Lockdown Tips From a Ph.D. Student

As someone who has spent the past 4 years working on a Ph.D., I feel like I’ve been preparing for this lockdown my entire life. Doing a Ph.D. is ALL about motivating yourself to work on your own time, keeping yourself busy with various projects, and setting your own goals. I’m actually really happy with the things I’ve accomplished since the lockdown period started – I’ve definitely been more productive and managed to get things done I’d previously not had the time to do. So I wanted to share my top tips, now that I’ve passed my viva! These aren’t just for Ph.D. students – these tips should work for anyone who is currently working from home, or even someone trying to pursue their own projects while being furloughed. Basically, if you have lots of time on your hands, you have things you want to do with that time, but you’re not quite sure how to get there, this post is for you.

1. Don’t be overambitious

Yes, you could probably work a 14 hour day every day because hey, who’s stopping you? But working from home is a marathon, not a sprint. The key is to find a routine that is sustainable.

2. Work consistently

The alternative is the “last minute” approach many people take, where they work in short bursts just before a deadline. The problem is that when working from home, there aren’t really any deadlines. So you either end up with a wildly unhealthy lifestyle, where you do nothing for weeks on end followed by days at a time of overworking to the point of exhaustion, OR you find a way to do a little every day. The key here is to set your own deadlines, and to make them realistic.

3. Give yourself a structure

I recommend creating some sort of routine for yourself. In fact, I’d recommend something like my cleaning schedule – it’s pretty minimal but adds structure to your day, as well as making it easier to work because things are tidy. On top of that, things like regular exercise, fairly regular mealtimes and so on are quite important. I wouldn’t be too rigid about this – if you sleep in or have a late lunch or forget to follow the schedule entirely now and again, THAT’S FINE. It’s all about keeping a structure in place that’s vague and flexible enough to be sustainable, and yet isn’t so vague that nothing happens at all. It’s an art form, really. I’d actually recommend bullet journalling for this sort of thing – it can really add a sense of achievement to these little daily tasks. I’d also make sure to do something different on weekends.

4. Don’t try to make up for “lost time”

By this I mean: suppose you’ve set yourself a goal of spending 2 hours a day on something, and you miss a day. Don’t add those hours on to the next day. If you miss a day, you just have to accept that task didn’t happen, rather than trying to defer it. Which leads me to the most important one…

5. Don’t feel guilty for taking time off (and make sure to take time off)

The worst, and I mean worst thing you can do as a Ph.D. student (/someone working from home), is not to allow yourself to take proper time off every week. Here’s what happens: you have a constant low-level guilt that hums “I should be working” in your ear all day long and whenever you choose to relax, meaning you can’t relax properly, meaning you can’t get the work done you wanted because you haven’t had time to recover properly, AND SO THE CYCLE CONTINUES. I recommend taking weekends off at the very least, along with one weekday a week. Allow yourself to relax properly, whatever that means to you – whether it’s spending a day in pyjamas playing video games and ordering pizza, or getting super dressy and baking all day.

Whatever it is you’re trying to achieve, you won’t get there by A) beating yourself up for not having got there sooner, B) trying to force some crazy Mark Wahlberg-esque schedule (and feeling guilty whenever you don’t stick to it), or C) punishing yourself for not having accomplished your daily work by making tomorrow’s tasks less manageable.

Let me know how if you have any more tips in the comments – happy lockdowning! Xx

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