Every year as September approaches—although I’ve been out of the education system for over a decade—I think to myself It’s back to school season! For each of us, the memory of school can bring up different feelings. You might look back on that time fondly or you may prefer to leave the past in the past. My experience was definitely mixed. But, whatever school was like for you, there are some elements of the education system that we can draw on to help us thrive as multipotentialites.
What can school teach us?
I spent most of my schooling years in the UK, so my thoughts here are based on the British education system. I honestly think there’s a lot that school doesn’t teach us. In many ways, it’s a system created to keep the capitalist machine churning with “good” workers, not a system created to help us grow and succeed as individuals and community groups. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater! Here’s what school can teach us, no matter our age.
Don’t worry, I’m not about to recommend hard, plastic desk chairs and mean girl cliques. Here are some of the elements of school that might actually help us as adults.
As many a self-help book has taught us, routines and schedules are good for us. They can make us more organized, more productive and less stressed. But I’ll be honest–I don’t love strict routines, and I’m sure I’m not alone in that. However, I think the idea of the class timetable can be adapted in a way that allows for some flexibility. For example, instead of having specific subjects (or tasks) scheduled for the same hour-slot every week, we might dedicate windows of time to broad types of activities. Perhaps you feel more creative at the start of the day, so you reserve mornings for creative work and only schedule meetings or analytical tasks in the afternoon. Or maybe you dedicate specific days for each project or businesses you’re working on.
One of my favorite ways of utilizing this approach is to have a red zone for meetings: a day of the week or a time of day when you won’t take meetings and calls. Because, as we come out of the pandemic, I think it’s safe to say we’re all sick and tired of Zoom meetings. Besides, having meetings dotted throughout our working schedule prevents us from getting into flow states and can actually make us less productive, because we have to keep stopping and starting tasks.
2. Regular time off
During my school years, I had some kind of break every six weeks. We had three terms, with a one or two week long half-term holiday at the midpoint, and then a one-month holiday between terms (except for the summer holidays, which were longer). While this level of downtime seems like a distant dream now, the idea behind it remains useful. It’s not so much about the length of time taken off but the frequency. Scheduling a weekend staycation every six weeks, and then a longer break every 3 months is a great way to prioritize balance and avoid burnout. And, without a reminder to take a real break, many of us would stay stuck in work mode for months on end before getting some much-needed downtime.
3. Proper lunch breaks
Show of hands…how many of you regularly skip lunch or eat while working? Yep, just as I thought. Too many of you! It’s really easy to get caught up in work and convince ourselves that we don’t have time to take a lunch break. On some occasions, that might even be true! But if skipping lunch or having a working lunch has become the norm, it’s time to take some inspiration from school.
Getting 30 minutes to an hour of time each working day to eat, be away from your desk, catch up with friends and maybe even take a walk outside does wonders—not just for your well-being, but also for your productivity. You don’t need a bell ringing at 12:30 pm each day to force you to take lunch. Being intentional about taking some time away from the desk and the screen as you eat—whether it’s at 12 noon or 2 pm—can be just the boost you need.
4. Extracurricular activities
Drama club. Sports teams. Music lessons. Being the somewhat anxious overachiever I was in my school days, extracurriculars were a big part of my experience. Taking time to engage in a non-academic hobby was enriching, and a welcome break from text books and essays. Now, as an adult, I’ve somehow managed to turn each new hobby into a career—something I’m sure many other multipotentialites can relate to! But the whole point of hobbies, at least for adults, is that they are fun, lighthearted and—often—something we’re not even that good at. That’s the joy of them! We get to play and have fun without the added pressure of being perfect or getting a return on investment. So, let’s embrace extracurriculars in our multipotentialite lives. But, please, let’s also try not to turn every new hobby into a side hustle!
5. Mentors and buddies
In a workplace context, mentors and buddies are peers who may have more experience than you and can show you the ropes. The idea is that you get where you’re going faster if you have someone guiding and advising you along the way. These are people we can learn from and take inspiration from. And, whether we realized it or not, we had these kinds of figures in school too.
I always wanted to be Head Girl at school but, alas, it wasn’t in the stars. In British schools, prefects are students chosen to have certain extra responsibilities, and Head Girl and Head Boy are the most senior prefects. I’ll be honest; I can’t even remember what their role actually entails aside from wearing a fancy badge on their uniform to let everyone know their status. Regardless, the prefect system, along with other school staples such as the buddy system (each new student being assigned a fellow student to show them the ropes), created a set of mentors for students to look up to and call on for support.
This is something that can help us in our roles today as multipotentialites. And remember: a mentor doesn’t have to be someone you know personally. While it is definitely useful to have personal relationships with people who support and inspire you professionally, the whole going-for-coffee-catch-ups thing doesn’t work for everyone’s personality type. A mentor can be someone you learn from and admire from afar. In the age of information, you might have a mentor who is entirely ignorant of your existence but you’ve learned from them through reading their books, listening to their podcast interviews and studying their brand.
Being a multipotentialite who works independently can be lonely sometimes, so we can also take inspiration from the idea of group study. Sometimes, just working in the same space as a friend, even if you spend hours focused on your screens and effectively ignoring each other, can be incredibly healing. Pitching up in a co-working space can have the same effect. And these group working situations have the added bonus of making you more likely to take that lunch break I mentioned earlier…
The final bell
As September rolls around, the kids might not be the only ones examining their timetables! I hope these 5 hacks encourage you to look at your working pattern with fresh eyes. Writing this has certainly been a reminder to me that I need to find a new hobby! I’m confident that implementing at least one of these ideas can have huge benefits for both your work output and your well-being. And I promise, there are no exams at the end of term.
Have you implemented any of these school-style changes into your working life already? Or is there anything else from school you’ve brought into your working life? We’d love to hear your experiences in the comments!
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