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The under-appreciated skill of wasting time

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In the week before last’s issue of The Cascade, Martin Castro wrote about compartmentalizing information, and the struggle of juggling multiple projects. In particular, he wrote that he’s “not the best at juggling multiple, long-term goals or projects,” but is “alright at working intensely, and without sleep or relaxation for entire days.” And while I don’t have his force of will to pull all-nighters, I generally consider my own work ethic to be similar, but where Martin finds the juggling of multiple projects to be the tough part, that’s not where the massive workload that all of us, as university students, are dealing with, gets to me.

I’m a terrible procrastinator. I don’t mean that I leave everything to the last minute, either: I mean that quite literally. I am terrible at procrastination. I can do it, and I certainly do spend a lot of time that I could (and should) be working scrolling mindlessly through Twitter, but I have a hard time turning “work mode” off in my brain, and doing something fun. My grades are pretty good, my bosses here at The Cascade seem to like my work, but that’s because if there’s something that needs to be done, I have to do it.

While that’s all well and good for those parts of my life, it can make it awfully hard to relax, to exercise, and to do things just because they’re fun, which are all vital to making it through university intact. While Martin mentions going without sleep or relaxation for a few days, and working on overdrive is a great skill to have when papers are almost due and exams are looming, it’s not so good for your mental or physical health to push yourself that hard all semester long.

Especially in this hyper-connected world, it’s hard to get away from your responsibilities. I’m a planner by nature, so using tools to keep on top of everything is absolutely helpful, but it can also become a looming cloud over my head. I have a Google calendar set up to coordinate everything: it has my classes, due dates, meetings, events, and scheduled work time for each class. It emails me reminders about the important things I can’t forget, and is available at a moment’s notice on my computer or phone. It’s fantastically useful, and I haven’t turned in an assignment late yet. I also obsessively check it multiple times a day, not to see what I have to do at that moment, or if I’m free a certain day in the future, but just to remind myself of what’s coming up.

So, this semester, I’m setting myself some goals. Maybe, instead of giving 110 per cent in every class, on every assignment, I can give 95 per cent or 90 per cent and still do fine. I’m going to try to set aside at least one day a week as a minimal work day, with nothing scheduled that needs to be done that day. I’m going to try not to let socializing outside of work and school fall to the wayside like it did last year. I’m going to exercise beyond just walking to and from classes with a heavy backpack. I’m going to read for fun, watch movies without multitasking, and actually beat a video game for the first time in ages. I’m not planning to slack, by any means — I don’t think I’d know how if I tried — but on top of the skills I’m going to be picking up in my classes, I want to practice the difficult art of pushing my work aside and saying “I can do that later,” and then to actually relax, and enjoy that time I’ve carved out for myself.

I still have a few years of university left, and I’d rather not burn out before I get there. I know I’m not the only one in this boat at this school, so I’d encourage all my fellow perfectionists to be a little selfish when planning out their time. Give yourself an hour to do something that you used to have time for.

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