“Do the bare minimum and not a modicum more,” I text my friend as she vents to me about the waves of stress threatening to overpower her this week. I add a heart emoji for good measure.
As I do this, I’m multitasking. I’m typing out the message with my left hand as I make a color-coded to-do list for the night with my right. As the words stretch onto a second page, I feel my palms begin to sweat. Extracurriculars. Emails. Problem sets. Discussion posts. Essays. The list goes on and on.
I look at my watch—13 minutes until my next meeting. Immediately my mind jumps back into motion; my hands start re-shuffling papers. What is the most productive way for me to spend these 13 minutes?
This is what a typical Tuesday night—or actually any night—looks like for me right now. I’ve found myself developing a type of tunnel vision: Every minute I spend on something that isn’t “productive” is a minute wasted. And it’s exhausting.
Before I got to college, I had this specific vision of the typical Yale student, the student who’s running from place to place with a smile on their face. They finish their readings on the Cross Campus green before heading to section or a club meeting. They write emails as they walk to class, run through flashcards during meals. They stay at Bass every night until closing before finishing work in the dorms, with an hour to spare for sleep. (Three hours on a good night—they’re just so incredibly busy!) They do it all and they love every minute of it.
Here’s what I’ve discovered: That student isn’t a model to aspire to. Yet I find myself copying their every move.
I thought that online classes would be less intense. The perk of doing school from the comfort of your own bed is that you can relax. How much time is really spent on class when you cut out all the travel, dining hall meals, and socializing? Maybe, I theorized, this could also be my break from clubs that revolved around in-person event planning.
In reality, professors are no longer adhering to time limits on asynchronous lectures, and are assigning time-consuming papers instead of short-answer exams. In COVID times, what do we have to be doing other than school work? We sure as hell shouldn’t be going out. It seems that with this new vacancy in our lives, professors feel entitled to more of our free time than ever. But this time isn’t free. Online school makes learning more intellectually, emotionally, and physically taxing than ever before. Students’ batteries take longer to recharge. Our gCals may seem empty, but the recovery time we need after each task isn’t to be underestimated.
Then, when clubs went virtual, more and more meetings started to appear on my calendar. Apparently, online events are “more accessible than ever before.” Even though Yale is virtual, I feel pressure to be in perpetual motion. If I’m not watching a lecture, I should be attending a board meeting. If I’m sitting still, I should be getting my steps in for the day. If I work out, I should also be reading Plato’s Crito. Every Instagram story is a reminder: Others are still operating at full steam. As we spend more time than ever on social media, we’re able to observe those around us in finer detail. We find ourselves using others as a metric for how we should be doing. Anna’s using quarantine to launch her own nonprofit/start-up/blog? What am I doing? Why am I not doing as much?
I acknowledge that I’m lucky to still be able to go to school. I’m lucky to have reliable internet access and the bandwidth to do all these amazing things. But capacity shouldn’t equal necessity. Each day, I spend eight to ten hours in a room, alone, with my eyes glued to a screen. In my downtime, I’d rather not log onto Zoom to attend more Zoom meetings that could be emails, or fill out another “required” WhenToMeet to schedule more Zoom meetings that could be emails. And I’d definitely rather not spend those Zoom meetings scheduling more Zoom meetings that everyone in the current Zoom meeting will be required to attend. Maybe I’d just rather not do anything.
Every so often I hear the little voice of reality in the back of my mind, whispering, “We’re in the middle of a fucking pandemic.” I exhale. I skip my lecture. I remember that getting through the day is already a win.
I don’t know the best way to safeguard my mental wellbeing while attending Zoom University from my childhood bedroom. However, I’m trying to start by crossing more things off my to-do list without having done them. I don’t need to do it all. Maybe just some of it. Or maybe even none on a hard day. (There have been a lot of hard days.) We should all give ourselves a break.