The World We Live in has Become Very Strange
With a few more months of social distancing on the horizon, including an unprecedented entire semester of online courses, a lot of people are feeling new pressures that they haven’t experienced before. The drastic shift of going from the hustle and bustle of everyday life to the sudden and seemingly infinite time in your home can be rough. For some, it may represent only a change in setting, but for others, it’s a shift the likes of which they’ve never experienced before. There’s a line between not falling behind on your tasks and suddenly going above and beyond. You may feel a new burden to fill your day with highly productive new tasks.
But you don’t have to.
Every day we browse social media and see countless users flaunting that they’re starting a new workout, learning a new language, writing a novel, or any number of other highly productive new tasks. When you see this, you may feel insecure about your own productivity, and feel like you’re wasting your quarantine by not doing something ground-breaking. This is not true. The reality is that nobody must make the most of a pandemic, and it’s unreasonable to expect everyone to use a looming global health crisis to start a side hustle or write a screenplay. You can still stay on top of things in a healthy way while practicing social distancing. Here are some of my tips to keep yourself busy (but not too busy) in quarantine.
Don’t Lose Your Perception of Time
It can be easy to forget time is a social construct when you’re living your usual routine, with indicators such as three-hour lectures or to nine-to-five job reminding you how far your day has progressed. Strip away that structure, however, and you may find that your perception of time is very different while you’re in quarantine, and your productivity is negatively affected. One way to avoid your days blending into weeks from under your feet is to maintain a routine. The most challenging part of this in my experience has been resisting the urge to stay up late every night because I have nothing to get up for in the mornings. Apps like the sleep cycle have helped me fall into a healthy sleeping schedule. As difficult as it may be, staying off your phone for the last half hour or so of your night will help your brain generate the natural melatonin that signals your body to sleep.
During the day, it’s helpful to keep routine indicators of the passage of time to remind yourself how far along you are. Eat lunch around the same time you would if you were at work. Take a moment to watch the sunset. These all serve as something to look forward to while you’re working hard, but they can also clearly separate chunks of work into manageable pieces.
Work in Small Chunks
With no commuting back and forth, no getting ready, and no water cooler chitchat, it can be tempting to tell yourself you’re going to be ultra-productive and work for eleven hours straight. This can be setting yourself up for disappointment. Research has shown that people can only be so productive for so long, so you may find yourself burnt out and disappointed when you can’t focus one hour into what you planned to be an eleven-hour report writing marathon. Instead, take it easy, block out your entire day, and plan everything in short sprints. You’ll get a little dopamine rush when you complete the first few paragraphs and earn yourself a break, and another an hour later when you finish your canvas quiz and earn another break.
A productivity tool designed for exactly this type of work is the Pomodoro method. A method of working for twenty-five-minute sprints, with five-minute breaks in between. Every time you complete this cycle 4 times you earn a ten-minute break. This method has been shown to help keep you focused on the task at hand on a reasonable schedule. Use Tomato Timer to automate this process and enjoy it. A word of advice from personal experience: plan out what you’re going to accomplish in every twenty-five-minute sprint beforehand and you won’t waste a second.
Don’t Deprive Yourself of Life’s Joys
Just because we’re in quarantine doesn’t mean we need to stop living. To avoid cabin fever and keep yourself on track, find ways to get out of the house (maintaining social distancing of course) and get some fresh air. Populate your schedule with small stimulating activities and put on some outside clothes even if you have nowhere to go. Call or text your friends just to talk about life, even if it’s the same every day. They’ll be happy to hear from you and you’ll benefit from the social interaction. These will all release happy chemicals in your brain, decrease your stress level, and ultimately lower the intrinsic barriers to productivity that exist within us.
Nobody expects you to create a masterpiece or become a fitness influencer over the course of the quarantine, so don’t put that pressure on yourself. Keep yourself as busy as you be anyway, enjoy the fact you don’t need to miss the train at Commercial-Broadway anymore and wash your hands. Sooner than later things will go back to normal.