We all know we are busy. 20 units, a job, internship applications— a lot of the time, our schedules write themselves.
To help us keep track of our busyness, Stanford’s Resilience Project created a printable weekly planner that breaks our days down into hour-long increments, with columns spanning from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. In other words, the schedule of a typical Stanford student both begins and ends in the morning.
When the alarm goes off in the morning, a list of demands follow.
Wake up early to finish the p-set, head to your 9:30 a.m. lecture, then to section, grab lunch at Stern, go to office hours, then your 3:30 class, which ends at 5:20. You normally would get dinner after, but you have to run a meeting for your student organization today. After it ends, you grab a snack and start the essay that’s due at midnight — and in the “off time” after the essay is done, you still have to maintain meaningful connections with equally busy friends, call home, clean your room, send the day’s batch of various emails and do laundry. You can postpone the first four items today, but you really have to do laundry.
When it’s finally time for sleep, it feels well-deserved, and precious in part because it is an escape. When your head hits the pillow, your only job is to close your eyes. But eventually you have to wake up, and the schedule needs to be abided by, and your to-do items need checking off.
The cycle starts again and repeats and repeats.
I have always loved the beginning of the article “How Being Busy Means Not Being Creative,” and it has stuck with me when I feel like all I am doing is biking from place to place: “Here’s a word: productive. Here’s another word: busy.” The two are not one and the same. Oftentimes, when I am busy, I spend the time I should be using for homework scrolling on my phone — like I’m sure a lot of us do. In such a need for a break, BuzzFeed becomes my best friend.
As Travis Bradbury writes in his article in Forbes Magazine, “Beyond interruptions, busyness reduces productivity because there’s a bottleneck in the brain that prevents us from concentrating on two things at once. When you try to do two things at once, your brain lacks the capacity to perform both tasks successfully.” When busyness lends itself to grasping for distraction, it makes sense that we spend more time on assignments that should not take that much time to complete, which ultimately cuts into our down time later.
When busyness is inevitable, I find myself thinking about the best ways to go about getting through the day, and that usually means finding some way to vary my schedule. Maybe I’ll take the nature route to class today, or dress a little faster so that I have time to make green tea before heading out. Maybe I can do my English reading outside on Meyer Green, sprawled out on a blanket before the sun sets. Maybe I can focus on the sound of life happening around me as I walk from class to section.
Let’s become tired of being so tired all the time. Let’s not treat over-exhaustion as a status symbol, and let’s not let it be code for “I am doing more than you.”
“Beware the barrenness of a busy life,” Socrates once said. Even Socrates agrees.
Contact Amanda Rizkalla at amariz ‘at’ stanford.edu.