Representing the creative future

How to manage your time when your schedule works against you

Tips and tricks for when you feel overwhelmed and tired

A thorough look inside the daily lives of university students, especially of those studying in the creative fields, would never fail to lay upon a very common scenario that typically presents itself during the unbearable weeks that precede an exam or a hand-in. What it would certainly see, among a messy desk and an even messier room, is a restless soul trying to go through the pile of papers which have accumulated, or else forcing itself to stay up all night to hand in its work last minute. How can we manage our time to avoid the torture of work anxiety?

As a matter of fact, it is not unusual for fashion and art students to find themselves caught up in too many projects at a time, all too demanding of their creativity; or rather to study for a concerningly long time before an exam, in an effort to memorize all of the information as quickly as possible.

It is most important to remember that nobody is alone when experiencing these incredibly stressing and intense moments.

While sometimes the problem lies with our own organization skills, other times our schedule simply requires our energy on too many tasks. Usually, when this happens, we start experiencing a familiar range of emotions that go from feeling overwhelmed to exhaustion, from anxiety to confusion. The turmoil we go through is the perfect environment in which such inhibiting feelings spring and we are left dealing with a frantic mindset that slows us down during our learning process. In the worst situations, all of this results in experiencing what is most similar to a burnout, a condition related to overwhelming amounts of stress. In a TED Interview series called “How to Deal with Difficult Feelings”, Dr. Emily Nagoski and Dr. Amelia Nagoski, co-authors of the book “Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle”, have explained three ways in which burnout can manifest itself. According to the 1970s definition of Herbert Freudenberger that they provide, burnout “involves depersonalization, where you separate yourself emotionally from your work instead of investing yourself and feeling like it’s meaningful; a decreased sense of accomplishment, where you just keep working harder and harder for less and less sense that what you are doing is making any difference; and emotional exhaustion.”

Work anxiety leads to either experiencing a creative drought or pulling all-nighters to make up for the lost time.

For fashion and art students like us, work stress, along with the guilt of “doing what you love”, might translate into a series of responses and behaviors that rather look like this: we start working harder and being unnecessarily harsh with ourselves, neglecting our needs and personal life because we are too focused on getting our work done. Or we start procrastinating and delaying our duties because they cause too much anxiety and we subconsciously think that there is no way we can successfully confront our assignments. But, as we know, this ultimately leads to either experiencing a creative drought or pulling all-nighters to make up for the lost time. In the first case, all the stress that has built up inside us holds back our own creativity: the term “drought” accurately describes the feeling of struggling with ideas and inspiration which leaves us in despair. In the second case, we consciously choose to deal with the effects of sleep deprivation, giving up on the restorative time we need to rest and relax instead of prioritizing it.

The puzzling, yet comforting, thing about similar experiences is that, more often than not, these hyperbolically worsening scenarios can be caused by some inefficiencies in our routines. If we think about it, in most circumstances we employ so much of our time in tasks that can be dealt with in smarter and less time-consuming ways. Take for instance the endless process of researching the right reference that many of our visually creative projects require, something which if not well thought-out might take up hours. Or think about how confusing our class notes can be if we have never revised them throughout the semester or if we leave them all over the place on our computers: all small, off-putting occurrences that end up taking a lot of the time that we could have used for studying or creating. And while all of this is true, the exact opposite is just as dangerous: overplanning is a bottomless pit in which we indulge in a perfectionist attitude that does not meet our needs, neither proves to be the right approach to address our organizational issues.

In the end though, it is most important to remember that nobody is alone when experiencing these incredibly stressing and intense moments. When everything seems out of control we can begin to comfort ourselves by thinking that maybe someone else too can understand how we feel and that our behaviors are a natural response to our environments. This being said, universities should always be concerned about their students’ health and commit to promoting an environment in which being at ease is more important than meeting strict deadlines. In the meanwhile, when our schedules still get the best of ourselves, here are a few tips that might be helpful with study time management:


1. Express and acknowledge your feelings: talking to a friend, writing down what is happening around you and how it is affecting you can be the first step to understand how to move forward.

2. Think day by day: keep it simple, make a list of things you can do during the day and decide when to do them and for how long. It should not be intimidating, but rather a quick arrangement to set the right pace and help you not focus too much on a task while neglecting another.  

3. Don’t feel the pressure to do everything on your to-do list: it causes more anxiety, leading to stress and eventually to either working too much or procrastinating. A to-do list does not take into consideration all the mishaps and unplanned events that can occur. 

4. Master research on internet and social media: keep a folder with all the useful websites and archives; on social media open a dedicated account where you can find references. This might also help you seperate your personal and social time from work. Turn off notifications; looking at the screen will surely make you lose your focus.

5. Find what fires your imagination: when creating it is crucial to feel inspired. Music, art shows, photographs, books and everything you find stimulating are key for feeling driven and also having fun, which is just as important. If you feel stuck, maybe take an hour to watch clips of your favourite movie, or revisit some of your main inspirations. Sometimes it helps to take a step back and refresh what got your into your interests and passions. 

6. Researching is great, but do not overdo it: sometimes your research uncovers so much that it feels like all the time in the world would not be enough to learn everything. Know when to stop and filter what you need from what is extra. 

7. Organize your notes after class: do it periodically and check you have everything you need. It might help you save time when you get back at them to study.

8. If you are having a hard time remembering what you have studied or learned during a workshop, ask a friend to check in on you: studying together can help both of you improve your knowledge and fill in any gaps you might have.  

9. Take frequent breaks: your mind needs to wander and relax, especially after being absorbed in studying. It is not a waste of time and it will help you stay focused for longer.

10. Lose the perfectionist mindset: start with little changes in your routine and know that it might take some time to see results. Time is a construct; do not be too hard on yourself when things do not go as you had planned. Routines should adapt to what best suits you, and at the end that is the best strategy of all.