Once upon a time (in March of this year), a study abroad office of staff, busy at their desks in Dublin were told to pack up and go home! Our students had already been directed by their own government officials to return to the States but now staff in Ireland were being told by the Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) that we must, where possible, work from home. In my naivety I thought this might be for a week or two, enough said! As with any sudden news we tend to ask a series of questions and perhaps think about things in a slightly more sped up way. Students needed to be supported with pre-departure matters and while some had already jumped on a plane, others understandably still had some questions. Once all of the important things were taken care of I asked myself what I might need to bring with me. Part of my life is at my desk or in my locker so it was important to take those bits and pieces to what would become a home office! I grabbed my laptop and a diary and a pen along with an emergency stash of chocolate I had in my desk and then I made a quick stop to the Arcadia Dublin Centre library. If in the event of a rare occasion happening where I might have time to read, I wanted to have something worthwhile and not just candy for the mind. I looked around and it was a no brainer really - a book that I’d been meaning to read for about 4 years “How we Learn” by Benedict Carey looked at me with a “take me” sign on its cover and off I ran.
Nine months later, on a rainy night in Dublin (last night) the rare occasion happened. I had time to read and “How we learn” sitting beside “Trauma interventions” “the Pact” and other books piled up on my bedside locker stood out at me again begging me to pick it up so that is what I did. I have no regrets so far!
I went straight to the chapter on “Spacing out”. If nothing else, the title was interesting to me. What I learned from this was something I thought I could share as we all begin a new academic year. Students are continuing to study albeit a different learning experience, staff supporting students are also faced with adapting to new ways, new modes and perhaps a different pace of working. In this chapter, Carey talks about the importance of completing study in small chunks and with regular breaks in between. He maintains that if we learn something new on a Monday afternoon for example and engage in good solid learning for a block of time, with a return to the same piece on Tuesday, that we are more inclined to retain the information and learn effectively. He talks about “all nighters” aka cramming in the college experience. Carey explains the research which shows that students who cram are more inclined to forget pieces of information long term despite often successfully completing and doing well in an exam. What has been discovered is that next Semester students are likely to forget a lot of that information they thought they had learned during the period of cramming. I think of this in the work context and keeping in mind the importance of effectiveness versus efficiency, quality versus quantity. For one, on a personal level, I don’t work well under immense pressure despite all that people say. In my opinion it can be chaotic and creates unnecessary stress.
With this in mind, as we continue into another phase of life in uncertain times, why not pace ourselves. I see this going beyond study and work. I see value in pacing ourselves in life and what it is handing us right now; news updates, new norms, new rules, restrictions, social interruptions – there is so much to absorb. Take it all in one piece at a time and give yourself time. For me, that is what being kind to self means right now.