Though I like to believe that I am a good student, I now know that I’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg when it comes to becoming a High School Superstar.

Through advice from Cal Newport as well as my own experimentation, I managed to cut 12 hours from my weekly homework load; however, this sensational accomplishment has simultaneously exposed me to my biggest study mistake: a busy, school-centered lifestyle.

The Illusion of Productivity

As I managed to complete my homework assignments during the week, Saturdays and Sundays presented themselves as an opportunity to explore and escape from monotonous literary analysis essays.

However, soon I began to note that even on weekends my thoughts were revolving around schoolwork: I was wondering how I could get a head start on my computer science class by researching individual topics from the syllabus. Also, I fretted over upcoming class tests and tedious assignments that would present themselves in future.

In other words, leading a previously busy, overscheduled lifestyle tempted me to turn work into a massive project that ate away from my free time. I believe that this stems from guilt about ‘not being productive’ and the constant urge to compete for the best grades in class.

Procrastination as a symptom of pseudo-working

Furthermore, I would advocate that the avoidance of free time as a result of the illusion of productivity may contribute significantly to procrastination. In other words, the fear of ‘doing nothing’ may encourage handling school assignments less efficiently, and thereby allow for procrastination to sustain the perception of productivity.

This link between procrastination and the fallacy of efficiency is supported by the following quote from C. Northcote Parkinson:

“Work is elastic in its demands on time.”

In other words, people with a fear of being unproductive are those that stretch work over time like fingers pulling a rubber band.

Breaking the cycle of work

The aforementioned discoveries have led me to ponder about various solutions to resolve the constant preoccupation and artificial expansion of work.

My Instant Hack

As a short-term approach to counter-act worries and school-related stress, I set a strict punishment on doing homework on Sundays: for every school-related activity I did, I would not be allowed any sweets for a month.

While this may be too drastic of a measure for you, it has been highly effective for me, as I take most of my goals seriously. However, you can also tweak my suggestion, by replacing the “no-sweets rule” with a less radical penalty.

Alternatively, you can ask your parents or friends to keep you accountable. However, particularly performance-oriented parents may not always be in favour of this approach, and to avoid conflict this is often best done with a trustworthy friend.

My Trusted Technique

A more sustainable approach involves the deliberate scheduling of more free time activities to break the link between self-worth and productivity or grades. Anything that helps divert the mind from a single-focus lifestyle will do you good.

Suggestions for worthfile freetime activities

For students who are not enrolled in the IB, and are not familiar with the idea of CAS, I have one last piece of advice:

To achieve a healthy lifestyle, take the time each week to do 3 projects:

  • Creativity: Any activity that triggers your imagination or allows you to express yourself

( e.g. writing, blogging, playing a musical instrument, performing arts)

  • Action: A pursuit that improves your physical wellbeing by training your endurance and stamina

(e.g. any type of sports or otherwise physically exhausting activities)

  • Service: A project that helps others without providing you with any immediate benefit, but for a cause that matters to you

(e.g. volunteering to help an elderly acquaintance, offering free dog-sitting services, providing entertainment to an audience without receiving monetary compensation)

These three components, which are mandatory for students in the IB, are allowing me to balance work with adequate time for rejuvenation (even though providing the evidence and writing reflections – a mandatory CAS component – is irritating at times).

In conclusion, avoid centering your life around school by minimizing time spent on schoolwork, engaging in extracurricular pursuits and scheduling downtime with your friends.

What else would you do to avoid school-related stress? And most importantly, if you’ve gone through this experience, please share your story so struggling readers can learn how you coped with this challenging situation. I look forward to reading (and trying) everyone’s advice!