Hitting the books the unbusy way

Image: Pinterest

Image: Pinterest


Whenever I tell people I’m a University student and I have three children, and work part time, they think I’m a mega superstar woman who has managed to “have it all”.

I think they envision a woman whose household is tidy and organised, with pre cooked meals in storage containers in the freezer and children with perfect hair wearing crisp white shirts and uncrushed linen pants, running around in the backyard catching butterflies. Meanwhile I’m sitting at my clean study desk listening to a thought-provoking lecture that I’m managing to memorise without having to write notes. Perfect score assignments and test results.

As much as I’d love to play along with this fantasy, the reality is quite different.

Typically, all of my assignments are due during the school holiday period. There’s nothing more fun than sitting at your desk trying to type a report while a child is holding onto your right arm, telling you every five minutes that they’re hungry. Have you tried typing with one hand?

So then I try the approach of studying when I get home from work at 10pm. But by then, I just want to crawl into my warm cosy bed and watch trashy TV.

But when I’m finally on a roll and ploughing through a report, the words are flowing nicely and lightbulbs full of ideas are switching on in my head, the following happens:

-The house work gets put aside. The dishes are sitting in the sink waiting to be washed. The dirty clothes are piling up in the laundry. The beds are unmade. There are crumbs all over the floor. There is very little food in the fridge and pantry.

-The kids get away with more. They can sit infront of the TV watching movies or playing computer games and mum doesn’t say anything.

-The phone doesn’t get answered, the text messages are not read and there is no Facebook status update or Instagram photo.

Prior to my unbusy life, these three things would have stressed me to no end and I would have been tearing my hair out. I would have had my to-do list with 35 items that all had to be ticked off by the end of the day or else I would feel unaccomplished. I would have checked my Facebook newsfeed as soon as I got out of bed. And there’s no way my kids would have been watching much TV.

What’s changed?

When you decide to live a more meaningful and less busy life, one of the things you throw out the window is the desire to live a perfect life. You learn to embrace imperfection and you realise that “this too shall pass”. This is really hard if you are a prefectionist, or you always need to be in control. I was one of these people. I never liked it if things didn’t go to plan.

But this contributed to a busy, hectic, and unfulfilling life. Running around worrying about making everything perfect and “the way it should be”, living up to unrealistic expectations and stressing about things outside of one’s control often leads to pretty bad consequences. Maybe not straight away, but maybe later down the track. General unhappiness, negativity, financial stress, illness.

Back to the crazy Uni mum sitting at her desk. It’s approaching exam time for us University parents and the thought of catching up on missed lectures and note writing along with all the other responsibilities as a parent seems too overwhelming. So here’s my list of tips to unbusy yourself and prepare for exams:

-Learn to accept that as long as you meet the basic needs of food, clothing and shelter, everything else can wait. If the kids have good food to eat, clean clothes to wear and can still get a hug from mum, then everything else will fall into place.

-Embrace “Chunk Study”- study in small chunks of time. It might be too hard to set aside two hours to listen to a lecture, or to read a whole chapter of a textbook. Instead, listen to 15 minutes of a lecture then pause it and walk away. Or read two pages of a book and then put it down.

-Give up the fantasy of a high distinction and accept that old saying “P’s get degrees”. Try your best, but sometimes we have to accept that there are other more important things in our lives than exam results.

-Go for a walk or run. Keeping up some form of exercise is vital to staying healthy and refreshed before exams. Eat well and get an early night’s sleep the night before an exam.

-Find what method of learning suits you best. It has taken me three years to figure out that I am the kind of person who learns more when cramming the information in the last couple of weeks rather than trying to remember everything along the way. I find it too difficult to retain things I have learnt in week’s 1 and 2 for the next 8 weeks. Are you a visual learner? Then draw some diagrams. Maybe you like to verbalise everything- record yourself reading revision notes and then replay it while you are doing the housework or sitting on the train.

-Learn to say no to things that are not important during your study period.

-Put the social catch ups on hold.

-Don’t take on a new project at work.

-Delegate tasks to other people.

-Ask for support and have a cry on someone’s shoulder if need be. Then pick yourself up and continue on with the task.

On the day of your exam, have a nice healthy breakfast, put a smile on your face and remember that what you don’t know by now, you will never know. Walk into that exam room and be proud that you have showed up!

Good luck to all Australian University students sitting upcoming exams!

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  1. Thank you Natalie, I loved reading this and I feel like I am sitting next to you through it all. I hope to read more well done.

  2. Oh yes!

    I chip away at everything, so that maybe not everything is done, but it is always ‘being done’ .. and I definitely work in chunks .. it makes everything less daunting and I find I get it done with less boredom and distraction too.

    If I pass through any room, i’ll do something, wipe something down, pick something up.. often mulling over a work problem I need to tackle. I also have to run slow & lengthy programmes at times, so take those 10minutes to get up and do a home task or two. I know that if I sat at my computer waiting, I would get stuck on social media … and then hours can pass 🙂



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