Tips from Dr. Z.

On my @DrZ.CSUS Instagram page, I sometimes post tips for college students. This series is called "Tips from Dr. Z." It was recently suggested to me to convert these to a blog format because not everyone has Instagram but might benefit from reviewing these tips. So, that's what this page is about! I hope you enjoy these and I hope you find them useful. Not finding what you're looking for? Feel free to email me to suggest a tip!

Improving Expressive & Receptive ASL During the Pandemic

Many of us, maybe all of us, are feeling run down in one way or another as a result of the pandemic. One way in which I have observed our ASL & Deaf Studies students to be the most run-down (if that’s the right word) is in their ASL skills.

Students in ASL 4 now -- assuming no summer or winter terms -- began their ASL journey in Spring 2020, the semester everything was turned upside down. They’ve never had a fully in-person ASL class.

Even though many students find themselves in more advanced ASL courses, they may not have language skills equal to that of advanced students pre-pandemic. In this post, I want to share some tips for actively engaging with ASL, to give you literal hands-on practice, even when we can’t have in-person classes right now.

See also my previous posts on SMART Goals & Active Studying and Study Tips.

Fun fact: This tip progression was actually inspired by a student whose ASL has improved dramatically during the pandemic. I asked her how and she explained something that looks like what I’m about to share.

Step 1

Watch a 1-2 minute segment of an ASL video without captions. I recommend The Daily Moth and Melmira because their videos are always captioned and you can often turn captions on/off on YouTube.

Step 2

Write down what you think you understood. Start to build a story from that. You can also make notes about things you may have missed (like fingerspelling or a number).

Step 3

Watch the same segment again, this time with captions. This should allow you to fill in the missing information from your first viewing.

Step 4

Write down signs you learned from watching with captions.

Step 5

Watch again trying to sign along with the person in the video.

This doesn’t have to be perfect! The point is to get your muscles used to producing ASL (as best you can). This might involve producing language faster than you can on your own and/or or producing signs you don’t know. You don’t have to even understand every word you’re saying. The goal is encouraging muscle coordination to get used to producing ASL!

Step 6

Go back to your list of new signs. Make up a sentence using each of these new vocabulary words.

Step 7

Go back to the original clip again. Turn the captions off and watch again for a final time. Do you understand more this time?

This process of actively engaging with a 1-2 minute clip of ASL could take 10-15 minutes. During that time, you’ll work on

  • Expressive language: Attempting to sign along with the video

  • Receptive practice: First and final viewing (and hopefully you’ve improved by the final viewing)

  • Growing your vocabulary

While this approach is not a perfect solution, it’s one way to target a number of language skills in a relatively short period of time. Think how many new signs you could learn if you did this process 1-2 times per week!

We’re really eager to get back to face-to-face instruction safely. Until then, I hope this approach helps you maintain and develop your language skills.


For Melmira and The Daily Moth, look for some of their older posts. (Newer posts have captions burned into the videos, which do not allow the process described above.)

I also love The ASL Lab. All videos have captions burned on, but this channel is great for learning new vocab!

Time Management Reprise

Time Management Reprise: Part I

Originally posted on Instagram 6.25.2021 | Reposted 10.22.2021

While we’re (mostly) all on summer break -- and maybe have time to process this information and plan for the next school year -- I want to revisit some of my previous “Dr. Z Tips” posts.

I hope that I can help to draw some connections between Managing Stress, Staying Organized, Self-care, and Time Management. I’m calling this the “Time Management Reprise”. Let’s do this in 3 parts. Here we go!

In my previous Time Management post, I talked about the importance of setting a schedule to plan out your day. But what often happens is that you have more things to do than you have time for. This “having so much to do and too little time ⏲️” can cause us to freeze, not being able to move forward on anything. This directly impacts how stressed we are about all we have to do. It can also impact our self-care. If we feel overwhelmed, any self-care practices are often sacrificed.

For the remainder of this series, I want use to use this graphic:

At the top, we have tasks which are either low or high urgency and to the side we have tasks that are either low or high importance.

The purpose of this chart is to encourage you to actually 1) make a list of your tasks and 2) determine which square each task fits in. A task can be:

  1. urgent and important,

  2. urgent but less important,

  3. not urgent and important, or

  4. not urgent and less important.

Using the chart, we can determine that something important and urgent should obviously take priority over something that is important but not urgent, or urgent but not (as) important. Still, you might feel like “everything is important” and/or “everything is urgent”. In Part II, I’ll explain a helpful metaphor analogy that I hope will help you triage your daily/weekly tasks.

Time Management Reprise: Part II

Originally posted on Instagram 6.26.2021 | Reposted 10.24.2021

Here’s part 2️⃣ of my post bringing together some of the key concepts I discussed in my previous “Managing Stress,” “Staying Organized,” “Self-care,” and “Time Management” posts. In Part 1️⃣, I introduced a chart to help you prioritize your homework and life tasks into those that are urgent and important, important but not urgent, not (that) important but still urgent, and not (that) important and not urgent. In this post we’re going to use an analogy usually used for getting out of debt to talk about two approaches for tackling your various tasks. Part 3️⃣ will provide some examples of how to apply this analogy.

Here 👏🏼 we 👏🏼 go 👏🏼!

NB: Kudos to @razitheASLSLP for telling me about this debt analogy, as it really helped provide a concrete (yet metaphorical) way for me to bring these posts together.

For the rest of this discussion, I want to introduce an analogy typically used to describe approaches to paying down debt, but which works for balancing life with school tasks as well. This is called the Debt Avalanche or Debt Snowball method.

Debt Avalanche

This method involves assessing all of the debt you have (maybe a car loan, and 3 credit cards) and making the minimum payment on all except the one with the highest interest rate.

Debt Snowball

In this method, assume the same debt as the previous slide. This time you first work to pay off the balance that is lowest. So you make minimum payments 💵 on everything except the lowest balance. You pay that off as quickly as possible and then move on to the next lowest balance, etc. For the purposes of debt, there are a variety of pros and cons to picking each of these but many of the deciding factors aren’t relevant when applying this concept to your life and school work. Let’s see how we might apply the Avalanche and Snowball methods to building an actionable to-do list.

Avalanche Method

First, make a list of all homework tasks for the day/week, and all life-related tasks including self-care. Then:

  1. Place your tasks on the urgency-importance chart

  2. Start with the urgent and important tasks

  3. Move on to important but less urgent

  4. Then tackle the rest

Snowball Method

First, make a list of all homework tasks for the day/week, and all life-related tasks including self-care. Then:

  1. Place your tasks on the urgency-importance chart

  2. Start with the urgent, but relatively less important tasks

  3. Move on to the more important tasks

  4. Then tackle the rest

But how do I determine “importance” and “urgency” for my homework? And how do I keep up with self-care? That’s what we’ll go over in Part III.

Time Management Reprise: Part III

Originally posted on Instagram 6.27.2021 | Reposted 10.24.2021

🌟 Here’s the final post in my Time Management Reprise series. In this series, I’ve been synthesizing key concepts from my previous “Managing Stress,” “Staying Organized,” “Self-care,” and “Time Management” posts. In Part 1️⃣, I introduced a chart to help you prioritize your homework and life tasks; you have to determine how important (for coursework often gauged by point value) something is, and how urgent is (generally referring to how soon it’s due). In Part 2️⃣, we learned about the Avalanche and Snowball approaches to debt repayment and extended those analogies to triaging course work and life tasks. Here, we’re going to look at some examples of how to apply this analogy specifically to school work and other life tasks.

Even though many of us may be on summer break right now (when I wrote this initially for Instagram), I hope this is helpful to think about now, when you have time to play before the next semester starts. If you have questions down the line about how to manage your time and/or triage tasks, please don’t hesitate to reach out! 💜

This series has been bringing together concepts covered in some of my earlier posts. One place it’s easy to get stuck in making a schedule is figuring out how to tackle your workload, while not forsaking your self-care. I introduced a handy chart with axes for “importance” and “urgency”, so you can plot out your tasks and rate them as 1) urgent and important, 2) urgent but less important, 3) not urgent and important, or 4) not urgent and less important.

In Part II, I introduced the Avalanche and Snowball methods, usually applied to debt. Now let’s see how this translates to managing your homework and self-care tasks.

It’s Sunday night and you’re planning your to-do list for the week; you have 4 assignments due.

  • Due Monday, 5 points

  • Due Tuesday, 40 points

  • Due Wednesday, 10 points

  • Due Wednesday, 50 points

You also have a goal to exercise 4 times, and you need to go grocery shopping.

Take a moment to use the chart to determine how urgent and how important each of these tasks is.


How do you determine whether something is “urgent” or “important”. To me,

  • “urgent” = how soon is it due

  • “important” = means how much is it worth

Exercise is also important, as is being able to eat. How urgent your shopping is may depend on how much food you currently have. So, what are you going to do?

Avalanche Method

This method says to get the heavy-hitters out of the way first. I would start w/ the assignment due Tuesday worth 40 points b/c it is a relatively big point value & it’s due fairly soon. Next, I’d start the 50 point assignment due Wednesday. If I had time left, do the 5 point assignment due tomorrow. I’d also make time for exercise on both Monday and Tuesday and try to do my shopping on Wednesday

*Obviously with this exercise we don’t know the context of each assignment so this isn’t cut and dry, but I hope this gives you an idea of the principles we’re working with.

Snowball Method

This method says to do the lower point-value work first because it can kind of set the mood and get you feeling accomplished. Like, “Hey, I’ve been working for 15 minutes and I already finished something!” That’s a great feeling and that momentum can get you to the bigger assignments.

Here’s what I’d do, again, without any context (so this isn’t cut and dry).

First I’d do my exercise then do the assignment due Monday worth 5 points and the one due Wednesday worth 10 points. Next, I’d either go shopping, depending on how much food I had, or start the 40 point assignment. I’d exercise again and then start the 50 point assignment.

Drawbacks to Snowball

My word of caution regarding the Snowball approach: sometimes higher point-value assignments are worth more because they take longer. I’d always recommend reading the instructions for each assignment first so you know what you’re in for. That might influence where you place something on the urgency/importance scale.

I hope the chart and the Avalanche and Snowball methods are helpful for you in setting your schedule. This can help you keep up with your work (and make space for the things you just might not have time for) and your self-care by keeping your stress levels at bay (hopefully).

Building good time management habits takes time and effort, but it’s highly relevant in all aspects of your life, whether you’re in school or not. Happy scheduling!


Study Tips


Going to college is probably not the only thing going on in your life right now. You might have a job (or 2), plus family obligations. You might also have extracurricular activities, or a major that requires (unpaid) service learning. All of these things put time at a premium, which means you need to study smart, not harder. So, here are some tips that have helped me! This is not a comprehensive list but I hope it’s enough to tackle some of the most common challenges I see with study skills.

I also want to share that I was never taught study skills in school🎒. I remember in 6️⃣th grade, we were required to write homework in our planners 🗓️ and sometimes a homework question would be “what was your homework back on X date?” I think that was an attempt at helping us learn to be organized (next “Tips” post) but I don’t remember anything that explicitly taught study skills. Everything I know about study skills I’ve learned from doing ✍🏼but as I prepared this post, I found that a lot of the skills I lean on have been compiled in some of the lists I referenced (list repeated below for your convenience). I try to make it a point to teach at least some study skills in all of my classes because I know I wasn’t the only one to not learn these tricks in school. If there are tips not listed that are super helpful for you, please email me and I can put it on my list of tips to make!

Study actively

I have a separate post on this more for language courses. More generally, make sure you’re engaging with your courses in some active way. Create study guides, concept maps, think of ways your topic can apply to your daily life. Become the teacher: Explain what you’re working on to someone else, your mom, your roommate, your cat, whoever. For more, see

Understand the Study Cycle

Learning requires repetition so that new terms and concepts can transfer to your long-term memory. To facilitate this, consider these steps...

  1. Preview the material: complete pre-class readings

  2. Go go class (whatever that means -- physical, virtual, asynchronous)

  3. Review: ASAP after class, *actively* review what you just learned in class

  4. Study: See previous slide about active studying

  5. Check: engage in formative assessments to gauge how much you’ve actually retained

For more, see

Space out your studying

In college, I took a big certification exam only offered in a neighboring state.

Several other classmates were also registered. I left my books at home, made the 4 hour drive to Tucson, enjoyed a relaxing evening the night before the test, and arrived early, but fully relaxed. I’d been preparing for this test for a year, in little, manageable chunks. Many test-takers were there, cramming.

Point: spread out your studying, little bits at a time!

Test yourself

Related to active studying and the “check” part of the “study cycle”, create quizzes for yourself to test what you know. Make flashcards, draw diagrams from memory etc. Oh now many times I drew the brachial plexus in college because I thought I’d have to on a test. Turns out I didn’t, but boy was I ready for that part of the test because of how I’d prepared!

Get Help/Study With Someone

Especially now that many of us are still physically distancing, reach out virtually to classmates. Work together to solve problems, to have conversations in your new language, to discuss new concepts, what have you.

Build in a reward

In college, my roommate and I would study for 20 minutes then watch a 40 minute TV show as a reward. I don’t recommend that ratio, but the idea is there! In graduate school, I really liked the pomodoro method -- studying/writing for 50 minutes, then taking a 10 minute break, or 25 minutes with a 5 minute break. Sometimes the break involved snacks!


*Post references*





Staying Organized


I feel a bit of imposterism making a post about staying organized because this is something I struggle with. I’m always trying new things to keep all my ducks in a row, so to speak. About a year ago, I got a @getrocketbook, which I love because I can write by hand -- which is often helpful for me, but then I can easily digitize what I write. It also saves paper 🌎 💚 🌳

I’ve also been experimenting with physical planners, in addition to my electronic calendar. So if you need to test different methods of organization, that’s ok. Many of us are on an organizational journey! Let’s get started with the 4️⃣ tips I have for you today!

1. Strive for an empty inbox

I’ll be completely honest, this is something that got away from me for many years. And I missed some emails 📨. Sometimes important ones. So I did the work to clean out my inbox and get it to zero. Now it’s easy to see when a new email pops up and whether it’s something that requires a response or some other immediate action. Believe me, I know this one’s not easy, but I truly believe it helps!

2. Have a system for paperwork

Kind of like keeping an empty inbox, you might want to file paperwork right away🗄️📂. If that’s not your style, have a system for tracking paperwork before you deal with it. My husband has a tray of a) action items -- need immediate attention & b) no action needed, just file. Again, find what works best for you!

3. Create a to-do list ☑️

This one may seem obvious, but for years I didn’t make a physical to-do list and I missed things. So actually write it down and cross it off when you’re done.

⚠️Caution⚠️ Make a realistic to-do list! One thing I found when I started making to-do lists is that I was always overly-ambitious. One time I wrote a to-do list for one day that took me a week to get through.

4. Set deadlines for yourself

Sometimes these deadlines need to be before an assignment is actually due. If it’s a particularly big project, break it into smaller chunks; work backwards to set interim deadlines. Relatedly, don’t procrastinate! Stick to these deadlines! ⏰ Another time to set deadlines is with group/partner work. Consider agreeing to an earlier deadline than what is required to give yourselves a cushion just in case one of you does get behind for some reason.

Wrapping up

Obviously this is just a few ideas, and what works for one person might not work for another. If you’re struggling with organization, try talking through your struggles with someone else. They might have helpful suggestions. I do this all the time! Also, keep in mind that just because something works for a while, doesn’t mean it’s a forever solution. So be prepared to be flexible with your organizational needs. Go with the flow!


Instagram Post

Here’s the next post in this series of Dr. Z Tips. I create these posts just as much for myself as I do for you. I always need reminders for the various topics I share, perhaps especially staying organized. So thank you to the person who suggested this topic! If there are tips for staying organized not listed that are helpful for you, please share them in the comments💬!






Managing Stress


This morning I woke up with a knot in my chest. I still have it as I write this. Clearly I’m stressed in my waking life (I could enumerate the reasons why but I’ll spare you), but I think what caused this is a stressful dream.

Whatever the cause of your stress, it’s important to develop tricks for managing it. I hope I can share some useful tips here, but remember, I’m not a certified clinician (psychologist, counselor, social worker). If you need to speak with a professional about your stress, seek one out through your school or through your insurance.

“So, ok, what are some tips to get me going with stress management before/while I reach out to a professional?” Let’s see!

Deep abdominal breathing (aka “belly breathing”).

I’ve shared several posts recently about my chronic pain. This is one of the “exercises” my PT recommends and while it (sometimes) helps ease my chronic pain, it also helps with stress.

  1. Place 1 hand on your chest & 1 on your abdomen. Inhale slowly & deeply through your nose. Keep your shoulders relaxed. Your abdomen should expand; your chest should rise very little.

  2. Exhale slowly through your mouth, pursing your lips slightly keeping your jaw relaxed.

  3. Repeat for several minutes

Take breaks

This is something I feel very acutely. It’s Spring Break and I’ve had no time for a break. Creating these posts is something I decided to do during break because I enjoy it, but there were other tasks I needed to do during this break in order to catch up from the hustle and bustle of the semester (which means I would need a whole other week to actually relax -- I have a recent post on this).

I find that scheduling breaks, literally putting them on my calendar, is most helpful. If I don’t, I’ll find something to fill the time with. A “break” can be whatever you want it to be. It can be sleeping, it can be binge watching shows, it can be exercise, or creating social media content. Whatever you do, schedule it so nothing else can take that time away from you.

Talk/Journal about what’s bothering you

In whatever way is most productive for you, explore what’s bothering you. I for one am a terrible journaler. I want to be good at it, but I’m not. I am, however, good at talking! Sometimes you don’t know what’s bothering you until you start writing/talking in a safe environment, either alone or with a person/people you trust. Letting the words flow can help you identify the root of your discomfort/stress.

Let go

You can’t control everything & you maybe can’t get through your entire to-do list. (Another tip may be learning how to make more appropriate, time-bound to-do lists. This is an art in progress for me!). Let it go. Do what you can. Try. But not so hard it’s damaging.

My college Dean recently wrote a blog post called “Perfectionists & slackers in academia.” Even if you’re not in academia, some of this might resonate for you.


Tips here are an amalgam of tips from

SMART Goals & Active Studying


Effective studying

Especially when dealing with the additional stresses of living through covid, it’s important to make the most of the (probably) limited time you may have to devote to studying. Here, I share about the SMART goal philosophy and address how active studying can help you make the most of your studying time and retain more from your courses.

SMART goals

SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound. What does this mean? It means you can’t just say “I’m going to study all my notes for Class X.” It means you need to consider specifically what you want to get out of a particular study session. On the following slides I provide examples of how to change your goals into SMART goals.

Specific Goals

Don’t do this:

  • I will work on my paper for X class.

  • I will look at my notes from Y class.

Do this:

  • I will draft the introduction section and 2 body paragraphs for my X class paper.

  • I will review my notes from Y class and come up with three questions to assess my own understanding of the material.

Measurable Goals

You have to be able to determine if you’ve met your goal. “Working on a paper” doesn’t lend itself to being measured whereas stating the specific sections you need to complete in a given session indicates a clear stopping point. Likewise, just looking at notes from a class doesn’t lend itself to being measured. But if you give yourself an action item for your review session, you can easily tell if you’ve reached your goal.

Attainable Goals

Particularly with larger assignments, like a term paper or final semester project, it’s simply not attainable to sit down in do it in one night (i.e., the night before it’s due). There’s too much to do. So instead, set small achievable interim goals like writing a specific section of your paper, or reviewing a specific number of resources for a research presentation. This will set you up for subsequent phases building toward the ultimate goal of completing the final project.

Realistic Goals

You must be willing and able to work toward particular goals. If you set a goal that’s too difficult (like researching a topic from scratch & writing a paper in a single night), you’re not setting yourself up for success. Cramming in that way can negatively impact the other pieces of your life/school you’re juggling. I like to set a “low-hanging fruit” goal that will be pretty easy, and one that’s a bit more challenging. This helps me build confidence and momentum in my work and make progress.

Time-bound Goals

You must have a deadline for your goals. If you’re breaking up a term project into pieces to complete throughout the semester, work backwards from the project due-date and budget how much time you need for each step. Some instructors will scaffold your assignments for you, but if they don’t you’ve got to set your own interim deadlines building up to the final due-date.

Active Studying

SMART goals force you to engage actively with your course materials. You’re not a bystander; you’re actively setting goals, writing questions for yourself, etc. Active studying is especially important during virtual learning when you have less (or no) regular contact with your instructor and/or peers. The next slide has some examples of how to implement active studying into your routine.

Active Studying

Use Bloom’s Taxonomy verbs to set specific, measurable goals for yourself as you prepare for a given study session. What do you want to accomplish? Do you want to be able to remember, apply, analyze, defend, compose, or what? The action verb you pick should be related to the ultimate goal for the assignment; what does your instructor want you to get out of it and how does it relate to course outcomes?

Active Studying: Language classes

For language classes, you can also use Bloom’s words to guide your studying, but I also recommend engaging with materials multiple times, each time with a different goal in mind. For example, you might watch a video once and then write some general notes about what you understood, then watch again to try to copy the language produced in the video yourself -- to train your brain and muscles -- and then watch a final time to be able to answer questions about what you saw.

Resources | |



Self-care during covid and beyond

During this pandemic, many have experienced feelings of loneliness, challenges with motivation, issues with technology, as well as time management (see previous post) and accountability. Not only that, many students face uncertain financial circumstances as a result of covid, threatening their housing and/or food security. All of these impact one’s ability to thrive in school during this time.

Here I share a curated -- but not exhaustive -- list of self-care tips for going to school during covid and beyond.

Keep in touch

I’m not wild about the term “social distance” because we shouldn’t distance from one another socially, but we should avoid physically coming together. Keep in touch with friends and family through technology! Email, text, Tik Tok, whatever. Make sure you get (screen) face time with those who matter most in your life.

Exercise and sleep

To whatever extent you’re able, try to get some exercise. Go for a walk, do some gardening. If you’re struggling with injuries, look for ways to move/stretch your body that are therapeutic for those injuries. And while it’s easier said than done, try to get some sleep. Setting an alarm to remind you to put your devices away and hit the hay might be helpful for avoiding the night time doom scroll.

Social media breaks

Speaking of doom scrolling, set time aside (other than right before bed) to take a break from social media. Instead, grab a book, pet your cat, or take a walk to the mailbox. Anything to detach yourself from your gadgets, even for a few moments.

Give yourself permission

It’s ok to not be ok. Give yourself permission: to not be ok, to cry, to journal angrily, to be mad that your neighbors are regularly having huge unmasked gatherings. Whatever it is, give yourself permission to feel whatever you feel.


What Cherith Thinks

And loads more! For Sacramento State students, check out counseling services at The Well ( and in the Counseling and Diagnostic Center (

Time Management


Time management:

Managing your time during the best of circumstances is a challenge. It’s even more so during the covid pandemic. Here are some tips to (hopefully) help you keep yourself on track this semester, even with the additional burdens of covid life.

Set a schedule:

Try to wake up and go to bed around the same time each day. Use a calendar to track your daily activities. Use it to plan what you need to do each day. Set alarms to help keep you on track (and remind you to take breaks).

Avoid multi-tasking:

Most of us aren’t as good at multi-tasking as we think we are; you might save time by avoiding this tempting practice. Again, use your calendar to plan out specific times to work on specific tasks; don’t try to squeeze in task B when you’re working on task A. Plus, you might make more mistakes if you’re constantly switching between tasks rather than focusing on one at a time.

Finding new strategies:

Because of our continued need to study from home (or maybe for some of you essential workers, form work or in your car), you may have to trade old study habits for new ones to accommodate our current circumstances. Ask yourself what it was about your old favorite study spot that made it so effective? When see if it’s possible to recreate that in covid times.

Be gentle with yourself:

Things might not go as planned. You budget your time and make a schedule, but you might still miss an assignment, need to turn something in late, or not be able to give as much as you’d hoped for a particular project. Make space for that. It’s ok! Communicate with your professors (who might also be struggling) and see if you can reach an arrangement to re-submit an assignment and/or adjust a deadline.


And more! Google for more tips in time management to get you through school during this pandemic!