Sometimes, we go into a semester with so many academic and professional goals that we quickly lose sight of the real priorities — health, happiness, and rest. In fact, you may already feel overwhelmed after the first week. Despite our best efforts, burnout is usually not a question of if, but when. The problem is that most of us address burnout when it hits, rather than before it hits. Call it a pattern of avoidance. If you’re like me and want the semester to be different this time, maybe the answer is not scheduling less, but scheduling with care. You can build a plan that places an equal priority on work and play. A calendar that includes times for respite.
If you need some ideas of what that might look like, here they are:
1. Read one book a month
It’s very common to have the elusive goal of “reading more” without having an actionable, reasonable plan. One way to avoid this is to set small goals that have flexibility. Some people need a rigid schedule, i.e. reading every night, while for others it makes sense to read on public transport or when a meeting gets canceled. The other important thing to remember is that reading should be for you, not your resume.
2. Visit every park in your county or state
With Zoom university the new norm it is important to find ways to get outdoors. Fairfax County has over 22,000 acres and Virginia has 39 state parks. Make it a goal to get out and see your local area, especially if you are out-of-state. One reminder: wear your mask, especially in National Parks where there is a legal mandate to do so.
3. Set a personal best in your fitness
Like many people, I lost access to the gym when the pandemic started and have since procured home equipment. Now that the semester is starting, I’m scheduling more time to move my body to avoid screen fatigue. Fitness can mean different things to different people, so I encourage you to define your own terms with the word and just do you.
4. Limit social media or Netflix intake
This should surprise no one, but screen time is not really great for mental health or sleep, two things we especially need to keep tabs on right now. Lots of apps let you set reminders once you’ve hit a certain limit, and other apps exist to make limits for apps that don’t. Try a new goal. I promise it will help you avoid doomscrolling.
5. Expand your culinary horizons
There are two approaches to this: ordering from small businesses to try new foods (A+ idea, be sure to tip your delivery drivers and wear a mask at the door or I will judge you) OR sharpening your knife skills, which will make you an expert dinner-party-thrower post-pandemic. Either way, appreciate the diverse food culture in your community and stay home.
6. Track your finances
I recommend keeping a spreadsheet, using an app, or updating a journal to budget spending and saving. This is an important habit to build as an adult and I hate to say it but our economy is probably going to get worse before it gets better.
7. Learn a new language
Did you know, George Mason University gives students free access to Rosetta Stone? I didn’t until this year and have been learning Spanish. Use those free resources while you can. The pandemic is a great opportunity to take up another language so that when traveling is safe again, you can converse with locals.
8. Sign a petition, donate, or share a mutual fund every week
In other words, regulate your activism. Keep accountable. If you have resources and privilege you should be doing the work every single day, not just the days a black square trends or the Capitol is attacked. Please please please make activism a regular fixture in your life by committing to sharing your wealth and amplifying Black and Indigenous voices whenever possible. By writing your representatives even once a month on an issue or donating a few dollars to a mutual fund, you make a tangible difference.
9. Volunteer in your community
Another way to make a difference is by volunteering! Commit to a handful of hours every month, or a grand total by the end of the semester. Look for activities that are low-risk for coronavirus. You can be part of citizen science projects online, run a community collection drive for the local food bank, or clean up parks from trash and invasive species.
10. Join or start a club and attend weekly
If you worry your calendar will fill up and the activities you want to do will be buried under work, you might need an accountability partner. Clubs and student organizations are made for regular participation. Find one or make one.
11. Journal once a day, every day
I have admittedly never been good at keeping a journal, but I hear from others it helps with mental health and creativity. It can be a form of meditation, mindfulness, and intention-setting, which are helpful to have in the toolbox even before we hit midterms.
These goals are not supposed to emulate grind culture. Instead, they are a reminder that not everything you do needs to make money or help lengthen your CV. Some things can be just for you. I hope you now feel inspired to take care of yourself and your community this semester, and after. Good luck with your classes, wear a mask, and stay home!