Blogging in School

Disclaimer: I’m not going to claim that this is a tell-all blog on the secrets of blogging while under serious time constraints. I don’t have all of the secrets, and of the ones that I do have, many are specific to my particular situation, my particular daily routine, my specific mindset… But I’m going to share what I have here, in hopes that some of it may help you out too.

I’m a full time undergraduate student at the University of Texas at Austin, taking 12-13 hours per semester, double majoring in mathematics and computer science, and working ~10 hours each week as a learning assistant for various math classes (This semester, it’s a probability class.). I love going to school, but the schoolwork in addition to the work work takes up a massive amount of time, probably 80-90 hours per week (All of my classes are upper division), and I place them as my top priority. In addition, for the first time in my life, I’m living in an apartment–with an utterly worthless roommate. This means that I have to make time for grocery shopping, cleaning, cooking, etc. regularly, which cuts heavily into my remaining leisure hours. On top of this, because I’m not satisfied with having even a single free waking moment, I am trying to walk 10k+ steps per day, maintain a vigorous reading schedule, and review and post actively on this blog.

Last semester, I didn’t do a very good job of it. I slacked off on the blog, on the cleaning, heck, on pretty much everything except school and work. And occasionally sleep. It kind of sucked, so part of my project over the break was to get things in order so that I could have a better semester. I’m also taking classes that, hopefully, have a lighter workload, so I won’t be quite as overwhelmed, but that’s not enough for me to stay on top of blogging. Here’s a few of the things I’m doing to stay ahead and be able to write regular blog posts, including this one. While this is written to help find blogging time, it may help with your schedule even if you’re not trying to fit in blogging.

The largest, most obvious piece of advice is to use every waking moment. I make myself do this by writing up a schedule every day, usually the night before, where I list out activities by the 30 minute or hour level, such as right now, 8-9, Bus to campus and work on writing this post. I have found that if I don’t pre-specify what I should be doing at a specific point in time, I’ll just sit around and do nothing, or pick something easy and ignore the stuff that really needs to be done. I will also overestimate the amount of time I’ll have later, and that leads to late nights and very little sleep.

I also have to get enough sleep. I’ve spent several semesters of college operating on a very limited sleep schedule, with perhaps 5 hours of sleep per night, and it just makes me miserable and unproductive. I have found that I’m much happier if I make myself stop what I’m working on and go to sleep earlier, even if it means more activities for the next day. I’ve also found that reading before bed helps with this, and if I can grab 30 minutes of something—recently, LotR—while I’m lying in bed trying to get to sleep, it makes it much easier to fall asleep, calming my mind after a crazy day. I actually find I *save* time by doing this; without the reading it often can take me that much longer to fall asleep, unless I’m completely exhausted.

Once I have enough sleep and a schedule, I also have to find the time in my schedule to write the blog posts. Sometimes, it seems as if schoolwork takes up every hour of the day, leaving no time for non-necessities. I have to consider two more things that make it possible for me to do this. The first is knowing how to schedule efficient study time.

I am a block worker on many, many projects. It will take me a while, perhaps half an hour to an hour, to get into the mindset of difficult subjects, like my advanced mathematics class, and I find that there are simply some subjects where I cannot get anything done in a half an hour or an hour long block. When that’s all the time I have, I have to schedule activities that fit. Things that are self-contained, and perhaps not incredibly taxing. For example, taking a short online quiz for a class, or finding and printing a news article to turn in, or doing a 5 page assigned reading. Or doing part of a blog post. I schedule the more challenging subjects for longer blocks of time, such as when I’m home in the afternoons or over the weekend. This is one of the things that took me the longest to figure out—I have to use my time chunks efficiently, even if that means putting off the most difficult and urgent tasks until I can give them my undivided attention. Your methods may differ from mine, but you have to figure out what they are in order to schedule your time most efficiently.

You also have to learn to multi-task. I’ve started doing this to a large degree this semester by adding a few activities to my chart. My blog posts are done almost exclusively on the bus, with the exception of giving myself half an hour to an hour after they’re written to edit and post them on my blog, something that requires internet access. When walking, I am also listening to audiobooks, which is an immense help with my reading schedule. (Thanks Jessie!) I have to make myself do cleaning while dinner is cooking every day, and usually I’m messaging people and setting up my schedule for the next day while eating dinner. I take books with me to the bathroom, and as already mentioned, reading right before bed does double duty of calming my mind before sleep. Look for the opportunities to always be both physically and mentally engaged. Perhaps the most extreme example I have seen of this was a classmate in my calculus class a few years ago. The professor handed out notes, so it was not necessary to be writing during class, so that the we could pay closer attention to the lectures. The student (whose name slips my mind at the moment) spent the entire class, every time, knitting, and by the end of the semester, she had several scarves and good grades to show for her efforts. It was pretty cool.

Perhaps the best blog-specific advice I can offer is to think and write an outline ahead of time. This post is one of the best resources I’ve ever found for improving my word-count when I have time to do fiction writing, but the advice applies equally well to blog posts. If you write posts that you’re excited about and you’ve outlined and you know what you’re doing ahead of time, the writing will go much, much faster. Take those two minutes in the middle of class when you’ve finished the quiz and you’re waiting for everyone else to make a rough sketch in your mind–or on paper–of what you’re going to write about on the bus ride home that day. It really does help.

Turn the internet off while writing. That one doesn’t need any explanation.

Never lose track of your long-term goals, and at the end of each day, think about them for a few moments. If you’ve done your day right, scheduled in all of the productivity you can, and done your best to stick to the schedule (It’s impossible to do it perfectly and get *everything* done that you want to. Try anyway.), allow yourself to feel proud and satisfied with yourself. I’ve found that when I’ve had a good day, and I sit and reflect on it, even for a few moments, it leaves me in a good mood for the next day, which helps to boost my productivity. It’s a happy feedback loop, and once you get it started, it’s addictive.

Also, take time to enjoy yourself during the day. Yes, I say to schedule every waking moment. And my current schedule looks something like this…

The schedule is a few weeks old, but it's a good representation of my regular schedule.
The schedule is a few weeks old, but it’s a good representation of my regular schedule.

But I have to give myself some moments to relax and enjoy what I’m doing or else I’ll go insane. Lately, these have been my walks, during which I listen to and enjoy audiobooks, but once I get caught up with my schoolwork (I had a bad weekend. Bad days happen, and the best thing you can do is try to make the next day better.), I’m planning to schedule in a little more relaxation time every day so I don’t go from 50% to 100% utterly insane. 😉

This post was more rambling and less-blog specific than I had hoped, but hopefully there’s a few nuggets in here that may help you with your life, even if it’s not as insane as mine. I know that adopting the things I’ve mentioned here has gotten me off to a much better, and more productive start this semester than any in the past, and I’m really hoping that if I can stick with it, the feedback loop will keep me going and I’ll have a good semester.

Also, please comment below, and let me know what your favorite time-saving or productivity hacks are, especially those that help with your blog posts. Or, if you take one of my tips and it works, let me know!

Discussion Post: Some Thoughts on Reading

I’m currently participating in Faye’s Cosmere Readalong, and I absolutely love it. As you should know, Sanderson is my favorite author, ever. One of my favorite works of his is actually one of his shorter pieces, The Emperor’s Soul. It comes in at around 164 pages, and it’s firmly in the Novella category. It actually won the Hugo last year (2013) for best novella, a prize I think it deserved.

But I’m not here to talk about The Emperor’s Soul, though I will have a review up when I have a bit more time. [I have a handful of books I need to review. Hopefully I’ll catch up really soon.] I’m here to talk about how I read it–and how I enjoy reading books.

I have read the Emperor’s Soul three times now, and every time, I have read it in a single sitting, a single unbroken reading period, with only the briefest of breaks. It’s easy enough to do this with The Emperor’s Soul–it takes me under 2 hours. I read this way whenever I can. Last summer, I was suffering from a nasty fit of depression and I wanted a way out of this world. My way out was to read books, immersing myself in the lives of fictional characters and their worlds, living and breathing their air. I read a ridiculous number of books–I’m not even sure how many. But I had a few weeks where I was stuck at home with nothing I wanted to do, and I read. I made it through The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear combined in three days. I think I made it through Sanderson’s Alcatraz series in 2 days. (4 books, about 50,000 words each.) I re-read The Way of Kings in a little over a day. This wasn’t just over that one summer, either. Several years back, at the release of the last Harry Potter book, I was at the store at midnight, picked up my copy, went come, and read it cover to cover, pulling one of my first all-nighters. I did something similar with the releases of A Memory of Light and Steelheart. This is how I read, whenever I have the choice.

And I was not skimming these books, either. I was reading every word, absorbing and immersing myself as fully as I could. Last summer was, while still the worst I have ever felt in my life, at the same time an incredible experience. I loved being able to read books for hours on end, without caring about anything else, without having to ever get up and spend a few hours doing schoolwork, or deal with other distractions.

Not everyone reads this way. Some people will speed-read. I’ve never understood that idea, honestly. They’re not getting the full enjoyment of the book, the full content. They aren’t savoring all of the words and the intricacies that can pop up, even on a re-read. I caught a gyorn in my Emperor’s Soul reread that I didn’t see the first two times, and it was a neat easter-egg. [I spotted the main Elantris one on my first read–it’s much more obvious. If you don’t understand what I just said, go read Sanderson’s work. It’s amazing.] I don’t want to miss a single detail. Authors spend time painstakingly deciding exactly what to show us and what to avoid, cutting and trimming. Every word they publish is meant to be there, and I’ve never understood those who would skip over words just to finish more quickly.

Unfortunately, recently, I’ve not even been able to read any books in a single–or even small handful–of sittings recently. I’ve almost exclusively been restricted to reading a handful of pages every night, a chapter or two, and then getting back to the book the next day. I’ve found that this really does lessen my enjoyment–my sense of immersion–in the books I’ve been reading. I know that I’ve been reading some absolutely incredible books, and a handful of not so good ones, but I really feel as if I’ve lacked that sense of immersion. I’m still reading what feels like a book a week, though I may be going a little bit slower than that–or faster, on the best books, the ones where I’m willing to literally lose that precious hour of sleep to find out what happens next.

I’m not sure what to do about it, honestly. I will not resort to speed-reading in order to read the books more quickly, and there’s no way I’m going to just wait until I have time to read an entire book in 2-3 days. I know that a lot of my blogger friends are also busy people–how do you deal with this problem? Do you just get used to reading the books in smaller chunks, or do you have strategies for making more time to read them? Do any of you have a time turner or some bendalloy I can borrow? I want to know!