Get a full night’s rest or complete your assignment? Here’s what it’s like moving through a day at Stanford faced with endless rounds of “Would you rather.”
Stanford is the type of place that forces you to prioritize in real-time. I think a lot about what I would do in an ideal world. In an ideal world, I’d get seven-point-five hours of sleep, eat breakfast every day and arrive on time for everything. I’d catch up with friends regularly, call home regularly and pray regularly. Instead, I’m scrambling to do everything and failing in my attempt. There are 24 hours in a day, but the way my schedule pans out, it feels like significantly less time.
I am forced to prioritize what I put my time toward because I can’t do everything. It turns into a twisted game of “Would you rather” and I’m forced to make decisions that I wish I could ignore. Even ignoring everything is a decision. Here’s an example of what several rounds of “Would you rather: Stanford edition” looks like.
9:00 a.m.: Would you rather stay in bed an extra hour or complete the readings for your class?
I really convince myself that an extra hour of sleep is going to make my day better, even after my alarm has gone off and I know the extra hour will be rife with interruptions; I’ll jump awake thinking that I missed my alarm or check how many more minutes of snooze time I have. Suddenly, the school work that I convinced myself I had to finish in the morning isn’t so important anymore. There is something about getting out of bed that makes everything else pale in importance. Maybe if I weren’t so sleep-deprived all the time I wouldn’t be fighting myself for an extra hour of sleep.
Final choice: Stay in bed.
9:45 a.m.: Would you rather go to class and not participate or skip class and write a make-up essay?
So at this point it’s too late to wake up, do the readings, take a shower, eat breakfast and get to my 10:30 a.m. class on time. Time to make some choices. Here is where I have to settle for skimming through the readings in bed so I can at least contribute a little to class discussion. It’s better than nothing. I shuffle to my desk, boot up my laptop and pull up the readings. I try to stay focused even though there’s construction going on outside my window and I sometimes have to read every sentence twice to understand what these papers are saying.
Final choice: Go to class.
12:25 p.m.: Would you rather go to a talk that your professor is doing or go home and get lunch?
Even though I made it to class, I feel bad that I haven’t participated as much as I could have. This just adds to the feeling that I’m not doing as well as I should in all my commitments. Since I’m living in a constant state of feeling like I’m disappointing everyone, I’m always trying to overcompensate. So when my professor told me about an event they were talking at, I really wanted to attend. But now that the time has come, I’m hungry, already late for the event and wondering if it makes sense to stop by. They even promised food, but what if it’s gone? What if my professor was expecting me to be there? What if not many people attend and my presence actually made a difference? Will my professor be upset if I don’t go? How much longer can I go without a meal?
Final choice: Stop by the event for 10 minutes then get food.
1:00 p.m.: Would you rather draft and send an email that’s been on the back of your mind forever or complete a class assignment?
I’m notoriously bad at prioritizing my own academics over other things like sending emails. Somehow, emails always feel urgent. Every moment that passes without sending an email feels like another moment I’m keeping someone waiting, even though most emails don’t have a deadline per se. The danger with this is that the time it takes to draft emails stretches out like taffy to fill the space you give it. If I have three hours of time to work and aim to dedicate 30 minutes to sending emails, I inevitably take at least twice as long. I think, why not double and triple check this message and all the hyperlinks before sending? Then my assignments are pushed to later in the night when I’m too tired to focus. Luckily, after consulting my scheduling-guru friend, I’ve been prioritizing my assignments during the day-time hours when I still have energy.
Final choice: Complete class assignment.
6:00 p.m.: Would you rather have dinner with that friend you’ve been meaning to catch up with forever or eat at your house where you can bond with housemates?
As an RA, I want to spend time with my residents, and mealtimes are a great time to do that. But between classes that overlap with meals, scheduling meals with friends and those days when I’m too tired to eat with everyone and choose a nap over dinner, there are only a couple mealtimes left. So if someone asks me to grab a meal spontaneously, I seriously consider whether it’s more important to catch up with them or be present in my house community. The answer changes depending on the week, but it’s a dilemma I’ve had to face too many times.
Final choice: Bond with housemates.
11:00 p.m.: Would you rather get a full night’s rest or spend time planning for life after graduation?
At this point, like most other times, I’m tired. There has been no time throughout the day to think about things that weren’t directly related to my Stanford life at present. Yet, planning for life after graduation and figuring out summer plans takes time. It’s like another class. Budgeting, searching for opportunities, scholarships, internships, applying to things…it isn’t something you can knock out in an hour. I know that once another day starts I’ll be running around with the classes, meetings and assignments that populate my schedule. But without devoting actual hours to my post-grad plans, I won’t make any real progress.
Final choice: Stay up late to plan post-grad life.
And that’s it for today’s rounds of “Would you rather: Stanford edition.” Thanks for sticking with me. For every choice that I make one day, I try to balance it and make the opposite choice next time. Because everything can’t be at the top of my to-do list all the time. Even though I have a big picture idea of what’s important to me in life, in reality the day-to-day decisions I make must reflect what’s important in the moment.
Contact Astrid Casimire at acasimir ‘at’ stanford.edu.