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The Self Shelf: Keeping the balance

Published: March 11, 2011
Section: Opinions


Graphic by Alexandra Zelle Rettman/The Hoot

It’s 1 o’clock a.m. on a Thursday Morning. I’m sitting in my library chair, trying to absorb the hundred pages of reading due the next day, study questions in hand. If I can get to bed before five, I have a shot at five hours of sleep and a decent next day. If not, I’m in the gray area between three and four hours of sleep where I may be too tired to remember a thing by the following afternoon anyway.

At around 5 to 4, I start wondering why I am in this position again. My schedule had all seemed so certain on paper the night before. I would wake up at 7:30 and then work from 8 to 10 (while simultaneously polishing off some homework and breakfast); then do homework from 10 to 11 before going to class from 11 to noon.

After that, it was a simple matter of getting lunch from noon to 1, going to class from 1 to 2; finishing the reading for my afternoon classes which stretched from 3:30 to 6:30; eating dinner, doing two debate rounds, and reading the 150 pages of history due the next day. Yet here it was, almost the crack of dawn, and I was still not done. How could this possibly happen?

The answer to this question is something I will refer to as the Rosen Theory of Procrastination. As my fellow columnist, Ricky Rosen, pointed out last week–when your schedule is incredibly tight, you’re actually less likely to get the work in question done. The reason for this is something I will refer to as the Self Theory of Self Implosion.

When you have an incredibly tight schedule that requires rigorous discipline, the stress of holding to such a schedule weighs upon your mind like a Sherman dinner weighs upon your stomach. It sits there and makes you very uneasy.

Thus, when it comes time to concentrate, you’re not all that receptive to the entreaties of a rebellious Dutch manifesto from the 16th century. In the back of your head, you know that the clock is ticking. You were supposed to have this done an hour and a half ago.

Thoughts like these lead one to a natural defense against worry: distraction. You will find yourself on Facebook, playing Angry Birds or possibly playing Angry Birds on facebook. You will find yourself talking to that guy you knew in high school on Facebook chat and asking him how his life is.

By your ideal bedtime, you will have learned that Will from your old homeroom is now a curling champion at McGill but you will not have learned a damn thing about why William of Orange disliked Philip II.

Unfortunately, this tends to happen to me a lot as I have a rather ridiculous schedule. Currently, I am enrolled in five classes, hold leadership positions in three clubs and am employed at two jobs. I’m not sure how close this is to the norm at Brandeis but it certainly is too much for me.

Combine this with the fact that I debate nearly every weekend and you have a perfect storm of stress, all-nighters and comfort YouTube meme surfing. Of course, this is my own fault.

I should have been more circumspect in my scheduling choices for the semester. Yet now it’s March 9, and I cannot undo any of my obligations without a cost. Thus, I have made my bed and I will sleep in it.

My story is told here for the benefit of you, dear reader. I know that many of you are double and triple majoring. I’m sure a large percentage of you are taking five classes and are in many clubs. Who am I to tell you that what you’re doing could be harmful?

Well don’t take it from me, take it from the foremost authority on a busy schedule in the history of Brandeis. He is an alumnus who graduated in 2009 that I happened to run into randomly at a debate tournament in Washington D.C. His name is Jordan Rothman.

If you are an upperclassman, you should already know who I’m talking about—the man was a legend. If you are not an upperclassman, ask one in your club/team/hall and I can guarantee they will know who you’re talking about. The man (although many would contest this human classification) was in 19 clubs and held 9 leadership roles while taking 5 classes per semester. He managed a 3.85 GPA and always had his work done on time.

Rumor has it that he would do all of his work during breaks. Other rumors say he was half automaton. Either way, if there were anyone to ask about my busy schedule blues, it was this guy. And indeed, what he told me was illuminating. He told that while he had enjoyed college immensely, he regretted being so busy (just to clarify he said he did not regret being in any of the clubs–simply the aggregate effect of them on his schedule). Specifically, he told me always to allot some downtime for myself or otherwise it would be hard to maintain a healthy level of sanity. There you have it–from the man, the myth, the legend himself–advice not to overstretch yourself.

Indeed, that is the point I am getting at. Before throwing yourself into a plethora of clubs/classes/teams and getting yourself into a large amount of commitments, you should ask a few questions.

First and foremost is the question of whether you’re joining for the right reason. An example of the right reason is that the activity or class you’re getting involved in is something you’ve always wanted to do or study. An example of the wrong reason is it will look good to law schools.

No one is going to care whether you participated in the “We Love Law School Club” or whether you double or triple majored. In the end, it’s your overall GPA and LSAT scores that will determine your eligibility for grad school and compromising these factors by complicating your schedule will not help you achieve your goal.

Additionally, you need to determine whether or not you actually have time for the club/class/team. For example, if you want to join the “We Meet Every Week From 4 to 6 Club,” you should probably make sure you don’t have a class from 4 to 6 p.m. You should also make sure that it will not make your workload too intense.

If you feel like you’re balanced in terms of work and schedule at a given time, it is not a warrant to add more commitments. You need to find a balance that works for you as opposed to continuing to add commitments until you’ve found you’ve overcommitted yourself. The basic idea here is that you have to strike a balance between business and pleasure, between necessity and frivolity.

In the end, everything boils down to the proper priorities. I realize this order may be controversial but I will provide reasons every step of the way. Your first priority should be … schoolwork. The reason behind that is that you are paying $5,000 to $8,000 per grade–the least you can do is earn the best one possible.

Next up is social well-being (and indeed if this is negative, it can impact schoolwork). You need to allot time to have fun with your friends. Otherwise one of two things will happen. The first possibility is that you could be perfectly miserable sitting alone in a corner of the library trying not to give into the siren call of Facebook.

The second possibility is that you hang out with your friends anyway and take away time from work you don’t have extra time to do (indeed this happens to me fairly often). The third priority should be clubs. Clubs come third because if you’re failing out of school or in social isolation, you’re not going to be useful to a club.

Of course, if you find your friends through clubs like many students do at Brandeis, there is no problem with combining the two priorities. I am simply saying that if you need to make a choice between the two, choose your friends.

As I write this article, however, my situation has improved significantly. I do not have to drive to any debate tournaments for the next few weeks and I’ve finally found some extra time to keep up with my work. It appears my schedule might not drive me underground after all. Yet if I could restructure this semester retroactively, I would still go back and cut one of my classes or activities.

Thus, I leave it up to you, dear reader, not to make the same mistake as I have. If you are reading this and looking forward to your own date with misery and with Dutch politics in the 16th century, take a step back and ask yourself if you are enjoying your life. If the answer is no, I strongly recommend you try to rectify that by easing your schedule.

Living a happy life far outweighs any ancillary benefits you could get out of one extra encumbrance. Plus you’ll be more productive if you don’t feel you’re overworked.

It may seem difficult to give up anything but the benefits will far outweigh the short term harms in the long run. Even Philip II would agree (turns out he never got a break either).