When classes started transitioning online, I felt super ready. I’ll crush this, I (naively) thought as I prepared a new daily schedule. I’m one of those “works out in the morning, take healthy breaks between productive work hours” types of people, so I thought I would handle online learning just fine. I’ve done decently so far, but plenty of other things got in the way, and handling this dramatic educational shift isn’t going exactly how I thought it would.
I started off keeping my routine as normal as possible. I was going to wake up at the exact same time I normally did, work out as I normally did (with the exception of switching every gym workout to running), “attend” what digital lectures required attendance, and spend the rest of the school day doing work corresponding to appropriate class times as if I were physically in class. I would take a break for lunch and walk up and down stairs in the building like I had somewhere else to be. That sounds a little obsessive, but I was afraid of slacking off if I gave myself any room. Also, it was some form of comfort to exercise as much control as possible in the midst of all the chaos. At least I could control my schedule, if nothing else.
It was great for a while, never mind the fact transitioning to online learning had been a mess so far and that I hadn’t left the tiny cube of my dorm in a few days (note: I am a 98% extrovert on the Myers Briggs personality test). At least I lived in a nice suite.
Then, the situation escalated, as is custom for an unprepared country in a crisis. Universities began urging students to leave dorms unless they were unable to do so for very good reasons (being an out-of-state student whose hometown is a twelve hour drive away doesn’t count, FYI).
I burned through as much work as possible so I wouldn’t fall behind while packing and traveling home. When I finally got home, I tried to work on a math assignment I hadn’t gotten the chance to finish, except I couldn’t reach the software of my connection at home. It was too late to figure out that night and it was a small assignment anyway, so I gave up on it. I woke up next morning determined to establish my routine as soon as possible and realized I had missed my first class due to the time change, which I forgot about. The time change pushed my 8:30 a.m. lecture to 7:30 a.m., and I had been sitting at the table since 7am working while I waited for the lecture to begin.
After a few days of frequent mishaps like these, my self-asserted schedule worked once again—somewhat. There was no extra room available at home; my old one was being used by another family member, so I worked in the kitchen. I’m good at staying focused on work, but working in the busiest part of the house will test anyone’s ability to be productive. I was approached by one of my family members no less than three times within the first fifteen minutes of writing this article.
I think it’s been about three weeks since I left campus, maybe four. It’s hard to tell. Since then I’ve continually gotten frustrated with myself for taking all day to finish a workload that would have been finished much more quickly under normal circumstances. My grades have also taken some hits from missing classes and assignments.
At this point, I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that I probably won’t be as productive as I was at school, nor will I get everything done that I wanted to get done. All the reasonable people who accepted this on day one of the Online Learning Fiasco, I applaud you.
If you’re still operating at 100% of your usual capacity, congratulations and please tell me your secret. If you’re still having trouble accepting you’re not operating at 100%, try to go a little bit easier on yourself. Every place in the country is in chaos right now. Most people, even the cheerful and over-scheduled ones, can’t perform exactly how they want to perform.
It’s not like I’m throwing all my routines out the window. I still work better with them. I’ve just relaxed my routine and held onto a few of my most important rules. For example, doing schoolwork in bed has always been a huge no for me—not once have I been productive while working in bed, no matter how much I’m convinced “this time will be different.” I also wake up early almost every single morning and try to avoid social media as much as possible before I’m finished working.
I don’t do this just because it’s what productivity supposedly looks like, but because I work more efficiently in the morning than the evening and because it’s easier for me to get work done in big blocks without distractions. Most people dread waking up in the morning, but it’s the best quiet time in my house. Find your most productive or most quiet time wherever you live and use it to the best of your ability, whether that’s 7 a.m., 1 p.m., or 1 a.m..
I don’t want to guilt you for feeling “unproductive” or for being unable to establish a stable routine. That's not what this is. I hate that we even have to feel guilty for not being 100% focused on school during a pandemic. Still, for most people, those assignment deadlines and exams aren’t budging.
Ultimately, do whatever you can to get your work done. If you sleep most of the day and get some work done between 11 p.m.-1 a.m., do that. If you get fifteen minutes of work done throughout the day in sporadic bursts, do that. And if you can’t really focus much, don’t feel bad. Your normal routine isn’t going to be as useful as it usually is, so you need to give yourself some slack to work under the stress of the pandemic.