Today, I will p-set. Really.
I wake up at 7 am. I shower. I try on four different outfits before deciding which combination of shorts and baggy t-shirt to p-set in. I sort my pile of clean laundry. I sort my pile of dirty laundry.
I print out my p-sets for the week. While I’m at it I print out past exams for my next three organic chemistry and genetics exams. I’ll need them eventually, right?
I put on socks. I realize I’m running out of socks. I spend an hour picking out socks on the Internet. I buy socks.
I should eat breakfast. I put away the clean dishes from the dishwasher. I can’t find my dishes. I run around Random Hall sequestering dishes. I find my dishes. I make cookies and send an email to the dorm about free cookies. I talk to people. I eat a cookie.
punt – (1) v.t. To determine after analytical deliberation not to do something, said of something often academic in nature. (2) v.i. To be in the process of not doing something.
Which brings us to my third semester class schedule:
My Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoons and evenings are free. My Tuesdays are hectic. My Thursdays are almost completely empty. My p-sets are due Friday.
For the first few weeks of term, I prioritized my p-sets above everything else. I didn’t go to lab or blog or volunteer until my p-sets were done. My p-sets expanded to fill the time I gave them: all the time I had. As a result, when Thursday rolled around I still was not done with my p-sets. Furthermore, I hadn’t blogged, shown up to lab, or spent much time with friends. I felt guilty about getting nowhere in lab, I felt guilty about not blogging, and I felt guilty about not being done with my p-sets. I did not feel like I had accomplished much during the week. I did feel burned out.
MIT is about optimization. You have limited time and energy; the biggest challenge here is deciding what to do with it.
I learned during my first year at MIT that some variables are set: in order to be happy I must sleep for at least 4 hours and 44 minutes a night and allocate several hours a day to socializing, keeping my room clean, exercising, and buying, cooking, and eating food. (I imagine food is less of an issue if you live in a dorm with a dining plan, but I don’t. On the bright side I get to eat latkes with sauerkraut whenever I want latkes with sauerkraut.)
Then there are those things you need to do, because they are ostensibly what you’re here to do: go to class, slog through p-sets, write essays, and study for exams (or not, if you pick the right major).
Finally, there are the things you want to do outside of classes. In my case, I want to blog, I want to do research, and I want to volunteer with my APO friends.
The more time you spend on your classes, the better your grades will be. But at some point the improvement becomes miniscule compared to the happiness you give up to achieve it. This is where it stops being worth it.
I’ve come to understand that the things I want to do are just as important as the things I need to do. The goal at MIT, I think, is to pursue both without letting either one—or your emotional or physical health—slip away. This is time management.
And this is why I have consciously, “after analytical deliberation,” decided to punt my p-sets until the day before they’re due, every week for the rest of term. In my new system, I skim my p-sets when I print them out over the weekend, and then I ignore them. If something rings a bell during lecture, I do the corresponding p-set problem. Otherwise, I leave my p-sets alone until Thursday. This frees me to spend Monday, Wednesday, and Friday in lab, and blog whenever the inspiration hits. If I’m not burned out, the inspiration should hit often.
(This is an inspirational cow.)