Quarantine taught me that I need momentum more than time

In the last weeks of my senior year of college, I developed a procrastination habit for the first time. 

For most of my life, my fear of failure has always been much stronger than my desire to blow off work. In fact, it was usually so much stronger that the only way that I could feel less dread and anxiety over deadlines was to start and finish assignments early. That made it easy to do work.

Covid-19, however, created a novel situation in my life. As a global pandemic threatened the lives and livelihoods of me and my loved ones, it became impossible for me to truly care about my classes and honors thesis research. To me, the only things that mattered were my health and my family’s health, and being employed. Thankfully, both things were covered. No one in my family ever caught the virus, and my full time job offer never got rescinded. Who could bother to be worried about anything else in these times?

And yet, I quickly fell back into the wormhole of stress that is school. Project deadlines stressed me out. Research meetings stressed me out. Doing work stressed me out. It got harder and harder for me to sit down in front of my computer and just do what needed to be done. I’d go out for a drive around town instead of starting work. I’d go for a walk and never get back to doing work even though I had plenty of energy left for the day. When it was time to go to bed, I often stayed up until 3 am binging youtube videos even though I could have gone to sleep at midnight.

Some of my habits were good coping mechanisms for stress, but most were taken farther than was healthy or useful. I knew that, and could not care less. Here were all of these people asking me to care about work as usual, while the world went into lockdown and my entire worldview changed permanently in a matter of months. I resented that, even though I knew that life still needed to go on. The world would not stop for me.

When I started to finish classes and free up time to finish my thesis, it became clear that my procrastination was the primary thing slowing me down. I’d spend hours every day avoiding work. Nonetheless, progress was made bit by bit, and I finally turned in the final draft an entire week late.

I thought I would use the 2 weeks I had before I started work to finally break out of this pattern. I could do personal writing! I could exercise! I could play viola! My whole day was free now. And yet I continued wasting time, watching the same highlight clips from Silicon Valley and Game of Thrones on youtube over and over, hunched over with glassy eyes.

What I learned was that my actions have significant inertia. If I start living a certain way, it is extremely hard to stop myself from continuing it indefinitely. I hadn’t been using my free time well for months; why would that change once I suddenly got more free time? Some things did get easier, though. At my most stressed, it was impossible to wake up naturally before 12pm, but once I turned my thesis in I was able to get out of bed sooner.

Then, I started work, and everything got easier. I could wake up in the morning. I felt alert instead of groggy for most of the day. I didn’t spend hours locked into a fetal position on my bedroom floor, eyes locked on my phone screen, a feeling of emptiness engulfing my person. I felt momentum. My job was something new and meaningful I could focus on, that I didn’t yet associate with the stress of tight deadlines and fear of failure. It was again possible for me to sit down and write a blog post in one go—something that I hadn’t been able to do for over a year. 

Sinking to that place of procrastination was awful, and I’m determined not to let it creep up on me again. When life gets tough, I’ll find ways to unwind and reset my thought patterns and habits. I want to feel excited about life and curious about everything, and that’s only possible if I’m in control of my actions and time.