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How to handle time stress during COS – a bar camp session by Irene Michl with tips added on to by myself and other COSis

If you consider studying the Content Strategy master’s program or are enrolled already, the time stress challenge is (or will be) real. Thus, it was a great idea by Irene Michl to organize a bar camp session on this topic. In this blog post, you will be introduced to the time management concepts and tips the attendees of her session discussed, as well as some tips against the COS time stress I and my COS21 cohort (and one lecturer) suggest. But let’s get started with a little bit of COS background and the why of this topic.

Where the need to discuss about time stress in regards to COS comes from

Studying a part-time master’s program next to working full-time (or even two jobs, as some of COS21 do), can be stressful. If you study COS, you will know that you’re about to earn 120 ECTS in two years (at least if you don’t drop out halfway). Considering every ECTS is worth about 25 hours of work and each semester is about 6 months, you will need to invest about 30 hours into COS. Next to your 40+ hours work week. Surprised? How come? You never calculated your COS workload?

I mean, COS even stated on the FH website that the master’s program will be comparable with a second full-time job. Honestly, I’m only surprised that this is actually legal and legitimate to offer in part-time.

If we’re talking about a week with a workload of about 70 hours for your regular job plus COS, there’s no doubt of the need to discuss time stress management. To these regular study hours for your lectures, asynchrony lectures, readings and group / project work come added-on hours of searching your lecturer’s uploads on either platform of their choice (to freely and randomly choose and distribute between SharePoint, Slack, Trello – formerly, Teams or their very own website) and hours of anger, sadness and frustration regarding the not-very-well-thought-through COS learner’s journey (first tip: don’t spend too much time giving in to those emotions, rather use that time of frustration wisely, e. g., to work on your COS projects). So be prepared to invest a few extra hours researching extra knowledge you’re expected to have by your lecturer, but will (maybe) only get later on in your studies.

Thus, the need of talking about time stress is huge. Gladly, we can learn from one another regarding our methods. In the following, you will learn about the ones of attendees and non-attendees of the corresponding bar camp session.

The Pomodoro technique

The Pomodoro (Italian for “tomato”) technique can help you to be highly productive with well-regulated work sessions and in-between breaks. In order to work according to this method, you first write down the task you want to tackle. Then, set your timer to 25 minutes and use this time to work well-focused on your task. Next up, do a five minutes break, before you repeat the 25 minutes working session. After four of these in total 30 minutes, take a longer break of between 15-20 minutes.

For the sake of actually using a tomato, you have to take kitchen clock in form of a tomato for your time tracking. 😉

The goal of this method is to avoid being disturbed and making room for more focus in today’s world, where everything is about speed and even more speed and where 1000 things seek our attention at once. Pomodoro, therefore, helps us to become even more productive people in our professional and study lives.

Get the first 10 minutes done for a start

Most often, the start of a new task is the hardest, no matter if it is for work or COS. Thus, one of the attendees of the bar camp session about time stress suggested only planning on working 10 minutes on the task you’ve been procrastinating for so long. Only committing yourself to these 10 minutes sounds like a low entry level.

Once you’ve worked on it for 10 minutes, you can decide to stop, but most likely, as you’ve (finally) already put your head in it, you can easily continue to work on that procrastinated task. So for everyone who is struggling with procrastination resulting from the (unnecessarily) felt need of perfection, this method can be helpful. But that perfectionism is far from being required to survive COS, is luckily something we learned in the very first days of the study program.

Jutta’s method: Do a little, fake a little

Already quite at the beginning of COS, when we were struggling with our task overload, we got to learn the view of COS teachers on the program and on how to survive it: Do a little, fake a little. Jutta’s advice on how to deal with the absurd workload and when you’re struggling to meet deadlines.

In the immediate situation, this motto might help you to set aside your perfectionism. When you put another thought in it though, I’m not sure this motto is very supportive of the study program. Is faking a little really what people should do to survive COS? And what does that mean, to fake a little? What kind of faking is being supported with this message? Like letting AI write your required blog posts (just a possibility, not reality), or pretending to be in front of your zoom lecture while cooking dinner, or try not to need the required amount of time for your project work?

Create virtual co-working groups

Talking about project works: One of the bar camp session attendees suggested to come together in virtual co-working groups to work on your COS project works. This way, you create some kind of mutual obligation to get some of it done and can even discuss about it. Just don’t get into small-talk, you won’t have time for that.

In general, it helps to talk about your time needs: Let your co-workers know you will leave at a certain time to make time for your studies. Getting a distance between you and your work helps make room for COS – even though you might not be the most favorite co-worker if you leave early.

Make (more) room for COS

As COS is a hybrid program that requires you to be in Graz every third to fourth week, to better avoid time stress, you can consider making more room for the studies in ways that some of the COSis did. Depending on where you come from, Graz can be rather far to reach, so considering to moving to Austria (or Graz directly) can help you save time that you may need for commuting. And it would solve your problem of having to be in an online lecture on Thursday night (while you would be commuting) AND being in the lecture in Graz on Friday.

Also, if you don’t see yourself coping with the approx. 70 hours of workload, quitting your job and doing COS as full-time study, can be a way to prevent you from burn-out because of time stress. Then, maybe, you would be able to find a little bit of spare time for hobbies, friends and whatever you consider to be “having a life” (except for three to five nights a week).

Find a way to release stress

No matter what methods of the ones proposed here or elsewhere you use, at some point you most definitely face time stress. If you do so, you should have found a way to release your stress: May that be a session of yoga, punching a ball, throwing pillows at others, baking cakes or going for a walk. It is important, that you find your own way to build resilience.

And building resilience is something that might not be on your study program’s itinerary, but will be something that you will have to achieve yourself in order to survive the time stress of a 120 ECTS part-time study program next to your full-time job. Whatever your time management and resilience methods are, maybe you have found one or two additional ideas in this blog post to cope with time stress.

One last remark: Take good care of your (mental) health, dear fellow COSis. Because if you don’t, nobody else will. And no job or study program – or the combination of both – is ever worth to compromise that. Remember, there is always a way out of the wheel if the pressure gets too heavy on you. ❤