We are halfway through the semester, and this is typically the tipping point in which you either maintain your current stride of success or succumb to the pitfalls of stressful midterms and spring break. This is also the point in the semester where those of us who have slacked off aim to change their behaviors in hopes of finishing the semester strongly, pulling up their grades and achieving the mythical School-Work-Life Balance. Regardless of which side of the fence you’re on, productivity and the ability to balance all that’s going on in your life is very important.
There are a lot of factors that contribute to one’s ability to achieve and maintain a productive state, but I feel one that is often undermined is your environment. Different environments serve different purposes, and it is important to utilize them accordingly. I suggest starting with thinking of spaces that you use the most and designating each of them as a zone for tasks.
I found that I spend most of my time in my bedroom, kitchen or at a coffee shop. I obviously use my bedroom for sleep and relaxation, but it also serves as my place to do less mentally strenuous tasks such as reading and writing. I make it a point to keep my room clean and decluttered for two reasons: it feels more welcoming after a long day and it also presents a feeling of calmness in the morning when I wake up to a place that doesn’t look like the embodiment of the word chaos. I keep my bed made, floors cleared and items in their respective places.
I tend to keep all school, video editing and other heavier tasks out of my bedroom and usually do these sorts of things in the kitchen, mostly because it is a bigger space and alleviates feelings of claustrophobia while I’m hard at work. It is also distraction free, unlike my bedroom, which also houses all of my entertainment, such as my TV, guitar and games. Eliminating the visual temptation of these items plays a big role in maintaining my productive state of mind.
Coffee shops, for me, usually serve the purpose of inspiration or organic ambient noise. When I feel that there is too much happening at my place, I go to a low-traffic coffee shop. There is usually a slim chance that I will have to interact with anyone outside of ordering a drink, and the subtle noise of people talking with low volume music lulling under the noise is oddly calming.
Another key factor in maintaining balance and productivity is time management. Time management skills are vital if you’re like me and are in a constant state of motion. In addition to school, my job and an internship, I also do freelance photography and videography, write for The Carolinian and I’m working on my first documentary film. Add in a social life and trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle, and things can get really messy, very quickly.
Again, this boils down to delegating time to specific tasks, just as you delegate tasks to each of your zones. I think of events in three categories: unavoidable, inevitable and flexible. Unavoidable events include classes, work and internship hours, and any other prior engagements that contribute to accomplishing my goals or maintaining a happy life. They are often fixed, such as classes, or can change, but are typical not an option to miss, such as work or a date with those who are important to you.
Inevitable events are also unavoidable, but often have a bit of flexibility to them and are usually within your control, based on how you approach them. I consider project deadlines, homework, working with clients, workouts and similar tasks to be inevitable. This is because they have a definitive date or time they must be done, but the rate at which they are completed are typically within your control.
Flexible events are non-essential events such as going to movies and shows, parties, hangouts and catching up on shows. While these events can bring us joy, they tend to distract us from priorities and can easily keep us stuck in an unproductive loop. I usually put this sort of thing on the backburner and use it as a self-fulfilling reward after accomplishing goals that pertain to unavoidable or inevitable events.
The easiest way to keep track of these events is through a calendar app. I use a color-coded calendar on Google Calendar to schedule my day based around my unavoidable, inevitable and flexible events. This helps me keep track of everything in one concise place.
We all have 24 hours in a day, and planning how to manage those hours, ultimately, is up to us.