On Productivity

The month of March has felt exhausting. With the shift to telework and remote classes to constant concerns about COVID-19 to practicing social distancing, everyone is working to adjust to a new way of life for the foreseeable future. As graduate students, this may put some of us in a tough position. As a student who balances a full course load, a graduate assistantship, and a second part time job, my goal was to be immersed in all areas of campus while earning my MLIS at the University of Maryland. My plans did not include solely remote work, as I knew I would be at my most productive with a full schedule of in-person classes.

Before starting my degree, I certainly expected to take one or two online classes depending on course offerings, but my goal was to be on campus five days per week for classes and both jobs. I found this to be my way of achieving optimal productivity and a transition to a comfortable work-life-school balance.

Up until a couple weeks ago, this schedule worked out great. But now with all remote work and classes, I’ve noticed myself feeling less motivated and less productive with schoolwork.

At first, I saw an upside to UMD’s initial announcement about remote courses: in order to promote a smooth transition, the University added an extra week of spring break before starting remote classes at the end of March. Prime opportunity to work ahead, complete some of those smaller assignments, and have ample time to work on those upcoming midterm papers! And, to keep my schedule in order, I’ll just focus on homework during my regularly scheduled class times. So much will get done!

Readers, I hate to say it…but I was so very wrong. And I’m not entirely sure what to make of it.

To give myself some sort of necessary break after everything that happened, I took off from classes and homework for about four days. My first day back, I thought I was ready to tackle it all and continued to get my schedule got back in-order. But in practice…

Project proposal? I, maybe, have a very rough topic idea.

Midterm paper? About 500 words written.

Reflection paper…well, I’ll get around to it at some point.

Any smaller assignments? That’s for another time.

So, when I wasn’t working one of my two jobs, what have I actually accomplished in the last week and a half?

Tried out a new lunch recipe

Started going on a 2-3-mile afternoon walk

Finished three books

Binge watched some Netflix

Cleaned and did laundry

In other words, schoolwork-wise, I haven’t been very productive. 

All students are going through this transitional time in their own way. Among many life-altering events in recent weeks, some students may have had to pack up and move off-campus for the rest of the semester, others are worried about their families and their own health, and others may have lost their source of income. Schoolwork is probably at the very back of many students’ minds. 

If there’s any time we deserve to cut ourselves some slack, now may be the time. Sometimes, like Hanna previously addressed, we just need to embrace being good enough. Sure, your midterm paper could have been a little bit better, but maybe you were in the midst of trying to find childcare while daycare is shut down. Or you could have read a couple of articles and started a discussion board for class, but you were worrying about your loved one with a compromised immune system. At times when life feels, as Kerri explained, overwhelming and you discover yourself shutting down, it’s hard to find the motivation to keep working hard. Especially now, you may even experience a sense of burnout, like many others in the LIS field sometimes feel, and longing for the time to rest and recuperate.

In uncertain times, it’s ok to not be at the top of your game the entire time. It’s ok to take a couple of steps back and re-evaluate your priorities. This is something I plan to work on and I hope many students will join me on this journey. As graduate students who wear many different hats while studying for our degrees, sometimes, being unproductive with school is the best way to be productive with life. 

Sarah is almost halfway completed with her MLIS at the University of Maryland, College Park. She is currently exploring interests in law, academic, and government libraries. In her spare time, you can probably find her drinking a lot of coffee, binge reading books, and watching Love is Blind.

Photo by Carl Heyerdahl on Unsplash

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