"Our ability to handle life's challenges is a measure of our strength of character." ~Les Brown
Down to four days left in the semester, I am plowing through finals week. This summer has tested me with several challenges—a 16 credit gen-ed course load, an internship, 3 clients, my job, and I have now officially begun the process of moving. PHEW...It's been intense, to say the least. I am a proud and hard-working student. That said, these four "A"s were not easy to earn this semester. It has taken extreme organization, so I thought I would share how I made this little personal miracle happen:
Make a School Schedule, and Stick to it: Online education is tough; there is no one there to follow up on your progress and stay on top of you, and most classes have a solid due date of the end of the week. You are responsible for creating your own schedule to follow. Cement it, and don't veer from it at any point. I assign Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays for Geology—it's the heaviest load of work out of all my classes—Tuesdays and Saturdays for History and English, and Wednesdays and Sundays for Speech. If I have to replace or reschedule school days, I find a block of time elsewhere, and really stick to the plan. Sometimes I will work hard to free myself up for an entire weekend off from school, but have only truly successfully achieved this once. Ha ha! A great thing to do, if possible, is to tackle assignment well in advance, if you are given the option; I completed everything possible a week ahead of my last week schedule, so that I can focus on finals this week.
Take breaks often, get your Zs, and always celebrate successes: I give myself plenty of time to refresh throughout the day, taking lots of mini breaks and "me time." I make sure I give myself ample personal creative and design hours in a day to keep me inspired and fueled, and always make sure I save time to watch my shows; currently Twin Peaks and horror movies. Getting the full seven–eight of sleep is important to keep me sharp, and I celebrate every success—small and big—keeping me motivated to continue the good work. It's become a tradition of mine to have a well-deserved pint, glass of wine, or whiskey after a long school day, sit outside, and do nothing. I consider completing each day a success, so I celebrate often. ;) The toughest thing about a schedule like this, in my opinion, is maintaining relationships and socializing. Unfortunately, I haven't found a scheduling possibility to be actively social, but most friends and family support me in my endeavors, and are quite understanding. It's a good idea, before beginning a schedule like this, to sit down and explain these challenges and hurdles to your loved ones so they know what to expect.
- Admin. Mondays: When running your own business, it is crucial to have systems in place to help. One day a week, I dedicate time to really clean everything up and get coordinated, by addressing the basics: keep the workspace organized; have client meetings booked and set up on the calendar for the week, and weeks ahead; have a filing system; have places to easily grab invoices, contracts, and other important docs; read, reply, and send out necessary emails; and create weekly job folders. This is the time to schedule and dedicate tasks for each client through the week, so you can coordinate a school schedule around it.
- Tracking Hours: It's easy as a designer to sit down and accidentally start working if one becomes randomly inspired, (this happens all the time) so I make sure to always have Toggl on a tab to track my hours worked. Toggl offers reports and charts of all kinds, making it easy to see at a glance what you are spending too much time on, or need to work on. Having it up there constantly helps me to remember to "clock in."
- Weekly School Folders: This took me a long time to really get a handle on—online class organization gets complicated in BlackBoard, and it's easy to quickly muck it up and fall behind. The system could be so much better and more efficient, but that could be it's own blog, entirely! I implemented a weekly school folder system on the desktop, with end of the week folders that I could plunk everything into, making it easy to go back and retrieve from the dated folders if necessary. Each folder is labeled the name of the class, and holds subfolders:
- One subfolder is a very detailed task list of what is due by what date/time of the week. I do this by creating a main doc, then copy/paste from the syllabus, then go into BlackBoard and copy/paste the entirety of the learning module for the week, all assignments sections, discussion boards, journal and blog instructions, and basically everything possible for the class that week. I have learned that this is helpful for when Blackboard crashes—and it will—and this way you have everything, including all links and instructions in one place for each class, and won't miss a beat! I simply go in and delete the items as I complete and submit them to the instructor, until I'm left with a glorious empty doc. <---this is absolutely the best feeling ever.
- The next subfolder holds everything mentioned above, completed. All finished essays, reports, blog posts, journals, discussion boards—everything—goes in here. I have learned to do this because some instructors will ask you to reference these things in the future by clicking on their earlier modules, but they no longer exist and have disappeared! No fault of the student's, but it's still good to be on top of everything so you don't feel helpless in this situation. It also helps to save slideshows of important lessons and links that you know will be on future exams from these modules.
- The last subfolder is the continuing work folder. I added this as a folder of working items in process to collect that were not due that week, (long-running assignments like final essays, presentations, research, works cited, and other things you will be tackling over the course of many weeks.) to continue working on over time.
After this week, the semester will end, and in 3 weeks, the internship ends. I'm looking forward to my mini 2-week summer vacation quickly approaching! After that, it's back to work on the paper, and Fall semester begins. One positive thing to take out of these experiences, is you really learn to appreciate the free time while you have it. I try to enjoy every tiny second of it I get. Cheers!