My name is Irina Babayan and I have been this year’s Coalition for Music Education summer intern. This year more than any other, good work demands incredible strength of spirit, unwavering determination and, in this case, a true passion for music. My job demanded such qualities time and time again as I navigated the uncharted territory that 2020 has led us to, and thanks to the wonderful leadership I received from the Coalition, I have learned many valuable lessons about work and motivation during this pandemic. 

As a high school student in my senior year, the pandemic stripped me of many important milestones in adolescent life. When my school year came to an abrupt end in the middle of March, I was left feeling very dejected. Expecting a summer of dwelling on lost opportunities, stumbling upon the Coalition’s job posting was a real turning point in my year.     

While working for the Coalition, I contributed to a wide range of Youth4Music projects, aiming to improve the experience of youth studying or enjoying music with their peers in a virtual setting. I developed a database to aid high school students in finding post-secondary music programs in Canada that suit their interests. I also began developing a database of music ensembles for youth all over Canada. I helped create project guides for students to use to organize music events in their schools and communities both in-person and virtually. I also contributed to the #MakeNoise4MusicEd advocacy campaign, creating all of the campaign’s social media posts and aiding in outreach, particularly to French collaborators. I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to apply my experience organizing music events at my high school and my passion for music in a creative way that will help my fellow students expand their community’s music programs.

After eight weeks of working remotely for the Coalition, I have begun to reflect upon how my work habits and mindset have changed over the past few months. Thanks to this position, I was able to develop strategies to combat moments of low motivation and return to my work flow with ease. For any individuals returning to work after a long period of unemployment or leave, or any students returning to school for the first time in nearly six months, I would like to share my insights into productivity and motivation in the pandemic.

Creating a good working environment is crucial to successful remote work and learning. It is important to designate a specific location in your living space for doing work, one that is distinctly separate from where you engage in recreational activities. Your workspace strongly affects your ability to work productively, so try to make it comfortable but not distracting. If you work in the same location every day, you will begin to associate the environment with work and productivity, and will work or study more efficiently. 

As an extension to a good working environment, it is also very helpful to establish a routine for yourself. Develop a routine that you perform every day before you work, such as having your morning coffee, to help you get used to working from home. Much like having an effective home office space, having a consistent pre-work routine will help you get into a productive headspace before working. 

Most of all, it is important to know that the initial period is quite difficult. To effectively transition back into a working lifestyle, you must be prepared for it to be difficult. More importantly, you cannot expect yourself to perform at the same level as you would have before the pandemic. After such a long period of isolation and inactivity, you must ease yourself back into the mental demand of work. Whether that means focusing on smaller tasks at first, or planning out your days with extra time for each task, or scheduling frequent breaks, select strategies that suit your work and are sustainable for you. Furthermore, try to be forgiving of yourself if you take a long time to fall into a successful work routine. Maintaining motivation is not a linear process. Some days, it will be far easier to get work done than others. Minor setbacks should only serve as reminders to engage in activities that help you regain a positive mindset, such as going for a walk, listening to music or even simply relocating to an outdoor working space. Remember that we are all learning how to return to normal life together, so you are not alone in your struggle. 

Thanks to my position at the Coalition for Music Education, I have developed a much more healthy and positive mindset regarding work and productivity, and find myself to be less easily halted by minor setbacks and obstacles in my work. Working remotely during the pandemic has taught me how to work independently and regulate my own work in a sustainable way. Furthermore, I have had an opportunity to apply my love of graphic design and creative thinking in this position, which I seldom am able to do as a science student. This position has allowed me to indulge in all of my artistic passions, all while providing me with valuable administrative experience and improving my working habits. This summer was unforgettable for all of us for a plethora of reasons, but above all it will resonate in my memory because of the amazing growth I have undergone, thanks to the amazing team at the Coalition and the impactful work that I contributed to under their leadership.