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Exam Prep for the Dorm Kids: Making Personal Space

I’ve never had trouble making friends. I love being around people, and I like to think that I’m fun and interesting enough that people like to be around me. But as my exams came rolling around, I quickly realized that I no longer want to sacrifice my grades for a social life. Don’t get me wrong- I can unequivocally say that I made the right choice in the on-campus residence I picked here I the University of Waterloo. My don is fantastic, my roommate is by best friend, and all of us on my floor regularly congregate in our hallway for cuddle-fests. But I needed boundaries. The social gluttony has gotten stale. At first, I tried just leaving my rez and going to the library. But it’s big and impersonal, and I like to get warm and cozy with a mug of hot chocolate when I study. And then I tried going to the quiet study rooms in my rez, which are excellent and work at least 80% of the time. But I don’t like having to leave my room to get work done. As social as I am, I’m very much a home body, and I like being able to work and live in the same space.So, much like the inspiration for the post-it calendar, I came up with this idea in the middle of the night after this dilemma was keeping my awake for a touch too long. Behold the Epic Do Not Disturb Sign:

Full Length Door- Sharper Picture

It consists of 4 parts: 1) A Declaration- “Stress Free Zone” sign. Beside it was a horizontal strip of paper detailing my new rule: “Everyone is heretofore forbidden from coming into my room to complain about academia related stresses.” I actually kicked people out when they come seeking me to talk about how they have 6 exams 4 essays and a dissertation of epic proportions due in the nest 48 hours. I have my own stress, as as much as I love my friends, I need a sacred space to my own, free of the nastiness of “reality”. To do so requires that I keep the energy in my room positive at all times.

stress free zone

2) My hours of operation- on weekdays, I had a strict “I will not open this door unless we planned on doing something earlier” rule. It’s 9am-9pm each day. (I had a lot of catching up to do.) Weekend hours vary. Notice the bright colours so there is no excuse for not seeing it. The important part of Do Not Disturb hours is to maintain them. At first, I was terrible at this. But then I really buckled down and people began to understand just how serious I was.

do not disturb colours

3) How to Reach Me- I admire Cal Newport, and talk about him all the time. But his whole “making himself difficult to find so he can work uninterrupted” dance would never work for me. I am only a pretend hermit, and would slowly die inside if people began to feel like I’m unapproachable. So I make my phone number, my twitter and my facebook all available so friends can warn me before they come by. I also specified that I’d like to be text’d, because I can let texts build up, but ignored phone calls send me on a guilt trip.


if it cant wait

4) The Exception to the rule- the only exception is if my door is open, which means that I’ve finished studying for the day, and am available for whatever. Except listening to academic complaints, which is a never. It says “mi casa es su casa” which is Spanish (probably) for “my home is your home”. My door was kept closed most of the time.

The Exception

And then of course I let my roommate know of the importance of my Do Not Disturb hours.

So, how did I manage on my exams after enforcing stronger personal boundaries? Well, I got a 79.9% average in my first term, which isn’t bad. It’s not the Dean’s List average I was aiming for, and it especially stings because I missed the mark by 0.1%, but I am now going into my second term with a greater understanding of the importance of jealously guarding my personal space and keeping my mental space clutter free.

My question to all of you who lived in residence: Did you have this problem of too much socializing, or where you able to keep it under control? If so, how? If not, why not?