On Productivity

By Heidie Raine

We are nearing the end of the semester. Assignments are many. Reprieve is sparse. Writing about productivity feels appropriate.

These are the months where papers and reports begin to clog our Canvas calendars and pile up in the filing cabinets of our minds, making us choose between exfoliating and editing as the hours dissolve and the rubrics flood in. Life becomes a large Google Doc, punctuated by professors’ comments to “stay strong!”

These are the months where I feel the guiltiest, where I wonder if I really need a full hour for dinner, where I’m tempted to cancel weekly one-on-ones to read one more peer-reviewed scholarly journal article, even though I’d rather eat sand than log back onto JSTOR.

It’s when productivity becomes a virtue and a vice woven together in one tapestry. How excellent it is to schedule our days with responsible study blocks and research time, and yet, how unyielding it is to account for 24 hours in 15-minute blocks. Such regimens crumble by a swift inconvenience—a paper jam in the printer, a tornado warning, a line in the bathroom, a phone call from mom.

Despite every productivity manager’s prescription to “find those 10-minute windows” and staple together hours of study time over a month, we are not machines. We are college students, calling our mothers in Aldi’s meat section, googling how to remove ink stains from our denim, forgetting to wash our sheets for months.

We are the population that hides dirty dishes in hampers during room checks (I live off-campus now, but oh, how I remember the days), and yet, for some reason unbeknownst to me, we expect ourselves to operate at lightning speed come deadlines and presentations.

What, then, am I advising? To give up in the post-spring-break-sprint? By no means. But I want us to adopt a degree of grace for ourselves when distractions arise, fence it in with a fair dose of self-discipline, sprinkle it with flexibility and carry on.

As a disclaimer, my principle of “take a breath and take some breaks” only works when infused with that dose of self-discipline, which can look like leaving your phone in your dorm during the paper-writing season, sitting in one of the library’s cell-like cubicles, hiding from friends to study, deleting social media apps and writing deadlines in bold ink on some sort of planner or list, among other methods.

But for those who are already employing their best homework-ing tactics, I beg you: accept some of the distractions.

A list of things I consider acceptable distractions from homework: a call from Mom; a 10-minute Pinterest hiatus; waiting in line for lunch; taking a walk around the lake; making dinner; walking to the post office to retrieve a letter; saying hi to a friend who has, like you, burrowed in the deep crevices of the library; going to mid-week Bible study; asking Jesus to help you finish the paper; napping; making a coffee; journaling; walking back to your dorm to change into sweatpants; a game of intramural soccer; taking a long shower; crying; responding to a text; strolling up to the library counter for a mint.

To those of you who wonder, “that’s great, but what if I take those breaks and don’t get my work done?”

I have five responses that land best when blended together:

  1. Typically, in the history of college workloads, the assignment somehow gets done. Trust the process.
  2. If you wait until the last minute, it only takes a minute.
  3. If you idolize work now, you’ll never stop.
  4. Strained brains produce strained work. The small breaks will strengthen your product.
  5. Jesus helps us with homework in the same way He helps us stop swearing and become better neighbors and understand Haggai. Pray about it.

Heidie Raine is a junior English major at Cedarville with concentrations in creative and journalistic writing. In addition to working for Cedarville public relations and the writing center, Heidie loves perusing her local Goodwill, drinking iced cortados, watching videos of sea otters and caring for her small forest of plants.

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