A post by GASW President Essy Knopf. First published on EssyKnopf.com.
Photo credit: Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels
As most attending social work school can attest, stress is the water we figuratively swim in every day.1
It is also a very normal part of being human. In moderation, stress can help us. But when sustained at high levels over long periods, it can devastate our wellbeing.
Strung out between study, placements, and what passes for our personal lives, it is very easy for us to experience the latter.
There are many strategies for minimizing stress, such as simplifying and automating tasks. This is where modern information technologies can assist.
Here are some suggestions as to how social work students can turn them to their advantage.
1. Give task tracking applications a spin
In my previous article, “11 ways not to crash and burn in social work school”, I stressed that prioritizing and calendarizing are key to being a functional social work student.
If you’re in an MSW program, it’s worth considering keeping a running record of all your to-dos with a list-making application.
Apps like Apple Notes and Google Keep save your data in the cloud and share them with all your registered devices, making accessing and updating them a cinch.
Using colors and labels will help you with organizing information into categories. Adding checkboxes allows you to tick off completed tasks one by one.
Here’s one workflow I recommend following when using Google Keep: first, assign two cards to each grad school course you’re currently taking. Title one “Readings” and the other “Assessments”.
Give each card a different color to visually distinguish them. Apply a label titled “Study” so you can easily sort them from cards with a different category.
Finally, add checkboxes for every pending reading and assessment. Make sure to update each card from week to week.
While Google Keep technically doesn’t have a dedicated desktop app, third-party versions such as EasyNotes are available.
2. Try using a Pomodoro timer
Finding that you’re not taking enough study breaks, or alternatively taking too many?
Most MSW candidates will likely fall into one of these two camps. Sitting at our desk, we enter a state of flow, only to emerge hours later, glassy-eyed and ravenous for a meal.
Alternatively, we may struggle and study in fits and starts, interrupted by many a text message and checking of our news and social media feeds.
Whether you suffer from tunnel vision or procrastination, the Pomodoro technique may be able to help you find a happy medium.
This time management technique works by breaking time up into intervals: 25 minutes on, 5 minutes off. After four of these intervals, users take a longer break of 15 minutes.
Pomodoro timer apps, available on both phones and the web, automate the process, prompting users at the end of each interval with a chime.
Some of the more advanced timers can even track your productivity.
3. Take social work school group work to the next level
If you find Apple Notes or Google Keep too simple for your purposes, check out Trello, another free cross-platform service accessible on your phone and computer.
Trello’s design is comparable to that with Google Keep, with cards organized under vertical columns. But as a tool for collaboration, the app really flexes its muscles.
Trello offers a visual representation of the status of all tasks and subtasks, which can be particularly helpful when working on complex school group assessments.
Multiple users can also access and edit the board at the same time, “tagging” and delegating tasks to each other, while setting reminders.
To familiarize yourself with the app, you can create a personal "board" and set a title e.g. "Course X". Create titled columns for each school course and another called "Completed tasks".
Under each column, add cards for individual assessment pieces and homework tasks. Tag cards with a color and assign definitions. Red for example can represent "To do", orange "In progress", and green "Complete".
When completing each task, drag the associated card to the "Completed tasks" column. Or right-click it and hit the "Archive" option.
For brainstorming, virtual whiteboards like Google Jamboard can come in handy. And when working on shared papers, Google Docs can also be a godsend, thanks to the collaborative, real-time editing feature.
If you are organizing a meeting in-person or virtually, try using a Doodle poll to identify everyone’s availability.
4. Communicate and community-build online
If emails are too arduous, why not switch things up with a feature-rich instant messaging app like GroupMe?
WhatsApp alternatively provides a more secure service, with end-to-end encryption.
If you struggle to keep track of text messages with other social work school students, check out Slack, a phone and desktop app that offers persistent chat rooms organized by subjects.
While this level of functionality may be too complex for the average group assignment, Slack can be especially useful for students looking to community build, share information and resources, and organize on campus.
5. Lift your grammar game
If you’ve been relying exclusively on Microsoft Word or Google Docs’ spelling and grammar check, there’s a good chance you’re not catching every typo.
Don’t believe me? Install Grammarly, a free service that can be accessed as a browser extension, Microsoft Office plugin, or desktop app.
Grammarly stands head and shoulders above most apps’ standard spelling, grammar, and punctuation proofreading features.
If you’re willing to shell out for the paid version, you’ll also get additional features such as guidance on writing with clarity and automatic plagiarism detection.
6. Jazz up your social work school presentations
Lack the design finesse and can’t be bothered scouting the web for inspiration?
Transform your lackluster Google Slides presentation in a pinch with one of the many free presentation templates available for download on Slidesgo.
Editing these snazzy predesigned slides is as simple as drag-and-drop and cut-and-paste.
As a bonus, most templates include unique design elements at the end that can be adapted for any purpose.
You may be comfortable with your current social work study workflow. And yet it’s possible that there are some inefficiencies that are costing you time and effort.
Many of these can be addressed with a few tech tweaks such as the ones I suggested above.
But if you’re intimidated by the prospect of learning new systems, don’t worry—I completely get it.
My suggestion would be to start small. Try one of the hacks I’ve mentioned for a few days and see if you notice any improvements.
Give yourself enough time to get familiar with the new method before making any final decision. Also, try to keep in mind why you’re making a change in the first place. What do you hope to gain?
If eased workloads and relaxed time pressures sound like your cup of tea, then maybe the risks are ones well worth taking.
1 “There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says "Morning, boys. How's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes "What the hell is water?” From Wallace, D. F., & Kenyon College. (2009). This is water: Some thoughts, delivered on a significant occasion about living a compassionate life. Little, Brown and Company.