By Madeleine Dunbar
I am by no means an expert, but I wanted to share a few tips for how I get things done when I am struggling to motivate myself to do anything – a feeling many of us probably share right now. Don’t be afraid to try new things and become comfortable with lowering the expectations you set yourself. You can get more done if instead of being overwhelmed by the bigger picture, you focus on the things that you can do and do them. Some days will be harder than others, and that’s okay. Be gentle and loving to yourself. Self-care is facemasks and calls with friends, but it is also the boring mundane stuff. Self-care is routine, snack breaks and turning your phone on ‘do not disturb’.
Practice self-compassion. We’ve been dealt a rough hand this past year and coping with the stress of an ongoing pandemic and a university degree is not easy. The reality is we have lost most, if not all, of our social lives. Our daily routines have been turned on their head, and we are feeling the loss of the comfort they provide. There is a learning curve in adapting to such different circumstances. Accept that you may not be as productive as you have been in the past. Set reasonable expectations for yourself and be kind. I read somewhere that you should treat yourself as you would a small child and it really stuck with me. A child needs mealtimes and snacks, enough water, comfort when they are sad, and forgiveness when they make mistakes.
Start small – this is a piece of advice I’ve been given that really impacted me. So often, we find ourselves overwhelmed by the bigger picture and don’t know where to start. The best way to make a big task less scary is to break it up into smaller more manageable tasks. This is a habit that has taken me time to develop. If you’re writing an essay you can set yourself tasks as small as writing for just 10 minutes at a time. If you want to keep writing you can, if not you can take a break and try again. Personally, times when I struggle with my mental health are also times when I struggle to concentrate. Even five minutes of reading can be difficult. When I find that I am reading the same sentence over and over again without taking it in – I like to use text-to-speech converters. Switching from visual to audio processing or a combination of the two helps to improve my focus. It also means I can take notes while listening. Being sat in front of the same monitor all day isn’t something we are used to, and it is helpful to switch up how we absorb information.
At the risk of sounding like a 5G conspiracist or someone who thinks Alexander Graham Bell was a witch, we really should be more aware of how and how often we use our phones. The dopamine rushes we get while scrolling are powerful, and the media on our phones offers a very easy and rewarding form of escapism. I find increased screen time can often be a sign that my mental health is deteriorating. It’s easy to spend hours enjoying infinite scroll only to realise the whole day has passed. I’m not saying we should all revert back to Nokia brick phones (though they are pretty cool). I personally like to use apps that monitor and control my screen time. With Flora, for instance, you can set yourself a timer for how long you want to concentrate on something. When the timer is up you have grown a virtual tree, if you open an app the tree dies. I’ve found having the life of an inanimate cartoon tree in my hands provides me with the added motivation I need to avoid checking my messages or feeds. When I first started using the app, I started with very short time blocks and have gradually built up my ability to concentrate.
I hope people find this helpful, if you have any tips that you use to combat loss of productivity, please do share them in the comment section below.