I don’t know about you, but personally, when the first lockdown started I did have a tiny hope that, despite all the negative, this could be the time when we would all be forced to sit back, focus on ourselves and have time to stop stressing over the thousand things we usually had to do in a day.
However, as I think all of you might agree, things did not exactly go that way.
As soon as free time knocked at our doors, everyone welcomed it as this extraordinary opportunity to do all the things we never really had the time to do before: from developing a new skill, learning a new language to starting an online course on any possible topic or even getting back in shape by training every day …. you name it.
I must admit, I was so caught up in that mindset at the beginning. I was so excited to have the chance to spend my time doing things that could really make me grow and become more skilled and competent. I decided I was going to listen to informative podcasts every day during breakfast and lunch, dedicate at least 1 hour a day to reading all the news and perhaps 1 hour more to watching live streams, I would start doing yoga every morning, find time to read more books and research, start a course on digital marketing and one to learn how to meditate, focus more on my exams to increase my GPA and look for a perfect internship.
Well, what can I say, it all seemed easy and great until a few weeks later I realized I was waking up with anxiety just at the thought of having to fit all of this in my day. I was stressing over the constant fright of underperforming also in my free time.
Even now, one year later, as I am applying for my dream masters I am often overwhelmed by the pressure that I feel I have to put on myself to do more, learn more, become more during these lockdowns so as to put all this “spare time” at use to gain new qualities that could make me stand out more in admission interviews or in life in general. Well, if anyone can relate, and I am sure many of you will, I want to say that this is the time to stop for a second and take a deep breath.
As Gen Zers the hustle culture is our daily bread, even if we want to fight against it, deep down we know that a sense of “you snooze you lose” is always there to remind us that our time should be spent doing something more, something more productive, something more meaningful, something that will make us more competent. Well, fair to say it can get a bit too much sometimes.
Moreover, with Covid, everyone is now constantly being urged to hustle even harder than before. You do not waste time commuting to places? Awesome, then why not join a 7-week course on Photography from the MoMA. No more aperitivo or dinner out with friends? Amazing, but perhaps you should not just lay in bed and chill, there is that CEO doing a talk about something you absolutely do not care about but that perhaps you should listen to since it could always come in handy someday.
It just seems that each minute that is not put towards improving ourselves is wasted time.
Well, this is where I stop reminding you how stressful life and especially life in lockdown can be, and start saying something that can actually remind us that we got this.
Here are some tips that have helped me to cope with this Covid bourn-out mentality (and with hustle culture in general) that hopefully can help you as well if you are reading this article and you are feeling as life is currently taking a toll on you.
1. Set reasonable daily goals
There is no point in thinking you can follow 5 lectures, do 1 full essay, 1 hour of training, and reorganize your whole room on the same day and think that by the end of it you will still be able to think straight.
Just be honest with yourself and know how much you can push it in a day. The fact that we are home does not mean that every single minute we have while awake is a minute in which to actively engage in doing productive stuff. Quality is more important than quantity.
Moreover, setting fewer tasks that you can concretely get done by the end of the day will leave you feeling proud and more satisfied rather than frustrated because once again you have not ticked off all the items from your to-do list.
2. Celebrate all your achievements, no matter how small
I do not know how you work, but personally, at the end of the day, I always used to focus on all the things I was not able to do rather than on those that I had actually managed to accomplish, which often made me end the day on a slightly unsatisfied note.
Well, our self-esteem can benefit from any pat on the back it can get so, even if it is for things as small as having taken the dog out on time, just give yourself a high five and remind yourself that you are moving forward and that you are getting things done on a daily basis.
3. Plan and prioritize
You can do everything. Just not everything at the same time.
Make a list of what has to be done first and focus only on a couple of important things at a time. This will pay off much more than going crazy trying to keep 10 big things under control at once.
Also, do not focus only on deadlines but prioritize for example getting done the things that make you anxious the most, no matter how irrelevant they may be. The sooner they will be out of your way the less anxiety you will feel for all the rest of the projects you still have to complete.
Moreover, organizing your schedule on a monthly basis can be very useful to visualize how you can distribute all you want to do on a week-to-week basis and to be reassured that, without rushing, sooner or later you will have time to do everything that you have planned.
4. Find time to be lazy
It could be watching Netflix, scrolling on your Instagram feed, going out for ice cream, facetiming with your friends, or even baking a cake, but whatever makes you take your mind off from productive stuff has to find some space during your day.
It does not matter if you feel like you are running out of time, try it.
Of course, if you are dealing with 3 deadlines in 2 days perhaps a Netflix marathon is not the best thing but scheduling in some time to chill is an important way to unplug your mind and to get back at what you were doing with a new outlook, fresh energies, and greater mental sanity. This will make it so much easier to get things done than looking for 8 hours at your laptop non-stop.
Also, remember that while some people may thrive with frenetic and hustling schedules, this may not work for everyone. For some, the best way to stay productive is by finding time to unwire during their daily/weekly grind. Whether this means 1 hour of lazy time per day, 15-minute breaks every 1 hour of work, or even 1 whole day off per week, just do what works for you and what fits your current schedule. But do it.
5. Pursue hobbies that you like, not that you are told to like
When considering which new things to learn and dedicate yourself to in your free time, always stop for a minute and think about what YOU would like to do and not which hobby would look good on your CV. Hobbies are not meant to be productive, they are something that is there to remind you that there is more to your time on this planet than just getting things done. Thus, choose something that will truly make you happy when dedicating your time to it.
6. Stop comparing
I know it may seem impossible sometimes but do not judge how much you are accomplishing based on what other people or your friends are doing.
They did a course that you did not take, they got admitted to an internship you did not get, they got a new amazing certificate or did a super cool workshop that you did not do, or they may have already been accepted to a top master while you are still gathering all the documents to apply.
Just stop looking at them and think about yourself. Did you want to do that same course? Would you have liked that workshop? Why have you not applied to your master's yet? You have your own reasons. Focus on them and if you think something is missing take action.
The important thing is to stop seeing what others have as something you are missing. Think of what you have to offer instead and eventually at how you could work to improve something you feel that you are lacking in. However, do it just because you want it and because you feel like it will be good for you, not because that is what other people are doing.
7. We are all in this together
I know that often it may feel as if everyone you see on LinkedIn has their lives put together, or that all of your friends are one step ahead of you, but the truth is, we all have some days where we feel like we will never be able to keep up with everything and that our life is just a complete uncompetitive mess.
These are precisely the side-effects of this further intensified hustle culture that we all have to put up with. Sometimes we might feel on top of it, some others it may feel like we are being pulled far down under but all of us go through it and all of us recover from it somehow.
So take some time off, talk about how you feel with a friend, and make a new plan of action but remember that life is not just about work and productivity and that there are also other valuable things in life.
To sign off, if you can relate to my experience, remember that it is okay to give yourself a break, to turn off your phone and laptop, and prioritize your wellbeing rather than your productivity, especially in such uncertain times. This pandemic caught all of us off guard and it is already challenging us on so many different levels, that we can allow ourselves some slack.
So remember, being in lockdown does not mean that you have to fill all your 24 hours a day with things to do.
And most of all, every time you may feel overwhelmed remember that by giving the right weight and space to everything all the pieces of the puzzle will eventually get back into place.