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8 Unrealistic Expectations Students Always Have Before Exams

8 Unrealistic Expectations Students Always Have Before Exams

With exam season fast upon us students of all ages are preparing for exams. No matter what age we are, we tend to fall into the same traps every time, setting unrealistic expectations for ourselves whether we are taking our first school exams or university finals. Here is a look at our repeated expectations versus the reality:

I will develop a love of learning.

Especially as we get further through our education, we keep waiting for that moment when it stops feeling like hard work because we just love the learning so much. Our passion for our subject drives us to burn the candle at both ends. We forget to eat, drink or breath because our love of imaginary numbers or Renaissance art makes us so giddy. Except it doesn’t happen, does it? And yet again, revision feels like a chore. I’m pretty sure it’s possible to drive the love out of absolutely anything by putting an exam at the end of it. How to get over it: Don’t wait for your love of your subject to ensure you rack up the hours needed to develop the skills, understanding and knowledge needed to pass your exams. Sadly the only way forward is sheer hard work. It doesn’t mean you’ll never enjoy it; it’s just natural not to enjoy the prospect of rote learning and exam halls.

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I will understand everything.

Even if we don’t love them, we expect to understand our subjects in the run up to exams. We’ve paid attention, we’ve completed all our assignments and even made some pretty intelligent contributions in class–yet we find ourselves staring at our textbooks and class notes utterly bemused. How to get over it: Prioritise your revision. It can be tempting to keep covering the topics that we do understand. This makes us feel good, but our time might be better invested brushing up on some of the trickier areas. Take time to learn good sources of additional support for the moments when problems seem intractable. Are there any good websites or are teachers/lecturers on hand for revision queries? It can also help to revise with friends. Challenging yourself to teach a topic to a friend is a great way to test and expand your understanding, and sometimes friends will have a different take on things that will help a difficult concept click for you.

I will write the perfect revision timetable.

There is no such thing as the perfect revision timetable, but we can often fall into the trap of spending hours painstakingly crafting a colour-coded timetable which accounts for every single minute of the day. How to get over it: The best revision timetable is a flexible one. Make sure you don’t overdo your revision for your earlier exams at the expense of the later exams and be ready to adapt your revision timetable as you go if you are working more or less quickly than you’d hoped. The best revision timetable isn’t the one that wins a prize for presentation, but one that helps you feel confident you will be able to get to an adequate understanding of all your subjects before you enter the exam hall.

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I will revise long before exams.

No cramming for me. No, I’m going to start revising months and months before and take it slow and steady. Slow…yes…steady…not so much… and now there’s no time and so much to do and…ARGH! How to get over it: It’s reassuring to know that this is a situation that almost every student has found themselves in repeatedly. Take time to carefully prioritise and make the best use of the time that you do have. It’s never too late to start.

My hard work will pay off when I enter my exams feeling cool as a cucumber.

So we get it together (albeit a bit later than planned) and manage to get in some quality revision. And we’re ready. So we should exude quiet confidence as we approach the exam hall. Except we don’t, do we? Even the most perfectly prepared student’s heart does a double backflip as the exam hall doors loom. How to get over it: Learn a few tricks to help your body relax and calm down, such as breathing skills and mindfulness.

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I will look after my physical health.

We know that we’ll do better in our exams if we’ve been getting enough sleep, eating well and getting some exercise and we keep meaning to make a start on healthy living, only suddenly it’s exam time and we’ve eaten nothing but junk for six weeks and can’t remember the last time we ventured outside or slept for more than three hours straight. How to get over it: Try to make it as easy as possible to be a little kinder to yourself. Set yourself a bedtime. Get up time and try to stick to it–you’ll sleep better if you have a set routine, and you’ll revise better and retain more if you are well rested. Make healthy snacks available rather than junk and build revision breaks into your timetable–use these to step right away from your work. A walk around the block is a great way to get a little exercise and reinvigorate your tired grey matter.

My final exam will finish with a flourish and fanfare.

The countdown to the moment we walk out of our final exam starts way before we walk into our first exam. It seems like it should be a moment when the world stops spinning and everyone pauses momentarily to congratulate us on a job well done. Except that’s not how it works. Everyone else is kind of busy and our last exam just isn’t as big of a deal to the rest of the world as it is to us. Besides, we’re so exhausted that even if there were fireworks and fanfares we would be too busy lying in a darkened room to appreciate them. How to get over it: Plan how you will mark the end of your exams so you have something to look forward to. But make sure you build in a little rest and relaxation time before any crazy partying commences or you may just find yourself partying straight to your first early night in six weeks.

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I will fail completely.

Exams are over, and you’re waiting for the results. You’ve spoken to everyone else about what answers they put and are consequently convinced you got pretty much every question in every exam wrong. You’re sure you failed and you dread your results. How to get over it: Generally speaking, this is an irrational fear. If you’ve prepared well, you’re unlikely to fail. Dissecting your answers post exam isn’t helpful and just acts to raise your anxiety levels. Start focusing on the next exam as you walk out of the last rather than picking it apart. And once the last exam is over, enjoy your freedom. If failure is a genuine possibility, have a think about what your next steps should be prior to picking up your results. You’ll feel less stressed and more in control if you have an action plan you can follow. Whatever exams you’re preparing for, good luck. And remember, you can only do your best.

Featured photo credit: Jeff Sheldon via download.unsplash.com

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Published on January 16, 2019

How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

We’re all busy, but sometimes we go through periods where the work piles up and it seems like it might never end.

You might have such a heavy workload that it feels too intimidating to even start.

You may have said yes to some or too many projects, and now you’re afraid you won’t be able to deliver.

That’s when you need to take a step back, take a deep breath, and start looking at what’s working and what’s not working.

Here’re 13 strategies you can use to get out from under your overwhelming workload:

1. Acknowledge You Can’t Do It All

Many of us have a tendency to think we can do more than we actually can. We take on more and more projects and responsibility and wear numerous hats.

We all have the opportunity to have and take on more work than we can reasonably expect to get done. Unfortunately, our workload is not static. Even now, while you are reading this article, I’m guessing that your inbox is filling up with fresh new tasks.

To make real, effective progress, you have to have both the courage and resourcefulness to say, “This is not working”. Acknowledge that you can’t do it all and look for better solutions.

At any given time in your life, there are likely many things that aren’t going according to plan. You have to be willing to be honest with yourself and those around you about what’s not working for you, both personally and professionally.

The more you exercise your ability to tell the truth about what’s working and what’s not working, the faster you’ll make progress.

2. Focus on Your Unique Strengths

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a leader or working as part of a team, every individual has unique strengths they can bring to the table.

The challenge is that many people end up doing things that they’re simply not very good at.

In the pursuit of reaching your goals or delivering a project, people end up doing everything themselves or taking on things that don’t play to their unique strengths. This can result in frustration, overwhelm and overwork.

It can mean projects taking a lot longer to complete because of knowledge gaps, or simply not utilizing the unique strengths of other people you work with.

It is often not about how to complete this project more effectively but who can help deliver this project.

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So, what are your unique strengths that will ensure your workload is delivered more effectively? Here’re some questions to help you reflect:

  • Are you a great strategist?
  • Are you an effective planner?
  • Is Project Management your strength?
  • Is communication and bringing people together your strength?
  • Are you the ideas person?
  • Is Implementation your strength?

Think about how you can bring the biggest value to your work and the projects you undertake.

3. Use the Strengths of Your Team

One of the simplest ways to manage your workload effectively is to free up your time so you bring your highest level of energy, focus and strengths to each project.

Delegation or better teamwork is the solution.

Everyone has unique strengths. It’s essential to think teamwork rather than working in isolation to ensure projects can be completed effectively. Besides, every time you give away a task or project that doesn’t play to your unique strengths, you open up an opportunity to do something you’re more talented at. This will empower both yourself and those around you.

Rather than taking on all the responsibilities yourself, look at who you can work with to deliver the best results possible.

4. Take Time for Planning

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe”. – Abraham Lincoln

One hour of effective planning could save hours of time. Rather than just rushing in and getting started on projects, take the time to map everything in.

You can take the time to think about:

  • What’s the purpose of the project?
  • How Important is it?
  • When does it need to be delivered by?
  • What is the best result and worst result for this project?
  • What are the KPIs?
  • What does the project plan and key milestones look like?
  • Who is working on this project?
  • What is everyone’s responsibilities?
  • What tolerances can I add in?
  • What are the review stages?
  • What are the challenges we may face and the solutions for these challenges?

Having absolute clarity on the project, the project deliverables and the result you want can save a lot of time. It also gets you clear on the priorities and timelines, so you can block out the required amount of time to focus and concentrate.

5. Focus on Priorities

Not everything is a priority, although it can often feel, in the moment, that it is.

Whatever you’re working on, there is always the Most Urgent, Important or Most Valuable projects or tasks.

One tool you can use to maximize your productivity and focus on your biggest priorities is to use the Eisenhower Matrix. This strategic tool for taking action on the things that matter most is simple. You separate your actions based on four possibilities:

  1. Urgent and important (tasks you will do immediately).
  2. Important, but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later).
  3. Urgent, but not important (tasks you will delegate to someone else).
  4. Neither urgent nor important (tasks that you will eliminate).

James Clear has a great description on how to use the Eisenhower Matrix: How to be More Productive By Using the Eisenhower Box

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    The method I use with my coaching clients is to ask them to lay out their Top Five priorities for the day. Then to start with the most important priority first. At the end of the day, you review performance against these priorities.

    If you didn’t get everything accomplished, start the next day with your number one priority.

    If you are given additional task/projects during the day, then you will need to gauge their importance V the other priorities.

    6. Take Time Out

    To stay on top of a heavy workload, it’s important to take time out to rest and recuperate.

    If your energy levels are high and your mind and body is refreshed and alert, you are in more of a peak state to handle a heavy workload.

    Take time out of your day to go for a walk or get some exercise in. Leave early when possible and spend time with people who give you a lot of energy.

    In the background, it’s essential to get a good night’s sleep and eat healthily to sharpen the mind.

    Take a look at this article learn about The Importance of Scheduling Downtime.

    7. Maintain a Healthy Work-Life Balance

    Maintaining a healthy work-life balance can be tough. The balance we all crave is very different from one another.

    I’ve written before about 13 Work Life Balance Tips for a Happy and Productive Life. Working longer and harder doesn’t mean achieving more, especially if you have no time to spend with the people that matter most. The quality of who you are as a person, the relationships you have, the time you spend in work, deciding on what matters most is completely within your control.

    Work-life balance is about finding peace within yourself to be fully present, wherever you are, whether that be in the office or at home, right now. It’s about choosing what matters most and creating your own balanced life.

    If you feel there is not enough balance, then it may be time to make a change.

    8. Stop Multitasking

    Multi-tasking is a myth. Your brain simply can’t work effectively by doing more than one thing at a time—at least more than one thing that requires focused attention.

    So get your list of priorities (see earlier point), do the most important thing first, then move to the next item and work down your list.

    When you split your focus over a multitude of different areas, you can’t consistently deliver a high performance. You won’t be fully present on the one task or project at hand.

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    If you allocate blocked time and create firm boundaries for specific activities and commitments, you won’t feel so overwhelmed or overworked with everything you have to do.

    9. Work in Blocks of Time

    To keep your energy up to produce your best results it’s essential to take regular breaks.

    I use the 60-60-30 method myself and teach it to my coaching clients.

    Work on a project for a sustained period of 50 minutes.

    Then take a 10-minute break. This could be taking a walk, having a healthy snack or just having a conversation with someone.

    Then continue to work on the project for a further 50 minutes.

    Then take another 10-minute break.

    Then take a complete 30-minute break to unplug from the work. This could be time for a proper lunch, a quick bit of exercise, reading or having a walk.

    By simply taking some time out, your energy levels stay up, the quality of your work improves and you reduce the risk of becoming burned out.

    10. Get Rid of Distractions

    Make an estimation on how many times you are distracted during an average working day. Now take that number and multiply it by 25. According to Gloria Mark in her study on The Cost of Interrupted Work, it takes us an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to return to the original task after interruption.[1]

    “Our research has shown that attention distraction can lead to higher stress, a bad mood and lower productivity.”

    Distractions don’t just take up your time during the distraction, they can derail your mental progress and focus for almost 25 minutes. So, if you are distracted 5 times per day, you could be losing almost 2 hours every day of productive work and almost 10 hours every week.

    If you have an important project to work on, find a space where you won’t be distracted, or try doing this.

    11. Commit Focused Time to Smaller Tasks

    You know sometimes, you need to simply tackle these tasks and take action on them. But there’s always something more pressing.

    Small tasks can often get in the way of your most important projects. They sit there on your daily To Do list but are often forgotten about because of more important priorities or because they hold no interest for you. But they take up mental energy. They clutter your mind.

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    Commit to spending a specific period of time completing all the small tasks you have on your To Do list. It will give you peace of mind and the space to focus more on your bigger priorities.

    12. Take a Time Audit

    Do you know exactly where your time is going each day? Are you spending too long on certain projects and tasks to the detriment of bigger opportunities?

    Spend a bit of time to analyze where you are spending your time. This insight will amaze you and give you the clarity to start adjusting where you focus your time and on what projects.

    You can start by taking a piece of paper and creating three columns:

    Column A is Priority Work. Column B is Good Work. Column C is low value work or stuff.

    Each day, write down the project or task and the time spent on each. Allocate that time to one of the columns.

    At the end of the week, record the total time spent in each column.

    If you are spending far too much time on certain types of work, look to change things so your focused time is in Column B and C.

    13. Protect Your Confidence

    It is essential to protect our confidence to ensure we don’t get overwhelmed, stressed and lose belief.

    When you have confidence as a daily resource, you are in a better position to problem solve, learn quicker, respond to anything, adjust to anything, and achieve your biggest opportunities.

    Confidence gives you the ability to transform fear into focused and relaxed thinking, communication, and action. This is key to put your mind into a productive state.

    When confidence is high, you can clearly see the possibilities at hand and create strategies to take advantage of them, or to solve the challenges you face each day.

    Final Words

    A heavy workload can be tough to deal with and can cause stress, burnout and ongoing frustration.

    The key is to tackle it head on, rather than let it go on and compound the long-term effects. Hopefully, you can take action on at least one of these tips.

    If it gets too much, and negatively affects your physical and mental health, it may be time to talk to someone. Instead of dealing with it alone and staying unhappier, resentful and getting to a point where you simply can’t cope, you have to make a change for your own sanity.

    Featured photo credit: Hannah Wei via unsplash.com

    Reference

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