I recently posted a review of the The Perfect Score Project by Debbie Stier. Read the review here, and learn even more about the book here. 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. Did you get some strange comments or questions while you were doing it?
D.S.: Strangely, not that many! Honestly, I expected much more. There was one proctor who whispered, “Are you going back to college?,” and a few kids I knew who actively ignored me during a test, but beyond that — nada. More than “strange comments or questions,” 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.: I’m not going to lie: it was a killer. I got way too little sleep, had little/no social life, and I’m still carting around boxes of “life” that never got done. I aspire to life a “balanced 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 “getting things done” is to do the most important thing, first thing in the morning, and the “most important thing” changes daily. For example, there were times when “studying for the SAT” was my #1 to-do, and other times “writing book” was #1, or “write blog post,” or “exercise,” or “pay bills,” etc.
Usually, my “#1 to-do” takes way longer than I anticipate and sometimes I don’t get anything else done that day (e.g. “writing the book” days). But, at least I know — the one thing that needed to get done, got done!
Also, I’m obsessed with “systems” 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 – after I did it. I had my “to do” list, and, a “got done” log.
You’re going to think I’m really insane when I tell you this part, but it’s true.
When I’m really, really pressed to do something, I time myself with an egg timer. For example, I’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 “The 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 didn’t feel “done” 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 “let-down” feelings. It was more like, “onto the next” — and that, was that.
Dr. S.: In my blog I talk a lot about creative ways to manage stress. We all know yoga and meditation are great, but are there unique ways you manage the stress in your life?
D.S.: Interesting … I use yoga and meditation! I can’t think of anything “creative” 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. It’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. We’ve rarely miss a night since that day, midway through the year and sometimes we don’t get to watch until 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!