Different Priorities

By Erika Nelson

Welcome back, everyone! I’m excited for spring term. My classes are interesting, my color-coding system is finalized, and I’m confident that this is the term that I’ll finally slay the Procrastination Dragon. And this term, I mean it.

I have the habit of making overly-ambitious to-do lists; both necessary (like re-organizing the closet and taking clothes to Goodwill) and pleasurable (like practicing my art skills). Very rarely do I ever complete even a third of these aspirational tasks.

Maybe I’m lazy and unmotivated. On the other hand, maybe I’m being too hard on myself. I’m not the only one who assigns themselves tasks during a period of free time, only to wake up and realize that the window of free time has come and gone. Yet I feel like I do this more than most people. Is it self-sabotage? A mental health thing? Disorganization and lack of motivation stemming from COVID stress?

Whatever the cause (or causes), I’m tired of doing this. I want to be able to set goals and actually meet them.

I decided to look at my lists a little differently. I pulled out my winter break to-do list: was there anything on the list I could see myself doing — actually doing, and not just picturing me doing? Did I write this list for me, or an ideal version of myself? And were my own goals stressing me out; just contributing to procrastination and leading me to not even try?

Ideal Erika — the Erika I want to be — has endless energy and focus. She wakes up at 5:45 a.m. every day to work out. She meets all her homework and blogging deadlines. She has a vibrant social life and devotes lots of time to personal improvement and hobbies. She schedules doctor’s appointments without a shred of anxiety. She keeps her environment clean and tidy and cooks healthy dinners every day in her shiny kitchen with an alphabetized spice rack. Her schedule is perfectly juggled; each ball expertly timed to land in her perfectly-manicured hands, and she manages her stress easily. In fact, stress revitalizes her!

I’m not Ideal Erika. At least not yet. Although the truth is I probably never will be, not entirely. However, I can take steps to get closer to being her, and the first step is by admitting to myself that I have limits. I used to make a lengthy list of everything I wanted to get done in a day, then self-loathe at the end of the day when I didn’t complete it. Now, I’ve started making a list as I would before, but highlighting what’s important … and then highlighting again in a different color once I’ve prioritize from that pool of tasks. As long as I get my Three Big Things done in a day, I feel accomplished.

Some days are better than others, and my Three Big Things turns into Eight Big Things. Other days, I have Two Big Things, or even One Big Thing. And some days I don’t even get One Big Thing done. But since I’ve started prioritizing, life is a lot more manageable and less overwhelming. I’ve completed more projects and been more productive compared to before when I’d load up my plate with endless tasks and self-expectations. And while procrastination is still my biggest obstacle to success, I’ve been paying visits to the Procrastination Dragon less and less frequently.

New Term, New Goals

IMG_0830 By: Anna Sobczyk

Going through pictures from this last term showed me that I have fallen out of touch with some friends. I consoled myself by thinking this hadn’t happened purposely, but more out of necessity with our busy schedules. I spent Fall term trying to find a new balance between my personal and academic life. My classes were harder than in previous years, and I was also keeping more active than ever.

I recognize now that I didn’t prioritize my social life as much as I had in the past. I tended to hang out with friends who were the most convenient travel-wise. This realization made me feel like a terrible person, especially since the friends I’d lost touch with are mainly those who had graduated. As someone who’s graduating this year, this is exactly the trap I want to avoid and I fear falling into it.

 My goal this term is to reconnect with those friends and focus on strengthening my outreach skills—even if it’s just a quick message to touch base. I’m definitely one to be easily wrapped up in school and my own busy life, but I realize more than ever the effort required to maintain important friendships even if they present new challenges for keeping in touch.

Planning Ahead

Andreea Nica_bio photo

By: Andreea Nica

I like to plan. Planning provides me security, a comfort that I’m on the right track. Or, at least it gives me the feeling I’m getting there.

When I began the doctoral program at PSU, I knew there was much work ahead, but surprisingly, it wasn’t the work that had me bogged down. Rather, it was the organization and execution of my five-year plan in the program. I had some vague ideas like any aspiring academic, such as publishing, conferences, teaching and research. But I soon realized that these vague notions of developing oneself as a scholar needed some filling in.

When did I want to publish? And with whom? How many conferences should I attend? What should I teach? What about funding? How many small research projects should I conduct? I needed more direction, and once I gained it from discussions with colleagues and professors inside and outside the department, I began filling in the details of my five-year plan. Excel came to my rescue. I began to organize my goals (brief statements, really) into an Excel document with proposed dates of completion, deadlines for funding opportunities, outcome goals and people I should talk further with regarding the respective goal.

While I am aware that plans change, organizing my time and goals in the graduate program has boosted my confidence and provided a clearer direction on what I want to achieve. I would recommend starting out with one- to two-year plans as they are easier to manage than longer-term plans. After all, many things can change over the course of four to five years.

Good luck planning!