I recently posted a review of the The Perfect Score Project by Debbie Stier.Â Read the review here, and learn even more about the book here.Â Ms. Stier was gracious enough to answer a few questions, here goes:
Dr. S.: Devoting 1 year of your life to studying for, and taking the SAT (7 times!), is a pretty unusual way to spend your time.Â Did you get some strange comments or questions while you were doing it?
D.S.: Strangely, not that many!Â Honestly, I expected much more. There was one proctor who whispered, â€œAre you going back to college?,â€ and a few kids I knew who actively ignored me during a test, but beyond that — nada.Â More than â€œstrange comments or questions,â€ I received a lot of support, which I welcomed! There were a handful of tutors who regularly chimed in with advice on my blog posts, and a lot of students who wrote to me, saying I was motivating them, which kept me going — but not a lot of strange comments or questions (unless you consider these to be strange!).
Dr. S.: I was amazed that you had time to work, take care of your home and kids, all while madly studying for the SAT – how did you manage your time?
D.S.: Iâ€™m not going to lie: it was a killer. I got way too little sleep, had little/no social life, and Iâ€™m still carting around boxes of â€œlifeâ€ that never got done. I aspire to life a â€œbalanced life” some day, though don’t know if that’s in the cards for me for a while. I imagine most mothers face the same challenges.
My trick to â€œgetting things doneâ€ is to do the most important thing, first thing in the morning, and the â€œmost important thingâ€ changes daily.Â For example, there were times when â€œstudying for the SATâ€ was my #1 to-do, and other times â€œwriting bookâ€ was #1, or â€œwrite blog post,â€ or â€œexercise,â€ or â€œpay bills,â€ etc.
Usually, my â€œ#1 to-doâ€ takes way longer than I anticipate and sometimes I donâ€™t get anything else done that day (e.g. â€œwriting the bookâ€ days).Â But, at least I know — the one thing that needed to get done, got done!
Also, Iâ€™m obsessed with â€œsystemsâ€ for time management. For most of the year of the project and the two years of writing the book, I kept a time-journal where I wrote down exactly what I did, every single half hour â€“ after I did it. I had my â€œto doâ€ list, and, a â€œgot doneâ€ log.
You’re going to think I’m really insane when I tell you this part, but it’s true.
When Iâ€™m really, really pressed to do something, I time myself with an egg timer. For example, Iâ€™ll give myself twenty-five minutes to pay the bills (or study algebra or write an essay or a blog post, etc.) and then I’ll set an egg timer and power through until whatever it is, is done. I read about this system on a website called â€œThe Pomodoro Technique” and it really works. (Dr. S.: NO! I don’ think you’re crazy – sounds very clever, actually!)
Dr. S.: Once your SAT year was finished, was there any sort of a let-down? Did you miss it?
D.S.: Well, yes and no. I certainly didnâ€™t feel â€œdoneâ€ with the project and I hope to get back to it again some day, but I had so much going on in my life that I never had time to experience any â€œlet-down” feelings.Â It was more like, “onto the next” — and that, was that.
Dr. S.:Â In my blog I talk a lot about creative ways to manage stress.Â We all know yoga and meditation are great, but are there unique ways you manage the stress in your life?
D.S.: Interesting â€¦ I use yoga and meditation! I canâ€™t think of anything â€œcreativeâ€ beyond that.
Oh, one thing comes to mind (if this qualifies): I watch 1-2 episodes of a funny t.v. show with my kids before bedtime. Itâ€™s a ritual I started midway through the project during a crisis, which I wrote about. Television turned things around for us, as crazy as that sounds.Â We’ve rarely miss a night since that day, midway through the year and sometimes we don’t get to watch untilÂ until 11 p.m. or midnight — but the electronics always go off and we laugh together before bed. I’m pretty sure laughing before going to sleep is good for managing stress. (Dr. S.: Love it!)
Dr. S.: What are you working on now? Can we expect a new book in the future?
D. S.: Another book! I have another story about my younger child (not having to do with standardized tests though). I think there are universal themes and truths and I hope it will provide people with information and entertainment. It’s been on the back burner since the publication of The Perfect Score Project, but I plan to get back to it soon. (Dr. S.: Can’t wait to read it!)
Thanks for your thoughtful answers, Ms. Stier!