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Staying Sane

I want to share some of the tips and strategies I use to stay sane in the midst of a busy lifestyle. In 2020, I don’t know of a single person who doesn’t consider themselves busy. Busy seems nearly synonymous with living. However, there’s a way to do busy incorrectly where we become stressed, overwhelmed, and burnt out which can inhibit us from accomplishing what we set out to do. I strive to do busy correctly where I am happy with what I am accomplishing but also leaving margin for rest and leisure.

Andrea Wojciechowski in lab
Andi preparing samples in her lab.

Now it’s not a competition, but I consider myself pretty busy! Let me give you a taste of my week: I spend every day in my lab performing experiments, attending meetings, staying current with the literature, and teaching classes. After work, I tutor and mentor inner city students, serve at my church, run, and perform all the chores required to be a functioning human being. In between all these activities, I also spend time in Dr. D-Flo’s workshop helping him film videos, write scripts, and working on the website. It may seem like I don’t have any time to sleep but I’m proud to say I get a full 8 hours. It hasn’t always been this way. When I first graduated college, I was overwhelmed by the simple tasks of being an adult. But through the advice of others and trial and error, I’ve changed my life in a couple subtle ways and freed up hours of time that have made all the aforementioned activities possible.

1. Hold yourself a-calendar-able  

The only surprise that I enjoy in my schedule is one that involves birthday cake . I am most successful when I know and can prepare for what is happening each week. Calendars are like New Year’s resolutions. They sound like a good idea, but by February, you’ve already forgot about them, or in the case of a paper planner, you’ve probably misplaced it. Online calendars are the natural alternative because they can’t be lost. But I was never excited about putting all my plans in a sterile Google calendar.

A Splash of Color

Who would’ve thought a couple stickers and a decorative background would be enough to get me excited about using a calendar. Having the ability to drag a stethoscope sticker onto the day of a doctors appointment is much faster than filling out a typical online calendar entry and it catches my eye every time I open the calendar. Artful Agenda makes this possible. Further, this calendar includes places for reminders and to do lists which gives me yet another reason to check it.

Naturally, by checking my calendar more often, especially on the weekends, I can figure out when I have free time. Any free time during the week will determine how many chores I need to complete on the weekend and how much time I have for rest.

2. Use your down time wisely

Are you using your time wisely? The other day, I spent an hour online shopping and had 8 things in my cart before I realized I didn’t need any of it and just closed the tab. You might not even realize how you are spending your time. If you find yourself wondering where your time has gone, it’s probably a good idea to go find that lost time! Every couple of months, I locate my lost time by tracking an average day’s worth of activities in 15 minute increments and determining if that was time well spent.

Why 15 minutes?

A lot can be accomplished in 15 minutes. You can do a quick workout or eat a meal. The reason I mention these activities specifically is because your diet and physical activity are critical for feeling your best. On a busy day, these are often the first on the chopping block. At the end of the day, even if you accomplished a lot at work or on your DIY project, you feel lethargic and unhealthy. To me, this of the definition of doing busy incorrectly. Very often, you can reclaim 15 minutes somewhere from your busy day to eat properly or go on a walk.

Once you are aware of how much down time you have, you can actively look for ways you can use your time more efficiently and effectively.

A few suggestions:

3. Work hard, play hard

If you are working hard, you are eventually going to need some rest. Whether you’ve finished a big project or are just feeling overwhelmed, powering through is not going to be the best route. Take a break and allow your brain and yourself some rest. And when I say take a break, I mean take a real break and allow yourself to be replenished. Don’t take what I call a “fake break.” Studies1 show that taking breaks of any kind while working will increase vigor but that smart phone breaks are not as effective at reducing emotional exhaustion as conventional breaks such as walking or chatting with friends. So that means scrolling through reddit or social media is not an effective break because your mind is still engaged in work-like activity. Now I’m not saying you need to take up meditation or yoga, but spending time in nature, going for a walk, or talking with friends will give your brain a rest so you are ready to take on work or a project again.

When he worked, he really worked. When he played, he really played.

Dr. Seuss

As passionate DIYers and enthusiastic students, it’s nearly impossible to avoid being busy! Let recap the 3 tips that have helped me do busy correctly:

  1. Make and check your calendar
  2. Find wasted time
  3. Rest