As we near the year anniversary of the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and, subsequently, the lockdown of social isolation, I want to think back to something that happened during the year that I've spent trying to stay sane. Back in May of 2020, when things were beginning to get a bit more troublesome for me to stay positive and keep moving forward, I stumbled upon this video by a YouTuber named CGP Grey. I’ve watched his videos before and am subscribed to him, but as his upload schedule has begun to space out over the last two years, I stopped looking for his videos. However, this video that was posted on April 30th of 2020 titled “Lockdown Productivity: Spaceship You” caught my attention.
I highly recommend watching it on your own time, for CGP Grey spins an entertaining and informative tale about imagining the pandemic and social isolation as feeling like floating alone on a space station. The “core” of the spaceship, which in this case is your core with it being Spaceship You, is primarily powered by two fundamental power metrics: physical health and mental health. Without both being charged up, your core will begin to shut down and it will be harder and harder to power it back up if both the physical health and mental health power levels become depleted. Working to increase one’s charge helps increase the other, and notably, the physical health power is easier to charge up even though it takes more physical exertion compared to the mental health power which takes time and draws energy from the physical health power.
What CGP Grey talks about in his video is how we humans benefit the most from having certain physical environments dictate what we do and how well we do it. As a student who used to live on campus, I can echo this statement: to study I went to the library or a study lounge. To complete my schoolwork, I would work in an empty classroom, and when I wanted to relax and take some time off from doing schoolwork, I would either sit at my desk in my room to play video games or go out into the city with my friends. What I remember from being on campus is that if I tried to do certain activities, like study at my desk in my bedroom, in a different location that I’d usually do something else in, it became noticeably harder to accomplish my assigned tasks at that location. Working at my gaming/relaxing environment made me want to game and relax more than complete my schoolwork. Trying to hang out in the library felt odd because everyone else around me was doing schoolwork and normally I would study there or complete schoolwork there. I wouldn’t even think of bringing my laptop into the city to do work at an arcade or bowling alley. You get my point.
That same idea can be applied when we’re at home during the pandemic. In the CGP Grey video our home is our spaceship; we have limited space in which we can move around and put things we brought with us to the spaceship, but we can turn that space into stations. These stations, like the kitchen table, work desk, and living room with our television, are our stations on Spaceship Us. The video continues to expand on this concept about how by segmenting the areas in our house to be physical environments for completing certain activities we can train our brains to be more productive in those areas. By doing so they help our brain become naturally primed to want to do specific kinds of work in those areas.
I unfortunately struggled with this heavily in April during my academic term. The only space I really had available to myself was the basement of my parents’ home and thus I spent the majority of my time down there. It is at my desk that I have my gaming computer, laptop, and other technology that allows me to connect with the world and relax or work on schoolwork. However, as is likely obvious by how I started the paragraph, this was not a good setup for me. Too often I would find myself naturally gravitating to the mindset of “this is boring, let’s play a game” while working on schoolwork. It became a real struggle, especially after I began sleeping on the couch in the basement and began eating all my meals down at my desk as well.
It was only after watching the video that I realized how terrible of a habit I had fallen into. The video helped me realize that by changing to different physical environments my brain can stop easily being distracted by the fun, endorphin-rushing activities I like to do in the same location as my schoolwork. After watching the video, I chose to work on schoolwork upstairs at the kitchen table and eat up there too. I returned to sleeping in my bedroom and began getting better sleep at night. My grades improved and I no longer felt as distracted as I was feeling before, and it felt amazing to have had that revelation and save myself from such a bad habit. It is what I learned from the CGP Grey video that I will take with me into life even after the pandemic is over; the idea of segmenting activities based on where I am will improve my productivity in life not only on projects I want to work on, but also allow me to enjoy my time off more than worrying about important things outside of the fun stuff.
Even if it is a year into the pandemic, if you think you’re struggling with something similar to what I did, I highly recommend watching the video. It’s never too late to begin helping yourself with what you might be dealing with.