You know it well: That time halfway through every semester when the obligations pile up, when your to-do lists just aren’t enough to get everything done. You go into survival mode, purging from your schedule everything but those assignments due tomorrow. And time for writing is often the first thing to go. Even if you can squeeze in the time, you’re just too tired—maybe tomorrow.
This is a student saga all too familiar, and one that needs careful management. Writing, after all, can’t only be a part of your life during the few empty weeks of the school year.
My theory is thus that energy should be carefully and consciously spent, leaving enough for your daily creative tasks. Often, students have at least one major negative source of energy in their lives, a class or extracurricular that brings more than its fair share of stress. My goal publishing this post in the summer is to prevent this epidemic before the school year frenzy starts.
In this post, I suggest two possible solutions:
My junior year of high school, I picked upper-level Chemistry as my science. At my school, Chemistry was known as the GPA killer, the class those looking for something like an A avoided.
The smart thing, of course, would have been to take another, less brutal science. Instead, I ended up in an academic hell of lab-induced all-nighters and frantic flashcard making, effort that siphoned time and energy away from my creative work.
Student life, of course, requires a certain level of scholarship. School, like your mother tells you, is the most important part of your life right now. It’s your job, your priority. It’s important that you take difficult classes and do well in them. It’s important that you challenge yourself, push beyond what you think you can do.
But here’s what no one tells you: You can’t challenge yourself in every facet of your life. You’ll drown or barely stay afloat, defeating the entire purpose of a challenge in the first place (that purpose being, of course, to push beyond your boundaries, to not only stay afloat but to win the butterfly). No one wins the Pulitzer while also running a Fortune 500 company. It’s too demanding.
(And if you’re worried that college admissions officers expect you to be winning Pulitzers and running Fortune 500 companies, they don’t. Says Brown University:
Keep in mind that we favor quality over quantity in an application—extra “stuff” can sometimes be a distraction! [When it comes to activities], a judiciously selected sampling may make a stronger impression than an exhaustive list.)
In other words, do fewer things better.
Chemistry was my Fortune 500 company. The straw that broke the camel’s back. It’s not that I couldn’t do it, but that I couldn’t do it within the 24 hours a day I was given. Instead of a challenge to be conquered—along with Debate, my writing endeavors, and my other classes—it became something to be survived. And it dragged down a huge amount of my time and energy with it.
Because here’s the rub: Creative tasks require energy as much as they require time. Writes the International Journal of Academic Research:
Studies have shown that creative behavior requires individuals’ time and energy…. Without energy, the ability for innovation will not appear and employees will be less involved in creative activities.
Negative sources of energy, therefore, should be eliminated whenever possible. All the to-do lists in the world won’t make a time sink manageable. Your Chemistry class may be a sport, an extracurricular, a class, or a job—whatever it is, quit. Call your guidance counselor to rearrange your schedule without that AP or let your coach know you won’t be at practice this year. You will gain not only hours in the day but the energy it takes to succeed at school and in your creative life.
Of course, quitting isn’t always possible. You miss the drop period or have already started planning the school dance or have agreed to be president of French Club. You’re in too deep.
In these situations, minimization is the key. In my Chemistry class, instead of struggling for an A, I could have refused to study for more than an hour a day and simply accepted the B I got anyway. With leadership roles, delegate—assign different people to plan the decorations, the music, the food until the work you’re left with is nearly nonexistent. And once the allotted time for these activities is over, once the scheduled study time has elapsed or the club meeting is over, forget about it. Minimize it.
I’d love to hear your own experiences with negative sources of energy. What have you done to deal with them?
Sunday’s post will again deal with energy, but this time with how to create and conserve it with positive sources.