This GradHacker post was written by Trent M Kays, University of Minnesota PhD candidate in Writing Studies, @TrentMKays
The end of the semester is a finite thing. It will happen. It comes every year right about the time most graduate students don’t think they can handle anymore work. I’ve always welcomed the end of the semester, and I’ve always lamented the end of the semester. If you think this attitude is, much like the Shakespearean tradition, contrarian or, perhaps, oxymoronic, then you are correct.
I love graduate school, and I love teaching; however, sometimes things just need to end. Much in the same way that some television series just need to end, so it could be said of semesters. The high spirits of the beginning of the semester, the spirits of newness and freshness, do wear off. They do expire and, often, are replaced by contempt. This is not something that anyone should be ashamed or irritated with; it’s just the nature of graduate school. You can only read so many papers, write so many papers, grade so many papers before your mind becomes awash with the wonderment of break and the potentiality of having days of almost complete inactivity.
However, the idea of the break is nothing to celebrate. Well, at least not yet anyways. It is something to be avoided and disdained because we aren’t done yet. At my university, like many universities, the official last day of class was over this past week, and while we often take that last day of class as a celebratory day, our dilemma is far from over. We still need to grade, meet with students who wish to argue about their grades, meet with our advisors about classes or work for the spring, meet about future meetings, etc. This crunch time is perhaps the most stressful of the entire semester: the last week, the last hurrah, the last push toward our break from insanity.
Dealing with this stress is incredibly important because it is during this time that we are the most tired and most irritable. I’ve written  about coping with stress for GradHacker before, and my GradHacker colleague, Andrea Zellner, wrote  about dealing with holiday stress; however, how do we deal with stress during this crunch time? During that one week at the end of the semester when everything is due? How do we work through our grading sprints while trying to finish our own work?
Honestly, I don’t have time for sleep during the final week. I barely sleep a wink, and then it usually is only a nap on the couch. I’ve become quite capable of managing stress and multitasking, especially during the final crunch week. I barricade myself in my apartment with my cat, and I then proceed to list everything out that must be completed by the final due date. I order in food, I mainline diet soda, and I consume vast amounts of cookies. Unhealthy? Yes, very much so, but it’s my process. It’s my way of getting things done in the final days and, sometimes, final hours (minutes?) of the semester. It is hectic, stressful, and tedious.
I pepper my marathon grading, writing, reading, completing sessions with episodes of Family Guy or any other show that makes me laugh. I do my best to watch, listen, or read things during these micro breaks that make me laugh. Laughter is one of the best techniques for stress reduction.
I’ve never missed an end of the semester deadline, and while my method isn’t the prettiest or healthiest, it works for me, and I get things done.
How do you finish all your work (e.g. grading, writing, reading, etc.) during your final crunch week? What techniques or quirks work best for you?
Photo by Flickr user BLW Photography  // Creative Commons license: CC-BY