I’m back in Memphis now, doing my part and staying indoors. My classes for University have moved online and with that my routine has radically shifted. I’ve come to realize how much time I would normally spend transitioning. All that time commuting on the subway, walking from class to class, getting ready in the morning- it adds up. The result? A few extra hours a day with nothing to fill them. Early into quarantine, I found myself sitting in my yard, watching the leaves dance to the chirps of the birds. It was a peaceful place to be. However, I felt far from at peace. I had been wrestling with a relentless itch to do something productive with the newfound time. It wouldn’t be often that I would have so much extra time on my hands, I better not waste it. Right?
In order to remedy that itch I would rev myself up to begin some half cocked, insurmountable crusade of self improvement. When the time would come, however, I could never seem to follow through and there I was again, itching. The cycle would repeat. After nauseatingly spinning through this cycle a few times I sat down and really thought about why I was being so ineffectual and what I could do to quell the nagging guilt that was telling me that I was being unproductive. I’ve come to find that I was both diagnosing and attacking the problem incorrectly. I’ve since been able to quell that insatiable itch, to a degree, but only because I realized a few things: productivity comes in a tiny package, it is alright to have some downtime, the extra time is a bit of an illusion.
You’re Not a Juggernaut and Neither Am I
My first mistake was thinking that I could conjure up productive change on a daily basis like a caffeinated juggernaut of self improvement. I couldn’t and most people can’t. It leads to burnout, if you can muster up the initial strength to even begin. Human Beings aren’t built that way, at least most of us. Think I’m lying? It’s evident in human wisdom for as far back as we can look. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Instead, we have a tendency to sprint toward a goal that we cannot realistically achieve at a breakneck tempo. Alabama put it best when they said, “I’m in a hurry to get things done. I rush and rush until life’s no fun.” We view this extra, fleeting, time as an opportunity to accomplish our big projects: finally write that novel, learn piano, get that six pack I’ve always wanted. Those things are more than attainable but the idea that we should be using the entirety of these extra hours to claw toward them is unproductive. Change comes in tiny increments and realizing that is liberating. I’ve been wanting to learn guitar and at first, I would try to fill entire hours of this new downtime strumming the strings. I’d end up getting frustrated and wouldn’t want to look at my guitar the next day, let alone pick it up and attempt to learn it again. Realistically, people can only focus on half hour bursts of intense learning at a time. If you pass that point, the quality of learning goes down. The same goes for working out (although not the same time frame), if you do a crazy amount of reps in a day to try and snag that overnight body, you’ll get negative gains. So really, the juggernaut method just results in even more wasted time. I had to change my approach to guitar. Now, I only do one, ten minute lesson a day using an app called Yousician (I’m not sponsored or anything but it is a fantastic app if you want to pick up an instrument quickly and effectively). I’ve seen so much more growth with those ten minute lessons over the course of a week than I had in a week of frustrating, hour long sessions. Brad Paisley didn’t become Brad Paisley in three hours. So no, I didn’t fill those three extra hours a day playing guitar but I did use a small bit of that extra time improving myself in a reasonable way. This mindset can be applied to most anything. No need to write a chapter of that book today, maybe just a page is fine. At the end of the day, I look back at my three or so extra hours and think, I divided one hour up into bite sized moments of working out, learning guitar, and writing a bit of poetry. I may still have two extra hours, but I was genuinely productive. Then poof that itch disappeared a bit. Still, I have two extra hours. What are those good for?
Doing Nothing is Doing Something
Doing nothing is definitely doing something. How often in life are we given the opportunity to slow down, genuinely? It’s not often. This is a great and rare chance to spend some time with yourself and to do some much needed reflecting. I’m an extrovert, so being by myself has been a bit of a challenge, but being able to sit with yourself is a learned skill. More-so, it’s a valuable skill. Taking some time to be un-stimulated has real value and the more time you spend alone with yourself, the more you get to know yourself. We may not find ourselves to be particularly interesting company but maybe that’s because we don’t give ourselves the opportunity to really speak between all of the appointments and internet videos. If you’re a creative type, this downtime is even more of a blessing. You may feel bored at first but boredom is where the mind has space to wander. The best ideas are spawned when the mind has room to bubble them up, not when it is being assaulted with Bon Jovi via your airpods for forty-five straight minutes. It doesn’t all have to be un-stimulated time, either. There is value to having some fun. If you’re someone who, pre-quarantine, had such a busy schedule that you couldn’t treat yourself to an hour on Netflix, then do it. Power to you. There should be no guilt associated with letting yourself relax and recoup. Just make sure that leisure doesn’t overstay it’s welcome. We all know the fine line and can generally tell if we are rewarding ourselves in proper proportion to how much we did that day. Two or three episodes of Netflix after class? Cool. One whole season when you didn’t even manage to make your bed? Maybe not. The point is, being alone with yourself or even treating yourself to a fun activity isn’t a bad thing. It can be great for morale during stressful times and the introspection may even help you uncover things about yourself that will serve you for years to come. Doing nothing is doing something.
This Time is an Illusion
Yes, we have more hours in the day, physically. We must be doing less than we were before quarantine, right? Well, probably not. As I touched on earlier, a lot of the spare time I have comes from transit on the subway, getting ready in the morning, etc. I wasn’t accomplishing much during that time, only preparing for class where I would be accomplishing things. Well, I still have class. A lot of people are working remotely. We have some extra hours in the day but since our responsibilities are a click away, we have more time but we aren’t being any less productive. Classes via Zoom can be and usually are just as taxing as regular, in person classes. If you’re feeling tired but still have a few extra moments in your day, that’s why. Our extra time is a bit of an illusion because we are still putting in the effort for many of our daily responsibilities. If we didn’t have the energy to write that entire book after our commute home normally, why would we have that energy now? Because skipping out on the subway gives us an extra forty-five minutes? I don’t think so. That’s the cool thing about working in short bursts. I can continue to do ten minute guitar lessons everyday, even post quarantine. Being locked inside doesn’t change all that much, so we need to get rid of the wild idea that we have to achieve our dreams with the extra time on our hands. Little steps, big results.
I hope you all enjoyed this post and found it helpful! If you have something to add about your quarantine experience, drop a comment below. Think the post could be helpful to someone you know? Feel free to share it. If you enjoyed the post yourself and want to join the adventure, follow the blog for updates on new content. Thanks y’all and stay healthy!