A few years ago, I worked at a residential mental health facility for teenagers, and occasionally we would take the kids off campus for special activities in the community. I remember one particular Saturday afternoon when we had been given a handful of free tickets to a men’s basketball game at the local university, and I won the rock-paper-scissors battle to chaperone the clients. As part of the halftime entertainment at the game, there was a 3-point shooting exhibition featuring a 60-something-year-old man who apparently held a record for consecutive shots made, shots made in a minute, or something mildly impressive like that. As the man warmed up by taking a few shots from different spots on the floor, I noticed that, although his shooting form was not particularly textbook, he had a routine of physical movements that was virtually identical on every shot. I remember telling one of the kids what I’d noticed: “Watch. Every shot is exactly the same. He steps up as he catches the ball, he releases the ball at the same point and with the same motion, and he hops back a step after each shot.” Over presumably years of practice, he had figured out precisely how to put the ball through the hoop from the distance of the 3-point line and how to move from shot to shot efficiently, without wasted motion.
Step up, shoot, bounce back (swish).
Step up, shoot, bounce back (swish).
When the clock began to count down 60 seconds, nothing changed. Step up, shoot, bounce back (swish). When the crowd cheered with each make—or occasionally groaned at a miss—nothing changed. Step up, shoot, bounce back (swish). He knew what worked , and he stuck with it. He had a repeatable routine that enabled him to hit his mark more often than not, and he relied on it. He had a “groove.”
Fast forward a few years from that Saturday afternoon to this one, and the concept of finding a groove is on my mind again. No, I’m not at the Y perfecting my 3-point shooting stroke—my dreams of roundball glory were laid to rest many moons (and several twisted ankles) ago. I’m four weeks into my second year in the UNC MSW program, and I’m thinking about the things that have enabled me to succeed thus far, and what will allow me to keep my head above water this semester.
(You probably see where I’m going with this, so I’ll cut to the chase…)
Finding a routine that works for you—your groove— is one of the best things that you can do for yourself as an MSW student, both academically and personally. Routines facilitate time management and organization, and as we all know from our Human Development courses, they provide an element of predictability that mitigates stress and anxiety. In other words, you get more stuff done, and you cry less.
So here are some tips for finding your groove:
(1) Prioritize. Start with the things that are most important (e.g., research and paper-writing time) and most inflexible (e.g., classes), and build your schedule around those.
(2) Observe the ebb and flow of your energy and productivity in a given week, and use those patterns to guide your routine. For example, I work 10-hour days on Mondays and Wednesdays, which leaves me pretty drained mentally. So those are the evenings I hit the gym for workout (brain off) then do most of my reading for class. In contrast, I work on assignments and projects during periods when I typically have more energy and focus—weekends, Tuesday and Thursday evenings.
(3) Schedule a regular morning/afternoon/night off. It’s good self-care, and it will help you be more productive the rest of the week.
(4) Allow margins in your routine for the unexpected and the “nuts and bolts.” We all have to go to the grocery store, and we all have unforeseen situations that arise. Don’t schedule so tightly that a trip to the Target or a spontaneous lunch date throws your whole day or week off.
(5) Protect your routine. Be willing to tell people “no” when they ask you to do things that will disrupt your groove. Tell them when you WILL be available.
(6) It’s not just about time. Find places where you like to study and/or work on assignments. Find people who will study with you regularly. Find music that energizes you and/or helps you focus. Anything that makes the grad school grind more tolerable can be incorporated into your groove.
Hopefully these tips will help you find your own groove for success in grad school. Or maybe for mastering the 3-point shot. I guess it depends on your goal. 🙂