I’m not sure about you, but I find our current life has moments of deep worry and depression. The certainty that life will never be the same; the danger that prevents socialisation; the thousands of deaths.
I’m not a truly depressive person in general. Usually the opposite. Anyone who studies WWI needs a basis of balance if they are not to fall into despair, and I got through my PhD without losing my mind (I think). But this? Without the structure of the old normal, sometimes I don’t even know what day of the week it is.
With my routines (gym, work, book events, social commitments, family gatherings) now relegated to ‘the old days’, I need to find another way to be me. Who would have thought that my old study practices could be useful during a global pandemic?
I’m a born student.* I love to learn something new. Not only that, I love to be tested on what I’ve learned (I know! Crazy stuff.). Give me a deadline to write an essay. Please! Invent an assessment task that will keep my mind busy. Now! Structure, people, structure! It’s delicious, and it keeps me balanced.
So here are five modified tips from my happy study years. These show you the ways that I now attempt to sort my days into chunks of time. These hacks give me a feeling of being useful, of playing my part, and of being me, as well as a sense of achievement. Maybe they’ll help you too.
- The Ten Minute Rule. This is the one for activities that don’t thrill you. Like picking up your study books after a long day at work. Like clearing out the garage. Like doing the ironing. Like cleaning the bathroom. The rule is this: Do what you have to do for just 10 minutes. Time it with the stopwatch on your phone. It’s only 10 minutes. Anyone can do that. And woo-hoo when the buzzer goes. Naturally, if you get hooked into the task and can stick at it for longer, yay for you. If not, at least you’ve done it for ten minutes. That, my friends, is progress.
- Limit Your Time Strictly. I know what you’re saying. That’s counter-intuitive. But it actually works. Choose a specific time to tackle an unattractive task – say 7.30pm to 8.30pm – and go to. But you MUST cease at 8.30, and leave the room to go and do something else like relax with the fam in front of a movie. Chances are that you will be itching to get back the next evening to complete the task. So, yay, you have just stoked your own motivation. Or if it’s still a horrible task, you’re an hour up on getting it finished. Still winning.
- Make a List. Sounds obvious, right? But now is the right time to think about multiple lists. A list of jobs you dislike. A list of activities you want to do. A list of people to phone or email. I enjoy the satisfaction of crossing items off my list (I favour tick boxes myself) and the sense of order that lists bring. You can prioritise items by difficulty, by time required, by level of unattractiveness, by tools needed, by energy expenditure, and so on. Another fun way to do this is to cut your list into strips of single tasks, fold them up and put them in a jar (or a few jars – one for 10 minute jobs, one for daylight tasks, whatever…). Then have a lucky dip to see what job to do next. Yay, you’ve just added excitement to a list of boring tasks!
- Be Kind to Yourself. Saints and perfect people, of course, don’t need to read this tip. But the rest of us do. Your plan didn’t work out? You skipped a day? You fudged a task? You decided that you needed rest more? You got distracted by reading a good book? (Perfect excuse, IMHO.) Thats’ OK. Last time I looked, you were a human being. Please stay that way. Life doesn’t always go to plan, even without interruptions from global pandemics. Give yourself permission to try again another time.
- Be Your Own Administrator. This sounds weird, but how can you judge your progress if nobody checks? I think that it’s a great idea to put aside 30 minutes once a week. Me, I like Friday afternoon tea time. Grab a cuppa and a snack, and check over your lists. Some items can be removed from the lists. Bonus. Maybe you finished them, or you don’t care now whether it happens or not, or changes in the world mean certain tasks are no longer possible. Some items need to be moved up in priority, and others can be demoted. Further items may just have appeared. After all, you’re about to start a new week, and a week is a long time in the world’s history as we now know it. You might need to give yourself a pat on the back, or a pep talk, or a bit of both. But now you know where you are, and you can make new lists to forge ahead.
These are the fuzzy lines I draw around my days. Maybe they can help you too. Next time, I’ll write a bit more about the three top considerations for emotional health during the pandemic shutdown: flexibility, empathy, and creativity. But that’s for another post.
* Study and me – a love story. You can read more about my excessive education on the About Clare page.