Building Your Emotional Arsenal for Grad School and beyond.

Grad School doesn’t have to be an emotional rollercoaster.

Grad School doesn’t have to be an emotional rollercoaster.

Alright, so boom. School has started you've gotten into the swing of your schedule (I hope).  You're getting readings done, sitting in the front of the class, turning in those assignments not just on time but a little early! Yes! Go you! Handle that biz! Ride the wave with all the wins.

Now hear me out when I say this because it's grounded in truth and the intention of helping you NOT to put down all the good that's happening.  With that said: Something is going to go NOT right.  You may forget your reading. You might be tired from a long day, or two or three, and get behind. You may be late to class and find someone new in your seat (sidenote: literally the most annoying thing ever 🙄🙄) and you'll have to sit in the back.

Before these moments happen, it's useful to have some tools at your disposal to help you deal with these situations and do so in a healthy manner. I don't think there are one-size-fits-all solutions so instead here are some prompts to help you sort through what that may look like for you. You can use this blog post as a guide to writing your answers in your phone, journal, whatever.


1. What are some of the types of feelings I experience when things don't go as planned?


Maybe you're feeling overwhelmed, deflated, lethargic, angry, sad, or simply not your best. Different situations will elicit different responses but identifying 2-3 different feelings will help in crafting a strategy when those moments arise. If you are having a hard time figuring out those feelings go back to a moment from your job or previous education experiences and think on a moment when something didn't go well. It doesn’t need to be an event that reintroduces trauma (I'd advise against that), more like a smaller but still emotion-evoking events that you can review and use that to inform your answer.


2. When these events arise what do I need?


This question comes straight from my therapist, but it is a game-changer. In moments when my anxiety shoots through the roof and if I take a moment to notice what's going on, I go back to this question. There are two reasons this is good. First, it helps you to think of solutions to move to a better headspace and second it puts you back in control of how you're feeling. There's no wrong answer for this but think of stressful moments in the past and actions that went well or didn't go as well.


3. What kind of support do I want to give myself?

 This isn't bubble baths and manicures. I'm referring to caring for your emotional and mental self. How can you soothe yourself? Can breathing exercises or body movement (e.g. yoga, stretching, etc.). Affirmations? A nap? Journaling? Whatever those things might be, make a quick list that you can reference. 


4. What kind of support do I want from others?

Do you need solitude? Positive reinforcement? A listening ear (with or without commentary)? Know that every situation doesn't require the same response but again having this toolkit at your disposal makes it easier to manage when get hairy. I've shared on Episode 51: Emotional Rollercoaster, about my team of family and friends I call when I need support. They each offer something a little different, my brother/mentor Maurice gives me tough love that is grounding about this experience, my friend Kelsie prays with and for me and provides the empathy I need at times. My friend Liza is my strategy partner, we figure out smart next steps, she's even helped me craft emails when I’m at a loss for words. My momma also boosts me up. I don't call all of them every time but I know who to call and what I need from each.


5. What turns my mood up?


This is when we get to the manicures, the bubble baths and such. What are some gifts you can give to yourself? Something of these things maybe maintenance activities others may be in case of emergency activities. I maintain with doing my nails (more budget-friendly than going to the salon) and using my favorite body wash and body butter--it's a lil’ lavish I admit but it's a small boost in my days that make other sacrifices feel a little less intense. Emergency mood boosters might be some LIGHT shopping, happy hour, listening to your favorite podcast, or dessert to turn that mood up! Think about it and figure those out as well for a well-rounded emotional emergency toolkit.


I hope this post was helpful. We'll be discussing this over in the group chat next week. These also make for great journal prompts if you're into that sort of thing. Chime in and let us know what works for you or learn about something new!

7 Ways to Set Yourself Up for the Academic Year with Less Stress


So what do you need to have in order before school starts? I work out what I think are the top tools & actions you can complete before school starts.


1. Get your Tech Tools Together

This is so important! We live in a world with lots of distractions, information overload, jam-packed schedules and hella tasks to complete in any given day. Tech tools like the ones I’ve listed help to streamline some of the overwhelm and others help keep the distractions at bay:

Pomodoros: MyTomatoes is my not-so-secret weapon to getting things done. It's a straightforward tracker for the Pomodoro technique--where you work in 25 minute spurts followed by a 5 min break. I've been using it since 2014 and have logged almost 3,000 pomodoro sessions. Even when I don't keep up with the pomodoros it helps get the ball rolling.

SimpleBlocker: This is a Google chrome extension for days when you can't pull your away from productivity busters. You know,

  • Hulu

  • Netflix

  • Facebook Think Pieces

  • Facebook

  • Friends’ funny memes on Facebook

  • Your personal e-mail

RescueTime: This is a phone and computer app that tracks the amount of time you spend working vs. not working. It breaks down the time on your computer and your phone into categories so you can see where you’re spending your time.

A screenshot of my RescueTime dashboard. I had to find a good week 😂

A screenshot of my RescueTime dashboard. I had to find a good week 😂

Routinist: I'll talk more about this later

Do Not Disturb: This is an option available on most smartphones. You can schedule DND times so you can focus distraction-free.

Google Scholar Alerts: Why spend time searching for articles everyday when Google can do it for you? Set up google alerts for your favorite researchers or relevant keywords and get a list of research articles to read everyday!

Citation Manager: I literally don’t know how one gets through graduate school without a citation manager. Zotero (my personal choice, Mendeley, RefWorks, EndNote, whatever. Pick one and use it. I know for a fact Zotero and Mendeley have Google Chrome Extensions that make for saving and storing articles literally a click of a button.

2. Get ahead of your reading

If you can ask for syllabi about 1-2 weeks before classes start s you can get a head start on reading. This is a great tip from Episode 12 with Cssie where she shared how she starts reading about a week or two before classes start to give herself some leeway for thing that will come up over the semester.

3. Set your goals for the academic year

…or at least the fall semester. Of course Scholar Circle members can schedule their goal setting and action planning session every semester they choose to remain in the community.

4. Set up an ideal schedule/routines.

The power of routines is discussed in all forms of media. Most of the time the focus is placed on morning, evening, skin, or self-care routines. These are all really important and if you struggle with keeping up with your routines, I strongly encourage you to download Routinist on your phone. It’s a sweet little app that helps you develop and set a routine.

Screen Shot 2019-08-16 at 11.33.30 AM.png

I want to encourage you to set another routine—a work routine. This comprises of your setup to get work done. As an example I’ll share my work routine:

(1) I write out what I want to accomplish in my work log.

(2) I open a new Chrome page and open MyTomatoes, Pandora or YouTube.

(3) and set a timer for 1.5-4 hours.

(4) optional If I’m having an especially distracted day I also turn on my SimpleBlock.

This routine triggers my mind (usually) to get to work.

5. Gather as much research literature as you can.


Things will likely get crazy as the semester progresses so if I strongly suggest this if you struggle with keeping up with reading articles. Half the battle is having something to even read, spend half a day finding a saving a bunch of articles that seem relevant to your work. This effort in conjunction with setting up Google Scholar alerts will ensure you always have something to read. Also remember the graphic on how to read articles to the right.

6. Deep clean your space

Because sometimes shit gets crazy during the school year. Start with a purge then donate or sell what you're getting rid of (cash flow is that you?) While this topic is incredibly important, it’s outside of my scope so let me send you to my favorite cleaning blog, Unf*ck Your Habitat. It has a pretty entertaining take on cleaning!

7. If this is your first year, practice your route and mode choice to school!

Story time: The summer before I started my PhD I had these lofty goals and dreams of biking to school everyday and being in the best shape of my life. I made a big fuss about getting a bike and my best friend Chelsea surpised me with one at my going away party. I was so excited! On the first day of classes I rode my bike to campus and it was not think hair blowing in the wind, sing song-y experience. It was more like heavy breathing, uncomfortable amounts of sweating and I didn’t even ride the bike home I just pushed it next to me up the two steep hills back to my apartment.

If I could do it all over I wouldn’t have even brought up a bike because I only rode it for exercise because the hills were just too steep. I should have checked the outlay of the land first. Don’t be like me, be smart.

That’s it for now, I’ll have a few more things you can look into once the semester is rolling.

Trust me—You need a work log.


What is a work log?

Exactly what is sounds like. A work log or tracker help you to keep track of what you're getting done on any given day. I read about this first in the book Getting What You Came For back in 2013 and felt it was overly involved but it showed up again when I read Becoming an Academic Writer (which I highly recommend) and decided to give it a try. I encourage it as a part of the Balanced Scholar Challenge but never suggested it as a long term habit, more so a way to create a baseline on how much time it takes you to complete tasks related to grad school--reading and writing. So before I even offer this as a suggestion I tried it out for myself and wanted to get through 100 log entries before I offer it up as a suggestion.


What are the benefits of a work log?

I started the log because of the points laid out in Becoming an Academic Writer accountability to self, accountability to others should you choose to share your writing log with an advisor or fellow scholar, and finally positive reinforcement. From my personal experience, I want to add to this pretty solid list that it's also great with keep track of the progress your making. I think that has been the most useful is remembering where I was at when I was done working for the day and what I need to do the next day. It's also useful for collecting more data on how long it takes you to complete tasks and hours between project milestones. So really there's the six  benefits of the work log:

  • Accountability with self

  • Possible: Accountability with others

  • Positive Reinforcement

  • Keep track of the work you're doing

  • Get data points on how much time your working

  • Deeper understanding of how long it takes you to complete tasks

How to set up a work log and how do I use it?

Ok it's super easy a work log is simply a spreadsheet. Here's the spreadsheet you can use and I've provided a few example entries from my log as well.

It’s very straightforward. Before you start working, quickly jot down what it is you want to accomplish. Right before you start working capture the time you're getting started. Then? WORK!  As I've shared before I use the Pomodoro technique and find that I usually do well working for 1.5-2.5 hours at a time so once I finish a session I capture what was accomplished. When I'm wrapping up work for the day I give like a brief on what I did and what I need to accomplish next. Usually this makes the next day's entry easy because I simply copy and paste it to the next day's task list.  I like to keep track of the entry # because I don't like seeing big gaps in my entries (even though they happen, I'm human 🤷🏾‍♀️) that means no work was done and I don't like that.


So, are you ready to try it out?

Next week let's do a mini-challenge inside The Scholar Circle! We'll do a work log Monday-Wednesday (July 26-28, 2019); we'll check in Tuesday during our usual time then again on Thursday to see how it feels! You in? Sound off in the group chat!