Stories from our international boarding schools

Fitting life into a day, every day: advice for keeping on top of your tasks

Wise people would say that the most effective way to cut down a tree using an axe in a specified amount of time is to spend most of the time sharpening their axe. This makes felling the tree an easier, less time-consuming task. Makes sense, right?
It’s easy enough to follow through with a task when you have tangible tools and a physical task to overcome. But, how does this translate to more complicated and nuanced activities in our modern, urban life?

Back when I was studying at EF Academy Torbay, struggling to meet the demands of the IB, I used to read articles such as this one to find useful insights into coping with it all. Much of what I found was just like the tree-cutting example: seemingly smart and comprehensive yet altogether unnavigable. In reality, trying to manage simultaneous tasks often spawns more new tasks quicker than it takes to complete them. I wasn’t perfect at managing it all back then, and even now I still struggle at times, but I have picked up a few tips for keeping on top of it all.

Tip 1: Preparation is everything

By preparation, I don’t necessarily mean planning. I mean mental preparation and changing your mindset about your work. Whenever the prospect of a hectic term begins to creep up on me, I mentally prepare myself for the oncoming onslaught of work. I remind myself of my intentions for taking it all on in the first place and come to terms with the possibility that things might not go my way.

Maybe this is a form of mindfulness practice or meditation, or maybe I’m just allowing myself the space to work and experience new things without the fear of failure. Whatever it is, ever since I started doing it, I don’t feel the pressure of all my work as much as I used to, and it helps with clearing my head just enough so that I’m able to tackle all the tasks I have before me.

Tip 2: Keep yourself organized

Studying full-time, having three part-time jobs, four roles on society committees, going hiking at least once a week, being ‘flat-dad’, writing a novel, managing a website and blog, trying to be healthy, and carving out time to spend with friends is tough. Tasks can fall through the cracks and cause you to fall behind with important work. Your organization system can be systematic or chaotic, but if you know where all your documents and work are, you’ll be able to ensure some form of efficiency. I personally keep an archive full of all my files meticulously organized and stored. I also go through all these folders whenever I have time to ensure that I haven’t missed out on anything. Don’t even get me started on my wall-planner and calendars I have synced up across my phone, laptop, and watch.

Tip 3: Make lists

When I was at EF Academy, we’d receive a notebook planner where we’d be able to note down our work. I remember using it for maybe a couple of months but then being too lazy to keep up with it. Now I’m at university, having my planner around with me ensures that I don’t forget my tasks because I can see it in writing rather than as just thoughts in my head. It also helps me keep track of my progress. After all, what feels better than looking through the pages at the end of the year and surprising yourself with how much you’ve achieved?

These are just a few simple tips, but I truly believe mentally preparing yourself for your work and changing your mindset works wonders. The biggest lesson I’ve learnt from my hectic life is that being present in all my work and living through struggles helped me progress. You don’t have to be the best at everything you do; none of us are perfect. We live and learn all the time to orient ourselves. You just have to be present and do the best you can (and not forget to take care of yourself).

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