Rethinking the Pressure to Be Productive

Applying to college is challenging and complex -- here is a guide to manage your productivity and sanity throughout the process.

Chances are, this summer looks very different from the one you envisioned when the year began. Summer jobs, camps, classes, and more might have been put on hold. Now you find yourself with a lot more “free time.” And if you a rising senior, the college application season looms just around the corner.

But just because you are spending more time at home does not mean that you necessarily have more free time. Yes, it is great to take advantage of the summer to have a head start on college applications, but you can also use this time rethink productivity altogether. Being productive does not necessarily always mean producing tangible outcomes. This is especially the case now that we have the illusion of more free time at home (If I hear “Shakespeare wrote King Lear during the plague” one more time…). 

Taking care of yourself, doing minor tasks, just getting through the day: these outcomes are all worth aspiring for and need to be seen as productive outcomes. This is especially true with application season on the horizon for rising high school seniors, but the following tips apply to everything we are managing at the moment. These tips are designed to help you stay productive without feeling like you need to be the next Shakespeare by the time you leave your house.

Manage Smaller Tasks First

If you are feeling overwhelmed, it is always best to begin with smaller tasks. Completing easier tasks helps your momentum. When it comes to college applications, it may seem like there is no small task. However, this is not the case. In fact, some of these “smaller” tasks are among the most important. You can finalize your college lists, for example, to give you a road map for the fall. Once you finalize your list, mark important deadlines on your calendar. It will be much easier to track your progress this way. You can also set up reminders on to keep yourself on track in the upcoming months.

In addition, you can start thinking about the more subjective components of the college application process now as well. Which teachers will you ask for your recommendation letters? Do you have a rough outline of ideas for your application essay? Even starting a word document with these ideas will set you up for success down the line.

Find Your Own Rhythm

Now that we aren’t stuck in office or classroom chairs for eight hours a day, we can actually find out the best productivity methods that work for us. The truth of the matter is that everyone’s productivity looks different. While tempting, we cannot compare how much we are getting done to others. I’ve struggled with this personally. It is easy to feel like you aren’t getting enough done when you look at a friend’s Tweets about their accomplishments from the past few months. However, we need to remember that we know our own methods and routines best. Being productive and managing tasks look different for everyone, and now is a great time to explore routines that work for you (and only you).

Do you get the most done in the morning? Or before bed? After a workout? I find that I actually do my best work after socializing. Talking with friends and family energizes me and inspires me to complete tasks on my checklist. Experiment with different strategies without feeling the pressure to be productive under certain expectations.

Be Patient With Yourself

Some days will be easier than others. If you have an off day of sleeping in or that Zoom family reunion took up more time than you were expecting, don’t be harsh on yourself for not getting as much done as you need. Don’t feel like you’re “losing” or “falling behind.” It is natural for this to happen, especially now.

It is an unhealthy expectation for us to be productive 100% of the time. As college applications and senior year approach, remember to take time to care for yourself. With the absence of so many events from this spring and summer, it may be tempting to burn ourselves out on productivity. It is great to set goals, but remember to put yourself first.

 

Try to keep these tips in mind the next time you are feeling overwhelmed with work. It is easy to feel like you are not doing enough with all of your “free time.” Above all else, take care of yourself and you will produce your best work on your own terms.