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Students: Don't Feel Bad for Being Distracted at Home

Adjusting to online learning has been hard for students with at-home distractions. But here's why those diversions may be just what you need right now.

I’ve seen firsthand the issues that college students are facing in learning from home because of the COVID-19 pandemic. I see them in my classmates, my best friends, and myself. They range from a lack of stable internet connection to having a child who wants attention every second to difficulty finding the motivation to do anything at all.

As I’ve begun juggling clubs, classes, and jobs from my own tension-high home, the problem I’ve encountered­ the most—and the one that I least expected—has been an inability to stop working. So if you’ve found that you’re working yourself to the bone at home, here are some thoughts and advice on why you may be doing it and what you can do to readjust your productivity for your mental health.

Why can’t we stop working?

Finding a good school-work-life balance during this time can be tough. Many students, like myself, are fortunate enough to have a roof over their head, friends to “Netflix Party” with in the evenings, and a family that’s happy to have them home while doing their best to accommodate their needs. Nevertheless, it’s been difficult to adjust for most.

When I’m in class, clocked in for an online shift, or doing homework, every moment of focus feels imperative. I’ve been feeling the need to work as quickly and efficiently as possible. Every little distraction—whether it’s a parent telling me it’s time for dinner mid-essay, a pet begging for my attention before an exam, or a chore I’m weeks (or years) behind on calling my name—feels like a tiny bit of evil that’s out to ruin my productivity spree. Without total peace, quiet, and focus, it feels like I can’t be quite who I was before COVID-19, and I have to meet every standard I was meeting before from home. Many other students are likely feeling this odd sense of dissociation surrounding their education. So what can we do about it?

Related: Stuck in a Rut During COVID–19: A Student's Perspective 

What needs to change

I’ve come to realize that doing everything to precisely the same standard isn’t the point. This life we’re currently living is not at the same standard to which we’re used to. It’s important to have something productive to pass the time in isolation, sure. A lot of us need to be doing something to survive this with our sanity intact, and it’s no one’s job to judge how people are coping. So yes, it’s good that we’re continuing our studies, perhaps still earning paychecks from our jobs, and virtually meeting with our organizations to determine what’s next. It’s valuable to keep our minds fresh and on task. But it’s equally important to learn to accept what has happened and to find time for the new people and new demands that come from this lifestyle.

Learning to shift your lifestyle

The discomfort this change brings can be a source of learning and growth rather than pure frustration. There’s certainly a learning curve when it comes to being at home and learning online, but we can’t (and shouldn’t) underestimate the value of being near our families and the extra time we have to spend with them. While there’s a feeling of having lost some independence and a good deal of the college experience we were promised, I’m trying to look on the bright side—I now have the time to stop working and read a few pages of a book if I want. I have parents who interrupt me but who also remind me to eat when I’m too ingrained in my busy online life. I even have vaguely better cooking and cleaning habits than I did before because I’ve started to allow myself to step away and do those things when my work is too much.

Related: COVID–19: How to Stay Productive 

Finding value in the experience

These things aren’t merely distractions getting in the way of productivity; our so-called productivity is getting in the way of these things we should be grateful for. Plan your days better to account for the things you need to do that you don’t necessarily want to or that someone else wants or needs you to do. It may be time for us to accept, as I have, that life no longer revolves around you now that you’re home from college, and perhaps it never should have.

College has a way of making you feel as though everything you’re doing is more important than anything else. It’s our time to find ourselves—to focus on our education and our future. But maybe this time away, although unexpected and out of our hands, will allow us to take a step back and understand how much of a role our relationships with others play in our ability to find ourselves and define our futures.

Related: College in a Post–COVID–19 World: Counselor Q&A 

I understand that I’m writing this from a place of privilege, and not everyone’s home life is conducive to positive distractions. I’m grateful to have what I do, and I’m grateful to the people who go to work every day to ensure that my problems and those of others don’t get any bigger than they already are. But my hope is these reflections, despite being from my own experiences, can help you change your perspective on conducting your current home life. There’s no set to-do list to show you how to navigate a situation we’ve never been in before. Do what works best for you; just don’t forget to find gratitude or glimpses of hope in the distractions that are asking for your attention in this new life.

Visit our COVID-19 resources page or our YouTube channel to find more student perspectives and advice as we wait out the pandemic!

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About Anna Mayzenberg

Anna Mayzenberg is a sophomore Management Information Systems major at the University of Houston who has a passion for words, whether in the form of writing, reading, or just talking nonstop.


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