Throughout my first years in college I didn’t have a regular job while school was in session. I have many excuses lined up for why I didn’t, and looking back I wish I would’ve found a way to work more around my schedule. I did some odd jobs to bring in some money, but nothing sustainable or significant.
In my final semester at school, I worked part-time remotely. I had flexible hours, autonomy in my work, and plenty to do. It taught me a ton about productivity, remote work, and the general idea of being “busy.”
Busy in itself is an interesting idea, especially in college. It generally denotes a lack of time to waste or spend on other activities. I called myself busy my whole final semester. I pitied myself when I couldn’t go out and made excuses for why I couldn’t because I had too much to do. Of course I complained about it to others to get their pity as well. I felt important because of it.
To me, I was busy. It was one of the busiest times of my life. I took a full 15 credit hours, played lacrosse where we practiced 3-4 days a week and had multiple games every weekend, and I worked when I could in between.
Then I take a step back and I realize what most college grads realize when they enter the real world. While you’re in college you are not busy. This is the least busy you will ever be again. Ever.
Thinking about this realization has brought me to an interesting place mentally, teaching me important things about myself.
I am extremely unproductive
Realizing just how unproductive I am is pretty depressing. Here I am thinking I’m busy and then I realize just how much time I throw away. I started paying attention to how much time I spend each day watching TV and how often my phone is out and I’m refreshing apps for no reason. Those two alone make me very uncomfortable.
Next I downloaded an app on my laptop called RescueTime. It tracks which websites you are going to and how much time you spend on them. The app groups websites into categories, which you can customize, then sends you weekly reports on how you are spending your time online.
Those emails suck. I mean really suck.
But it’s eye-opening and necessary. Tracking my productivity levels and really focusing on how I’ve been spending my time has created a weird internal battle. I went so far as to download a Chrome extension which blocks Twitter and Facebook during work hours. Better to make one good decision than to face a difficult one every single day.
It’s all about mentality
For a lot of my last semester I was stuck in a mental battle, torn between two warring sides. The first side told me I should be proud of what I’ve accomplished during the semester and the work I’ve done. It says I should give myself a break. The other side says screw that. It says I must get better, and I have to do it now. How will I ever be successful if I’m this unproductive, or have difficulty juggling all my responsibilities? A very negative mindset, but still for the purpose of self-improvement. I believe I’ve found a healthy balance between them.
Never be satisfied. But don’t beat yourself up and dwell on your failures.
You have lost the war if you let yourself get complacent and content. At the same time, you do yourself no favors to put yourself down and never give yourself any credit. A negative mindset is draining. You get burned out, unhappy, and tend to feel pretty bad about yourself overall.
Everything must be a learning and improvement opportunity. Twist it into a positive manner instead of a negative one. For my situation I realized I was right, I’m not very productive right now. But I know I can get better, so I’m not going to beat myself up about it. Instead, I’m making a plan to fix it.
So yes, in college we were less busy than we’ll ever be again, but we were also college kids. We can always be busier, that will hold true pretty much the rest of our lives. The important message here is to take a stance of ambition. You need to want to improve, and the best way to get there will be to put a positive spin on it.
That mindset will serve you much better throughout your life and career. Keep that in mind when you are thinking about how you spend your time.
Note: I originally wrote this post in the middle of my final semester. I read it back, and found that a lot of the ideas were either still true or extremely relatable. My hope is it can help you on your way, no matter where you are in terms of “busy.”