10 tips to calm down and carry on

1) Look after yourself

Breaktimes are important, especially mealtimes. On waking our blood sugar (needed to make our muscles and brain work their best) is usually low. Enhance your productivity by having a decent breakfast. Your brain will thank you if you prioritise time for meals, exercise and rest. Is it possible to carry on without looking after yourself?

2) Work backwards from the deadline

Write it in red on your calendar or diary and count the number of weeks to go. Break up your work into manageable chunks and schedule them. I did this to hit my thesis deadline and it worked.

3) Make an outline

I remember staring at all the files and books I’d read and feeling overwhelmed when it came time to write a literature review. An outline per chapter made the task seem smaller. I categorised things into groups/themes. This allowed me to arrange them into an order. This could be chronological, historical or by subject area. Once you have sections fill them in. Keep moving forward. Even working on your references, when you are tired, is moving you forward towards that deadline. Great job!

4) Forget perfection…

…because that leads to panic!

For a first draft let the words and ideas flow. You can throw them out later. Once words are on the page it’s easier to edit and see where you went wrong.

5) Not sure about the structure?

Approach editing a large text paragraph by paragraph. When writing an essay, for example, each paragraph should be about one idea with evidence or an argument to support that one idea. For a smaller piece of work you can have fun moving about the sections to see how it flows best. I’ve been known to print things off and sit on the floor with a pair of scissors to unglue my brain. Whether it’s sticking Post-its all over the walls, or making use of organising software (there are many out there) take time to find the method that works for you.

6) Reading is important too

If you get stuck about how to organise a point go back to your pile of favourite books and find an author who impressed you with their style. See how they argued a point and use it as loose inspiration. But don’t use reading as an excuse not to write, and be careful that your thoughts are your own.

7) Agonising over word choices?

Read the text out loud (preferably not in the library with everyone scowling at you). When you stumble over reading something, or can’t find a natural breath this indicates points in the text to work on.

8) You are not alone

Keep at it. Even professional writers get stressed about writing, so there is plenty of advice out there.

9) Be positive

You’ve organised a plan, and its inevitable parts may not work. It’s natural for some bits to take longer than expected. So sit at your desk at your arranged time, take planned breaks and carry on. You will get there. Perhaps this quote from a master will help.

“One forges one’s style on the terrible anvil of daily deadlines.”
― Émile Zola

Ergo deadlines = genius (well, we all try to work with what we’ve got). The last tip will help with this one…

10) To carry on, calm your “inner doubter”

This will allow you to focus on the work, rather than the stress. Here’s a quick trick: count numbers, preferably backwards. It distracts the brain. A great way to practice those language skills too (my French teacher has us do this in every class: count 20 – 0 backwards!): write words/numbers in the air, sing out loud, image a blackboard. This works for memorising verb lists too. Two to five minutes before starting to work will trick the brain into a more focused mindset.

Perhaps there are some things you do to ‘carry on’ that I haven’t mentioned? I’m looking forward to hearing your ideas.

If you need proofreading and writing help please get in touch.

Emma Parfitt

Proofreader for business and academic documents, translations, and English writing.


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