Why you feel “out of control” in your studies – and what to do about it
Everyone’s on their own educational journey, and there’s a world of reasons why one might feel “out of control” at school.
Here at StudyTime – from procrastination to perfectionism – we’ve seen it all.
If you want to succeed at school, you need to first accept that you have your own unique strengths and weaknesses – different from your neighbour’s. And, if you’re anything like the most of us, you’ll probably relish in the things that you’re good at, and avoid that which you’re not so good at.
Nonetheless – In an endeavour to tackle the vastness that is educational barriers, we’ve compiled some common complaints and some practical ways to begin managing them.
This is probably one of the first things to come to a students mind when they think about the things they struggle with in school. For those right in the back, procrastination can be thought of as ‘applied anxiety’ which is really just an academic way of saying ‘this is how anxiety manifests itself’.
We procrastinate because our brain recognises the task we have to do as unpleasant, and because of this we avoid doing it.
The issue with this is that the longer we put it off, the worse we’re going to feel.
Just like addiction, the first step in overcoming procrastination is admitting you have a problem. So what can you actually do? You can begin by making a list of all the things you have to do. This is generally easy enough but bear a few things in mind when creating your to-do’s:
- Keep your objectives small, there’s no point in just having ‘write a 2000 word essay’ at the top of a page. Break it down into smaller, achievable chunks that are far less daunting.
- Order your tasks: this can be done in a few different ways, but two things that are important to think about is your timeframe and how important the task is. The sooner it’s due, the sooner it should be done, and same for importance.
- Try not to overload your lists: if possible, keep your tasks to 4-5 things max. Writing a 10-page script of things to do for the rest of your month isn’t super efficient because you’re likely to a) lose your list and b) scare yourself out of tackling anything.
Another way to try and beat your procrastination is being aware of when you are – in fact – procrastinating a task. It’s easy to think about something once and forget, but if we remind ourselves periodically that we have something to do, we’ll probably be more likely to do it as the guilt builds (sorry). You could do something like setting an alarm on your phone, or asking someone to remind you at a certain time if you haven’t started yet. If you want to read a bit more on procrastination and overcoming it, check out this.
Again, a student classic. Despite popular opinion, we can actually do something about this. Motivation, like any kind of skill, can be developed.
What it comes down to is the kind of motivations you have and this can be split roughly into two categories: intrinsic and extrinsic.
Intrinsic motivation is the internal stuff like curiosity, passion, and self-satisfaction. This kind of motivation is really centred around the idea of ‘doing it for you’ and it’s the thing that makes people pick up hobbies.
Extrinsic motivation is the external stuff. In a school context this translates into things like grades. Another common extrinsic motivation may be monetary reward.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise when we say that intrinsic motivation is much more useful in getting that long-lasting commitment.
That’s all well and good, but how do we tap into it?
Will it contribute to something you want to do later on in life? Will it give you a skill you may not have had previously (eg. critical thinking, logic, problem solving).
Also, consider how your assignment can be useful to think across subjects. Quite often, we think of each school subject as independent categories that have no crossover, but this really isn’t the case. For example, formulae rearrangement learnt in maths can be applied in the sciences to understand the relationships between different concepts. Additionally, the writing skills you learn in English will help you in writing a CV.
Thinking about the ways things can benefit you outside of that subject can be a great source of motivation because it provides some outer context and applicability – something a lot of us struggle with.
For those of you who just struggle to get started, begin small. Quite often, the most difficult thing about studying is sitting down at the desk. Starting with a small task that can be done in 5 minutes is a great motivator, because once you’re doing the task you’re much more inclined to keep going.
Think of it as a snowball effect.
Organisation is just as important as actually starting your study. If you think of study like the “cooking” part of the meal – think of organisation as the trusted recipe to follow.
A lot of ‘study’ can be spent fumbling around trying to make sense of what it is you have to do. Organising your study (and thoughts) beforehand saves time later because you know exactly what you have to do.
Organisation is something important within all your subjects, but also across them as you have to be able to juggle topics and multiple assignments. A tricky task for sure.
The key to good organisation is foresight. (i.e. getting a good idea of what assignments you’ll have throughout the year and when they’ll be). The schedules teachers give out at the beginning of the year can sometimes change, but even this as a vague skeleton of your year will help.
For example, you may notice that you have multiple things due in week 7. You can prepare around this so when it rolls around, you’re not surprised by the workload and you can even begin early so the stress isn’t as concentrated on one period of time.
Creating a calendar of your school year is the perfect way to identify pressure points throughout the term, and make a study schedule to suit these extra demands.
Subject-specific organisation is unique to each person and boils down to how you like to study and the methods that you’ve found effective. You may like to colour code, use different files, use books, or a device (although handwriting is always better).
Experiment with techniques to find what suits you best. Don’t get too caught up in creating the perfect study schedule that is colour coded down to the hour and requires 8 hours of study per day.
The best method is to create a flexible and simple schedule, which you can aim to loosely follow. This means that if you fall off the wagon a little, (which, let’s be honest, is a likelihood), you can get back on the horse easily, without having ruined your entire plan – and subsequently give up forever.
Again, think of your calendar/schedule like a recipe for a complicated meal. If you don’t follow the recipe, you’ll probably run into some trouble and stress when you’re preparing your dish.
But – like a good recipe – there should always be room to put your own “twist” on it, adding flavour, taking context into account, and allowing you to tweak the portions and timing to fit your own needs.
This one has a bit of an interesting rep because it’s not always seen as a bad thing.
However, those of us out there who are true perfectionists will fully understand the feeling of not being able to start because you know it’s not going to be perfect the first time around, or not knowing when to finish because there’s always something more to add.
It can be debilitating and prevent students from feeling happy or confident in their abilities.
If you struggle to start, begin small with a brainstorm with everything you think may be useful to your work. From this, you can combine ideas, get some main points, and maybe delete less-important stuff.
A next step can be to give your ideas structure with a plan. This will take many different forms depending on the subject matter. The important thing is these are supposed to be messy so it can be separated from the final piece which is ideal for some of us.
Not knowing when to stop is a challenge because there always seems to be something we can do to improve a piece of work.
The key here is to be well-acquainted with your standard and any other specific things your teacher is wanting from the class.
Our Walkthrough guides are a great resource for this, as they tell you exactly what you need to meet an Achieved, Merit or Excellence grade within your subject standard.
Other than that, having good communication with your teachers and making sure you understand the standard itself is a good way to mentally bookend your work so you know exactly what is expected of you.
For some more information on perfectionism, check this out.
Did you think we would forget this one? The reason we’ve put it last is because all of the previous points can generate a lot of the anxiety students feel. Therefore, almost all of the tips we’ve thrown out there could be of aid.
Anxiety is (frequently) an endpoint because you’re unsure about something else. Other times it’s not, and we’ll try tackle that too.
If you struggle with anxiety regularly, to the point where it stops your ability to perform basic tasks, you should seek some help from the experts. The LowDown has a really great page for managing anxiety when you feel like it’s becoming a serious problem, as well as self-help tests for recognising when you have an anxiety disorder.
When it comes to school-related anxiety, think about what exactly it is that’s making you anxious. It can be difficult to pinpoint but one way of getting to the root of a problem is asking yourself ‘why’ repeatedly until you’re at the core of the issue.
When you can see the root cause of your anxiety clearly, it becomes less scary to overcome.
For example, you could be anxious about an upcoming science assessment.
Because I don’t like it, and I’m not going to do well in it.
Because we’re working in groups.
Why is this bad?
Because I don’t feel as though I’m fully in control of the work I produce and therefore my final grade.
So how can this be dealt with?
You can keep going but generally about 5 why questions (or less) will arrive you at your true feelings about something. While this won’t fix the issue, at least now you know exactly what is bothering you which you can then begin to work on.
Unfortunately for some of us, we’re just anxious without rhyme or reason. In this case, it’s important that you’re communicating this with someone who can help you, such as parents, teachers or a trusted professional.
This can be difficult, we know. But try to keep the perspective that it will help you in the long run and the sooner it can be addressed, the sooner something can be done.
For more stuff on anxiety, check this article out.
To sum up
Education is a personal journey, and the challenges you will face will not be the same to those around you.
This is totally fine, but it does mean you’ll have to put independent effort into overcoming the challenges you face.
Think of it as being one step closer to achieving the title of ‘independent learner’ so you can finally feel in control of school – not the other way around.