With the current fall semester well underway, it’s hard to believe how quickly time has passed, with days upon weeks upon months since March and summer blending together into one purgatorial blur. I truly could’ve sworn that everyone was exchanging frog bread recipes and sharing other spring quarantine hobbies just the other day. However, staying at home for such an extended period of time can definitely have an impact on your behavior, inducing a monotonous cycle of waking, eating, working, and sleeping, akin to how the carefree, do-nothing quality of summer encourages rejuvenating laziness. What’s more, the adjustment period between the end of summer and the start of the school year is only exacerbated by the dull routines of quarantine, in which the sudden mountain of assignments, exams, and projects creates an abrupt change of pace that can leave just about anyone suffering from the whiplash of it all.
Therefore, as we emerge from this blurred, purgatorial mindset and hit the books to do our best to muscle through this virtual semester, here are (in no particular order) the Seven Deadly Sins of Working from Home you may need to watch out for:
1. Improper Zoom Etiquette: A Lesson in Hubris
Listen, we’ve all been there, but let’s just cut to the chase: please remember to mute yourselves. There’s nothing worse than to be listening in on a lecture only to hear the feedback noise of a classmate talking to their roommate—or in rare cases, cooking in the kitchen—ultimately drowning out the voice of your instructor. What’s worse is when your professor either mishears it to be a potential question and patiently takes the time to wait (only to be greeted with silence) or stresses for everyone to mute themselves, while you are none the wiser. Wow, I can’t believe people still need to be reminded to mute themselves, one may wonder. We’ve been virtual since March, you may think. Pride cometh before the fall.
Personally, as someone who has great anxiety with muting myself as soon as possible, I cannot stress the importance of taking the few seconds to mute your audio as soon as you log on. Accommodating to virtual learning has been difficult for all parties involved, and in taking the time to ensure you are muted, you will not only be showing respect to your professor and common decency to those learning alongside you, but also saving yourself a world of potential embarrassment.
2. Procrastination: Pre-Recorded Lectures Edition
One convenient aspect of taking classes at home is the prospect of pre-recorded lectures that you can watch at a time that best benefits your schedule. This is incredibly considerate towards the learning style of each student; however, this too can quickly turn south.
Having the ability to choose when to watch pre-recorded lectures during the week can become a recipe for disaster if you don’t make effective use of your time, especially on days when you fall victim to the Netflix rabbit hole. In putting off lecture-watching time and time again, you will quickly find yourself amidst the storm that is a note-taking marathon by the end of the week. (You know the ones. The five-hour stretch of videos watched on 1.5 – 2x speed, a dull ache in your wrists as you pause and make a note of each slide). In short, the prospect of pre-recorded lectures is an open invitation for procrastination.
One way to avoid succumbing to such disastrous levels of procrastination is to make a realistic plan for your week to account for both asynchronous and synchronous classes, alongside homework. I’ve found that watching lectures at the designated times as if classes were synchronous has not only helped evenly distribute my Honors workload, but also has given a semblance of the normal school routine I’m used to.
3. Learning À La Mode: Constant Snack Access
Another perk of virtual learning is the joyous realization of having your own dining hall just 10 feet away from your “dorm”! This allows you to effectively maximize your time in between classes to cook and eat rather than spending most of your break walking to the dining hall and waiting in lines. Yet this too devolves into a slippery slope where you may end up cooking during class (re: Zoom etiquette) and potentially get caught not paying attention while at the stove, as well as end up only half-listening to lectures while you eat.
Although taking breaks to eat is definitely essential, it’s important not to take too much advantage of the luxuries of proximity to the pantry and kitchen at the hands of your education.
4. Phone Affinity
Working from home has definitely made it more difficult to stay off my phone. Rather than being stowed in my pocket or my bag, my phone is often sitting on the desk next to me, making me more likely to pick it up during lectures or while doing homework. This is greatly in part due to the agitator that is the Notification Center, where even the slightest of vibrating from my phone has conditioned me to check for any updates. This can easily have a detrimental impact on your productivity and efficiency, as one minute, you could be checking your email until you find yourself scrolling through a newspaper of social media timelines two hours later, notebook still resoundingly blank and UDSIS access timed out.
One way to combat this is to manage your notification settings so that not too many flood your phone as you try to work, or in extreme cases, putting your phone on Do Not Disturb when you especially need to get work done.
5. Productive Avoidance
On the topic of distractions, another vice I have encountered from time to time while working from home has been productive avoidance of my assignments, in which I opt to purposefully do other random chores or acts of housekeeping to put off (rather time-sensitive) work I simply do not have the willpower to face just quite yet. Don’t have the heart to take that quiz due tonight? Easy, escape and empty the dishwasher. Can’t bring yourself to crank out a pressing paper? You suddenly find yourself cleaning out your room. This merely induces a false sense of productivity, while pushing you even farther off schedule, which can no doubt devolve into larger bouts of stress and hurried work.
Although it is good to take your mind off work and keep busy by doing other tasks, especially when plagued with writer’s block, it should be done realistically and in moderation. Oftentimes, the most difficult part of an assignment is actually starting it, so if you make the effort to sit down and rip the metaphorical band-aid off and get to work, you’ll find your to-do list becoming much more manageable.
6. The Curse of the Comfort Clothes
Oh man. Don’t get me wrong, it’s definitely a nice change to stick to wearing hoodies and sweats in the comfort of my own home rather than wasting precious minutes of sleep in figuring out what to wear for the day—taking both changes in the weather and prospective labs into account. However, this gets dangerous very fast as you may slowly stop changing out of pajamas altogether, the drowsiness of early morning wake-ups still set deeply in your bones, causing you to end up watching 8 AM lectures in bed—because hey, at least I’m still marked present, right? (Narrator: She was wrong). Not only will this have potentially detrimental effects on the retention of class content, but also on your overall concentration, motivation, and productivity.
Many freelance workers’ top piece of advice for working from home is to stick to a typical routine, making the extra effort to change into fresh clothes every day as to instill a change of pace and make a clear distinction between work and rest.
7. Zoom Fatigue
Most of all, one of the greatest atrocities you could commit while working from home is failing to take proper care of yourself. With synchronous and pre-recorded lectures alike and with hours upon hours of time spent staring at a screen—both your computer when working and your phone when taking breaks—it’s all too easy to overwork yourself. There are often days when my eyes are incredibly tired, strained and dry from staring at my screen all day, even with blue light preventative software. Zoom fatigue, I’ve found, has similar attributes to pulling all nighters: the first few times may leave you relatively unscathed, while various repeated attempts have you caffeine-dependent and just all-around awful.
This is why it’s incredibly important to emphasize that time spent resting is never time wasted. Making sure to take periodic breaks between studying and classes will not only help you retain information, but will also prevent you from getting sick from overworking yourself, as well as prevent potential burnout. Self-care and your mental health should be a top priority above all things, especially when grappling with virtual learning this semester.
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