What do you do when you have too much to do?

What do you do when you have too much to do?

Week 2 of the 12 Week Year

Ok, so Week 2 of the 12 Week Year did not go so well.  I guess I’ll let the numbers speak for themselves. I’ll talk about that…and what you do when you realize you have too much to do in a week (or a day).  But first, this post is part of a series as I go through the 12 Week Year to reach two goals for my business.  I’m working towards a (tiny) income goal and a (tiny) book sales goal for this first 12 weeks.  If you missed week 0 and week 1, go check them out and then come back here!

This page contains affiliate links – they don’t cost you a penny, but they sure help to pay off those student loans!  For more information, please see my disclosure page.

What do you do when you have TOO MUCH to do? My journey through the 12 Week Year - Week 2 #12weekyear #productivity #self-publishing - https://www.thecafescholar.com

Week 2 Score


  • Record Ch 2 story 0%
  • Create freebie for ch 2 0%
  • Write ch 1 0%
  • Create Amazon Pre-sale page 0%
  • Record Ch 1 story 0%
  • Pray for book 5x/week 80%
  • Accounting Day 100%
  • Review Sway Portal for opportunities and apply 100%
  • Weekly RW newsletter 100%
  • RW blog post 100%
  • FB Live: Weird Bible Questions 0%

Weekly Execution Score: 44%

Lag Indicators (If you forgot, those are measures against the goal itself, such as “pounds lost”):

  • Books Sold to Date: 1
  • Chapters Completed to Date: 1
  • Revenue: 0*
  • Paycheck: 0*

*Note, I actually did bring in some revenue during this period, but Amazon paid my old bank account, and so I had to transfer it over.  So I’ll count it when it actually hits my Profit First bank accounts.

Lead Indicators (measures of activities that contribute towards the goal):

  • Weekly Execution (see above): 44%
  • Products or Sponsored Content Created: 0
  • Interviews/Guest Posts Scheduled: 0
  • RW Email List Size: 163
  • Chapter Freebie Conversion Rate: N/A (not yet released)
  • Accountability Post: 0
  • Affiliate Sales: $7.81
  • Ad Revenue: $0.16

What I Learned This Week:

Part of your plan has to include the other stuff that’s going on in your life.  That’s especially true for me since I’m working the 12 Week Year for this side business while working my full-time job, leading a ministry, and more.  I had all these tactics on my list for week 2,  but I didn’t take into account the fact that I was scheduled to teach a class for two days.  That means prep time, commute time, a longer work week…I absolutely love teaching for School of Ministry.  It’s my favorite thing.  But at the end of a work week + teaching weekend, I was wiped. I had nothing left.  Instead of knocking out tactics, I took a break.  I read a book that I needed to review anyways.  And I slept.  And it was okay.

What do you do when you realize you have too much to do?

If it’s early in the week, hit PAUSE and rewrite your plan. Seriously.  if you can get ahead of things and do this, just…change. the. plan.

Too much to do? Hit PAUSE and rewrite your plan. Click To Tweet

If you’re already way into it, leave your plan alone.  Don’t worry about it.  Take a break when you need one.  Judge your energy levels, do what you can, go after the low-hanging fruit.  For me, that meant knocking out a bunch of the odds and ends tasks off my list because I knew my brain was too toasty for the big ones.

And then…this is really important.  Do your weekly review.  Make your schedule for next week.  You’ll obviously need to move some of those missed tasks forward…but don’t try to squeeze it all into next week. Learn the lesson, review your calendar, and only put on your list what you will actually be able to do.  Adjust your plan to spread the rest of your tasks out.

This is different than just deciding to be lazy for a week.  This is the week you realized you planned too much to do.  So just learn the lesson – don’t plan so much next week.  That’s what the review is for: to figure out what worked and what didn’t.  So if your plan didn’t work because you planned more things than you had time for, or if your plan didn’t work because some tasks took longer than you thought, just…do it differently next time.  When you make that assessment and change your plan accordingly, the “too much to do” week wasn’t a waste, because you learned something (about yourself, your workload, etc) that will help you succeed going forward.

This is different than just deciding to be lazy for a week. This is the week you realized you planned too much to do. So just learn the lesson - don't plan so much next week. That's what the review is for.Click To Tweet

What do you do when you have too much to do? Break big projects up into small tasks. Each time I check off a small task, it's a win. - https://www.thecafescholar.comChanges to My Plan:

Obviously, I had to reassign the things I missed last week. I did NOT reassign them for week 3.  Instead, I spread out the tasks.  I also realized that some of my weekly tactics were too large…not too large to get done, but too large for me to bite off in pieces.  Since I’m writing a Bible study book, a word count isn’t always the best goal, but instead, I broke the book down into sections and decided to complete a certain number of sections.  Each time I check off a small task, it’s a win.

Week 3 Plan:

For week 3, I wasn’t able to block out a strategic block earlier in the week (I’ll be doing it on Saturday).  Here are my tactics for week 3:

  • Record Ch 2 story
  • Create freebie for ch 2
  • Write 4 stories (these are the beginning of each chapter)
  • Write 10 Notes sections
  • Record Ch 1 story
  • Pray for book 5x/week
  • Review Sway portal and apply for opportunities
  • weekly RW newsletter
  • CS gift list post
  • Weekly RW blog post
  • FB live: Weird Bible Questions

I’ll check in next week to let you know how week 3 went!

What do you do when you have TOO MUCH to do? My journey through the 12 Week Year - Week 2 #12weekyear #productivity #self-publishing - https://www.thecafescholar.com

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How to Use a Strategic Block to Reach Your Goals

How to Use a Strategic Block to Reach Your Goals

Week 1 of the 12 Week Year (check out Week 0 here)

This post is a little late, but I promise I did my weekly review on time.  I just didn’t write the actual blog post yet.  What’s a weekly review?  In the context of The 12 Week Year, the weekly review is a meeting you have with yourself.  First, you score your previous week: your performance on all of your tactics that you planned out, as well as measuring your lead and lag indicators.  Then, you plan out the next week, schedule out your time including your strategic block, buffer blocks, etc.

This page contains affiliate links – they don’t cost you a penny, but they sure help to pay off those student loans!  For more information, please see my disclosure page.

How to use a strategic block to meet your productivity goals. My journey self-publishing a book through the 12 Week Year week 1 #12weekyear #productivity - https://www.thecafescholar.com

Week 1 Score


  • Edit Ch 2 and Get Feedback: 100%
  • Record ch 2 story: 0%
  • write 2 chapters: 25% + 0%
  • Pray for book 5 days/week: 100%
  • Submit Celebrate Lit tour info: 100%
  • Set-Up Profit First accounts: 100%
  • Review Sway Portal for opportunities & apply: 100%
  • Send weekly RW newsletter: 100%
  • Send monthly CS newsletter: 100%
  • Schedule promotion of Ultimate Homemaking Bundle: 100%
  • Load 1 month of social content: 100%
  • Weekly RW blog post: 100%
  • FB: Weird Bible questions Survey: 100%

Weekly Execution Score: 81%

Lag Indicators (If you forgot, those are measures against the goal itself, such as “pounds lost”):

  • Books Sold: 1
  • Chapters Written: 0
  • Revenue: N/A (not a pay week)
  • Paycheck: N/A (not a pay week)

12 week year

Lead Indicators (measures of activities that contribute towards the goal):

  • Weekly Execution (see above): 81%
  • Products or Sponsored Content Created: 0
  • Interviews/Guest Posts Scheduled: 0
  • RW Email List Size: 148
  • Chapter Freebie Conversion Rate: N/A (not yet released)
  • Accountability Post: 1
  • Affiliate Sales: $0

What I Learned This Week:

  • I need to change how some of my tactics are measured because some really small tasks are weighted the same as a chapter getting done.
  • This week actually went pretty well, BUT I didn’t make progress on two of the most important tactics, so even though I scored 81%, my progress towards the goal is so-so.   I’ll adjust this in the plan for next week to force myself to tackle the big things too.
  • I’ll talk about strategic blogs in a bit.  But I realized I need to set better boundaries and create better plans for my strategic block so that I can use them to hit those big goals.

What is a Strategic Block?

A strategic block is one of the keys to the 12 Week Year plan.  These are blocks of time, 3 hours once per week, where you work on your business, not in it.  They “should be scheduled early in your week so that if one gets interrupted or canceled, you have time to reschedule it.”   We are talking no interruptions, no email, turn off the phone, distraction-free time.

Here is a Sample Strategic Block Agenda from The 12 Week Year:

  • Reconnect with your vision (5-10 minutes)
  • 12 Week Review (10-15 minutes): How are your scores?  Are you executing at a high level?  If not, what needs to change?
  • Assess performance breakdowns (10-20 minutes)
  • Work on Plan Tactics (2-2 1/2 hours)
  • Other ideas: read a book take an online course

Strategic blocks help create space for the real work to happen, knowing that we can’t work “distraction free” all the time.  Knowing that I have that time helps me take care of the minutia, knowing I have space to work on the big goals.

Strategic blocks help create space for the real work to happen, knowing that we can't work 'distraction free' all the time. Click To Tweet

I ran into some snags with my first strategic block.  First, I didn’t turn off notifications on my phone.  I don’t have social media notifications on my phone, but I started getting texts and didn’t ignore them.  Lesson learned.  Also, I didn’t have an agenda for which tactics to work on.  I ended up spending too much time working on tactics that don’t require that deep focus, or that ran into technical difficulties resulting in research to solve a problem.  For future strategic blocks, I want to have a plan of tasks that don’t require much internet finagling or formatting.  Strategic time is probably not the time to figure out how to use Scrivener. 🙂

Changes to My Plan:

After this week, I had to make a few changes to my plan.  I had to move two tactics to later weeks that didn’t get done.  And I realized I had too much planned for Week 2 because of some other activities going on. Not too many changes this week, though.  Before I change the plan I want to see how much progress I make.

Week 2 Plan:

For week 2, I scheduled my strategic block for Tuesday night.  (I work a regular job during the day, so my 12 Week Year happens mostly on the nights and weekends.)  Here are my tactics for Week 2:

  • Record Ch 2 story
  • Create freebie for ch 2
  • Write ch 1
  • Create Amazon Pre-sale page
  • Record Ch 1 story
  • Pray for book 5x/week
  • Accounting Day
  • Review Sway Portal for opportunities and apply
  • Weekly RW newsletter
  • RW blog post
  • FB Live: Weird Bible Questions

I’ll check in next week (or probably tomorrow, since I’m a little behind on these updates!) to let you know how week 2 went!

How to use a strategic block to meet your productivity goals. My journey self-publishing a book through the 12 Week Year week 1 #12weekyear #productivity - https://www.thecafescholar.com

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How to Self-Publish a Book in a 12 Week Year

How to Self-Publish a Book in a 12 Week Year

My Journey Through The 12 Week Year

Last year, a blogger friend introduced me to a book called The 12 Week Year: Get More Done in 12 Weeks Than Others Do in 12 Months.  The idea was fascinating.  I think I read the whole book on a flight back from Germany for a business trip.  Took all sorts of notes.  Stepped back into life and…promptly forgot about it.

This page contains affiliate links – they don’t cost you a penny, but they sure help to pay off those student loans!  For more information, please see my disclosure page.

My Journey through Brian Moran's The 12 Week Year while self-publishing my first book. Week 0. - https://www.thecafescholar.com

Then a few weeks ago, the gals on the Wit + Wisdom podcast were talking about getting their Powersheets for the new year, and I started thinking about getting on a goal-setting program again.  See, I don’t really need a “planner;” I’m happy using iCal/Google Calendar for my appointments and CoSchedule for my editorial calendar.  And I tend to not use planners because I want a little more flexibility.  But I knew I needed to make a plan to make consistent progress towards my goals, even if it wasn’t a traditional planner.  I’ve been working on my first book for a while now, by which I mean I keep getting distracted by other things.  I’ve committed to some deadlines for promotion, though, so I need to get this baby finished!  Enter The 12 Week Year.  I picked up the book (Ok, my Kindle), did a quick refresh, and was reminded why I got so excited about this in the first place.  I immediately made plans to implement this program both at my day job and here in my writing/speaking business.


One of the components of the 12 Week Year program is the WAM – the Weekly Accountabilty meeting with a partner or a group.  That’s where you all come in.  I’m going to be sharing my progress each week so I can get some accountabilty and so you can have a taste of whether this program will work for you.

What I like about The 12 Week Year So Far

There are a few things that draw me to this plan.  First, the idea of a relatively short-term goal gets me excited to finish.  I’m also glad for the flexibility to easily reevaluate in 12 weeks to decide my next round of goals. If you’re currently in school, you could easily modify this to a 10-week quarter or a 15-week semester.  And…ok, this is a big deal.  You don’t have to go out and buy anything major. No fancy planner…technically you could even get the book at the library, but at $11.99 for the eBook, it’s an easy investment to make. Or, like me, you might already have it.  There is an optional workbook you can buy (I didn’t) and an online software option, but you can do all of this with the book and a place to keep track of your goals and your progress.

Week 0

Yeah, you have to start with a week zero.  Why?  The set-up is going to take some forethought.  I spent a Sunday afternoon at Starbucks dreaming and goal planning and getting all set up for the week.  When I did this at my day job, I split it over the course of a few days.

My Journey through Brian Moran's The 12 Week Year while self-publishing my first book. Week 0. - https://www.thecafescholar.comChoosing a Place to Keep Track

You might use a spreadsheet or Word document. At my day job, I’m using a free downloadable 12 week goal planner from The Goal Chaser.  For my writing/speaking business, I’m using a composition book that I have set up in a bullet-journal-influenced-way.  Ya’ll, I’m pretty techy, but there is a satisfaction in crossing things off a list.  So I started off by creating an index (Table of Contents) in my notebook and numbering the first 20 pages.

Dream Bigger Than 12 Weeks

The 12 Week Year has you start with your vision.  First, you dream up (and write down) your big “aspirational” vision.  What do you want your life to look like?  Then, get a little more specific: what do you want it to look like 3 years from today?  This should include professional and personal elements; even (or especially) the personal bits will affect the goals you set.

Pick Your 12 Week Year Goals

Next, the book will walk you through choosing 2-3 12 week goals. You want to choose goals that will contribute towards getting you to that 3 year dream.  You also (generally) want them to be measurable.  By nature of 12 weeks they are time-bound, so make sure it is something that you can stretch to do in 12 weeks.  If your goal is too big for that time frame, choose a sub-goal that can be done in the 12 weeks, and that will keep you moving forward.

I chose two goals for my writing business:

#1 Self-Publish my Bible study book with 100 copies sold.

I didn’t say “write the book in 12 weeks” only because I need to finish it sooner than that to meet some of the commitments I’ve already made, and because I’ve already done a chunk of it.  And I definitely want to sell more than 100 copies, but since my book’s Celebrate Lit tour doesn’t start until January 15 (week 12), 100 was a good place to start.  It’s a stretch goal because of the time, but it should be doable.

#2 Begin Paying Myself a Monthly Salary of $100/month

Right now, this business costs money, it doesn’t make money.  That makes it a hobby, and while I’m trying to get out of debt, I can’t afford hobbies that cost me money.  That will start to change when I start actually selling things (like a book!), but I want to intentionally build on the revenue that is already coming in to get things in the + column.  After the 12 weeks, I plan to earn much more than $100/month, but I wanted to choose a goal that gets me profitable but still leaves enough time to finish said book and get it prepared to really promote.

My Journey through Brian Moran's The 12 Week Year while self-publishing my first book. Week 0. - https://www.thecafescholar.comChoose Your Tactics

The next step is to choose your tactics: all the things that you will do to achieve your 12 week goals.  I made a list for each goal, and noted which week each item needed to be completed, or whether it needed to be done weekly.  For example, on the publishing goal, some tactics included:

  • editing the e-book version
  • submitting blog tour kickoff information to Celebrate Lit
  • Recording the audio for online resources that will come with the book
  • Creating a freebie from a sample chapter
  • Scheduling guest posts to promote the book

For the pay-myself goal, I did a little back-of-the-napkin math to decide what I would need to do.  I’ve just implemented Profit First, so 50% of my revenue will go to owner’s compensation (paying myself).  So to pay Joy $100, I need to bring in $200.  Then I listed out all the ways I currently bring in revenue and the future opportunities, and came up with a plan to increase those to reach $200/month by January 20.  Some of the tactics include:

  • Do my Profit First Accounting Day and transfers on the 10th and the 25th of each month
  • Review the Sway dashboard for sponsored post opportunities that might be a good fit (weekly)
  • Brainstorm ideas for an online workshop
  • Complete a blog post weekly
  • Review the Ultimate Bundles schedule for affiliate opportunities that would be a good fit for my audience.
  • (of course, getting the book published will contribute towards this goal as well).

Lead and Lag Indicators

Next, I had to choose how to measure my progress.  The 12 Week Year talks about two types of measurements: lead indicators and lag indicators.  Lag indicators are the end results.  So your actual goal would be a lag indicator, but so would a measurement that shows progress towards that goal.  For instance, if your goal was to lose 10 pounds, then pounds lost would be one of your lag indicators.  They are called “lag” indicators because the results often lag behind the actual activity you’re doing.  You can exercise today, but you won’t see the weight loss today.

Goal #1 Lag Indicators:

  • Chapters written
  • books sold

Goal #2 Lag Indicators:

  • Revenue dollars
  • Amount I paid myself

Lead indicators are things that happen early in the process, that contribute towards those end goals.  Executing on your tactics would be one of the main lead indicators (and folks that get 85% of their tactics usually hit their goals). To use the weight loss example again, a lead indicator might be calories eaten or minutes exercised.

Goal #1 Lead Indicators:

  • weekly execution score (of the tactics discussed above – more on this next week)
  • Freebie performance
  • interviews/guest posts scheduled

Goal #2 Lead Indicators:

  • weekly execution of tactics
  • new products created
  • website pageviews

The Week 1 Plan

Finally, it’s time to create your week 1 plan.  I did this on a new notebook page: I created a list of all the tactics that were marked for week 1.  I included checkboxes to show steps that were completed, and a percentage column so that I can give myself a score.  The 12 Week Year also recommends planning an ideal week schedule with strategic blocks and “buffer” blocks to help create space to work towards your goals rather than just getting caught up in the day-to-day.  I’ll talk about those next week.

My Week 1 Plan:

My Journey through Brian Moran's The 12 Week Year while self-publishing my first book. Week 0. - https://www.thecafescholar.com

I’ll be back next week to share my results of this first week!  In the meantime, jump in the comments below and let me know what goals you want to accomplish in the next 12 weeks!

My Journey through Brian Moran's The 12 Week Year while self-publishing my first book. Week 0. - https://www.thecafescholar.com

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The Cafe Scholar is Back! & My Focus for 2018

The Cafe Scholar is Back! & My Focus for 2018

That’s right – I’m back!  The past few months I’ve been going through some major transitions and life changes.  I usually wait to share about transitions on social media, but now that the dust has settled, I’m so excited to share what’s been happening in my life and tell you about the three things I want to focus on this year in my personal life.  You’re sure to see those carry over to the blog as well!
Disclosure: This page contains affiliate links. That just means that I may receive a small commission if you buy a product linked on this page.  It sure helps towards paying off those student loans! For more information, please see my disclosures page.
This year, I'm focusing on 3 things. 1. Be a prayer warrior. 2. Build healthy relationships. 3. Pay off a MASSIVE amount of debt. What about you? | https://www.thecafescholar.com

#1 New Job

As you all know, I’m trying to pay off my debt as fast as possible.  In fact, paying off a massive amount of debt is one of my main areas of focus this year (more about that below).  I had been at my job for nearly 6 years, and the problem with starting at the bottom and working your way up is that sometimes the salary never catches up.  That’s definitely how it happened for me.  I looked at my debt and my salary and my goals and the math didn’t work.  I also realized there wasn’t much room to grow there, and I needed to acquire some more diversified experience.  After months of prayer and asking God where to go from here, I started applying for jobs and started my new job in January.  This transition was bittersweet; I left behind some close friends that I miss working with every day, but was also so excited for a new adventure.  It was really important to me to “leave well,” and I hope I was able to do that.

#2 New Home

Got the keys to my new apartment! A move is a great time to build new habits! | https://www.thecafescholar.com

I had been renting from my parents since starting my grad school several years ago, and in January I moved to a new apartment.
I hit pause on my debt snowball to achieve this goal. In November I started saving money to cover moving expenses, security deposit, furniture, etc. I bet you guys think a budget is restricting.   Let me just tell you how freeing it was to be able to buy what I needed for the new place and have the money for it.  Setting limits allows you the freedom to choose where you want your money to go.  I actually have a little bit left in my moving fund still, but I’m trying to stretch it as far as I can for the last few things I want.  (Know anyone who wants to give me a stacking washer & dryer? 😃 ).
I didn’t go all out; the Goodwill Clearance Center, Dollar Tree, and Walmart were key in stretching those dollars as far as possible.  Several friends and neighbors gave me hand-me-down furniture and kitchen supplies to get started.  My God is such a good provider!


When you start up an apartment, there are all these things you need like cleaning supplies that may not have moved with you, and I felt such peace and victory knowing that because I had planned and prepared for this expense, I could get my new home set up without worrying about money.  If you want to feel that level of freedom and peace, I highly recommend Dave Ramsey’s book The Total Money Makeover.  It’s a quick read, not too heavy, and this book has really helped me get on a budget and make “forward motion” decisions. You can tell it’s good stuff when 12 people have it on request at the library!

#3 New Car LoanI don't want to be a slave anymore! My focus this year: paying off lots of debt! | https://www.thecafescholar.com

One of the things I keep hearing on The Dave Ramsey Show (I listen to the podcast on my commute to work every day) is how harmful it can be for your relationships to borrow money from family members or to cosign on a loan.  The borrower is slave to the lender, and you don’t want that to be the relationship you have with your family! My parents had generously cosigned on my car loan after the accident last summer to help me save on interest.  Even though we weren’t having any friction about it, I decided it was time to set them (and myself) free and refinance the loan.  With my improved credit score after paying off debt the past few months, I was still able to get a low-interest rate.  It was not as low as before, but I’m going to pay it off so fast it won’t really matter!

#4 New Focus

I have three things I’ve chosen to focus on for this year.  First, I want to be a Prayer Warrior.  Second, I want to build healthy relationships.  Third, I want to pay off a MASSIVE amount of debt.  And I want to do all of these things within a framework of healthy habits and self care.  Little habits, repeated consistently, bring big results.  So these first few months, I have focused on getting settled in the new home and new job, building those good habits slowly, one at a time, and spending some much more consistent Jesus time each day.  I’m starting to invest in friendships as well, and once I moved, I kicked that debt snowball back into gear.  I want to pay off $40,000 this year.  That’s a really aggressive goal, and with my current salary and expenses, the math doesn’t work to meet that goal just yet, so I’m going to have to really kick some side hustling into gear.  I just don’t want to be a slave no mo’! So far in 2018 I have paid off $6,134.28, so I’m already about 15% of the way there!  It was so cool to get a “paid in full” notice from one of my student loans this month.
I’m looking forward to sharing more research paper madness, study tips, and my own experience paying off student loans on this blog.  The research paper series will pick back up next week, and you’ll have to let me know what you want to learn!  But now it’s back to you: what big changes are you making in your life this year?  What little steps can you take to get there?
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Productivity Secret: How to Set Up Your Desk

Productivity Secret: How to Set Up Your Desk

Even the most avid cafe scholar needs to work at home or out of an office sometimes. The way you set up your desk can have a big impact on how much you accomplish and the quality of your work. You don’t always have a lot of space to work with, so how can you organize your desk to maximize productivity?

Disclosure: This page contains affiliate links. That just means that I may receive a small commission if you buy a product linked on this page.  It sure helps towards paying off those student loans! For more information, please see my disclosures page.

How to Set up Your Desk to Maximize Productivity and Study Smarter. | https://thecafescholar.com

Why Does it Matter How You Set up Your Desk?

I don’t know about you, but I’m all about studying smarter: making better use of both my time and my other resources so that I can do my very best in school and in the rest of life.  Time is at a premium, and having my space set up with a good system that works for me will help me to waste less time and be more productive.  It’s that simple.  The good news is, it doesn’t have to cost you much in the way of time or money (unless you want it to!). Organizing your desk can actually be a lot of fun.  For me.  And my label maker.  And a tall glass of iced tea.  And TobyMac cranked up on the iPod.  Here are some basic principles to set up your desk in a way that works for you and your budget.  You may have to tweak things along the way as you test it out and see what works.

Principle #1: Your Desktop is for Work, not Storage

Rule # 1: Your desktop is for work, not for storage. | https://thecafescholar.com

This is why cafes are such a great place to get things done: they are not covered in stuff, except what you are actually using to do your work!  When you set up your desk, you want to have as much of your desktop clear as possible so that you can use this space for what you are actively working on.  The only things that really should be out on the surface are the things that you use every day.  For me, those include a small pencil box with a sharpie, a whiteboard marker, a few black or blue pens, and a pencil or two, and my computer monitor and laptop stand.  I also have an inbox and outbox, off to the side and away from my main workspace.
You also want your space to be well lit.  Try to position it in a place with good natural lighting from a window, or with a light above.  Check for glare on your computer, too.  You may want to add a lamp for detailed work that requires more lighting, especially depending on what kind of work you are doing.

Working in bed will mess up both your work and your sleep. | https://thecafescholar.com

Some people work best with a clean, clutter-and-distraction free desktop; others are inspired to creativity by a little visual clutter.  If you fall into the second category, you still need a clean space to work with.  One great way to let your creative side show but still have a good workspace is to use pictures, notes, letters, or whatever else catches your fancy to decorate your desk, then cover it with a glass table topper.  You now have a desk that is both cluttered and clean!
I should add here that if your desk is for work, your bed is NOT for work.  Working in bed will mess up both your work and your sleep.  If you need a change of position or scenery, go to the kitchen, the library, or your friendly neighborhood Starbucks…but not your bed.

 Working in bed will mess up both your work and your sleep.CLICK TO TWEET

Principle #2: Have the Right Stuff in the Right Places

Keep only the items you use daily on your desk. Items that you use often should be in desk drawers; items that you use rarely should be stored elsewhere. | https://thecafescholar.com

As I mentioned above, when you organize your desk, you want to have only the items you need daily out on your desk. Other items should be stored according to how often you use them.  If you use it fairly often, put it in the desk drawers.  Easy to access, but not in the way.  Items used more often will go in the top drawers if they fit.  Use containers or dividers in your drawers and have a home for everything that you truly need to keep there.  Abby Lawson puts a label in the bottom of the organizers in her drawers, so she can put an item back where it belongs after using it.  If your desk doesn’t have drawers, get some of these plastic rolling drawers to slide under, or even a mini dresser.
Items that you use less often are going to go further away from your workspace.  Where you put them will depend on the space you have.  These might include extra supplies such as pens or paper to replenish what you use daily, as well as lesser used craft supplies, etc.  I keep these in labeled bins on a shelf near my desk.  If there are specialty items you only pull out a few times a year, they probably don’t deserve a space in your immediate work area.  Put them in bins, label them, and store in a closet where you can still easily find them, but they aren’t taking up valuable real estate at your desk.
Still getting together your school supplies for the semester?  Don’t forget to take a look at The Ultimate Back-to-College School Supplies List (including a free printable checklist)!

Principle #3: Create a Good Workflow

Have an inbox and an outbox to keep papers from getting lost or cluttering your space. | https://thecafescholar.com

In addition to the items you “use” in your workspace, which Matt Perman calls permanent items, you will also have transient items.  These are items that are coming or going, or that you are using for a particular project.  Think about what comes in and what comes out.  You will want some kind of inbox (I use a shelf storage tote like this one) and an outbox for things like outgoing mail or items that you need to take on an errand.  Have a trash can and recycle bin easily accessible right next to your desk, and if you need to shred sensitive documents often, you’ll want either a shredder nearby or a shred bin or even a folder to collect those items.
Most of your notes for current projects will probably be in a folder or binder that you keep in your backpack when not working on the project, or will be electronic.  If you are finding yourself having a lot of “in progress” tasks with corresponding papers that end up on your desk, use a mail sorter, a step file organizer, one of these hanging wall files to get those off your desk. If your desk has file drawers, use the first section for these “in progress” items.
If this post has you inspired to redo your workspace, I highly recommend Matt Perman’s How to Set Up Your Desk. This book  is very quick read and it changed the way I use my workspace both at home and at work.
Now, passing it off to you: what change will you make to your desk this week to help you study smarter?
For even more productivity goodies, check out my post on how creating a nightly routine can boost your productivity.


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How to Conquer Back-to-College Stress

How to Conquer Back-to-College Stress

Does starting the new semester have you stressing out? You’re not alone. College is stressful, grad school even more so, and the start of a new semester or quarter can be downright nerve-wracking. Bills due, new professors, overwhelming list of assignments, and all that regular life stuff piling up…Sound familiar? We can’t completely eliminate back-to-college stress, but we CAN take charge and significantly reduce those stress levels with some powerful strategies, even before the semester starts.

We can take charge and reduce back-to-college stress levels before school starts.CLICK TO TWEET

Disclosure: This page contains affiliate links. That just means that I may receive a small commission if you buy a product linked on this page.  It sure helps towards paying off those student loans! For more information, please see my disclosures page.

Causes of Back-to-College Stress

#1 Financial StrainMoney is one of the biggest causes of stress for college students & grad students. | https://thecafescholar.com

Let’s face it: college is expensive, and getting pricier by the day!  Financial strain is without a doubt the biggest cause of stress for college students and grad students.  In fact, a May 2012 study by Inceptia found that four of the top five causes of college stress were related to finances. Students with good financial aid often wait on the edge of their seats for that expected financial aid refund.  Many students struggle to find the right work-school balance, because working enough hours to pay the bills makes it hard to do well in school.  Those who rely on student loans exchange a little relief now for more stress later, and they know it. There are school supplies and textbooks to be bought, along with parking passes, and all the regular “life” expenses don’t just go away.  Many students rely too heavily on credit cards, too – I know I did – and trying to pay off that debt can feel crippling at times!

#2 Not Enough TimeTime management in college is really tough! It seems like everything takes longer at the beginning of the semester. | https://thecafescholar.com

Everything seems to take longer at the beginning of the semester, and there are so many little extra tasks to be done.  That syllabus with its list of assigned readings can be overwhelming!  Athletes and musicians squeeze schoolwork in around practice schedules, games and performances. Nontraditional students who work or parent full time – or both  – struggle to get into a good rhythm with the additional load of the new semester. As much as I love school, sometimes I envied my coworkers who could just go home at the end of the work day and veg in front of the TV without feeling guilty later! Time management can be tricky and it is so easy to feel overwhelmed by the workload of life + school.  Time and overcommitment can be huge contributors to college stress – and sometimes we don’t even have a choice in some of those commitments!

#3 Performance Anxiety (Need to Get Straight A’s)Performance anxiety and the need to get straight A's (or at least good grades!) is a major contributor to college stress. | https://thecafescholar.com

On top of your financial woes and major time crunch – like, all the time – you’re being graded on everything you do.  Your grades can affect scholarships (present and future), grad school admissions, and sometimes even job opportunities, and this is a major source of college stress.  At the beginning of the semester, you often don’t know your professors and what to expect.  The dreaded 50/50 class (50% final, 50% paper) is the worst because you have NO idea how that professor will grade until the semester is over.  You also want to do your best in your classes because you are paying for them, and they are preparing you for your future, whether future classes or career.  It didn’t do me much good to pass second semester Arabic because I wasn’t prepared for the third semester.  Heavy sigh.  And for athletes and artists, it isn’t just your academic performance; your performance in these activities outside of the classroom could affect your scholarship situation too.  It can be pretty intense.

How to Deal with Back-to-College Stress

The bad news:  College stress isn’t going away.  The good news: Stress doesn’t have to win.  You can use any of the strategies below to reduce back-to-college stress and limit the effects of stress on your academic performance, physical health, and relationships.  These strategies can all be implemented before the start of the semester, so you can nip stress in the bud before it even starts.

#1 Start going to bed earlier a week before school starts.

Sleep is going to to be your best defense against stress.  You will feel better and be better prepared to handle those stressful situations.  Also, you will make better decisions, perform better both inside and outside the classroom, and put less strain on your relationships.  All of these can reduce college stress.  Before the semester or quarter starts, figure out when you want to get up in the morning based on your course schedule, evening commitments, and best time of day to work.  Count back 7-8 hours and set yourself a bedtime, and start going to bed at that time several days before school starts.  Start getting up on time too.  It will take some time to adjust your sleep cycle, but if you get up on time, soon you will be sleepy enough to knock out at the right time too.  It really helps me to have a nightly routine to make sure I go to bed relaxed and start off the morning on the right foot.

 Start going to bed early a week before school starts.CLICK TO TWEET

#2 Get your class syllabi ahead of time if possible.

Some professors will post them online or email them out before the semester starts.  Others will at least include the basics in the course description so that you can get ahead on planning out your semester and buying books and supplies.  You can also email your professor to ask for the syllabus if it isn’t available online.

#3 Buy your books ahead of time.

There is nothing like having to wait to do an assignment because your book hasn’t come in.  If you are able to get the book list ahead of time, go ahead and buy those books.  You will have one less thing to do the first week of school, and you can often save quite a bit by buying books online rather than at the campus store.  If you have especially pricey books, try renting them from Amazon or sharing with a classmate.  Library reserves are also an option, especially if you live on campus or if the book will only be used for a few assignments, but they do limit the times you can study.

#4 Clean out your Backpack, Purse, and CarReduce back-to-college stress by cleaning out your backpack, purse, and car. You will lighten your load and be more organized. | https://thecafescholar.com

A Psychology Today article discusses 8 reasons why mess causes stress.  The one that stood out the most to me was #1: “Clutter bombards our minds with excessive stimuli (visual, olfactory, tactile), causing our senses to work overtime on stimuli that aren’t necessary or important.”  Clutter also makes it hard to find what we need, making routine tasks take longer than they should (at the most inconvenient times!).  And when there is some important piece of paper that fell to the bottom of your backpack or got buried in the trunk of your car, you will either be stressing out looking for it or stressing out once you find it and discover the event you missed or the bill that is now late.  Take some time before school starts to clean out your car and your backpack (and purse, ladies!).  Once done, scheduling in a backpack sweep and car cleanup once per week or so will maintain that clean state.  You may want to invest in a cheap bin or crate for the trunk of your car for those items that need to stay there (but not rolling around), and some organization for your backpack or purse, to make it easy to find important things, especially if you don’t have a lot of pockets in your bag.  A pencil pouch is a must; get an extra one for your chargers and cords.

#5 Do your back-to-college shopping.

Some back-to-college shopping will have to wait until the first week of school, but most of it can be done before school starts.  Start by “shopping your house” to make sure you don’t spend money on stuff you already have.  To get you started, check out my Ultimate Back-to-College School Supplies List (with printable checklist).  If you start early, you will have less to do the first week of school, you can take your time, and you can also save money because you’ll have time to find the best deal rather than spending more because you are in a hurry.

#6 Set up your desk.Set up your desk to maximize productivity and beat stress. | https://thecafescholar.com

Now that you have your supplies in order, take some time to organize and set up your desk.  Even cafe scholars like me still get some work done at home, and having a good workflow can make it easier to get things done (and do them well).  A great resource for this is Matt Perman’s How to Set Up Your Desk.  This $2.99 quick read will help you think about how your space affects productivity and walk you through setting up a workflow that works for you.

#7 Clean out your closet/dresser.Cleaning out your closet before school starts will help prevent back-to-school stress. | https://thecafescholar.com

One task you have to do every day?  Decide what to wear!  Save yourself an incredible amount of time each morning by taking some time before the semester starts to go through all of your clothes.  Try on everything, and get rid of clothes that don’t fit, don’t look good, is torn or faded, or that you just plain don’t like.  It helps to have a battle buddy that can tell you “you should never, ever wear that again.”  Clothes that are too big should go in the giveaway bag.  If you are actively (I mean it) losing weight, and want to keep some clothes one or two sizes down, box them up and store them under your bed in one of these under bed boxes.  That way, you can get to them easily when you are ready, but you won’t waste time digging through them every time you are looking for something to wear.  Out of season clothes can be packed up as well.  The only clothes in your closet or dresser should be the ones you actually need or want to wear, right now.  Call VVA to schedule a free pickup of your giveaway items, or drop them off at the nearest Goodwill or Salvation Army.  If you want to really simplify, try creating a personal uniform.  I haven’t really done this (yet), but it seems that successful people wear the same thing every day.  Taking that morning decision out of the picture cuts down on decision fatigue.

#8 Make a meal plan and buy groceries.

Planning your meals ahead of time will help you save both time and money – and also cut down on the above mentioned decision fatigue.  You can plan ahead for the week or even more the month.  If you really want to cut down on your prep time, take a hint from Rebecca at the Life as a Dare blog and prep a few weeks of meals all at once.   The crockpot is one of my favorite ways to do this. Try  these slow cooker “tv dinner” recipes. Cook up a large batch all at once, and freeze the leftovers in single or family sized portions.  You do all your prep and cleanup once, and you have the convenience of a frozen meal, but way healthier and cheaper.

#9 Knock out your errands.

It is so much harder to get all those random errands done after school starts, and school will bring enough of its own errands, too.  Take some time the week before school starts to take care of all your errands.  Be strategic; keep a list and batch them together based on location or other places you have to go.  Whatever you do now is something you don’t have to do during school madness.

#10 Do a digital deep clean.Reduce back-to-school stress with a digital deep clean that will help you feel organized and be more productive. | https://thecafescholar.com

Digital clutter can be just as distracting as physical clutter!  Case in point: I keep running into issues with my phone because the storage is too full…even too full to transfer the photos off so that it won’t be so full! I ended up having to delete a few apps to free up enough space to deal with the photo problem, and then add back the apps!  A digital deep clean will give you a clean slate, memory on your devices (= speed), and a sense of closure with the old semester.  I like to get to “Inbox Zero” as often as I can, but I definitely want to start out the semester with all of those emails taken care of.  Dani Dearest offers 5 steps for your digital deep clean.  I would also add a few more: remove any apps that you don’t use from your phone and tablet, clear up your computer’s desktop, uninstall programs on your computer that you never use, and defrag your PC or run Clean my Mac.

That’s not all…

There are way more ideas I could have included on this list to reduce stress as the semester gets started.  I would love to hear yours!  Please comment below; we can use all the stress-prevention we can get!
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