A few days ago, I decided I was going to put away my clocks, watch, and change the settings on my laptop and phone to remove the time. Online learning has been difficult, to say the least. I couldn’t pinpoint why (apart from the fact that we are in a pandemic). I think part of it is that without having to attend lectures, I don’t do the readings by the time the class would have started. This means my brain takes a lot longer to do tasks that time pressure would have made me hurry up with, and I push back watching the lecture until necessary.

It often leads to a very saturated 5 p.m. brain.

I asked my friends how they were managing. I read a few blogs, a few articles. They all told me to structure my day. Allocate a certain amount of time for tasks and move progressively through your to-do list. By 5 p.m., you’ll be able to switch off and rest.

I tried the Pomodoro technique. I gave myself certain times for screen time and made my phone off-limits until then. Every day, I was putting in the work but still getting nowhere. The worst was that I would feel guilty every time one task consumed another, and I realized I wasn’t sticking to my self-imposed schedule. I would realize I had only ten minutes left to finish a chapter and would be nowhere near close. If I sat down at 9:35 instead of 9:30 I felt everything was immediately off kilter.

Exams are looming. I currently have two assignments and four exams in one month, two of the exams will cover yearlong content. I knew I had the time to prepare, but I also knew if things stayed the way they were I would have a horrible month ahead and eventually burn out at the end, unable to reach my own deadlines.

So I decided to try something new.

Once time is measured, it becomes something that can be wasted. No animal has ever thought of wasting time. They just do things. And I think they’re a lot less stressed than us (for many reasons). And once something is wasted, we feel guilty, and we take tranquility away from ourselves, when we could just be doing that activity. Imagine if a beaver started stressing over how it’s nearly 5 p.m. and it hasn’t completed the left end of its dam. It would probably just stop when it knows it’s done enough and pick up the next day and do a little more or a little less, if needed. Productivity isn’t something that can be measured. It’s long-term. At the end of the day, you know how much work you’ve done, how focused you’ve been. Instead, having a little clock in the corner of your screen telling you: you have this much time left to complete this task takes your attention away from what you were doing in the first place, whether it’s resting or studying. Haven’t you noticed that the best outings are the ones where you forget to check the time?

Turns out the pandemic has been great in this sense – when will we ever get an opportunity like this again? When we start seeing people we will have to turn up to certain places when others expect us to be present, and I’ll have to check the time before, to make sure I’m not running late. For now, I will enjoy this freedom. I only set an alarm for my Zoom tutorials. It’s great because they finish when they’re over, and I don’t spend the last ten minutes looking at the time, because the time isn’t telling me I should have Zoom fatigue, or there’s ten minutes left. My attention is completely on whatever I’m doing. I feel zero guilt and I work through my priorities and stop when I’m tired, not when Pomodoro tells me it’s time for a break.

P.S. If you would like to try, you need Blu-Tack and Post-It Notes. You can’t remove the time on your phone or laptop settings. 🙂