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The Mid-Semester Slump

Empty fuel gage

The frenetic work ethic borne from having four assignments due in the same week hasn’t kicked in yet. You know it can’t last; you know that at some stage you’re going to have to put your head down and start studying, but right now you just can’t manage it.

That reading can surely wait another few days; that essay another week… Until you realise that the people poring over textbooks aren’t just the gunners anymore. Everyone is studying. Why aren’t you?

This is the mid-semester slump and this is how you can fix it.

The first step is to distinguish a slump from everyday procrastination. It’s normal to skip a lecture here and there, to dismiss a reading as ‘too hard’ before even opening the book, and it’s fine to sometimes sink into ‘thoughtful silence’ in tutorials. What distinguishes a slump from these lapses is the way it plays on your mind.

You coast along fine for the first couple of weeks of semester, attending cursory introduction lectures, the first page of your notes reading “what is Administrative Law” or an equivalent. The most time-consuming activity with which you will engage in at this stage is carefully creating a timetable using of your brand-new highlighters (using all of them equally to ensure one doesn’t run out earlier than the others).

Your first assignment isn’t due until May. You are lulled into a false sense of security that you will not recognise until it is too late, but for now you enjoy the last few summer days, oblivious to the impending and paralysing anxiety you have unwittingly inflicted upon your future self.

Suspicions are aroused around week three. You hear people arguing in tutorials over cases you’ve never heard of and debating points you’re sure not even the lecturer considered. The library population swells and you hear snatches of conversations about assignments for units you haven’t attended yet. A seed of panic plants itself in your stomach but at this stage it’s easy to ignore. You reassure yourself: the people arguing are gunners, the people talking about assignments just want to show off. You don’t have to study yet.

But by week four, there’s no denying it. Everyone is studying. Waves of panic and anxiety sweep through you every time you see someone with a textbook; guilt gnaws at you constantly, your stomach churns when you think of all the work you have piling up. And for some reason, you still don’t do it. You still put it off, you still tell yourself not to worry. Why? Because you simply cannot fathom doing even the smallest thing that relates to work.

This is where a slump differs from a normal disappearance of motivation: you never had motivation to begin with, and you can’t let yourself forget it. This isn’t a lapse in your usual impeccable lecture-attendance record; this is not knowing a single thing about the unit because you haven’t been to class once. This isn’t you finding it difficult being back from holidays; this is about being five weeks into semester and being crowned with the dubious honour of being the only person in the class who hasn’t opened the textbook.

This is about lacking even a single iota of energy to devote to study and knowing about it beyond a shadow of a (reasonable) doubt. This is about the way the guilt at not studying plays on your mind, being compounded by your friends’ stories about their weekends writing essays. This is about how the guilt churns over and over and grows bigger and bigger until the thought of studying becomes this enormous impossible block you can’t possibly think to overcome.

But it’s ok. The solution is simple. Clichéd and vaguely athletic, but simple: just do it.

Stop making excuses for yourself. Just get to it. It’s real now, make an effort. Start with little goals so you don’t overwhelm yourself: go to a lecture and pay attention the whole time. Answer one question in a tutorial. Try and get through a reading for a class and if you only make it to page four congratulate yourself on getting four pages further than you did last week. Make a calendar and highlight when your assignments are due – not to panic yourself, but to help you prioritise. The more little goals you achieve the more you will chip away at your block and the easier it will become.

Chances are it won’t all crystallise at once; you won’t be spontaneously cured of this. That’s fine. All you need to do right now is clear your mind, open your books and get started.

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