The past two-three weeks were pretty painful. It’s mid-semester, all our lab reports and assignments are due before reading week. Once we’re back, it’s back-to-back midterms for four consecutive days including Saturday. Since this semester’s exams were all planned the week after reading week, instead of working on side projects or honing a hobby/craft, even resting, no, we are stuck cramming and studying day and night. Again, all side projects, blogging, producing and pretty much anything fun comes to a halt. It’s just how it is during midterms and finals.
I am dedicating this blog post to my future self on how I kept my sanity and stress levels low during this period. I also want to come back to this post one day and see what I learned, what I can do differently and especially how I can improve for the few future semesters left.
4 AM - I woke up at 4:00 AM every day of the week except weekends, where I turn the alarm off and wake up naturally around 6:30-7:00 AM. Why 4 AM? Waking up before anyone in their right mind is up is invigorating. Another major plus is that I live in the heart of downtown, so it’s busy and loud, traffic noises, emergency services, buses, you name it— noise never stops! Hence, waking up at 4 gives me a few quiet hours of work before anyone else is up to do some of my most important, challenging/difficult/energy consuming tasks.
6 AM - The gym opens up at that time. I get my daily 45-minutes training done during that time. I go for a HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) which helps me maximize my time, get the metabolism up to speed early in the morning and also I don’t have to think about working out for the rest of the day. On a more stressful day and/or weekends, I usually go for an evening strength-training workout.
7-8 AM - Breakfast, business book read, coffee and shower.
8 AM - 5 PM - Study time using the Pomodoro Technique with an hour break for lunchtime.
7-9 PM - After dinner, I use this time to review what I have been studying all day. My brain is usually fried and cannot conjure any more solutions to problems or make any new connections at these hours of the day. It’s easier to review known material which helps retain all the brand-new information learned throughout the day’s study sessions.
Delay - One of the hardest things was to put off projects during that time. Whether it was my next blog post (like this one, three weeks late), an iOS project, or the new logic pro courses I am taking; everything had to halt. That means, no commits for weeks plus a hard time getting back into the depth of these projects.
Some might say “hey, you can work on those things on your downtime, during your breaks or at the end of the day?
Well, no… it’s almost impossible. You wouldn’t believe the lack of inspiration and creativity that hails down upon me. I can barely write a sentence, research a topic, let alone think of any way to solve an algorithm for a project. Nothing, the brain is so exhausted, storing so much information that it’s is impossible to do anything else but work on the courses I have to write an exam for. I also feel guilty whenever I do anything else but study - It’s sad, and it sucks!
Just to prove my point — I wrote this blog post in an hour or two, edited it and published it in the next hour. I couldn’t even think of a subject line in the last two weeks.
Insomnia - Yea, and it’s usually worst the day before an exam. It’s like I can’t fall asleep even if my life depended on it! It is the worst feeling ever, staying up watching the clock tick by, hour by hour knowing you have to be up in the next 5, 4, 3, 2… hours.
Fortunately, the only way I found to remedy this was to use an old traveling trick which helped adjust to different time zone; taking 3mg of Melatonin an hour before heading to bed. However, the sleep is deep and too restful that the next day my head would feel fuzzy and blurry, so I only did melatonin when it was necessary.
Off days - Some days, despite sticking to the routine, it was just so hard to study. I wouldn’t be able to focus for an entire 25 minutes, and completing a full hour felt like an eternity. Those days would be rare, but I didn’t know if I should have taken those days off and come back to studying when I felt motivated again? I say this because I felt like those days, the work I did, the material I studied didn’t stick and by the end of the day, I didn’t feel fulfilled or accomplished.
Do not overwork yourself; it’s pointless.
Some days, I would do twelve hours+ study stretches only to feel exhausted, restless and unmotivated to do the slightest amount of work the next day.
My meals were on point. I used a trick one of my friends suggested, which was to cut meat for the lunch meal. Result: it reduced fatigue drastically. My body needed less energy to digest the meat leaving me energized for a little longer and able to perform much more focused work.
Naps. Crucial. Twenty-minute power naps helped me rest the brain and gain energy to keep me going through the day.
T-minus 30 days
The next episode will be in a month from now for finals. I am hoping to repeat this way of studying because I felt much more at ease and less stressed than previous semesters. I must accord great importance to my daily upkeep with the material and attendance in every course.
Now, we wait for the grades to see the real results.
Anthony A. Nader