I worked from home on my PhD project full-time since lockdown started in March until I regained access to the laboratory at the beginning of August. That’s 5-ish months of being home-based whilst working on an experimental project! Thankfully, I’m now allowed back in the lab but it’s only every other week, so at least half of my time is still spent working from home.
Over the last year, I’ve had to learn how to quickly (and repeatedly) change up my work plan, modify my schedule and project timeline, and shuffle activities around based on what I can do in that moment. And whilst we all are very much in it, we’re still working amidst the pandemic and necessary restrictions, I’ve found that there are some things that can provide an element of routine and normalcy. Things that I’ve personally found to be extremely important in creating not just a conducive work environment but also to support and promote overall wellbeing.
So here are some tips and suggestions that you might want to try out, and hopefully help you find a way to make working from home just that little bit easier.
#1 – Set up a workspace that encourages you to work
Personally, I like a lot of space when I’m working. I prefer a clean desk so I’m not distracted, it’s important for me that it’s very well lit, and a comfortable chair is vital. What are your must haves when you’re working? Do you need a footrest? Do you need ambient music playing? Do you need a hot drink? Get everything prepared and situated before you start a study/work session so you’re not interrupted.
Additionally, make sure you’re physically comfortable in your workspace so your back and neck especially aren’t strained. Here’s a video that shows how you can set up your workstation at home.
#2 – Take breaks regularly
Honestly, for a while my eyes were feeling really strained from the constant screen time. Without lab work, I was constantly on the computer working. I don’t wear glasses because my eyesight is fine but, my eyes were twitching, aching and my headaches were becoming very frequent.
I tried blue light glasses, but I couldn’t wear them for long because they were uncomfortable. So I just started taking micro breaks where I look out the window instead of staring at the screen, and that’s helped! I also try and take lunch/tea/coffee breaks away from my computer.
A quick stretch is always awesome too – relieve that lower back pressure. Stretch those shoulders and arms, and prevent stiffness in your neck. Here’s a video showing some quick and easy stretches you can do at your desk.
#3 – Give yourself an end to the workday
It’s so easy to just carry on through dinner and work late into the night. I did this most days a few weeks leading up to my end of year report deadline. After that, I had to stop because it just was not a sustainable way of working. I personally feel like long workdays and late nights are okay for a short time (like close to a deadline), but it’s not the best way to work long-term.
Now, typically, I try not to work on my computer past dinner. I still might check emails on my phone, read on my iPad, finish off some admin-type tasks, but I don’t do any deep work that requires a lot of concentration. It also gives me time to switch off before bedtime.
#4 – Get some fresh air and sunshine
A little bit of sunshine and fresh air can do a world of difference. Think uplifted mood, better sleep, and more. If you can go on a walk, run, maybe cycle then that’s great. Perhaps sit out in the garden, porch or balcony for a little bit. If you can’t, just open the window for a little bit and take a few deep breaths.
#5 – Get a good night’s sleep
Sleep is everything. Sleep deprivation leads to Do you know how much sleep you need to feel well rested? For me, it’s a solid 8 hours of good quality sleep. Unfortunately, that’s been a real struggle this year even though we’ve been mostly at home! This is something I work on daily, because I have the best, most productive, most enjoyable days when I’ve had the best sleep the night before.
Some things that might help you:
- Having the same wake up and bed time everyday
- Stop working at least a couple hours before bed time
- Chamomile tea
- Read a book
- Quick 5-minute stretch
- Blackout curtains or an eye/sleeping mask to block light
- White noise machine
#6 – Indulge in your hobbies
Whether they’re creative in nature or you’re into a board game or you like coding in your free time, make time for interests outside of academia. It’s a great way to rest, relax and recharge away from your university work. If you prefer to replenish your energy alone, use this time for yourself. If you thrive off of being around other people, find a way to safely get them involved. Do check the current restrictions but I suggest either hanging out with the people already in your household, or move the activities online!
#7 – Stay connected
My family and closest friends are far away so lockdown hasn’t affected how much I see them. In fact, it’s allowed me to stay in touch more frequently because it’s much easier now to catch up through video because we’re ALL, all over the world, mostly at home. It’s an unexpected side effect of all the restrictions, but one I’m grateful for.
So if you can, do stay in touch with your friends and family. Societies across the university also have virtual events and activities you might want to get involved in. For instance, the International Society are running online language classes. Also check out the Student’s Union for societies’ online events schedule.
#8 – Reach out for help and/or support
Reach out and let people know (e.g. your lecturer or tutor) if you’re struggling with your lectures or coursework in one way or another. I’ve found people are generally very helpful! Bear in mind that your lecturers are also very busy right now and they’re finding everything challenging too, so giving them a heads up sooner rather than later helps all parties. Whether you need some extra time on an assessment, or you need help with a question, whatever it is, do let them know.
(Related: Read this piece Ellie May wrote about reaching out to academics.)
#9 – Keep to a schedule (as much as possible)
I like routine. Apparently us humans generally do. This year, I’ve relied on my routine more than ever. Knowing what’s next without having to actively think about it saves me so much brain space. Start with the simplest of things. For instance, I don’t think about what I have for breakfast – I have the same shake in the morning. And then on the weekends, I might make pancakes instead if I feel like it. I also have a mini morning and bedtime routine that serve as anchors to my day – the start and end.
What are your everyday activities/tasks? How can you package them into mini routines that make sense to you? Something I’m trying to get better at doing is creating a meal plan for the week so I don’t waste time trying to think about what to make for lunch or dinner. There’s the added benefit of not wasting the food I have as well!
Other things that can form part of your routine:
- Brushing your teeth
- Taking time for a walk / to exercise
- Checking your emails at set times in the day
- Having a shower / bath
- Speaking to friends / family
- Cleaning and organizing
- Cooking meals
I hope those tips were useful in showing you some ways your work/study at home situation might be improved, by even just a little bit. I know it isn’t easy at the moment, so do seek help as and when you need it. There are people from across the university you can speak and are there to support you.