Hilary shares advice and strategies for looking after your wellbeing and working productively from home.
Over the coming weeks we will all experience changes to the way we are working and to the environments in which we are working. Many of us may now be facing the prospect of studying from home in preparation for online assessments. For some PGR students, data collection may be disrupted, conferences cancelled, supervision may change in format or frequency. We may not have face to face contact with our peers, or be present in our lecture theatres, labs, offices or schools, and so online networks can be helpful to share our worries, or our strategies for coping, or tips for using technology to stay connected.
I am feeling very grateful just now that I am in the writing up stage of my PhD – I am also feeling grateful that I am used to working from home and am happy doing so. As I studied for both my undergrad and master’s degrees as a part-time student, I am used to the stresses and pressures of studying at home and have over the years developed a host of strategies that help me to stay focused and feel productive without feeling overwhelmed! Some of the things that help me with home working are:
Getting up and getting dressed just as I would on a ‘working at uni’ day.
Allocating a corner or desk or table to be my work space and using that space just for studying – this may be impossible, so an alternative is to clear some space that will become your study space just for a few hours, then returning it to its previous use
Setting a schedule or some targets for my work – there are loads of helpful apps to time work sessions and block internet distractions!
Setting up virtual study sessions with peers, set out a timetable, agree on aims or targets and check in at the beginning and end of the session
Deciding when I will break for lunch and stepping away from the laptop – into a different room if possible – to eat
A lunchtime yoga or workout session is a great re-energizer – there is a huge selection online!
Making contact with at least one other person on a work-related matter during the day – either by email, phone, social media network etc. In person communication reminds me that I am part of something bigger than just me and my laptop screen!
Going outside. At least once a day – even if just into the garden or the front doorstep. Breathe some different air, feel the weather, notice nature or the local environment, look into the distance, adjust your eyes to something beyond the four walls.
Choosing my background noise mindfully – sometimes I love silence. Other times music, sometimes a radio station. I try to match it to my task, and when listening to music especially I find the tempo can affect the speed of my work and my attitude toward my work. If you have distracting background noise that you can’t change (such at other people in your household) maybe use headphones.
I end my working at home days purposefully. I decide that I will stop when a certain task is complete or at a certain time depending upon my mood, energy and the task I am working on. I make a note of what I have achieved and what I aim to start working on tomorrow morning. I save my work, back up, and shut down just as I would if I were leaving the office. I walk away from my laptop. Do something different. Mark the end of my working day with a shift in activity, energy, music, food, mood. Go out for a walk, chat with a friend, start to prepare a meal, at least move into a different room and sit in a different chair.
I make a plan for ‘after work’ even if I’m not going to leave the house, it may be as simple as planning to watch something on TV, or have a bath. It helps me to feel like I’ve completed my working day and am retaining a life outside of PhD-ing.
I am going to miss seeing my office mates and being on campus – but I am pretending that I am on an extended writing retreat from now until I submit my thesis! All will be well.
For more information and advice about looking after your mental wellbeing during the coronavirus pandemic, click here. For more information and advice about working productively and maintaining your wellbeing during PhD study, click here.
I’m Hilary, I’m a full time PhD candidate at the University of Worcester. My PhD looks at the impact of student suicide on staff in UK Universities and alongside my studies I have been working with staff members at my Uni to improve mental health provision for post graduate research students and for staff.