It affirms that 80% of the output results from 20% of the effort that is given as input. In this rule, 20% of the input that results in the best outcome needs to be prioritized. Even though not qualified as a hard and fast rule or not as standard as the other theories, sometimes the simplest things can move mountains. Stepping back and analyzing where you are going wrong and what is to be done efficiently could lead to the desired results.
Learn to say NO
One major challenge that most people fail to overcome is saying NO. We fear that we would face rejection if we do not stand on the same page as the other person, which is normal. Saying yes, even if it means distress for you, was taught to be polite. Saying ‘YES’ even when ‘NO NO NO’ keeps running on your mind only makes your life stressful and dependent on others. Sadly, feelings such as guilt, embarrassment, or humiliation have been associated with saying NO that an individual’s value is forgotten.
Living a life pleasing others will never make an individual happy or peaceful. It is only by saying NO that you can concentrate on things that are valuable to you. Saying NO does not make you a difficult person. There is no need for an excuse or a lie; neither do you owe a justification. A simple NO would do. Learn to be polite but firm in your stance. Saying NO can turn out to be one of the best decisions, and you can finally feel in control over your life.
When doubt sets in, think about how trapped you felt when you said YES. Wouldn’t it have been easier and straightforward to say NO in the first place?
Don’t bite more than what you can chew
Thinking you can manage more than what is possible is overextending yourself. Regardless of individual potential, don’t get pulled in all directions and spread yourself too thin. A part of this is correlated with saying NO. Only when you value yourself will you be able to achieve what you are after. It pertains to an individual’s study goals and breaking them into smaller fragments helps attain the goal steadily every day. Trying to jam everything at the end does no good; it only makes you forget what you already know. If it took your body many years from birth in attaining your current physical form, don’t demand your subconscious to be ready to take in everything a day before.
The brain hates overfeeding.
Start early, exercise
Of all the harms this advanced digital world has given us, sleep deprivation is somewhat less recognized. Waking up to nature’s pleasant sounds after a good sleep has become something of the past now and seems to be fast disappearing. Physical activity among the youth is absent, and the term ‘exercise’ seems much of a chore than a necessity. The growth of digital games has cut down physical sport from the youth. In short, the emergence of insecurity and distrust in oneself among the youth can directly be attributed to physical inactivity.
Exercising has a multitude of benefits that need no explanation. Meditation benefits the body and provides serenity for the mind, just right for a proper study session. It helps you think, remember better, all the while making you calmer and happier. The problem with the current generation is, if a task isn’t enjoyable, it is dismissed. Planning regular exercise at reasonable intervals instead of sitting in front of a device helps maintain focus. The good news is that there are tons of different sports activities that are fun and associated with exercising. The next time you feel like taking a break, go on a jog, swing your arms, and breathe in some fresh air. (Don’t worry, no one cares how tired you are from your Instagram story!)
Recollect that you aren’t going to feel the effects magically after a day or two. It will sink in slowly without you even recognizing how productive you have become within a short extent of time. Take advantage of all the resources available around you. For all of its disfavors nevertheless, modern technology is also commendable. From planning for the long term to the small reminders for the day, all that matters is how thoroughly you utilize and build on a skill that balances college, career and life all the same.