There are days when it feels easy to put into words my ideas on the political landscape of Tudor England and its relation to architecture. However, there are also days when I cannot write a sentence that makes any sense at all as hard as I try. Over the years in graduate school, I have tried many different techniques, tricks, and tips for staying focused and motivated while writing. Some have worked, and others have not, but I have realized how easy it is to be distracted while writing.
The COVID pandemic over that past year has introduced a lot of challenges that students, faculty, and staff have had to adapt to. For me, it was difficult to adjust to living at home again and attending Zoom lectures with barking dogs, screaming kids, and TVs blaring in the background. My sister’s room became my makeshift work space and her new bunny, Churro, became my classroom companion. Nonetheless, I adapted and did my best. Now, just as I have adapted to the challenges of learning online, there is a new challenge currently being faced: transitioning back to in-person learning.
As we acclimate to being back on campus, we are all dealing with a lot of problems that have been an afterthought for over a year now. Those problems include making it to class on time, dealing with dorm room issues, and more specifically, figuring out what and where I was going to eat everyday. I’d always had food provided for me at home, but moving to campus and being unable to afford a meal plan played a large part in whether I was successful my first-year at UNC. Good nutrition and a full stomach can help with focus, but on the opposite end of the spectrum, poor nutrition and constant hunger can be seriously detrimental to someone’s ability to succeed, like it was for me.
After almost a year of remote learning, I finally felt ready to tackle my online classes when the spring semester started. But while I was getting things done in synchronous classes, I was ignoring one of them altogether: Biological Chemistry. Since the course was asynchronous and didn’t have any early deadlines, I prioritized doing assignments for my other classes, while Biological Chemistry went on the back burner.
Sometimes it feels much easier to just ignore academic duties when I feel like something will become overwhelming. I realized very quickly that staying focused while attending a Zoom call made things even more difficult than I anticipated since I could distract myself with things like Netflix or online shopping. To nobody’s surprise, this habit was not allowing me to fully understand the content of my courses, and I was often left scrambling to catch up.
I have always felt that, in my life, there is a direct tie between food and focusing. When I get hungry, I have no desire to do my work. If I find myself wanting to stay focused, I know that snacks motivate me. I used to carry at least two in my bookbag with me at all times. Whether I’d sit under a tree outside and eat in-between classes or go to Lenoir with my friends instead, I had a system to stop my hunger and help me focus.
Somewhere in this year of quarantine, I went from just casually using social media to being a full on addict. Between Snapchat, Twitter, Youtube, and Instagram, my attention span was totally shot as notifications, dings, and buzzes pulled me away from class, homework, and even sleep. After a few months, I’d become a master at logging onto Zoom calls with half my attention and getting by with only half a night’s rest.
Since I’ve been forced to live in a quarantined world, it’s been real easy to spend all day sitting. It was a sudden adjustment for me; I used to try and either walk to or from campus every weekday, which made sure I got time outside. I realized I missed walking like this, so after about two weeks of being locked in the house, I started to make movement a part of my working routine. Since I spend a lot of time working on writing projects, this push to start walking has ended up becoming a pivotal step in how I approach my writing.
When virtual classes were announced, I immediately thought about how this meant four more months without my favorite Chapel Hill study spots. As a senior, I owe a lot of my success to the environments that have fostered my creativity (I’m looking at you Wilson Library steps, Meantime Coffee Shop, and the courtyard outside of Swain Hall). Having relocated to Newport, Rhode Island for the semester, I spend a lot of time curating study spots that help me stay motivated. Anything to help me avoid slipping into the monotony of daily routine.
I love the feeling of sitting back after a long day and having a sense of accomplishment and progress. In this new normal of working and learning from home, this feeling can be very difficult to achieve. I often find myself feeling burned out, distracted, and generally unproductive. The first hour or two of studying often goes pretty smoothly. However, soon after that first hour I begin to really lose steam.