Tips for Working from Home

Building on our previous post on working from home, Rachel Sargeant, a full-time, distance-learning PhD student in the Film and Creative Writing Department, draws on her experience to give some advice.  An adapted version of this post also appears on her personal blog.

Rachel's latest book, The Roommates.Although I only commenced my studies in January, I previously completed a distance-learning masters and have been working from home for over a year since I became a full-time author. This is what I’ve come to realise:

  • I don’t have more writing/study time than I did when I was working. The time I spent driving to and from work, chatting with colleagues in the corridor, having meetings, having coffee-breaks, walking between offices, having phone calls and assisting customers does not suddenly morph into pure, unadulterated study time. My brain does not have the space and energy to double my output.
  • Unbeknown to me, my study brain was chugging away in the background during these apparently unrelated activities. These days it helps boost my study energy if I re-create work activities in the home environment. I go for a walk, meet up with other household members for a short coffee break, listen to the radio, or set aside time to engage in social media. Because I’m working in a house, I’m able to switch rooms for an hour or so. Whenever there’s a hint of sunshine, I take work outside, preferably some reading or drafting that doesn’t require me to look at a computer screen.
  • Even by building in these work-type tasks, I can’t make my writing/studying into a 9 to 5 job. I take a chunk of time off in the afternoon and return to writing or research for a couple of hours in the evening.
  • My ‘weekends’ are when I want them to be. At the moment we’re all experiencing every day like a wet bank holiday: time on our hands and nowhere to go. However, even before lockdown, I chose to put in a few hours study at the weekend. I engage in work hours and rest hours across seven days, rather than a clean five-day: two-day split. In the days when I used to fit in writing around looking after young children and I didn’t have control over my timetable, I accepted that writing and research took far longer than I wanted and I learnt not to worry about the small stuff.
  • I maintain interests outside my study area. During lockdown, these are more sedate than before but still important. My study brain chugs away while I’m on my permissible daily walk or while I’m reading a relaxing novel.
  • Contact with others is so important to stimulate me socially and intellectually so I have found a new set of work colleagues. I engage with others in my discipline on social media, and I have a core of fellow writers with whom I exchange regular emails. I also like to check into the UoB PGMSA and Westmere Facebook groups.
  • IT problems hit at home as well as work. Last week, I lost internet connection for three days. With the increased demand in my street from all the new home workers, I fear it could go down again. I plan my work so that I carry out online research (via FindIt@Bham) while the internet is working, and keep writing and offline reading in reserve for the down times.
  • I appreciate that the structure of my PhD is less complex than others. For example, I don’t need access to labs. Providing that the internet and electricity function most of the time, I can complete my entire course from home if necessary. I know it is far more difficult for others. I’m sure most PGRs have seen the poster “A Scientist Without a Lab? A PhD Researcher Guide to Covid-19”. I found it useful and I’m not even a scientist.

These were the new routines that worked for me, but it took me a while to work them out. My productivity dropped for a while. It has again this week as I come to terms with the enormity of this global crisis. There’s no right answer to this enforced isolation. I’m feeling my way back to work again – slowly.  Good Luck, Everyone!

How are you adjusting to the new normal?  Do you have any tips or advice to share on working from home?

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