Reflections on sophomore year

Reconciling consistency and cyclicity

Posted 6 months ago in thoughts

A stretched-out rubber unicorn (left), my roommate Adam, and myself

I think I speak for a lot of people when I say that this year was quick. By that, I mean truly scarily and excitingly quick. To give some context, I recently completed my sophomore year at Penn. Many people are quick to remind me that I am now halfway done with college (for the record, there's no need to remind me or any of my peers--we are well aware that college is zooming by).

Time is an incredibly valuable resource, but so too are things that you can derive directly in exchange for time. We complete time-based transactions daily, be they for percentage points on tests, better grades on assignments, learning, money, mentorship, a more relaxed mind, a healthier body, a stronger friendship...

In order to have gotten to where each of us is today, we leveraged some level of time management. I prefer the term time optimization because it gets to the root of the problem: we have limited time and, as a result, in everything we do we should aim to make the most of it.

Such optimization is unique to each person so I won't touch on that, specifically. Rather, I want to discuss some interesting facets of time and what we can do to make the most of said facets.

In terms of perceived duration, a minute on the treadmill is not "equal" to a minute relaxing on the beach. Likewise, a minute five years ago is not "equal" to a minute right now. This is to say, time is at once quite fluid and rigid; it is absolutely consistent in its literal passing though absolutely inconsistent in its perceived passing. It follows that different ways of divvying up our time will lead to different perceptions of that very same time in terms of length and significance.

A pitch for consistency

I love being consistent. There's a certain freedom to preparedness: complete your assignments before they are due and you have time to explore new avenues; be proactive and productive at work and you have time to learn more from others and exceed expectations; exercise early and leverage that mindset to take on the rest of the day. Do this consistently and you set a tone of efficiency and efficacy day-in and day-out. I find few things more rewarding than that.

To test this, I've maintained some personal analytics over this past year to install more consistency in my day-to-day routine (warning, a little nerd is about to come out).

Peep my GitHub if you so desire.

For starters, I want to continually get better at building technical products. To this aim, I've sought to build projects as many days as possible over the past year. Similarly, I wanted to get stronger and generally healthier. Since January first, I've exercised all but 20 days and have kept to a consistent workout rotation. In both cases, consistency has proven a sure means of gleaning the results I desired.

There is a guaranteed amount of consistency in any collegaite or professional setting: there are weekly deliverables, set meeting times, and delineated expectations. Ensuring that you are making consistent progress on top of these expectations, be it in software, fitness, or any other pursuit, is central to maximizing learning and growth.

Having established this glowing upside, I now want to touch on the negatives of too much consistency.

The qualification of cyclicity

To be quite honest, I didn't know this was a word until I started writing this post, decided that I wanted to use this word, and consulted Google for affirmation (Cyclicity: n., the quality or state of being cyclic). Daily routines are often conducive to establishing and maintaining productivity: get in, get tasks done, and move on. But there is a caveat to this: we can get trapped in these daily routines and they can limit us from experiencing the incredible variety that life and our world present.

It's tough to delineate between too little and too much. I'm certain, however, that this line is often crossed in college where your weekly calendar of classes, assignments, and meetings is inherently repetitive and highly demanding. At times, and depending on your approach to this repetition, routines can succumb to monotony. As humans we fail to learn or enjoy as much when in monotonous situations. We like dynamism, excitation, and using our brains in new and challenging situations. There were stretches this year where I felt very much caught in such a cycle, and, in this context, the weeks and months passed by rapidly.

I claim consistency is great for building expectations, though cyclicity is the bane of personal progress. Time optimization is the art of striking the happiest of happy mediums between these states.

Integrating dynamism into your daily routine

Many who know me well know that I'm relatively spontaneous. A few days ago, for example, my roommates and I engaged in a banana peel throwing contest; a week before that, I tried (and failed) to suspend my hammock from three stories up a tree. I find myself most excited and engaged when I'm exploring new concepts, places, and actions. In these situations I'm exposed to new things and I feel that I grow through these unique experiences.

At the same time, without a consistent routine it's too difficult to track, measure, and enforce progress. When lost in a cycle, it's all too easy to forgo any semblence of spontanaety, deferring instead for the accepted, regular, and pervasive. My conclusion? Consistently prioritize dynamism in your daily routine, and aim to get the most out of the expected and unexpected alike.

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