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Anton Zhou / Staff Illustrator

At the beginning of my 1:10 p.m. journalism class on Tuesdays and Thursdays, the room’s sole clock displays the time as 12:04. Whenever I check the time in that class, I have to remember to do the math to figure out the correct time. Adding 66 minutes to the time in my head isn’t hard, but it would be easier if someone could just fix the clock.

In my Literature Humanities class, the clock is on the wall behind me. I can’t obnoxiously turn around and check the clock whenever I feel compelled to; instead, I keep my phone in my lap and check the time there periodically.

I’ve gotten weirdly obsessed with time. Back in my room, I’ll check Instagram at 7:02 p.m. and tell myself that at 7:15 I’ll start my work. And then it’s 7:16, so I tell myself I’ll work at 7:20. But now I’m on YouTube, and I’m watching a six-minute video. So by the time it’s done, it’s 7:22, and now I decide that I’ll work at 7:30. This goes on and on.

I like to know how much longer I have to be in class, but not because I’m uninterested in the material. While I look at the clock in class, I’m counting down how long until I get to go back to my room and take a 10-minute nap before going out somewhere to work on one of the two essays I have due the next day.

Usually, my 10-minute naps turn into 20-minute naps, which then turn into an hour-long naps because I didn’t set an alarm. I’ve only successfully napped for 10 minutes once. While reading the Odyssey an hour before Lit Hum, my eyes wouldn’t stay open, and I couldn’t remember the words I read as I drifted in and out of sleep. I woke up 10 minutes later with enough energy to finish the last 50 pages.

It seems like I never have enough time to do everything I need to do. The past few weeks have been especially hard for me to find time to do work. Lately, I’ve been going to sleep before finishing all my homework. Not on purpose, but late night naps turn into deep sleep very easily. When people in class talk about their homework and talk about how they stayed up until 3 a.m. working, I feel like I’m losing a nonexistent competition. Rather than staying up, I stumble into sleep at 10:56 p.m., and I wake up frantic with anxiety, rushing to sloppily finish my work in time before class. Then, I tell myself that today I will finish my work before I go to sleep. And that weekend I tell myself that I’ll finish my work ahead of time. I’m lying to myself, because this never happens.

Today a friend sent a text in our group chat saying she was going to skip dinner. In the last few weeks, she’s often skipped lunch in order to go to the Writing Center or office hours or math tutoring. A few weeks ago, I had an essay due before class, and I skipped lunch in order to finish it. As a stressed college student, I see time as a resource that I have to take full advantage of. We experience time in blocks—each one allocated to work, clubs, eating, and sleeping—and when our work needs more time, the meals block or sleeping block get less time.

My first month of college has been full of academic failures (and successes, but it’s easier to dwell on the mistakes). I’ve forgotten to turn in an assignment, turned in an essay 20 hours late, and turned in a different essay 22 hours late. All of these failures can be traced back to my difficulties with measuring, separating, and allocating time. It’s bad, I know, but I’m really trying to be better.

Before coming to Columbia, I’d heard about “stress culture” and how it affects people. But I thought that it was something you could avoid by managing your time, getting enough sleep, and eating a healthy diet. Maybe it is manageable, and I just haven’t figured it out yet. I know that my perception of time as blocks undoubtedly exacerbates my tense relationship with stress.

I don’t know how to solve the problem of stress culture at Columbia, but I think working on time management could help. Surely, staring at the clock and being hyperaware of every minute that passes isn’t beneficial. I’m still trying to understand how I can balance my life as a student without being so attentive to time. Or maybe I should get a watch.

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