My Summer 2020 Self-Development System (for those idle and in limbo)

Tan Kit Yung
Aug 18, 2020 · 5 min read
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Photo by Bich Tran from Pexels

When COVID-19 struck, many of us found ourselves without a job and having to make do with a potentially long and idle period at home. As such, swathes of people turned to online courses and certifications to work on skills and do something productive even in this downtime.

I’m no different. In 13 weeks of summer break, I implemented a self-development system to keep myself accountable and ensure I made the most out of this time to reach my goals. These are some of the things I achieved:

  1. Getting my hands dirty doing public health research (an incredible experience in a public health crisis),
  2. Learning new subject matter related to programming, statistics, research methods, and content related to my post-graduate pursuits, which included reading 5 textbooks and completing an online course,
  3. Writing weekly on this blog,
  4. Preparing for post-graduate applications (timelines, letters of recommendations, personal statements),
  5. Networking with established people in my field of interest,
  6. Reading 15 books, both fiction and non-fiction, plus reflecting on them.

Of course, everyone’s goals are different, but in this post, I’ll share how I created a system that allowed me to achieve everything here — without much pain at all! And no, it doesn’t include having an iron will or mighty discipline. I hope this will help anyone who is in an idle or limbo state such as being out of a job but still want to improve yourself daily.

1. Begin with the end in mind.

First, sit down and write an overarching goal by the end of your idle period. For example, mine was “at the end of summer 2020, I want to get into a better position for applying for post-graduate programs”.

This goal doesn’t need to be so exact, just a rough idea will do. It’ll help you make decisions and keep you moving forward as the weeks pass.

2. Breaking it down.

Of course, there are probably different aspects of yourself that you want to work on, be it learning a new skill or talking to more people. You can do all of that!

Break down your big goal into smaller ones. I decided to split these various facets into “modules” with their accompanying “syllabi”. Because I’m still a university student, this helped to compartmentalize my tasks and ensures that I’m making progress on all different fronts.

Here’s an example of what I did:

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I gave these different “modules” names and wrote a rough goal next to each.

3. Consistency with an accountability partner.

The hardest part about self-development during a long, idle period is consistency. Ironically, that is precisely what reaps great returns! Find a way to keep yourself accountable — this could mean having an accountability buddy, or using a habit-tracking system, or posting your progress on social media.

For me, this consistency came through weekly review meetings with my Mum. I chose her to be my accountability partner because she’s strict, yet has my best interests at heart. She didn’t let me off the hook for sure!

At these weekly meetings, I would review (1) where in the timeline of 13 weeks we were at, (2) what I did and did not do this week, and (3) what I will do next week. Just this simple act ensures that you are moving forward and not leaving any aspect behind.

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A screengrab of slides I prepare weekly for the review meeting with my Mum.

Accountability is different for everyone — choose a method you are the most comfortable with and stick with it!

4. Have an optimized daily schedule.

By now, you probably have a lot of stuff you want to complete in a single day. To do this, have a daily schedule — and optimize it based on your energy levels. Some tasks may be more brain-juice-consuming, like writing, for example. Others, like reading or watching lectures, may be more passive and can be done when energy levels are low. Take note of what times of the day are best for your various tasks, and schedule them that way.

Of course, be flexible in this schedule. There will be days where you are feeling especially tired or are heading out for gatherings or errands. Change the schedule to fit your needs, don’t be a slave to your schedule.

5. Cultivate hobbies outside of work.

Can this be stressed enough? Work-life balance is important, y’all! Having hobbies like playing a sport, gardening, baking or reading can help you to get your mind off work. These activities add vibrancy to life, don’t leave them out!

In Summer, I also trained to run my first 10km, started baking and gardening, and read 15 books. These gave me space to see the bigger picture and ensured that I started work each day refreshed. Take some time off to engage in activities that you enjoy and feed your soul.

6. Be flexible and don’t take yourself too seriously.

While this post looks all perfect, in truth, these past three months have been filled with ups and downs. Some days I felt downright unmotivated and questioned the purpose of doing it all. We all have those days.

Expect that for you it’ll be the same, for this is a journey! Don’t take yourself too seriously — it’s okay to fail and make mistakes, we know that’s totally normal.

If you feel like you need a break, go right ahead. Take care of yourself and that’s the key to sustaining and consistent, productive, and healthy lifestyle.

And that’s how summer 2020 came and passed for me. I hope that documenting this self-development system can help those of you out there who are still in a limbo state but want to make the most of your time.

Thank you for reading till the end of this article! Here’s a little more about me:

I’m currently trying to get back into the habit of reading and writing more. If you’re curious, you can view my reading progress on Goodreads: www.goodreads.com/tankityung. Follow me on Medium or my publication: medium.com/tan-kit-yung to see more of my work.

Tan Kit Yung

Written by

I write about the psychology behind everyday phenomena once a week. An avid reader, exerciser, eater, and maybe a thinker.

The Psychology of Everyday Phenomena

Ever wondered why things are the way they are? Here I answer those burning who-what-when-where-why-how questions that you, me, and everyone else has about the littlest things.

Tan Kit Yung

Written by

I write about the psychology behind everyday phenomena once a week. An avid reader, exerciser, eater, and maybe a thinker.

The Psychology of Everyday Phenomena

Ever wondered why things are the way they are? Here I answer those burning who-what-when-where-why-how questions that you, me, and everyone else has about the littlest things.

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