A few things have happened last week that have brought me back to the reality of time. First, I need to know by this Friday, whether I want to take one of two option papers that are only available the second term of the academic year (that’s Trinity Term in Oxford English). On the face of it, this isn’t a problem as I’m on a two-year course and so could take either of them in 2015, but that may then cut across the scheduling of other options, or give me unnecessary pressure later on. So although I’ve been working on the basis that my decision on where to specialise can wait till January or February, in fact it will help if I can exclude some possibilities more quickly.
I’ve also been feeling that there aren’t enough hours in the day. My assignments are handed in on time, but I have a growing reading pile and a backlog developing on my to-do-list. When I map out the fixed hours on the course, I have 16 hours of lectures, seminars and classes in a week, plus anything I do extra like IT or study skills. This is a lot for Oxford, but it’s way less than the hours I was working in the NHS.
Then on Thursday in my oboe lesson I had to face up to the fact that regular practice time had been squeezed out, after the first three days of good intentions since the previous lesson. One of the reasons for coming back to full-time study was that I would have the time and energy to improve my playing, and yet somehow it hasn’t been happening. Whose time am I wasting here?
The past month has been a bit of a blur, re-entering student life and trying to work out what’s going on in between the excitement and bewilderment. There is so much on offer at Oxford that I have found it impossible not to behave like I’ve won a supermarket trolley dash, cramming anything I can see into a growing and increasingly unstable pile. But it’s unsustainable, and so it’s time for me to get real.
Some of it is going back to basics on time management: overcome resistance with routines and pomodoros; make sure that I’m on top of everything that needs to be done; and get up early to clear the backlog if I’m falling behind. For the time being, that will probably be enough. I’m clear that I don’t want to neglect home, relationships, music, or my own physical and mental health. I know what the warning signs are, so I’ll keep an eye on them as I get into my new working rhythm.
The more difficult bit is the prioritisation: I’m spoilt for choice and three weeks into the course, I haven’t really had enough time to know what I would like to specialise in longer-term. One of the faculty members last week was discouraging a “strategic” approach to learning that aimed to choose a set of options that would maximise grades for a given input. I do want a strategic approach, but one that takes in as diverse a range as possible of linguistics without becoming undoably broad, includes the interests that I already have, leaves space for things that I might yet become interested in, and keeps my future options open.