Here I am, typing this column far too close to its deadline, at 12:38 a.m. There are numerous tabs open on my laptop including Amazon, the political science midterm study guide I finished at ungodly hours the previous night and the Expedia tab for the flight at the end of the tunnel of this hellish exam week. I am, as most students would call it, #grinding.
Here at the University of Michigan, the collegiate societal pressure to “grind” our work out offsets a life balance disproportionately focused on social media engagement and party culture. As I currently partake in this social scheme, I am in no position to speak down to the other members of this community of grind worshippers. The large iced coffee condensing on the Shapiro Undergraduate Library table beside me and I have both endured many late-night study sessions. However, I’ve begun to wonder: When did working hard come to mean procrastination and cramming? Hard work was once attributed to committing to a particular task or challenge and exerting some sort of mental, physical or emotional effort toward a goal. Now, I associate hard work with bloodshot eyes at 3 a.m. in the South Quad Residence Hall study lounge.
While hard work is integral to success, this stressful lifestyle is disorganized and reinforces unhealthy concepts of time management. It is not cool to be exhausted. It doesn’t make you more accomplished to have slept four hours less than the human body craves. Yet in top-tier academia, we exert so much effort into both work and play and often fail to efficiently organize this time to allow for the maximum amount of productivity and therefore, the maximum quality of life. During the prime grind of midterms in the UGLi, why are so many phones scrolling through TikTok instead of actually studying? This inclination to grind has spawned a culture where students’ schedules become a hodgepodge of overlapping engagements. This disorganized chaos of scheduling is a major factor in reduced sleep and significantly reduced productivity. I have met two kinds of people in college: People who, like me, do not sleep and run on copious amounts of caffeine and people who take naps throughout their day. Neither of these groups enjoys the recommended eight hours of sleep allotted at nighttime, and instead, make use of alternative methods to get by. Perhaps instead of studying when we should be sleeping, sleeping when we should be socializing and socializing when we should be studying, we could acknowledge our faults and better manage our bustling schedules.
It seems the true antagonist in this story is distraction. According to Forbes writer Cheryl Conner, “a survey revealed sixty-four percent of employees visit non-work related websites every day of the week.” As people in the 21st century, we are drawn to our phones more than ever. We lose track of time and suddenly the three hours we had planned to study for our exam or write our Michigan Daily columns were wasted scrolling through the endless cybersphere of constantly-updating information. If the phone had been neglected for those three hours, then maybe we could spend time before bed engaging in social activities instead of accomplishing previously-scheduled tasks at the hours meant for sleeping.
How do we fix this? When I say “we,” I genuinely mean that. I am both guilty and outspoken about what at this point seems like an allergy to an adequate night’s sleep and a relaxing day. I’ve realized that, despite my endless efforts to color code and plan my life, the tendency for my phone-usage study break almost always expands beyond the five or 10-minute limit I try to establish. The idea of organizing time through schedule compartmentalization, though not fool-proof, is useful in more ways than one. There is psychological research that shows the benefits of checking off tasks titled the “Zeigarnik Effect.” By simply writing these plans down as minute missions instead of daunting obstacles, accomplishing our goals becomes less anxiety-ridden and overwhelming. The caveat, of course, is that the number of remaining tasks on our lifelong to-do list can further impact anxiety and result in more procrastination.
Harry Guinness of The New York Times offers an instructional guide for how “A (Former) Night Owl” can become a “Morning Person.” Guinness describes how any person can adapt their sleep and life schedule to increase productivity and align with a better “chronotype,” or individual interpretation of circadian rhythm. What is important to clarify is that this isn’t all about sleeping more. There are plenty of people who sleep eight, nine or even 10 hours and still waste large amounts of time throughout their day dawdling on social media sites instead of working through their daily tasks. Beyond allowing your body to rest at appropriate times, you need to encourage and challenge yourself to stick to an efficient regiment throughout the day; pencil in a time for leisure, exercise and work or school goals. Just doing one or the other perpetuates imbalance.
A mantra I came to appreciate more upon starting my freshman year at the University is “work smarter, not harder.” It is irrefutable that the students at this school, not unlike other schools, are dedicated to their work and seek to get the best education possible for the tuition they are paying to study here. However, Forbes writer Julian Mitchell suggests it’s time to stop the grind, and instead learn to hustle. The difference, Mitchell writes, is that while both are qualified and in possession of equal capabilities, grinders “move at a fast pace, juggle multiple tasks” and “can work tirelessly and see no return.” Conversely, “hustlers put effort into existing opportunities” and “know what it really takes to achieve the seemingly impossible.”
Nobody I have met thus far, and undoubtedly very few people in general, have truly mastered a perfectly planned life balance of work, sleep, exercise and fun. But I’d like to put more effort into trying, and I encourage you to do the same. I’d like to know that the hard work we are all exerting is being utilized efficiently. There will always be time for spontaneity and moments that will never have a key on your color code, but for one week, try and be more cognizant of the time you dedicate to different sectors of your life. Take out your AirPods, grab your highlighters and find a better way to hustle.
Jess D’Agostino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.