Let me start by being frank, sustaining motivation to complete University assignments amid a pandemic is obviously a trying situation. It is only human to initially feel unsettled, stressed, and confused in this situation. These feelings do not make you weak or pathetic, they remind you that you are alive and aware of the world around you. Still, many of us do not want this situation to signal the end of our inspiration and motivation to carry on learning; we have come so far through the education system to give up hope so close to the finish line. Yes, it will take some time to sufficiently adjust to the unfamiliarity of these kinds of external contingencies (it’s a marathon not a sprint), but all we can do is try.
For now, I am trying to take it day by day and accept what I cannot control to instead concentrate on what is within my control, as Goethe writes: “Only the present is our happiness”. So how we choose to spend our time right now in these new confines, how we choose to treat our minds, bodies, and other people will make all the difference.
I will start this new series of “What to do when?” by addressing one of the most pressing questions that arises from all the changes to the University curriculum: What to do when asked to work from home?
One caveat I must begin by mentioning is that there will be a whole host of resources and words of advice on the internet that encourage a “one size fits all” method to working from home. Take these with a pinch of salt. Remember, we all develop different approaches to how we work best. One of the most fruitful things I did to overcome my tendency to stress over why I was not following the supposedly “Best” study methods was getting to know myself better by asking myself the right questions. One useful resource for getting to know yourself better and how to grow from your strengths rather than dwell on your weaknesses is the VIA survey on character strengths. It takes a little while to complete but it is useful to know how to enhance your strengths and keep yourself happy in the process. Here is what works for me and might work for you.
- Establish a morning that works for you: Set your alarm to wake you up at an hour that gives you ample time to savour your free morning’s before sitting at the desk for the 9AM start. 7AM seems to work for me and a couple of my housemates. To enjoy these mornings, I am starting to try out one activity that I always thought was an “ideal” to start the day but never got around to doing before the rush to University or the office.
I usually try to dip into one of my leisurely reads before heading out, but since I do not want to make living and working from home monotonous, I plan on alternating my morning routine to include reading, morning meditation and a walk round the block (to compensate for the commute to work). Perhaps alternating some of these activities might also work for you, perhaps you have some “ideal mornings” of your own that you have been waiting to try out.
- Remember to do the basics: Get dressed, eat breakfast, shower. Letting these slip creates a sense of lag in our day. Studies show that clothing choices shape our mood, affect our self-motivation and confidence, and have an impact on our problem solving and creative thinking. If you are not one for breakfast make sure you set aside time to eat when you get hungry away from your computer. Eating mindfully and enjoying your breaks away from work is a sure-safe way to wellbeing.
- Create the ‘transition’ space: If, like me and many other students living in private accommodation, you are not spoiled for space, try to settle on a space where you feel you can best transition from work mode to home mode. The space could be the shower, walking around the block again with your headphones on, or dancing to your post-work feel good playlists. Sometimes writing in a loose, stream of consciousness kind of way about what was accomplished and what you were looking forward to doing with your evening helps.
- Accept your adaptability: For some of us rigidly scheduling in every hour of the work from home day feels like an insurmountable task. With adaptability, remember that some days it might seem more appropriate to simply follow inspirations and autonomous motivation more freely, whilst others days might require you to rigidly follow the plans and previous orders you set yourself earlier in the day. In any case, stressing over not completing a certain task within a set amount of time can add a burdensome pressure to work fast, rather than work well. Working fast has its drawbacks in terms of inaccuracy, lack of cogency, and not leaving time for critical thinking. So if you’ve hit a wall with the dissertation writing, that’s okay. In fact, it’s normal. Don’t dwell, write down what has made you stop writing and when you might resolve it on a little note. Then dip into one of your other readings for another essay, exam, or experiment.
- Be Realistic: Some people find they approach their ‘To-do’ lists with an overly ambitious hope of completing almost all possible tasks, only to feel deflated at the end of the working day. To avoid situations of demotivating disappointment, I prefer to write down a helpful list of ‘Reminders’ rather than a unnerving list of ‘To-Do’s’ on a One Note or a word document. I highlight the reminders in red, amber, green in terms of their priority and strike them through when complete.
- Zone Out: At the end of the working day… switch off your computer for a while and tidy away papers, books, and stationery. As the work day draws to a close, do something radically different to your previous work. Variation allows us to break up the repetitive days. Cook, paint, draw, sing, dance, whatever is going to shake off the workload tension. Do what keeps you energized rather than the unhelpful coping strategies like alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs that keep you deflated. Again, this situation is a marathon not a sprint, do the things that will sustain you, not break you.
- Reach out and communicate: The most important thing to remember is that your peers, your family, your friends, and your colleagues all share this collective struggle. Open up to them if you have hit a wall, or you are feeling the strain.
This event is not a total catastrophe but it is not nothing much at all either.
Try to situate your perspective somewhere along the middle, strike a balance, and BREATHE.