The coronavirus pandemic has upended millions of lives, including those of college students who must now take online classes. Without the structure of campus life, and with added health and/or financial stresses, it can be difficult to be productive throughout the day. Struggling with productivity myself, I scoured the internet for tips, but was unable to commit to suggestions like meditating or journaling. I needed ideas that targeted the root of my disorganization: a lack of structure and difficulty creating it. If you’re facing a similar problem, read on.
- Check off one item on your to-do list per day.
If I don’t complete anything on my to-do list for a day — or longer — it takes a toll on my self-esteem. I tend to feel lazy and unmotivated, which creates a negative cycle of inactivity. Therefore, I implemented the (not scary, I promise!) plan of checking off one thing per day. It can be something small, like picking up bread from the grocery store or sending a networking email, or substantial, like writing five pages of a research paper. Regardless of the task size, completing something each day will keep you feeling productive, and may even inspire you to check more items off your list.
- Schedule activities for specific times.
Having just a few scheduled activities per day can add much-needed structure to quarantine life. In addition to online classes, I have signed up for virtual events through Barnard, from a support group for seniors looking for jobs (save your jokes, please), to meetings with alumni. Since these events all occur at a specific time, I am able to plan the rest of my day around them. I also recommend planning social events (FaceTimes with relatives, Zoom parties, etc.) ahead of time so you have a more defined schedule.
- Maintain a consistent sleep schedule.
Consistency is key, even without the constraints of a 9-to-5 job or a busy campus life. An inconsistent sleep schedule can lead to irritability, difficulty concentrating, and headaches. I’m sure you’re experiencing these symptoms while in quarantine already, so don’t let poor sleeping habits make things worse. I aim to go to bed anywhere from 10:30 to 11:30pm, and wake up around 8:00am. As you have probably noticed, I’m sleeping a lot, but also sleeping consistently. The two are not mutually exclusive! Set a sleep schedule that gets you the zzzs you need and also keeps your circadian rhythm in check.
- Wear real clothes when you are working.
Twitter seems to love mocking people who wear jeans at home. I get it; they’re not as comfortable as sweatpants, and who do you need to impress if you’re staying in? I’m sorry, that was a lie. I don’t get it. Wearing non-sweats is not about impressing others; it’s about easing yourself into a productive state of mind. If I am wearing lounge clothes, my instinct is to lounge. Jeans and a sweater may not make me more excited to write a paper on the Korean War, but they remind me to stay on task and save Netflix for later.
- Work in a different location every few hours (if you can).
Some shoebox apartments don’t allow for it, but if you are able, I recommend changing your working location every few hours. Not only does changing positions force you to move around, but it also provides a change of scenery and makes your house or apartment feel less stuffy. If you have a backyard, or even an empty park or field nearby, try working outside. You can also open a window. The fresh air does wonders for creativity — not to mention cabin fever.
- Have set eating and/or snack times.
Eating, like sleeping, is a routine, one which can be disrupted without a set schedule. Of course, quarantine occasionally requires ice cream, but aim to stick to a meal and snack schedule. Studies show that those who eat at the same every day tend to have lower blood pressure and BMI. Beyond the health benefits, eating at predetermined times also helps structure your days. Planning a day can feel overwhelming with no guidance; it is much easier to assign tasks for before lunch, after lunch, and before dinner.
- Differentiate the weekends.
Almost everyone working (or in school) looks forward to the weekend. That doesn’t have to change! Since social distancing began, my family has been dressing up one night each weekend and picking up food from a local restaurant. With our gourmet food, wine, and our nice clothes, it feels like a fun night out. Additionally, I save my baking for the weekends so that I have something to look forward to. (Those of you who know me know I would bake every day if I could.) Choose something special to do with your quarantine-mates each weekend; make these days fun, even at home!
Developing a routine while in quarantine is difficult, but not impossible. Once you center your days around classes, social activities, and meals, creating an attack plan for your assignments becomes much easier. Set manageable goals for yourself and expand them as you feel more and more comfortable with this new normal. Being stuck in quarantine and away from campus sucks, but with the right mindset and a few strategies, we can remain productive even in this turbulent time.