I have been a college student for two months now. The transition to college has reshaped my everyday routine in a lot of good ways, promoting time management and productivity. But living where I go to school also has negative effects.
At home, my schoolwork stayed within my desk downstairs. When I was done working for the night, physical separation from my schoolwork allowed me to compartmentalize my day and mentally free myself of stress.
At Princeton, I find it harder to separate my working from non-working hours. Even when I’m resting in my bed, I’m still two feet from my desk, which is covered with assignments, and face my bookshelf, which overflows with books left to read this semester. When I unlock my phone, a stream of reminders and calendar events remind me of the many tasks I have to do.
This proximity pressures me to always be working, or at the very least, keeps me cognizant of the work I should be doing. It leads to an unhealthy frame of mind in which it becomes hard to escape the sense that I should always be doing something school-related. It is easy to let obligations hang over me like a cloud, even when I’m not working. As a result, I’ve realized the importance of consciously maintaining the time for myself that I found valuable back in high school. Not only is it healthier to separate work and rest, but also, it results in much greater productivity if a student adopts the mindset that work is one component of the day, rather than the driving force behind it.
We should all strive to take time to ourselves, to immerse ourselves in activities that we do, not because we are required to, or someone told us to, or because we have appraised that they are worthy, but simply because we want to — because they make us happy. That might mean taking a few minutes each day to journal, or carving out an hour to listen to a podcast. Perhaps it’s reading a book for fun, or meditating in that window of time between classes.
You might wonder how doing these things, as opposed to the things on your to-do list, will help you. Won’t they just take attention and time away from our obligations, which, at the end of the day are most important? The truth is, allowing ourselves to take a beat and relax will make us better students, club members, teammates, and friends. I’ve noticed a difference between sitting down to read a hundred pages of Ovid from a place of relaxation rather than exhaustion. If I’ve built mental breaks into my day, I’ve found it easier to view a long reading assignment within a broader context — it’s just part of my day, not the governing force of it. Giving your mind time to refresh allows you to be more focused and productive when it comes time to work.
These activities also help you develop as a person, not just a student. They allow you to open up your mind and explore what makes you happy. They give you agency, time when you can choose what you do. And in a schedule jam-packed with activities assigned by others, that matters all the more.
Additionally, you can use media like audiobooks and podcasts to learn about issues that interest you outside the classroom. What we learn in classes is just a fraction of the knowledge out there. These are great ways to remain informed about current events, learn about history, or discover a completely new area of interest. All while taking your mind off the pressure of work.
This isn’t an argument for procrastination. Rather, I believe that taking time for ourselves makes us better able to complete our assignments efficiently. It’s not about putting off work, but restructuring our time and priorities to allow for self-directed activities.
Of course, it isn’t easy to carve out time for yourself. I don’t have to tell you how packed your schedule is, how much work awaits you when you get back to your dorm at the end of the day. But with intentionality, it can be done.
You don’t need to have long blocks of free time; try filling small periods with these activities. Give a family member a call during a study break. Listen to a favorite novel while you load your laundry. Queue up a podcast as you walk between classes. You haven’t cut into your scheduled time, but you’ve allowed yourself the opportunity to do things that will put a smile on your face and remind yourself of what you care about beyond the classroom.
Julia Chaffers is a first-year from Wellesley, Mass. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.