We have all had those days when productivity seems so impossible that you start considering all the worst-case scenarios that could result from your state of mental paralysis.
“If I don’t finish this paper in time, what’s the worst that could happen?” The consequences begin to look more severe the longer you think about them, and if you are anything like me, the more panic-stricken you become, the more impossible it is to move forward. So here are some tips that just might save a life by helping to get past writer’s block, a limited attention span or the sense of utter despair that sometimes accompanies big assignments.
First: Move! If you just cannot get the gears moving in your head, put your body into action. Go for a walk, hit the gym, take a dance break, pack up all your things and head to a new location — anything to fight off the creeping stagnation that threatens to overcome you. This does not mean opening up a new tab on your browser, or even opening up another book at which to stare blankly. At the very least, standing up and doing 20 jumping jacks ought to help shake the lethargy. Often a change of scenery will awaken the parts of your brain that were lulled to sleep by the dull familiarity of your previous study location. Use physical motion as a catalyst to set the brain into motion.
Lack of concentration can also be a huge obstacle. People sometimes listen to music to drown out distractions, but often it becomes just as problematic as the outside world. White noise or binaural beats can cut off outside noise without creating a distraction themselves. It is easy to find tracks of these that are up to 12 hours long on YouTube by simply searching “study noise” or “concentration music.” Investing in a nice pair of headphones helps not only to drown out sounds, but also to act as a visible deterrent — no one tries to strike up a conversation with the person wearing massive headphones. They practically scream, “I am not paying attention to anything else right now.”
Sometimes this is all you need to get focused again. Sometimes, it is not. Suppose you get up, make the trek from third floor Braniff down to the Cap Bar, 50 pounds of books in tow, and situate yourself at a table with your coffee. As you reach for your bag, the all-too-familiar sense of dread creeps back into consciousness. You change your trajectory and grab your phone instead, where Facebook’s loving, mind-numbing embrace holds you captivated for the next half hour. There are ways to avoid this situation. You can treat the symptoms or the actual problem. The symptoms? Checking Facebook or other social media, texting friends, striking up conversations and generally avoiding responsibility. To prevent these, you can always turn off your phone, disconnect from the Wi-Fi, or retreat to a room without any distractions. The fact remains, however, that as long as you dread the task before you, your mind will always be searching for something to distract you. So take a deep breath. Don’t panic. Don’t start going through every worst-case scenario. Don’t start planning your life as a railcar hopper and wondering how to make a tent out of your book bag. Just get to it.