In a somewhat odd way, this year felt like one of the fastest ever. Being home almost every day made the days blend together like a muddy puddle. Each day was more of the same, more of the same, until suddenly it was December and I started having an existential crisis about how fast time goes by.
I’ve been having real trouble not only coming to grips that it’s almost the end of the year, but that I’ve also made nineteen circles around the Sun already. I had a much different vision of where I’d be at nineteen than what’s actually happening.
Instead of living out my dreams of sunlit libraries and quaint cafes, I’ve been working from the same slightly messy desk. I feel like I’m at a standstill.
Part of it is Covid-related, and the way Covid can make things feel stuck. Will we ever get out of this? I can’t say because I have no experience with this situation. Still, the disconnect between what I was expecting for myself at nineteen and what I am experiencing now is enough to make me wish that time would slow down.
Still, the disconnect between what I was expecting for myself at nineteen and what I am experiencing now is enough to make me wish that time would slow down.
Another part of my issue has been the struggle for me to strike a good balance between work and play. Since I spend most of my time in my room anyway, the lines between each hour are blurry and a quick check of Instagram can spiral into four hours down the drain. Navigating the line between getting my work done and having free time has been tricky, maybe not for the traditional reasons, but I would like to share some of what has worked for me.
All play, no work
With Covid here, it’s been harder to live the life I pictured myself living only a couple of years prior. Out of an abundance of precaution, I avoid all forms of public spaces and have been staring at the same four walls for the past nine months. Most attempts to get ready in the morning have ended up with clothes strewn all over the floor and the conclusion that a bed is the warmest place for me.
Striking a good balance between work and life has been tricky to navigate, and not because I’ve been consumed with work. The reality is quite the opposite, in which life and leisure time have absolutely dominated my day-to-day activities.
I actually saw a meme that encapsulated how I’ve been feeling.
While I don’t support cheating, I did believe the lack of having to do the half an hour to hour drives each day would free up a lot of time and energy. I was wrong. Turns out, spending every day in my room doesn’t give me much energy, to begin with. Plus, the long walks from class to class gave me a good amount of exercise.
Although I have never been one to enjoy exercising, I was so desperate for some amount of movement that I ended up doing half of a Chloe Ting exercise at midnight. My body ached for three days afterward.
Needless to say, like everyone else, the mental stuff has been rough, and when that’s rough, productivity gets harder and harder (unless someone counts re-terraforming an entire Animal Crossing island as productive, in which case I am the most productive person on Earth).
Lighting a Fire
On a broader level, I’ve always kind of struggled with a work-life balance. I take breaks seriously and if it were an Olympic sport I would win the gold medal. The motivation I do rely on comes in waves and isn’t exactly the most reliable thing, so some weeks are better than others.
To my benefit, I have found certain things that have helped me become more productive.
One of my worst methods, and which technically isn’t even a method, is that I will make a really big purchase. The guilt from spending money usually sparks a lot of motivation, but I don’t recommend this for anyone, nor myself.
Instead of using negative emotions to fuel motivation, find positive ways to create motivation. This can mean planning a small reward for the end of a productive work session. Typically, I like to reward myself with an episode (or an entire season) of a TV show or with some gaming time. This way, I have a fun goal to work towards.
However, sometimes even trying to get off my phone can be a struggle, so whenever I need that extra push, I’ll set a timer for myself. When that timer runs out, I’ll get off. Before the timer runs out though, I let myself browse guilt-free as a kind of pre-game reward, and I try to rely on that wave of serotonin that comes with browsing social media to get me motivated. Although this tip is highly dependent on self-control and may not work for everyone, to an extent every single one of these tips are going to require self-control.
Better yet, just turn your phone off.
I used to do this all the time when my self-control was really bad (as in, last semester). I would turn my phone off and keep it on the other side of the room. It’s easy to reach for the phone when it’s right next to you, but typically the thought of getting up, crossing the room, and turning the phone on will discourage those sneaky phone peeks which can end up turning into full-blown procrastination sessions.
And another overlooked idea? Clear up the clutter! Not just your desk, but also your room, your bed, your bathroom, all of it. Physical clutter can translate to mental clutter, and mental clutter can be overwhelming.
What if you do have mental clutter? Write it down. My mental clutter has always been grades and the other work I have for other classes, which is why I write everything down in my bullet journal. I know that everything I need to worry about is already written down, and I can come back to worrying about it once I’m done with my work.
My last tip is to harness the best times for your work. If you know you’re an early bird, focus on getting work done while it’s early, and the same thing goes for night owls.
Personally, I always seem to hit my prime after 8 pm. The same work which can take me nine hours during the day to do, I can finish in an hour if it’s after 8. I have no way to explain this phenomenon, but it’s been proven to me over and over, including with this blog, so I just go with it. If you can find the most optimal time for you, I promise it works wonders.
Productivity isn’t the end-all-be-all of things, and it can breed a lot of negative mindsets, but without it, we would also end up feeling like lumps of meat. Just like everything else in the universe, I’ve come to believe that there needs to be a good balance between productivity and play in order to lead a more fulfilling life.
On a side note, even though these tips have generally worked for me, they’re not foolproof. A couple of weeks ago I just couldn’t seem to get off my phone no matter what I told myself, and my screen time pretty much doubled that week. Some days are just going to be harder than others no matter how much you try, and that’s okay.
As for my recent existential crisis, I’ve learned that lowering my expectations helps. I know for certain that my plans at nineteen didn’t factor in the possibility of a pandemic, so the fact that it’s happening should change what my expectations are. Although I’m not one who may enjoy doing so, sooner or later I have to realize that I can only really work with what’s in front of me.
About the Author
Cecilia Winchell is currently a sophomore at UNLV studying philosophy with a minor in public policy. In her free time, she enjoys all things fashion, food, reading, and content related.