Now you are set to enter a new phase of your life – living ten thousand miles away from home and going to a boarding school for the first time – how exciting! As you board that plane and wave goodbyes to your family and friends, you might also feel a tiny bit of unease and a whisper inside your head says, “How am I going to do this on my own?”
II. You will feel lost at some point
It is all very normal to feel overwhelmed, even for an independent and brave soul like you. After all, there is always a learning curve to adapting to a new school, social circle and lifestyle. Just before you start worrying about messing up, let me assure you that you will inevitably do so at some point and feel frustrated, therefore there is no point in preventing that from happening. Just remember that life is a series of trial and error: be ready to experience some low points, but the great thing is that we can always learn from our mistakes and our resilience will bring us back up again.
I can tell you that when I first started boarding school at Andover, I was overwhelmed at the extent of my freedom and lost my rhythm as a result. Despite being raised as a “disciplined” kid, instead of going to sleep at 10:30 pm (what I did at home), I binge-watched dramas or read novels (nothing to do with school work and just for my own entertainment) until 1 am. Of course I then had trouble getting up on time, and arrived late to my morning class a number of times. My repeated tardiness landed me an unpleasant meeting with the dean and my penalty included serving at the dining hall. As I mindlessly rinsed the dirty dishes, it suddenly occurred to me, how did I get myself into this mess in spite of all the lofty goals I set before enrollment?
III. Building self-awareness
Your struggle may be entirely different from mine. We are motivated (and similarly distracted) by different things. You might be entirely immune to dramas and novels, but procrastination can creep in under a different disguise. Being focused and disciplined requires constant effort and that is why I say effective time management is a lifelong pursuit. You need to have a good understanding of your own strengths, weaknesses and needs.
Whilst self-awareness helps you stay vigilant at all times, don’t beat yourself up for having missed one lecture or wasted an evening browsing Facebook photos, because you will have days where you do not want to do anything. You may be feeling under the weather, exhausted from studying for that exam, bored out of your mind or simply lacking motivation. On days like this, there is little that anyone (including yourself) can do to get you going. I know from my experience that shaming or guilt trapping never works (such as “how stupid am I to watch these dumb videos on YouTube” or “how could I fail my parents by not giving my best”). Understand that life is a marathon, not a sprint. Let go of that inner perfectionist and put things in perspective. You need not win every single battle to win the war. As you continue the journey of self discovery and improve your self-awareness, you will figure out more effective ways to motivate yourself and have more weapons to draw from your arsenal in the war against temptations.
IV. Prioritization and don’t be afraid to say no
In addition to procrastinating, trying to do it all is another major challenge most people encounter in time management. When you have too many things on your plate, you start to experience stress, and your body and mind begin to suffer. It will be harder for you to focus on the job at hand and take you longer to perform even the simplest of tasks. A backlog will start to build up as you fall behind, which in turn increases your stress levels and it turns into a vicious cycle.
As counterintuitive as this may sound, prioritizing should always begin with eliminating tasks or activities rather than getting more done. Don’t let FOMO (the fear of missing out) dictate your schedule. Do you really have to go to that acquaintance’s birthday party? Would you still have time to relax and stay healthy if you take that additional singing class? All these irrelevant things we sign up for will eventually take a toll and make us feel like we can no longer cope.
You can only focus on completing the most valuable work when you have gone through the elimination process and earned sufficient time and resources for yourself. Before attempting to complete any item on your to-do list, look closely and cross out items that never should have made it on to the list in the first place.
V. Final words
As you work hard toward your goals, don’t neglect your wellbeing. Stress management and time management are intertwined. Proactively design certain rituals to help you unwind, be it a Sunday brunch with friends or a laid-back afternoon with your favorite music and your favorite book. And when you successfully meet a goal, reward yourself accordingly. That way, you will not only keep yourself healthy but also replenish your fuel tank, so that you can put your best foot forward for what lies ahead of you.
Teresa is a native of Beijing, China. She went to Phillips Academy Andover as a one-year senior and graduated from Yale University with a Bachelor of Arts in History. She studied in France and Japan on exchange programs while at Yale and lived in Korea briefly in between jobs. She currently works and resides in Hong Kong, and is a feature writer of Ampla.
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