Clusterfuck. That’s one way to describe it. The amount of stress in your life has become so outrageous you’ve started making bets with floormates on who’s going to have the first panic attack. Cancerous piles of paper and clothes swell as you turn your nose to the symptoms of their presence. Even your schedule is weak; a $1 Walmart organizer that’s collected more dust than appointments controls it. This is your life.
Stress, mess and difficult schedules are the chaos that comes hand-in-hand with college living. Your life absorbs clutter like a fat kid absorbs carbohydrates. But there is good news: people do survive this madness of academia with only minor psychological damage. And no, we’re not going to throw any of that “a clean room is a happy room” nonsense at you. What with Facebook, Twitter, and spam email you get quite enough thrown at you already. You have to come and get this.
While on vacation in California over spring break, you go for a hike on a small mountain. The heat overtakes your body, and you decide to cool off in a passing stream. As you splash water in your face, the sound of the raging rapids scream over the rest of nature’s musical score. But when you turn to leave, a mountain lion blocking your path back to civilization. Its teeth bared, you quickly scan through the past four season’s of “Man vs. Wild” to figure out your next step.
According to Sifu Austin Baddeley, an adjunct professor at RIT’s Center for Intercollegiate Athletics & Recreation, the mental process upon encountering the mountain lion is the same as when you run into a professor that you owe an overdue assignment to. It’s stress, and on a more biological level, a survival technique.
“Whether it is a physical, mental or emotional stressor that is affecting the person, the chemical response is what’s called fight or flight,”
Baddeley, or Sifu for short, is the head of the kung fu program at RIT. He has been at RIT since 1991, transitioning right from being a student to being a professor. Among the other classes he instructs, including self-defense and a massage therapy program that he is the assistant to, Baddeley teaches a wellness course in stress management.
He describes stress as the body’s natural reaction to outside influences that causes pressure. For students, the greatest pressure comes from academic stress, the pressure put on yourself and the perceived pressure of family and friends to achieve success. Social stress, especially with first year students transitioning to college life, also plays a role in this
“Stress is a very much an individual, or unique response to everyone,” said Baddeley. “[You shouldn’t] subscribe to the 12 step, buy these DVD’s you’ll be stress free … Find something that works for you.”
Baddeley presents a variety of stress relieving activities to his class that may or may not help them. Students are presented with breathing techniques and relaxation exercises. In a dim-lit room, the class sits back absorbed by meditation music, while four-count breathing; in deep through the nose (one), hold (two), out through the mouth (three), hold (four).
Students are also introduced to things like Tai chi to release stress in joints, and the eastern way of thinking native to countries like India, China and Japan. He contrasts the eastern idea of taking ownership for one’s actions, with the mentality of the United States, passing the bucket and an imaginary “basket” where chores go when we put them off. The basket, once full, can itself become a stressor.
To Baddeley stress can be broken down into three categories: physical, mental and emotional. After breaking down the category of “stress,” he illustrates the importance of identifying where stress is coming from. This is accomplished by keeping a stress journal and looking for patterns. Lists of assignments and obligations in the form of PDAs, planners; immersing yourself in a creative activity, such as reading, drawing, or even playing video games; or simply “taking five” from something you’re working on all can reduce this stress.
If stress persists, Baddeley encourages students to seek help at the variety of resources RIT has to offer. Things like the Acadmeic Support Center, Financial Aid Office, the Woman’s Center, and the Smoking Cessation program that offers many of its resources and products for free to students trying to quit. When students are feeling overwhelmed, they are encouraged to seek help at the Counseling Center, which has a 24-hour hotline (585.295.3533).
Along with these techniques, however, Baddeley emphasizes the importance of getting active to avoid loneliness. Activities like club sports or outing club can be physically beneficial, but also mentally and emotionally relieving. Sports, clubs and organizations join students with common interests and gets them talking in a social setting, and any activity, be it going to the gym, taking a wellness class, or joining the Game Developers club, falls under this category.
“Humans like to be in social groups,” Baddeley said. “When they feel a part of something, they feel comfort from it, and if you’re stressed, comfort in any way is a great thing.”
“People who are procrastinating... they’re going to find anything to procrastinate with”
The Space Around You
Part of what’s stressing you out might very well be your drawer that’s so full it won’t close, the stack of papers on your desk that take flight every time you walk pass, or the stock pile of dirty laundry that starting to reach for air from underneath your bed.
For college students, organization is a category often shoved aside to make room for all-nighter study sessions and microwave food. But keeping things neat and tidy can be beneficial to your success at school, especially for students living in the close quarters of dorm life. And let’s face it, the magic clean up fairy that you be praying to come to take out your trash and fold your sweaters ain’t showing up. You’re going to have to take action.
Donna Goldberg, founder of The Organized Student, which is a firm based in New York City, has seen it all. Getting involved in the organization field when she found a series of assignments that her son, Noah, had completed and lost in his scattered room that she and her son’s teacher had assumed he hadn’t done. Throughout her career, Goldberg has organized junior high up to the graduate students and even some executives and professionals. And like stress management, Goldberg spotlights the importance of what will benefit each particular individual she is working with.
“It’s really important to structure your dorm room in the way that you work,” Goldberg said. “It functions as a sleeping area; you entertain, work, as well as groom in that area.”
Goldberg recommends thinking of your personal living space in terms of zones. Each zone has a different function and it is important to consider what you need to access while using in each space.
She recalled one student that didn’t use drawers or a closet. If this student couldn’t see something it didn’t exist to him. In this particular case, in order to open up the living space of the dorm room, Goldberg turned the desk around and put it up against that closet to offer an additional wall to the room and close off the access to the drawers. Clear shoe bags, each with 24 compartments were then hung to for items like belts and underwear. Color coded hampers used for laundry, the clean clothes residing in the white hamper and the dirty clothes in the black hamper. A shelf above his bed acted as a grooming station.
“It doesn’t mean that it’s perfect on a daily basis,” said Goldberg. “You try to categorize things and put them together.”
Designating areas where things belong creates a structure to your room and eliminates the need for picking up every day. While deciding where things go, it’s important to remember vertical space to increase your floor area. Wall putty and hooks that don’t leave marks can be very useful for students in dorms. Once you have a place for all you stuff, Goldberg recommends organizing every Sunday. This not only allows you to feel prepared for the week to come, it can help you catch any task or assignment you may have forgotten about while cleaning up.
For students suffocating in papers on their desk, Goldberg recommends a desktop file box, available at Office Depot (item number 169664). Here you can store and organize everything for an entire year of school by folder; a folder should be assigned for each class you take, as well as each aspect of your personal life, be it resumes, bills, prescriptions or banking. Goldberg also stressed the importance of a physical sheet of paper, rather than having handouts “stored” online in places like MyCourses. As an additional reminder, students can leave the handouts of important assignments sticking up from their folder as a visual aid.
The problem of organization stems from the fact that, for most students, college is the first time away from their parents. A lot of the tasks they must think about are new to them, like planning meals and even doing laundry.
“There are messy people, and there are truly disorganized people,” said Goldberg.
For messy people, there’s good news. They know how to be organized. It’s an instinctual sense that they’ve obtained from being taught by their parents or siblings. The obstacle is only a matter of self-determination. For students who were not exposed to tasks like how to maintain their clothing, food and living space by growing up, they have to start for the beginning and learn the basics.
Goldberg’s work extends from space management into the subject of time management, as the two are often related. For her, color coded grids according to class title are a good way of visually seeing the tasks at hand and it is important to keep in mind that 16 credit hours equals 38 study hours when planning ahead with your schedule.
Paula French, a study skills instructor and coach at the Academic Support Center, has a particularly strong grasp on how RIT students spend their time. She describes time management in terms of three categories: self-management, organization, and time management tools.
“168,” French proclaimed before I could even finish my question. She was referring to number of hours in a week, a number that all students should have in mind in order to maximize their productivity. To French, if it doesn’t feel like work, it probably isn’t productive.
“I have a project, I sit down to do it, and three hours later, five hours, six hours, … I recognize that I’ve been gaming, or on Facebook, or texting,” said French, impersonating a common complaint of her students.
“People who are procrastinating… they’re going to find anything to procrastinate with,” said French. “Whatever it is that seems more interesting or less threatening than what they need to be doing.”
To French it’s easy to blame technology for students’ procrastinate, but procrastination is rooted in a psychological base; the fear of failure and the fear of success. Other not-so-obvious time wasters include things like studying in groups where, although everyone is having a good time, one hour’s worth of work becomes four because of socialization. To overcome these obstacles takes self-discipline.
In order to remove distraction, it is important to find your ideal study space. Even if working on your bed with Iron Maiden blaring is where you’re most comfortable, it isn’t exactly the place you’re most productive. And no, this doesn’t mean having to work in the library all the time. The goal is to not be distracted.
“If you’re someone that requires busy noise and you don’t like the silence, find a coffee shop or a cafeteria,” said French.
When creating a schedule it is important to keep in mind when and where you are losing time. To identify these slots, keep an hourly log of everything you do from wake up time to lights out. Having a layout in front of you will help reorganize your day-to-day. This includes important, but not necessarily obvious tasks like cooking, grocery shopping, sleeping, and travel to and from school.
In terms of big-picture planning, French suggests a quarter grid, or a quarter-at-a-glance sheet. This organizer, similar to Goldberg’s suggestion, is a color-coded system that marks all assignments for an entire quarter based on the syllabi you receive at the beginning from your instructors. You can make multiple copies of the grid and hang it where you can see it, however, French recommends a physical planner or agenda to carry around at all times for specifics on short-term projects. Both the weekly planner sheet and the quarter grid print outs are available at ASC’s website (http://rit.edu/asc).
“It does take some time upfront, but forming these habits is really going to save a lot of time, and it’s going to save on the stress and anxiety piece too,” said French. “It’s never too late to start and work on some of these things.”
The ASC offers a one-hour workshop on time management and study skills every Tuesday during the regular quarter and some wildly popular tutoring sessions that are open to the public during finals week. This quarter’s finals tutoring session are in the Bates Study Center (08-1200) from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday; and on Thursday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. For tutoring action on the dorm side of campus visit the Sol Study Center (47-1016) on Monday and Tuesday from 7p.m. to 10 p.m. Visit
http://rit.edu/asc for more details.
So there it is. Take a moment to absorb it all. It may seem like a lot, but baby steps… baby steps. These aren’t changes you have to make overnight. The more you implement them, the better you’ll get at maintaining an organized lifestyle. Encourage yourself along the way. Blow a train whistle like Michael Scott; whatever it takes. It only takes three weeks to form a habit; that’s only 21 days. Invest in yourself and start some good habits today.
|Eustress = good stress; the force that causes
you to achieve.
Distress = bad stress.
Steps to reduce stress:
• Write schedule.
• Identify stressor.
• Take advantage of RIT: Become aware of what RIT has to offer in terms of classes and departments.
Steps to Manage Your Time
1. Identify a system that keeps your materials organized. Maintain it.
2. Don’t rely on your “memory.” Use a planner.
3. Plan ahead. Identify your “crazy” weeks and avoid getting swamped.
4. Structure your time! Schedule study hours and free time.
5. Break projects into manageable chunks. Set mini due dates.
6. Consider your long and short term goals. Write them down!
7. Reward your positive time management and study behaviors.
8. Identify your ideal study environment, free of distractions.
9. Keep tabs on your motivation. Consider how you can control or change your attitude toward your academics.
10. Evaluate your time management system. Finding the tools that work for you may take time.
Keeping it together
• Structure what works for you.