Making Group Work Work

“Teamwork makes the dream work”, or so I’ve been told. Some people might be inclined to respond that “Group work makes the nightmare work”. It’s a scary form of assessment which universities seem to be falling increasingly in love with. From an outsider glance, it’s easy to see why: future researchers need to be able to collaborate with people who have different knowledge than do they in order to continue advancing our understandings of the world, and anyone working or living in the world today needs to develop interpersonal and teamwork skills to survive.

Both in the real world and in the university, group work poses a few risks: someone might coast along with the team just to take credit, people might take control of the group,  and duties might not be distributed fairly, among other things. In the classroom, there’s the added weight that your grade usually depends on working with other people. It’s a scary trial that many people will have to confront before they graduate.

Yet, despite so many students harping on group work at UofT and around the globe, a google search for how to make university group work actually work shows almost no results: mostly just resources for teachers trying to make group work worthwhile. But what about us students? Where are the guides for making group work work? Good question. It will depend on the kind of group work assigned and the discipline it’s for. But I think there are some answers on a broader interpretation. Continue reading:

1. Introduce yourself. Even in small classrooms, it’s very easy not to know the people around you. It will be a lot easier to work with people if you know their names, and it helps to break the ice. Even if your group work is only going to last ten minutes, it only takes a few seconds to introduce yourself.

2. Exchange the best contact information. A lot of students feel obliged to give out their utoronto email accounts, even though a lot of them don’t use their accounts too frequently. This makes it hard to keep touch. Go ahead and share your sk8r_h8r1998 hotmail account if it’s what you use most. Or, try Facebook groups or third party applications. Whatever is going to keep your team in touch.

3. Don’t be too modest. Everybody has their own skills. A team works best when it’s using everybody’s skills together. If you’re good at presenting, let them know. If you have great research skills, great! If you have strong penmanship, well you’re likely a total keeper. It will make assigning any jobs easier, and will make it easier for you to do your part when you’re already good at it!

4. Break out but don’t break up. It’s easier to work on projects in smaller groups and way easier to schedule! (Not to mention, may be helpful with productivity). But be careful that you don’t wander too far: your break out groups should stay accountable to your whole group. I can only tell you what happens when the people supposed to do section X disappear on presentation day, and nobody knows what their part was.

5. Get [a] stranger. If you have the option to pick your own groups, consider bringing in a stranger. It can be comfortable to study and work with the people you know, but (a) it also means conflicts can be even worse, and (b) some studies show that bringing new people into a group setting improves the creativity and productivity of the group. Who knows what your peers have in store for you!

6. Bonus: Ditch the doodle polls for group scheduling; when2meet has made my scheduling life so much easier in every way.

Have any other tips for surviving group work? Let me know in the comments!

A Beginners Guide to (almost, kind of) Surviving Statistics

Throughout all the trials and tribulations of university, whether it be cramming for 5 midterms in one week, or starting a 3000 word essay the night before, there is only one thing that actually, genuinely terrifies me:

Statistics. 

picture of Api with a face palm

Stats = eternal face palm :(

Unfortunately, the introductory statistics courses are required for my major. Of all my courses, it’s the one lecture that I don’t find interesting and engaging. To me, it’s like statistics has become the lone MySpace page in a sea of artfully crafted Facebook profiles.

I’m not sure why, but I’ve always found understanding statistics difficult. Maybe it all the “analysis” or whatever that’s involved, but my brain does not work that way. In the summer, I managed to get through the first introductory statistics course here at U of T (STA220, PSY201 or their equivalents) but I had a very specific system that made getting through the course a little bit easier.

I thought I would be done with statistics, but my best friend the Course Calendar kindly informed me that I still needed another half credit.

Api looking disconcerted

Statistics. Honestly.

There I was, once again terrified of numbers, so I knew it was time to refer back to my statistics game plan. I’ve also met many classmates who share the same anxious feelings towards to statistics, so hopefully this helps not just me, but everyone who’s tackling the course this semester (and in semesters to come)!

API’S POSSIBLY FOOLPROOF STATS GAME PLAN

1. PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE

I remember on the first day of my first statistics my professor telling the class that we had to constantly do practice questions to keep up, and I’m not going to lie: I scoffed. DO THEY UNDERESTIMATE MY ABILITY TO SUCCESSFULLY CRAM INFORMATION INTO MY HEAD THE NIGHT BEFORE? No. No they did not. It took me a full three-day library session at Robart’s to actually catch up with the small amount of material I nonchalantly didn’t do.

2. There’s a Statistics Aid Center!!! 

It didn’t know about the Statistics Aid Centre until after I took statistics, dropped the course and then finally buckled down and took it the second time. They have people on hand to help you and it’s an amazing resource to make use of!

3. Finding statistics software 

My stats course included assignments and homework that were done on statistical software, and I found out that Robart’s Library has computers with statistical software installed on them! There’s also a computer lab at Sidney Smith with computers as well! I designated a weekly time to use the computer labs, so not only was I saving money on purchasing the software, I was also making myself have at least a few hours of stats practice each week.

Api giving a thumbs up

GOD SPEED, MY FRIENDS

So there you have it folks. That was my statistics game plan, and I’m hoping it’s going to work again this semester. Good luck everyone!

If you have any other tips, let me know down in the comments or on Twitter at @Api_UofT!

T’was the week before finals

T’was the week before finals, when all across U of T 

Students were cramming, for the sake of their degrees

They read all night, unable to sleep in their beds

With visions of 4.0’s dancing in their heads

Picture of handmade card reading "happy finals"

Yes I made myself a motivational card. Deal with it.

IT’S HERE FOLKS. It’s what you’ve been dreading/waiting/prepping for all semester: Winter finals 2014!

It’s been a long ride. There have been tears, cramming and horrible midterms. There have been successful essays and aced tutorials. And it’s all been leading up to these next few weeks.

Ok, I’ll stop with the melodramatic hyping-up of finals.

I’ve worked hard all semester, and I know I may be very close to losing all my motivation and drive, but I’m hanging in there. I know the reward of finishing finals will be much greater than the stress of actually writing them.

What lies in the promise land after finals, you might ask?

  • All my old friends will be back in the city for the holidays.
  • Peppermint candy cane flavored Hershey’s Kisses.
  • Actual free time to spend time with my family
  • N  E  T  F  L  I  X
  • Other various peppermint flavoured sugary things
Picture of Hershey's candy cane kisses chocolate package

Peppermint everything <3

I’m convinced that the grass is greener on the other side. I know everyone studies their best in different ways, so I’m not really in a place to start giving out study tips. But I can request that we stay positive, and keep that morale up!

This my go-to final exams survival tip that I’ve been following for a while now. It’s been 2 years and counting since my last exam-related, stress-induced, panic ridden, night-before-the-exam break down and I owe it all to being positive. Common self-pep talks phrases include:

  • My grades do not define me
  • I am going to ace it. I got this.
  • Yeah yeah, we in dis BRUH. (my inner gangsta likes to make an appearance during pep talks)

So there you have it folks! Hopefully someone makes use of my personal exam survival to make positivity their ally in the war against finals.

Just remember: We are fabulous. We are fierce. We are in the number 1 university in Canada for a reason. We got this. So happy finals to all!

Picture of inside of card from first image. Reading "You go girl" with a hand drawn heart.

The inside of my motivational card. Treat yo’self. Love yo’self.

*Disclaimer: Not studying at all and then being positive usually doesn’t work. Please study <3

So what are you looking forward to after finals, U of T?

Exam Survival Guide!

It’s that time of the year again! Your favourite library starts to get a lot busier, your notice everyone you pass has bags under their eyes, and the line at your favourite coffee shop on campus is suddenly three times longer than normal. Welcome to Exam Season!

Whether you’re an Art-Sci in full-year courses writing mid-terms, or an Engineer trying to comprehend how you’ll be able to finish all these final assignments, exams are stressful for everyone.  While I don’t have any secret tips to help you guarantee a hundred in all your courses, I do have some vital tools to making surviving exams a little bit easier!

Screen Shot 2014-12-01 at 1.17.05 PM

1. Trail Mix – nothing is worse than mid-studying munchies. Don’t let your blood sugar drop, and keep this protein-packed snack in your bag! Eating something like trail mix can also help your concentration and focus by occupying your tactile senses.

2. Noisli App. – sometimes you just need to listen to something while studying – but Beyonce can be a bit too distracting. Try noisli.com, it lets you create the perfect custom ambient noise, or offers pre-made mixes for relaxation and productivity.

3. Backup Pens & Highlighters – this is a basic. Don’t let the convenient excuse of having a highlighter run-out justify your 3 hour study break. Pack some backups.

4. T-Card – you’ll need this to get into the stacks at Robarts, or to stay in a library after hours. It also has the double bonus of being able to be loaded up with flex dollars for those emergency Starbucks runs.

5. Earphones – this goes along with the ambient noise player. Earphones are the perfect way to shut out the world around you, or let you enjoy a study break by watching some youtube videos.

6. Water Bottle – hydration is key! All that extra caffeine and the dry library air can really dehydrate you and your skin. Drinking water keeps you stay hydrated, and more alert and awake.

7. Flashcard App. – this app is a gift to University students everywhere! You can create your flashcards online, then transfer them onto your smartphone and take them with you everywhere you go! It’s convenient and environmentally friendly!

8. Extra Chargers – finally, don’t forget your device chargers – after all, thats what all the outlets built into the tables are for!

Well U of T, did I miss anything? What are YOUR go-to exam essentials? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter at @Rachael_UofT – and happy studying! 

How Things got Bad – Then got Better

Such was the advice I’ve needed over the past few days. I’m convinced that the most recent 25 views or so have been me hitting “replay”.

As suggested by my lack of (and tardy) posts, these past few weeks have been rough.

Assignments have taken longer than expected. I’ve felt unable to be at full strength for either of my two jobs. And just over a week ago, I received some failing test grades.

Now I have written about receiving poor grades, and preventing negative feelings, but this was so devastating that neither seemed sufficient to explain how I felt or help me get through it.

The course in question was my final pick of the term, a course I needed to even out my schedule, but didn’t necessarily need for my program requirements. But it quickly turned into my most demanding.

The lectures were hard to follow, and the course materials in an alternate format arrived a couple weeks into the course. This meant I had to rely on support from one of the course’s two Teaching Assistants. I also formed a study group of people I hadn’t met before to work through material and practice problems. Once I had access to it, I spent many a night reading the course pack and working through the examples it contained.

And I still failed the first test, and just passed the second.

The silly thing was that the tests didn’t feel too bad. I felt I was on top of the work and the material, more or less. To find I wasn’t — right when I needed to be splitting my focus between all my courses to accommodate mid-terms and finals over December — was a shock. What do I do now? How can I save this term? The final’s worth 60 per cent of the course grade — what if I don’t even pass that? And my other courses! They’re program requirements!

Needless to say, I didn’t handle it particularly well. It made my other posts seem flippant.

Here’s what I did after receiving the bad news:

  • Cried. To the course’s second TA whom I’d never met before (she had the test grades handy). To a friend I met for dinner afterwards. To my sister over the phone. To my mum over the phone. By myself. (I unabashedly cry in public; just ask the friends who went to The Fault in Our Stars with me…)
  • Got mad. Wondered aloud why I’d spent so much time on a course that wasn’t a program requirement at the possible expense of courses that were. Raged that I’d done solid (as far as I could tell) work and still come up short. Questioned why I left school in my hometown to come back to U of T at all. Hated that I’d even thought that.
  • Sulked. Tapped into my arsenal of therapy tools with some success. Finished an assignment for another course while questioning my intelligence. Did work but couldn’t concentrate well. Slept fitfully and napped for the first time all term. Watched too many Grey’s Anatomy clips on YouTube. Drowned my sorrows in a Grande Peppermint Mocha: my first Starbucks in a while. Spent too long flicking through my iTunes library to find an appropriately peppy song to get me going or reflective song to be in the moment with. Coldplay, The Dixie Chicks, Glee cast, Allison Hinds, Drake, Fleetwood Mac, My Chemical Romance, angry Taylor Swift, The Killers, Bedouin Soundclash, Lorde, and any non-Disney songs from the soundtrack to the Broadway production of The Lion King all made appearances on this week’s playlist. Considered adding Les Misérables, but figured that was getting too melodramatic. Found One Direction and Taylor Swift’s new stuff on YouTube. Questioned my claim to adulthood as a result.
  • Got sensible. Discussed matters with my parents, something I definitely didn’t do the last time I was here. Realized the gaping holes in my knowledge. Sought a tutor. Spoke to the instructor of the course in question and had a rational and productive discussion. Considered late withdrawal as a last resort. Went to lectures and took some of the best notes I’ve made all term. Used my very basic HTML  knowledge (just because I could) to write down a master to-do list of everything I wanted to get done over the next week for each course, my jobs, and any personal miscellaneous tasks. Noticed my rising panic and second-guessing ebb away as this list of concrete things to get done by a specific date came into being all in one place.

Though I constantly feared (and fear) a slide into behaviours of my past — where I eventually gave up on pretty much everything — this was not the case. It hasn’t been a great week by any stretch, but I’m slowly digging myself out of the hole I landed in, with much help from family, friends, and time.

I wanted to share this with you because it not only has absorbed my mental energy all week, but it also is a thumbnail sketch of how things can get bad, but then get better with the proper tools and a bit of rational problem-solving.

I will leave you with another inspiring classic movie quote to get you through the coming weeks.

Don’t worry, be app-y

I often find that I have the need to be on the grid to be able to keep up with the fast paced student lifestyle. Getting a smartphone was a complete game-changer because it allowed me to be productive while on the go. Over the last few years, I’ve grown attached to a few applications, which make my life as a student SO. MUCH. EASIER.

Some of these do use Internet, so they might not be as accessible for an authentic “on-the-go” experience. But they’ve still been really useful to have because I can complete some of the tasks I need to do, without actually having to physically be at a computer!

So without further ado, here are some of my favourite student-friendly smartphone apps:

1) TTC Bus Map (And other related TTC Apps)

Screenshot of phone screen showing map with red indicator of 510 Spadina streetcar

For commuters who take buses or streetcars on the TTC, this app is a godsend. It has a real time map of where all the buses or streetcars on any given route are located. This app specifically is for iOS devices, but there are dozen of other TTC apps with similar functions that are available for both Android and iOS.

2) Adobe Reader

Phone screenshot of Adobe Reader App "add note" function. Note reads "I can add notes!"I love this app for those days when I forget to print out my lecture slides and I’m too lazy to bring my computer to school. If you go to your phone browser and open .pdf files with the app, then you can highlight, add text, underline, draw and even add notes to the file!

3) Google Drive

Phone screenshot of Google Drive App "add to my drive" page.

I only recently found out about the Google Drive app but it’s been so helpful, especially for some of the student groups I’ve been involved in! It’s great to be able to pull up files while on the go, and if you download the corresponding Google Docs/Sheets apps, then you can even edit files!

4) Any Calendar App

Phone screenshot of iOS calendar app. Reminder reading "Library time"

My calendar app of choice is the default one that’s on my phone and it is my number one organizational tool. My entire schedule is at my fingertips so I’m constantly aware of deadlines. I once thought it was a Wednesday (it was Thursday) and I didn’t finish my Thursday blog post, so yeah, calendars are my best friend.

5) Urbanspoon

Phone screenshot of Urbanspoon App homepage. It shows options for search, reserve table and hottest in Toronto.

You had to have known this was coming. I love food, and having Urbanspoon lets me look for different varieties of food at different price ranges in whatever area of the city I happen to be in. GOD BLESS.

Maybe one day, humanity is doomed because technology will turn on us and the robot uprising will wipe us out completely. But until that day, I will still trust my smartphone to be a fairly reliable companion in my life.  So remember all: be app-y.

Uh oh, I slept through my final exam!

“Mum, I slept through my final exam.”

Of all the horrors film can provide, and no matter what craziness happened on Friday night at the Hart House of Horrors Halloween Party, this will forever be one of my life’s more terrifying moments.

It was 2009, and after a rough term, I was woefully behind in my studies and tried to cram to the point where I ended up asleep on my bedroom floor. By the time I arrived at the Test and Exam Centre, it was too late.

I admit this is a First World problem, but when university feels like your whole world, one’s perspective gets distorted.

I’m not telling you this to frighten you. My goal is just to impress upon you the importance of sleep.

“But Sarah,” you may say, “finals are more than a month away! Why tell me this now?”

Because, if you’re like me, this time of year is when the rubber hits the road: tests have come and gone with more on the way. Essays and labs are due soon. Not to mention that any extra-curricular obligations still carry on in spite of your heavier workload.

If ever there was a time to consider skipping sleep hours, it’d be now.

Source, Flickr ,Lily Monster (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Source, Flickr ,Lily Monster (CC BY-NC 2.0)

We know that feeling well-rested makes us feel better about life in general. Our friends at Harvard tell us that sleep can also help with learning and memory, before and after learning a new task. So sleeping after a study session can help you remember what you learned or reviewed, and make it easier to get more learning done the following day. You also will be less likely to fall asleep in class and more likely to pay attention and take good notes.

But how much is enough? According to the Mayo Clinic, adults (yes, we do fit into that category, as scary an idea as that is) should be getting 7-8 hours a night, but more if we’re sleep deprived, which is probably most of us.

Is napping ok? As long as it’s short (20 – 30 minutes), it shouldn’t interfere with your nighttime sleep. The National Sleep Foundation has some great napping tips and suggestions for improving your nighttime sleep, too.

It’s easy to forgo sleep when deadlines creep closer, but I’ve learned the hard way that it’s not worth it. As much as you may think 7 hours of sleep would be better spent studying, you don’t want to end up fast asleep on your floor when you should be acing an exam.

Take it from me – get to sleep before the lack of sleep gets you! You will feel so much better for it.

When the Time is Right

I need to catch my breath! Just when I think life will slow down, I realize how wrong I am. If it’s not tests, essays or readings, it’s meetings, volunteering, events and the list goes on. In a perfect world, we would always get everything done. Wishful thinking, right?

Looking straight upwards through the yellow leaves of a large tree in Queen's Park, towards the blue sky above

We can sometimes have many things hanging over our head, and we aren’t sure exactly when they’ll fall on us (Photo by Zachary Biech)

University can be hectic though. We’ve already discussed balance, maintaining health, mental rest and the like. Sometimes however, this means things don’t go exactly according to plan.

Brown and golden maple leaves lying on the lively green grass of Queen's Park

All of a sudden our schedule can fall to pieces like so many leaves (Photo by Zachary Biech)

Looking East over the red and yellow trees of St. George Street  towards some of U of T's largest and craziest buildings all stacked on top of each other

“Campusopolis” really is a bustling place, it’s no wonder things can get so hectic (Photo by Zachary Biech)

I attended the You Beyond New student leadership conference on October 24th which ran from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. but I had to maneuver around classes as well. Despite having to run around campus like a hummingbird on Red Bull, it was worthwhile. I had meaningful conversations, learned about managing groups and even found insight on my future studies.

http://www.newcollege.utoronto.ca/studentlife/leadership/

Yeah, I had to pull out all the stops to make that crazy day work. But so what? It still went great. I actually like when things go awry and the plan goes out the window; that’s when things get a little more exciting, don’t you think?

My name tag from the You Beyond New conference

(Photo by Zachary Biech)

It can be daunting to wade beyond the shallows of your schedule into murkier waters where you can’t see the bottom. Don’t worry; I want you to know that it’s alright if things don’t go as planned.

Peering through crimson red maple canopies up at Soldier's Tower

Something just felt so right about this view, though it was only by chance I looked up at that moment (Zachary Biech)

At First Nations House, I attended a Lunch and Learn session with Learning Strategist Bonnie Maracle about Indigenous perspectives on time management. At U of T, time is money, time is a tool and time is short. Sounds a bit rigid, right?

Looking North up St. George, with a very dark sky looming above in the distance

Sometimes there is a darkening sky before us, yet we have no time to prepare for the storm. These even happened while I was taking pictures! (Photo by Zachary Biech)

Luckily, we can apply a different perspective. We don’t use or spend time; we only live in it. What you do is the real key. We can schedule all we want, but we can’t control everything. When the time is right, things work out. When the time isn’t right, we just have to accept it. Sometimes all we can do is roll with it. Go with the flow. Make it up on the fly.

One of the great big cannons sitting next to the UTSU building

This big old cannon rolls with it when it blasts away, hence the wheels (Photo by Zachary Biech)

For example, I stayed overtime at the Lunch and Learn and showed up a bit late for a tutorial. I would’ve loved to have made it when class started, but the time wasn’t right. I was busy having valuable discussions and connecting with peers! Though the original plan went the way of the Dodo, I learned about this important life strategy, enjoyed new friends, and was thus reenergized by the time I made it to class. See??? When things don’t go according to plan, it doesn’t mean it didn’t go the way it was meant to…

http://www.fnh.utoronto.ca/Current-Students/Academic-Support.htm

(Monday – Friday 9:00am to 5:00 pm Learning Strategist Bonnie Maracle is available to see students)

(Thursdays 9:00 am to 5:00 pm Elder Andrew Wesley is available to see students)

(Mondays & Fridays 12:00pm to 5:00 pm Traditional Teacher Lee Maracle is available to see students)

Red, orange, and green vines climbing up the wall of a Victoria College residence

If it’s good, it’ll grow when the time is right (Photo by Zachary Biech)

Remember, it’s alright if things don’t always go as planned. When something doesn’t work out, it wasn’t the right time. We can’t control everything, and sometimes we just have to roll with it. Though it may not happen when you expect, things eventually go how they’re supposed to when the time is right.

The real fun begins when we discover what’s really meant to be

A canopy of vines completely covering the wall of a Victoria College building, but with one odd patch of the vines coloured green instead of orange like the rest of the canopy

When something good grows, it might not look exactly like you’d expect! (Photo by Zachary Biech)

Staying Organized and Having Fun: a de-stressing strategy

Last week the rest of the crew posted about mental wellness and their posts were all super awesome. My mental wellness week post is a bit late but A for effort right?

Wellness for me is about taking care of your whole self: sometimes that means that I make myself eat vegetables (although I often feel like Ori), while other times it means just taking a break from school stress and having fun with my friends.

My main way to keep myself from turning into a big ball of stress is to stay organized. I’m pretty type-A so i have list upon list that keeps me on track. What I’ve found really helpful is a tactic that I’ve done since first year: putting my schedule in the calendar app on my computer/phone/iPad like so

a screenshot of the week view of a calendar app showing class schedule from last year, all class times and places are in there along with the readings for each class for that week.

doing this helps me see what free time I have and lets me look up the readings for each week without having to go into the syllabus every time. Having my due dates in a bright colour helps me easily visualize when everything is due.

a screenshot showing the month view of a calendar app showing classes each day plus any due dates or important dates

I remember the week of the 9th-15th, assignment free bliss

In addition to this I have a weekly planner that I write assignments in, a big sticky note with all my assignment due dates, and a running to do list app on my phone and laptop.

screenshot of to do list showing that I need to do various readings, fun things like brunch, community crew panel, and disney movies are also scheduled in

This was a pretty light to do list as I did most of my readings on Friday. Setting myself a reasonable amount of work everyday helps me get it all done and makes me feel good when I see everything crossed off.

The second way I take care of myself is by taking breaks and having fun with my friends.DSCF4280After finishing the readings for two classes on Friday I took a break to read some blogs (this article in Vogue about Jony Ive was such a great read, and I really liked these pictures of flowers on vintage photos) and listen to records before starting to study for a test I had on Monday.

This little break, sitting on my window seat, looking at my plants, and hearing the lovely songs from Camelot helped me recharge from a busy morning and helped me study better; since I had already caught up with the internet I wasn’t tempted to take breaks after every 3 pages. By setting a specific to do list, I was able to keep myself up to date with my readings and pace myself, knowing I only had one more thing to do today helped me feel okay about taking a much needed break.

On Saturday I knew I had to go out for brunch for a friend’s birthday, participate in a panel for fall open house, review for a test, and do a few housekeeping things.

S0044314

Community crew shenanigans post fall open house panel knowing I only had a little bit of studying to do that afternoon meant I had time to frolic in the leaves with these goons.

Going out for brunch for a friend’s birthday on Saturday was another great way to relax, I mean, food is a necessity of life and hanging out with friends is a great way to start the day. After brunch and the panel I buckled down and did some review before having a fun disney movie marathon that night.  picture of brunch food: fries, eggs, tea

Those are my strategies for keeping myself from getting too stressed but whatever strategy works for you is best! The important thing to remember is that a little bit of stress is healthy and keeps you motivated but if you feel you need help, there are a ton of resources availible at U of T (most of them were outlined in the crew’s posts from the last week).

 

 

Holistic Living for a Busy Schedule

My head can really get spinning. With so much going on, including schoolwork, tests, classes, extracurriculars and events, things can get crazy. Stress is a part of university life especially during flip-out times like midterms. But stress is natural and if you aren’t a little stressed about your university activities, you aren’t doing it right.

Let me explain; stress in controlled, healthy amounts is actually a good thing. Going into a mental tailspin, however, is not. If you have a balanced schedule full of activities you enjoy, the stress won’t feel like stress. It will feel like energy. This energy is good and there are many strategies to access it.

Two erasers standing vertically, with pop bottle caps for helmets and paper clips for rifles

Meed Bob and Ted, some veteran study soldiers from my first year. When you are overloaded with work, you can always count on your ability to distract yourself. (photo by Zachary Biech)

I’ll give you an example. Early October has been crazy for me. I’ve never spent so much time doing so many things all at once. In my opinion, it’s a little early in the year to have two midterms and a heavily weighted essay all in October’s first week. But here’s the strange thing. I’ve been working fifteen hours a day for a month straight and yet, my brain never went into code-red meltdown mode.

First reason: My schedule is full of things I love. There. Boom. Easy.

If you fill your day with your passions, it won’t feel like such a battle.

Second: My schedule is balanced.

Your schedule can’t be too heavy on the work and too light on fun and health-oriented activities and vice versa. All work and no play blahblahblah. But how much of each part of your life is necessary and what should actually be included in your day?

First Nations House has an Elder-in-Residence whom I’ve visited a number of times. His name is Andrew Wesley and he is Omushkego Cree from Fort Albany. Elders have invaluable, immense knowledge to share. The teachings I’ve received include protocol for ceremonies which have greatly helped me. At FNH as well as the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto there is plenty of help finding whatever medicines you may need. Also, you can talk with FNH’s Learning Strategist, Bonnie Jane Maracle.

http://www.ncct.on.ca/giftshop.php

Four small medicine bags, made of yellow, red, blue, and white cloth all pointing outwards in the four directions.

These are medicines of the four directions placed in my apartment to ensure it is a safe place to be. The entire atmosphere changed instantly when I put these up. (photo by Zachary Biech)

A small dream-catcher with dark red, white, and teal beads and a multicolour cloth from a Métis sash

My special dream-catcher. The cloth is a small piece of a Métis sash, given to me by Bruce Dumont, President of the Métis Nation of British Columbia. (photo by Zachary Biech)

Elders in Toronto have also really helped me grasp the value of the medicine wheel in balancing life to maintain healthy relationships with the four parts of our beings. You can definitely explore teachings like these at university. There’s more to learn than I could ever teach.

http://www.fourdirectionsteachings.com/main.html

A small living room with tall white bookshelf cubes and TV stand, with a red coffee table and red doors in the white furniture, and with a white with blue ripples in the fabric

The original colour scheme of my apartment: balanced but needed one more colour of the four directions. Can you tell which one? (photo by Zachary Biech)

Here’s a beginner’s guide: life is a continual four-part cycle of our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual selves. Only you know what fills these areas in your life, but rest assured, they all should be respected.  Every Saturday, I spend four hours or so scheduling my week. Though massive, these schedules are balanced in the four areas and allow me to maintain physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual wellness. They’re even colour-coded. Thus, I get more done, I’m healthier in the four areas, and the stress isn’t all that stressful.

A large agenda book with one page of colour-coded daily schedules and the other filled with notes for action items

A relatively light week (photo by Zachary Biech)

A close-up view of daily schedules with colour-coded action items and symbols that only I can understand

When in doubt, colour-code EVERYTHING. My system has become so elaborate, I have a whole new symbol language in there too. (photo by Zachary Biech)

A small memo booklet open to a page with meal plans for each day of the week

An example of my personal management system: The meal plan for this week from the meals section of my memo ledger. (photo by Zachary Biech)

My strategy for balance may not be a perfect match for you, but I think the idea of balance definitely is. If you approach university life holistically, and you fill your days with projects that you love, it’ll go way smoother.

A list of personal action items (music, exercise, ceremonies, reading) and a medicine wheel drawn in my large agenda book

Balance is a big part of my schedule. (Photo by Zachary Biech)

What do you do to maintain your wellness?

pictures of home, cloths for medicines, and a mezmorizing blue lava lamp

Some tools for balance: pictures of home, cloths for medicines, and a mesmerizing lava lamp. (photo by Zachary Biech)