This year’s last examination period is underway. Dealing with multiple tasks may be even harder today and we might often feel that we don’t have enough energy. Irina Makarova, Director of the HSE Centre for Psychological Counselling, talked about solving this problem, prioritizing and getting rid of the phantom deadline feeling.
Psychological Counselling at HSE
It happens from time to time that you get buried under a huge pile of various tasks and problems that need to be solved right away. This happens not only during school but is generally a strange feature of life with its ebb and flow. The ability to prioritize can be very helpful during times when the number of tasks is growing and the pace is intensifying.
In such moments, we keep asking ourselves: ‘How can I learn to prioritize? How to do it properly?’ I think that everyone who performs lots of tasks and operations during the day decides on their priority and sequencing anyway. This means that all of us are able to do it successfully. Then, what is the problem? Maybe it is awareness of why we prioritize some things and postpone the others?
Try to reflect on how you do it. Do you usually start with easy tasks and leave the complicated, unclear and bulky ones for dessert? Then it may happen that you’ll have to deal with these hard tasks when you are already pretty tired.
Do you focus on deadlines more than on the complexity and start with what has to be finished earlier? This strategy is probably productive, but if you don’t take into account the size and difficulty of the tasks you have, you may fail. And it is important to understand what you are doing, why you are doing it, what is important for you and what is not. This understanding will give you the confidence about what you need to do first.
The intention to minimize emotions, no matter what they are related to — exams, deadlines, student ratings or anything else in your life — is a bad idea.
There are such beautiful pieces of advice as ‘Don’t worry! Simply don’t be afraid and do it! Stop being anxious!’ But they are hardly effective. If we could stop feeling afraid or anxious, we would do it without other people’s advice. What could really help in this situation is recognizing our emotions, as well as the fact that you are entitled to them, even if you feel that you can’t deal with them. ‘Yes, I’m afraid I won’t be able to write a good paper.’ I can ask myself, what specifically am I afraid of? Of not being able to write it or to do it well or event perfectly, or even better than the others? And why am I afraid of it? And what will happen if this happens? Try to talk to yourself this way, to find the answers to the questions and think about what these answers mean for your life.
This silent heart-to-heart conversation with yourself will help you know yourself better, rather than judge, shame or blame; it relieves anxiety and brings you to the place where you understand yourself, your fears and worries, your uncertainty and the willingness to be better or the best.
It’s important to understand that procrastination is not laziness and is not a situation when I can do it, but I don’t want. This is an internal counteraction mechanism, which protects us from facing experiences that threaten the integrity, importance, and value of our ego. And, of course, we are all interested in the source of threat. We think that this is other people: classmates who will write a better paper, teachers who are sceptical not only about our paper, but ourselves, our brain and abilities, and the whole world, which is waiting for our action only to laugh at, judge or, even worse, ignore us.
But no, we are not going to give them this chance, we are postponing and procrastinating, afraid of the awfulness of people around us. This means that the main threat is inside us. But how do we overcome it and start acting? We can negotiate with our fear. If the ‘small step technique’ helps with it, that’s fine. If it is a timer to track time for writing, that’s great. And if it is the rule ‘for the first two hours, I don’t read and re-read what I have written’, that’s perfect.
A phantom deadline is a strong feeling of anxiety even when you surely don’t have a real reason for it. It is a consequence of strong emotional and intellectual tension, and we have the right to experience it and understand that it is completely normal. We, as a big and heavy train, can’t stop immediately after we’ve gained momentum. But we can watch this anxiety become weaker and fade. And if we feel that time goes by, but we are still tense, we might think about talking to a therapist.