Personal Development

A Week in the Life of Caroline

As a fun experiment, I thought it would be really cool to see how my time was distributed before the pandemic, and how that has changed. From a numbers perspective, it would help me understand how I spent most of my time, and if it’s feasible to continue that once we get back to “normal” or at least the new normal. As the pandemic continues and more workspaces are embracing extended work-from-home (some for the next few years) policies, the notion of work-life balance is becoming more crucial than ever. I hope my assessment and journey will help you start thinking about your own as we transition into a new landscape of working. 

For our readers that did establish a healthy routine — what do you think helped you accomplish that? How were you able to stop and move on to the next thing? I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments section! 


Historically Sunday evenings are when I sit down and plan my week. It’s a quiet time in my schedule when I find a corner, take my whiteboard, planner, etc. and start filling in the blank spots in my schedule. I use a  category-based list plan that I outline later, to get my day filled.  People know that if I have nothing to do, I will just go on an “I’m BORED!” rampage… it’s not pretty. That’s why it’s important for me to fill my days up. For the sake of simplicity I’ve broken down my days to four sections: morning, afternoon, evening, and nights.

PRECOVID

Morning (7:00am – 11am):

7:00am – It takes me 20 minutes from the time I wake up to the time I am out of the door to go to work. Sorry to disappoint if you were looking for makeup tips, or hair routines (I don’t have any need for them right now).

7:30am  – I’m on the train reading something on my Kindle. The books I love to read explore psychology and leadership. My favorite ones right now, that I completely recommend if you are trying to zone out the other people on the train are: 

The Effective Executive | The Visual MBABad Science | Pride and Prejudice | 10% Happier

8:15am – I’m at work. I like to get in a little earlier than most people so I can actually sit and figure out what priorities need to get addressed first. Once people roll in, then the interruptions begin . I can finish almost half of my day’s work in 75 minutes, so it’s an optimal time for me.

Oh.. I don’t eat breakfast. Haha. 

Afternoon (11am – 4pm)
At some point, I need to eat. On Sundays, I pack a huge bag of lunches for the week and just keep it in the work-place fridge, so I can eat them at work, and not have to go back and forth with lunch. It makes my life so much easier when taking the train.

There are times when I didn’t bring food (must have been an exam week). During these days I’d buy something 8 dollars or less. I hate spending money on food when I don’t need to, so if I can limit my spending, then that would help me stay on track for my budget. 

Evening (5:30pm – 8pm)
During these hours, I switch to another part of the office and sit with my school work. I could go to the library – Columbia University has way too many for me to count, but there are two reasons why I don’t do this. 

  1. The commute from Columbia to my home is about 1.5 hours. And to commute from work to Columbia is another 30 minutes. I would rather use that time to do something else. 
  2. Columbia University is a really competitive school and stressed people congregating in one place stresses me out. I would rather study in a loud office full of people who are just having a good time, then study in a small quiet vicinity close to people who are stressed out. Stress is contagious — be aware! 

Around 6:30/7ish I head to the gym. I’m not a health nut — I’m just aware that if I don’t put my body into some type of physical activity then I’m going to have a hard time sleeping or feeling good. The gym is actually quite freeing if you think about it — you are the boss. At work, I have a boss, and at school, I have professors. At the gym, I am the one holding myself accountable for workouts and I love it. I’m not in the weight room grunting it out, but I try to use the machines and push my muscles so they get a taste of activity. 

Oh… And my gym has a sauna. I can write 10 articles about sauna design, etiquette, and positions, but that’s for another time. Being in the sauna, after working your ass off is so rewarding and relaxing. You can meditate, read, just chill out with yourself and sweat out all the day’s grind and grime. A quick shower, and it’s time to go HOME!

Night (8:30pm – 10pm)
Dinner! I’m usually starving by the time I get home — which is a good thing! My mother-in-law always has something ready to eat as soon as you walk through the door (thank the heavens). I watch some TV, hang out with my fiancé, and then right before going to sleep I make sure to mentally prepare myself for the next day (in case there is a meeting held in a different location, etc.). 

Apologies — as bland as my morning routine is, my nightly routine mimics it. 

My weekends are pretty similar except I replace work with school 🙂 Also what 24-year-old goes to sleep at 10pm? I’m telling you the gym thing works soooo well! 2-3 hours before bed, exhaust yourself. In the morning you’ll feel so good and rested! 

So I guess at a high level this is how my week looks: 

** Before you go and judge the schedule below — I go to work on Saturdays to study!! Private library y’all…. It’s even better on the weekends. 

SundayM-FSaturday
Morning (7am-12pm)Laundry + Cleaning + School Stuff at home + Plan for the weekCommute + WorkSleep in!!
Afternoon (12pm-5:30pm)School Work + GymWork! Commute + Work
Evening (5:30pm-8pm)Meal PrepSchool work + Gym
Night (8pm-10pm)Commute + Dinner and an hour or two of relaxing?

Home %: (79hrs) = 47%  | Gym %: (9 hrs) = 5% | Work %: (45hrs) = 27%
School%: (12.5hrs) = 7% | Other %: (23.52) = 14%

It is kind of amazing that I only spend less than half of my time at home (and the majority of that time is sleep!). Actually — It’s SOOO interesting to see how little I spend on work and school. I really thought I was putting almost all of my time and energy into those two areas. 

POSTCOVID

Here is the hard part. So obviously when Covid-19 was classified as a pandemic, a lot of places shut down or either transitioned into a Work from Home phase. My work was part of the latter. I already can tell you, without attempting the math, that EVERYTHING I DO is done inside my HOME.  That 79hrs is now 168hrs. So a lot of these leisure activities that I was able to do, read a book on the train, stay at work studying, or even the gym, have been cut from my schedule. Not being able to move around like I once did… my body definitely was feeling the side effects (and the WEIGHT GAIN!).

The first week I stayed at home, I had to reevaluate my entire schedule. I’m the type of person that compartmentalizes to the max. Everything has its own corner in my schedule, mind, and heart. So when I couldn’t physically separate my home from my school work, or my work and home, it added a  lot of stress and anxiety. I was missing the cues that said: Caroline it’s time to go to the gym, Caroline it’s time to eat, Caroline, it looks like you should go home. 

I felt like I’m starting from scratch… and my schedule during the first 8 weeks of the pandemic reflected that a lot. 

The pandemic also coincided with my exams and thesis for my statistical analysis course (of course). After a week of adapting, I finally understood the only quiet hours of a  day are from 1am – 7am (Sh**t). Exercising was also too difficult because working out in front of the family makes me feel really weird. I live in a household of six, and some days eight, so there’s always something happening. 

Here is the breakdown of my first eight weeks of the pandemic: 

SundayM-FSaturday
Morning? 2am – 7amSleepWork + School work + Breakfast?Sleep
Morning? 7am – 12pmSchool WorkWork + more food?School Work
Afternoon
12pm – 5pm
Work WorkWork (one hour of napping) + foodWork Work
Night (5pm – 2am)Messed up sleep cycleWork + School work + Dinner? – sleep at 10pmMessed up sleep cycle

I’m not gonna lie, I had a lot of tearful nights going about this routine.   

  1. I was sleep-deprived. 
  2. I missed having me time — and that meant going to the gym… the sauna (specifically).
  3. I had left my shawl at work — and I love that thing so much. 
  4. My teacher at the time kept doing the bait and switch with deadlines which just ruined me.
  5. I was sleep-deprived (if you didn’t catch it the first time). 

Just the combination of it all made it more difficult for me to know if anything I did was enough. Did I do enough for my thesis? Did I do enough work to consider it a “job well done?” Did I put enough effort? I need buffers and transitions. Without them, it’s really difficult to know when to move on. I think that really showed during the first eight weeks. I didn’t transition well. 

But before you all go feeling bad for me, haha, I’m fine now! I think I have a better routine down — it’s not perfect, but I’ll write another article about it if you’re interested in learning more about what that is! Check out how Geethanjali figured out how to keep her life in checks and balances (Geeth’s Formula to Staying Sane during Lockdown)! Also, don’t forget to leave your comments and pandemic survival tips!

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