As university students with a lot on our plates and deadlines constantly around the corner, it’s easy to feel like we always need to be doing something productive. I find that we tend to measure our days by how productive they were; if someone were to ask me “how was your day?”, I would reply with some things I accomplished that day because that’s what quantifies my day as successful. Speaking from personal experience, this mindset typically leads to feeling guilty when you do something for yourself, which makes it difficult to enjoy activities that were once relaxing and something you looked forward to. When you take a break, you may feel as though your time could be better used to watch a lecture or complete an assignment. You may even feel like your breaks have to be self-improving in some way or else you’re just wasting your time. Over the course of my second year, however, I have learned that sometimes, it’s okay to just do nothing.
At least in my life, it’s been a common thing to believe that working hard equates to always working. You’ll fill your planner with all the things you’re going to get done today and then inevitably be disappointed when you didn’t get everything done, regardless of the fact that there’s no way you possibly could have. Little did I know last year that this was setting me up for failure. Just because you’re always working does not mean you’re actually being productive. Sometimes you just get stuck in that middle zone where you can’t bring yourself to be productive but you feel guilty about doing something fun, so you just do nothing. That is burnout. This myth that you need to always be productive is actually holding you back from being your best.
Speaking from experience, this outlook of perpetual productivity can really impact your mental state. When you can’t do anything without feeling guilty or you feel like you should be working on something else, it makes it very difficult to enjoy life. This was the story of my first year at university but throughout the first semester of my second year, I have learned to adopt some habits that have changed my life for the better.
It’s important to give yourself breaks that allow you to relax mentally. This entails more than just five minutes on TikTok. Apps like TikTok are designed to make you feel like no time has gone by, leaving you feeling like you didn’t even get a break to begin with. I’ve found that it’s important to give yourself sizeable break to do something that you enjoy, whether that be reading, art, going for a walk, or anything else that brings you joy. The important thing is learning over time to get comfortable with doing something for your own enjoyment without any intention of improving yourself; just do
ing something that makes you happy.
Along with allowing yourself to take real breaks from your work, adjusting how you go about time management and planning out your day is something that I have found makes a huge difference in my mood each day. Scheduling breaks into your day allows you to avoid that burnout state where you’re neither productive nor enjoying yourself. Instead of structuring your day
like with the mindset “I need to get this many things done or else this day was a waste,” I have found that saying “I’m gonna work for 3 hours and then do something I enjoy for an hour” has made a considerable difference in my life. Starting with a few tasks that I can reasonably get done, and that are maybe the most crucial, allows you to avoid feeling disappointed when you don’t complete a colossal to-do list that you had no hope of completing anyway. As you complete each set of tasks, try adding one or two more, as adding things to your to-do list in increments instead of all at once can prevent you from feeling overwhelmed. Everyone will have their own rhythm, but I’ve found that this has made my working hours more productive and my rest hours more relaxing as I have something to look forward to and don’t just work from morning to night.
I’ve also found that when you do things for yourself, it’s important to understand that they don’t always have to be for self-improvement. It’s easy to feel like if we’re not good at something we should just give up. Why take up drawing if you can barely draw a stick figure? The thing is, you can do something you enjoy without having to be immediately good at it. If you enjoy drawing and want to spend an hour doing so, who cares what you produce? What matters is that you enjoyed doing it.
Life is not all about what you get done. Yes, doing your schoolwork is important, but if that’s all you do all the time, you’re setting yourself up for burnout. In my first year, I was working from morning to night, never taking time for myself, and still not getting everything done. I spent a lot of time doing nothing, sitting and staring at my work, not actually getting any work done, and yet, not enjoying myself either. This year, I have learned to take time for myself, and I have found that the hours I dedicate to getting work done are way more productive and I can actually get all my coursework done every week. I have learned that there are actually enough hours in the week to get my school work done and enjoy myself, which has honestly been the most important thing I’ve learned in university thus far.