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Lessons Learned from Working at Home: Grad School in the Time of Covid19

Source: Unsplash  Image by: Danile Levis Pelusi

Source: Unsplash
Image by: Danile Levis Pelusi

Like many students reading this, I’ve spent most of the last week practicing social distancing and rather than going to the library or my study carrel in Ontario Hall, I’ve been working from home. Given the current state of things, it looks we will all have to be prepared to batten down the hatches for a while longer and adjust to completing the rest of the semester at home. Prior to actually working from home, I had fantasies of simply waking up and spending relaxed mornings with a cup of coffee while lounging on my sofa and reading journal articles in preparation for my field exams. For the first couple days this is indeed exactly what I did only to find myself still awake and bleary eyed at 3am unable to get a good night’s sleep. This week I’m hoping to save you from the same growing pains and share a few work from home tips I’ve learned:

1. Create a specifically designated workspace and environment

Rather than reading that article or book in bed or splayed out on the couch clear off a bit of space and create a designated work area. Your space can be a desk or even a corner of the dining table that you set aside just for work. Figure out if you need music, complete silence, or white noise to work. If you have a Google Home or Alexa, it can play white noise for you while you read or write.

2. Get dressed

Although it is tempting to working in your pajamas and bathrobe because no one will see you all day, nothing is better than changing into fresh clothes to get into ‘work mode’.

3. Set aside time to get moving and exercise

Before sitting at down at your desk, take some time to mentally and physically prepared for your day. I’ve found it really helpful to start the day by stretching or with a bit of indoor exercise. A friend recently recommended Bolly X which is an online site offering Bollywood-inspired dance workouts set to great music. I’ve been using as a quick, fun way of getting my heart rate up in the mornings or to take short breaks during the day. 

4. Make a plan

At the beginning of each day, make a list of the things you’d like to accomplish. Set reasonable achievable goals. This will help you plan your day more effectively. Also, think about pieces of work that don’t have to be done on a computer (perhaps there’s a research-related book you’ve been meaning to read). It’s a great way to still accomplish some work and give your eyes a bit of break from your computer screen.

5. Set regular work hours and scheduled break times

Whether you work best in the mornings, afternoons, or evenings, create a regular schedule for yourself and what works best for you. This allows you to regulate your work, take breaks, and practice good sleep hygiene.

6. Try using the Pomodoro study method

The Pomodoro technique is time management method which uses a timer setting of 25 minutes of work separated by five minute breaks. Each 25 minute interval is called a ‘pomodoro’ and after completing four of them, you get a long break of between 45 minutes to an hour. You can set your own timer or use free apps like Be Focused or Focus Keeper. I’ve used this technique for years and it has been helpful in breaking down daunting academic tasks into achievable 25 minute increments.

7. Reach out to colleagues

Stay connected to your academic community by scheduling regular Skype calls with colleagues in your program to discuss your work or ask questions. If Skyping isn’t possible, send a text or an email to check-in and see how they are coping with working from home.

This new way of working presents many challenges and although we are spending a lot of time working alone, we can still stay connected.




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