Now that it’s second term, I would love to spend more time with my friends, but I just have way too much homework. I need to spend all of my time studying, and it’s really draining. I feel totally trapped. When will the homework end?
– A Student Without Time
Dear Student Without Time,
I’m sure many of us can relate to this, and it can be a struggle to plan out one’s day once responsibilities start piling on. I hear what you’re saying — and encourage you to think deeply about your word choice here. Though it is difficult, you must acknowledge the fact that you have full agency over your actions, and that each moment you spend with your friends or with your books is an active choice. This thing you “need” to do is an optional activity. What you are really struggling with here is your own time management. Unconsciously, you are sorting your own priorities for each moment in time — you find yourself in a situation where you would like to participate in two things, friends and studying.
You may say, “But Mike! I don’t want to study! The only thing I want to do is spend time with friends”. Here’s the thing: not only do you want to study, you actually prioritize it over hanging out. Let’s unpack this. What are some situations where one would do something they do not want to do? There is not one example. This may be controversial, so let’s explore the most dramatic option. Imagine you are a Federal Agent, gun against your head, a light shining into your eyes. Your captor demands that you release top-secret FBI information. You know that if you do not give up the information, you may very well be killed. What do you do?
You may not choose to tell this information in other circumstances, though in this case, perhaps your want to stay alive overpowers your want to keep the secret, and you choose to give up the information. Or maybe, the other want wins out, and you are shot, secret intact. All actions are the product of “want” prioritization. Even basic “needs” are chosen as you have a strong want to live healthily and safely. This is valid, of course, but understand that it is still an individual choice. Let’s apply this to your question. Why would you study at all if you didn’t want to? Do you want to get into university, to get a job, to support your family? Do you want to impress your teachers? Do you genuinely enjoy the subject, and want to learn more about it? Maybe. No matter which, it is this prevailing reason that pushes you to feel as though your actions are the result of a “need”. Don’t be a wimp. Be honest with yourself and acknowledge your own priorities.
It is empowering to realise that each action is your own, and only you can sort your priorities in each moment. I hope that it will also lessen the “trapped” feeling you’ve experienced and allow you to more deeply understand the reasons behind each action you take. As a daily exercise, ask yourself why you are doing something. And why do you want that? And why do you want that? Personal reflexivity, or understanding your own choices within your social, political, and economic situation, can be extremely gratifying and hopefully interesting as well. I hope that it will make you feel better.
As far as your friends go, own up to your decisions and communicate clearly! They will probably be more annoyed with you if you flake on them “because you need to study” than if you say “I would love to spend time with you, but I am wanting to work on this specific project for the afternoon. Can we meet after dinner?”. Hold yourself accountable to your choices, and your friends will as well.
Hope this helped.
- Personal reflexivity
- en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reflexivity_(social_theory), especially #5, in sociology
- Time management using prioritization
Have a question for Mike?