6 Ways To Make the Most of Your ‘Zero’ Days [Guest post]

I’d make the worst car ever. While Jaguars accelerate from 0 to 60 in six seconds, I can go from 100 to 0 in, like, 10 minutes.

After a week of daily commutes downtown, two journalism field trips, two stressful days of work, two rounds of interview scheduling, four articles, 30 applications to magazines, and daily workouts, my Friday began on a surprisingly productive note. I’d worked out, written an article, answered some work emails, sent pitches to a few magazines, and even started my laundry, all with two hours to spare until Happy Hour in River North at 5pm.

I’m not entirely sure why I curled under my covers at 3pm, but a few scrolls through Twitter later, it was 4:50pm and I found myself typing out, “Sorry, I can’t.” I considered this a lie until I tried removing myself from my bed.

On the bright side, I did finish my laundry.

After days of speeding along at 100 miles per hour without a break, it’s only natural that I hit zero: where words are hard, my legs hurt, and getting out of bed involves a multistage process.

As a freshman and sophomore, I’d considered the zero days a sign of moral failure. Like an injured athlete playing through the pain, I tried to beat my inner sloth into submission. Staring at an unfinished essay for hours, perseverating over one phrase for hours, and desperately hoping for some important email to provide a justifiable distraction, it didn’t end well. Not only did I waste full days of my young and crazy life, but the failure undermined my confidence and thus, my productivity, for days.

Hard physical workouts without adequate recovery cause injuries. Similarly, without relaxation, sustained mental stress results in mental burnout. So instead of freaking out every time I hit the wall, I now equate my laziness with my sore hamstrings and tight hips, a natural symptom of a heavy workload. Just as I honor my body’s physical soreness by taking rest days, I honor my mental rebellion by accepting my zero days as they arise. Only by luxuriating in the laze did I find easy ways to salvage something from an otherwise zero day.

Here are my tips for getting through those zero days:

  1. Go outside

Even if that brush with #nature doesn’t inspire your next memoir, the warm sun, whistling breeze, and aroma of blossoming flowers can calm your thoughts and re-center your perspective. With the advent of spring bringing families back into the park, seeing kids play without reserve always reawakens my own childlike wonder.

  1. Get coffee with a friend

“Oh my God, we need to get coffee soon,” is the Millennial female equivalent of the New Year’s Diet, with sincere intentions inevitably superseded by schedules and studying. Obviously, you are not your responsibilities and external achievements, but in the frenzy of exams and presentations, even an hour of coffee and conversation pose valuable reminders.

Stress relief aside, your investment in your friendship- with that extra 20 minutes of sharing advice, commiserating, or dishing about boys- will pay greater dividends than 20 minutes of procrastination.

  1. Stay current

Likewise, keeping up with current events demands additional time and intellectual energy from an already hectic schedule. But if you’ve already spent an hour scrolling through Twitter (busted), you might as well learn something while you’re there.

Build your basic understanding of the issues with two or three core (relatively) unbiased news sources like BBC, NPR, and the Economist. For additional context, check out opinion based sources like the Daily Show, etc. Though they command a greater mental investment, The Atlantic and New Yorker’s long form pieces lend themselves in unrivalled analysis.

Streamline the process by subscribing to email newsletters like theSkimm, The New Yorker, and GoKicker. Other recommendations for Millennial women include Fortune’s The Broadsheet, which provides a daily primer on female empowerment and professional development news, and Career Contessa and Levo, which offer prime career resources for the female twenty-something.

Had enough of reading? No problem, substituting your Spotify for a podcast like This American Life achieves similar goals.

  1. Learn new words

When I’m too mentally burned out to read for content or in-depth analysis, I’ll scan through Atlantic or New Yorker articles and note all those fancy-pants words I either never learned or simply forgot. All the benefits of SAT Word of the Day without the soul crushing standardized test at the end? Sign me up.

  1. Show your side hustle some love

If your daily responsibilities distract you from your creative pursuits or another hobby, these zero days offer perfect opportunities to advance your side hustle.

  1. Work on your vision board

Worse than going hard without a break? Driving 100 miles per hour with no destination in sight. Not only will this goal-setting exercise pump up your Pinterest game, but it can reboot your motivation and inspire resets as needed.

Granted, pressing responsibilities sometimes make it inadvisable or impossible to fully indulge your lethargy and God knows my grad school schedule won’t accommodate many zero days this fall. But when the apathy arrives, remember that accepting and owning those feelings can help you salvage 25% from an otherwise zero day. You may not produce anything ground-breaking, or anything at all, but your refreshed mind and positive outlook will only help you tomorrow.

By Kathleen McAuliffe, kathleenamcauliffe.com

“I’m an incoming master’s in journalism student at Northwestern focusing on women’s empowerment and career advice. Probably on a beach somewhere or searching out coffee.”