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  • Writer's pictureJY Yong

How to stay on top of your work

This semester has been nothing short of crazy for me.

I overloaded (26 MCs), took on more than 4 different projects and still found time to show up for Residential College activities.

There's still a few weeks left to this semester, and anything could happen. But I'm glad that the mental tricks that I've used in this article have gotten me to this point thus far.

A fair warning, then, before we proceed: I am but one person. My experiences may not be applicable to everyone. However, I hope that this article may resonate with you, even if only by a marginal amount, as I'm sure you've had your own fair share of troubles this semester too.

So, summed up in one word, what is the key to surviving a hectic semester?


There's a lot of ambiguity with this word. Let's dive deeper.

Choose your friends

Granted, I've had varying degrees of success with this. I've met people who have helped me immensely, but who have also made me doubt my abilities as a leader. I've met people who, despite having little to nothing in common with me, have been good for moral support. And I've met people who have just pushed me into the ground while I worked for them, not caring for my own well-being. It's a mixed bag.

However, no man is an island. That's why we have group projects. One of my seniors once told me that "I can't expect 1 person to remember 10 things, but I can have 10 people remember 1 thing each", and that tenet has held true in group projects where everyone has their own role.

I'm not the best graphic designer out there. Neither can I manage an entire project with external stakeholders by myself; I'm not the best talker. But I know that I have a role, be it leader or event organiser or pubs head. I know that I can trust in my teammates, and that they can trust in me, because we are all doing our best.

But beyond work - work should not define you in the first place, more on that later - friends are still important.

Even if their lived experiences are wholly different from yours, it's still refreshing and relaxing to take a break from it all. If all your friends are from the same background - especially if you're also working together - it can get stressful and even competitive.

I look fondly back on week 9, not because of all the work I had to juggle: but because I met an old friend to talk until 5 a.m. one night, and because I had supper with my Residential College friends till 3 a.m. another night.

Was that the wisest decision, work-wise? Probably not. After I talked to them - and indeed, after I finish this article - I will still have submissions galore to work on.

But did I enjoy myself? Absolutely. And I'll tell you why in the next segment.

A final note before we move on: online classes may have disrupted our ability to make friends and long-lasting relationships, and I can't say I have an solution to that. My stay on campus is the exception, not the rule. And to that, all I can say is: watch out for CNM Society events 😉

Choosing (And accepting) your battles

Some people may say, the happiness I had with my friends was just empty calories. Maybe it was an illusion that didn't do anything for the objective reality that I still have submissions and assignments and projects to complete.

But who set these assignments and projects?

Ultimately, even if we think we were forced into taking a certain route in this uni life due to circumstance, it was still our choice to pick CNM as a major, and pick that module for ModReg.

Even though I got ModRekt from NM2103, I still chose NM2207, and I still chose NM2220 as first choice. Am I doing as well as I wanted to in either? Definitely not. But am I moving forward to see where this will lead me? I will.

But there's the flip side. Don't be scared to make choices that are ultimately for your greater good. Marie Kondo said it so sagely: does it spark joy? If you need to tire yourself out every night for an unforgiving module, is it worth it?

Of course, it is your choice, and it differs from person to person. I just hope that, even if your choices are being dictated by someone or something, that we will one day find what we truly want; the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Choose your larger outlook on life, the universe and everything

And this is where people can get very philosophical so I'll try to keep it short.

Life is getting longer. We are living longer; we can do more, experience more. But in the grand scheme of things, are we not still living an average of 80+ years in a human timeline that is tens of thousands of years old, in a cosmos that is billions of years old?

Do you feel small when you look at it that way? I know I do.

And that one assignment before you: it is important in the here and now, but is it that important to overwork yourself to finish it? If you knew that your body would be damaged, sometimes irreversibly, to get it done, would you?

I prescribe no answers. Personally, I know that if I were younger (in JC or first year army) I would do just that. Overclock my body, ask questions later, it's all for the greater good. And with the projects that I have on my plate now, I'm trying to find facets of that boy again.

But I say only facets because I'm older now. If I just reverted to my previous mentality of shoot first ask questions later, I wouldn't have learned anything from the past experiences of putting my all into everything only to taste bitter rejection.

That's a familiar feeling to all of us, isn't it? An inevitable feeling, at that.

In contrast, what am I more likely to remember after I leave my Residential College and after I graduate NUS? Would I remember the negative: that one night, I ignored my assignments; or the positive: that one night, I decided to have fun with my friends till a record-breaking 3 a.m.? I'd prefer to remember the latter.

So why do anything at all?

It is tempting, of course. Drop everything, live out your best life doing what you love.

But at the same time, we live in a society, and societies have constructs and contracts. We can never really escape them entirely. I already sound like a social sciences lecturer so I'll cut to the chase here:

To survive in a semester with a heavy workload is to understand that you can't win every battle, that you have to take care of yourself too, that you have to enjoy what you're doing, and yet still try your best: not to attain the letter A on the paper but to perform to the best version of yourself that you could be.

I'm no psychiatrist, of course, and I've seen some of my friends get professional help. There is no shame in doing so. Mental health is part of physical health, after all.

Neither am I wholly endorsing a system that pits us against each other on a curve; FASS expects us to see the nuance in everything anyway. Our system has worked for us in some ways and failed us in others, but that is for another article and another author.

So I do hope, at 1 a.m. as I type out this article, that you've gotten some solace and catharsis after reading it as I did writing it.

From one human to another, this is what I can give. We'll always be searching for the human condition, but after all, isn't that the fun part?

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