For me, productivity has been the word of quarantine. What I once believed to be a straight-forward word has shifted into quite the fluid concept. My days used to be so chock-full of activities of academic and personal development that it was a jarring shift to be abandoned by those time-takers under quarantine. I used to only be home to sleep; now I spend almost all my time inside my house. Life is obviously vastly different now. I have more free time than I’ve ever really had before in my adult life. Creating a new “normal” has been quite the nine-week challenge for me. I don’t believe there is necessarily any right or wrong way; every individual will find a method that is most comfortable and beneficial for them. My own personal path to redefining productivity within the context of my daily schedule has consisted of intentionally changing my overall mindset, the disciplined acceptance of my emotions, and the purposeful reallocation of my time.
Changing how I plan
As many university students do, I live and breathe through my planner. At the beginning of quarantine, I found that using my planner didn’t let me organize my days in the way I thought they needed to be, so I made an extremely detailed and full two-week plan. It was comforting to have a schedule, especially one with a surprisingly pleasing aesthetic for being done with Crayola markers. Still, the content and dates turned out to be brutally unrealistic.
Next, I tried making a “tasting menu” schedule with different goal categories I wanted to achieve. From this calendar, I experienced the opposite problem of not having structured enough dates to complete anything. For example, I wrote that I would like to complete a specific art project that I am working on. As there are many moving components of this project, I was overwhelmed, so I didn’t even know where to begin.
Recently, I have started writing out weekly and monthly goals to accomplish. As an example, I took this same art project and broke it up into smaller pieces that I could achieve week by week. Sometimes I find myself waiting until the last few days before the due date to check items off my list, but they are still getting checked off. I also stopped writing my goals in my planner and started writing them on a sticky note on my laptop. This way, I am continually being reminded of what I need to do.
These timeframes are what work for me to be the best version of “productive” that I can be during this time. My art project is nearly done now that I’ve been sticking to my set schedule. This new set-up has allowed me to continue to accomplish tasks and focus on the positives. The pacing and organization specifically enable me to be successful. I am focusing on what I can do instead of what I cannot do.
I’ve also found it to be beneficial to make goals that are related to my hobbies and fun activities. This way, I am still checking things off my list during the week, even if I am keeping the more onerous tasks till the end. My method includes scheduling in one small activity of self-care per day. I never used to believe that writing down “make banana bread,” as that seems to be the bake of quarantine, would be a task deemed necessary to put on a list. It takes a lot of self-reflection to understand that to-do lists now look different from to-do lists in January.
My personal method of self-reflection is journaling. This practice allows me to track my accomplishments and related emotions in a meaningful way. I have found a scheduling method that makes me feel productive and keeps me motivated. Incorporating fun tasks on my list gives me the break necessary to clear my mind. In my experience, I’ve found that taking time off to take care of myself results in being able to work with greater focus. I’d rather spend an hour baking a loaf of bread than working so that I can be the most efficient when I do come around to a task. I understand that my version of productivity has changed and that I am not in the wrong for being unable to have constant 12-hour workdays. I know that I am doing the best I can, yet always attempting to push myself to do a little better.
Feeling my emotions and utilizing self-care
Quarantine and social distancing have profoundly changed many aspects of life. Going to the grocery store was once a routine part of my week but has now shifted into an activity that can be nerve-wracking. Throughout the past few weeks, I’ve observed that myself and the individuals I am quarantined with are experiencing emotions in new ways. Some people may feel anxiety at the possibility of contracting or spreading the disease. Others may be feeling grief at the loss of friends or family who have been affected. Many may feel restless and homesick. The severity of these emotions can be utterly overwhelming, as many may never have experienced this before.
At the beginning of my self-quarantine, I attended a virtual conference hosted by the Women in Business student organization. The speaker, Georgi Rausch, an associate professor (lecturer) in Management, addressed the self-care that comes from feeling one’s emotions before moving past them. She encouraged listeners to sit and be aware of their sadness for a few minutes before they self-soothed with Doritos. I am so grateful that I could receive this advice as it helped push me to experience and be aware of my disappointment in myself when I failed to complete my to-do lists. Because of the time spent practicing self-awareness, I was able to find the cause of my unease and make plans to help rectify it.