Being an independent researcher certainly has its pros and cons, especially during the pandemic. While I get to decide what projects I work on, when I complete tasks, and what direction(s) my research takes, having a flexible schedule has meant that I have to work twice as hard to manage my time and to develop the discipline necessary to actually complete the tasks I set out to.
The benefits of a structured routine on physical health, mental health, and productivity and confidence have been cited far and wide, especially during highly stressful and unpredictable times. The following advice has helped me to build an organized and flexible routine during the pandemic, bringing me peace of mind, confidence, and the ability to seize every moment of the day.
1. Work-life balance:
Without a set schedule and list of tasks, it can get easy to let the work day seep into your evenings and weekends, blurring the line between work and rest. In academia, this is especially the case since personal goals and work projects often overlap. By planning ahead and allocating specific times for each task, you can ensure that your you-time is filled with things that allow you to unwind and refresh.
- Pick a time (morning and afternoon or afternoon and evening) to devote to work, and stick to it, day after day. It helps to pick a part of the day in which you’re most energetic and focused, and least distracted.
- Establish boundaries between work and leisure time. For instance, once your work hours are over, step away from your workspace and engage in an activity unrelated to your work, like cooking, exercising, or seeing friends.
- Delineate a particular corner or desk in your home (if working from home) to serve as an office space that you can physically and mentally step in and out of according to your work schedule.
2. Normalcy, consistency, and control:
The normalcy that comes with having your days planned is tremendously reassuring, especially when everything else around you may seem in a state of constant upheaval. Between rapidly evolving COVID safety regulations and uncertainty, and general concerns over your own health, every day seems like it will bring more change and confusion. When you introduce consistent elements into your day, you begin to regain a sense of control over your time and, ultimately, your life.
- Choose an activity that helps you get your day going, like exercising, having coffee and breakfast, or meditating, and consistently start your day with this activity. This will help every day feel more regular and will help jump start the rest of your routine.
- Start with a few consistent parts in your routine before introducing new ones. You can begin with something like making coffee, having breakfast, and reading the news in the morning, then slowly incorporate more elements, like morning walks, once your habits have been solidified.
3. More effective use of time:
Contrary to what may seem to make sense, having more time commitments, in my experience at least, can actually push you to be more diligent in the few hours that you do have to yourself. If you have back to back meetings all day, you know that you’ll be required to complete tasks between meeting hours. What would’ve taken all day to complete at a leisurely pace, you’re now compelled to complete in much less time.
- Block out times in the day for particular tasks based on the energy required to complete them. It is recommended that tasks that require more energy be completed when you first begin working or earlier in the morning since this is when energy levels are highest.
- Remember to schedule in time for your own work if you feel that meetings are taking up your entire day. Creating calendar slots for your tasks can help you feel more inclined to complete them within that time frame, ensuring both higher productivity and greater control over your schedule.
4. Comfort and confidence:
Evenings are the time when you get to unwind and recharge for the following day, so you don’t want to spend those precious hours worrying about tomorrow’s schedule. Ending every day knowing exactly what the following day will look like can help you ease right into your plan the next morning and help you avoid rushing into your day feeling scattered, stressed, and unprepared.
- Try to end the day with a rough skeleton of tomorrow’s plan, which can include your outfit (if this is something that matters as greatly to you as it does to me), your meals, exercise time, and social activities.
- Don’t be afraid to schedule social time like you would work time. Too much spontaneity can sometimes leave us feeling like we’re not in control of our own time and can potentially chip away time from other important things.
These are all tips that I’ve gathered from my own experience as an independent researcher during the pandemic. Being bound to my home-based workspace and having the ability to very freely schedule my days has been a blessing more than it has been a curse thanks to my daily routine. I encourage you to adapt some of these tips to your own life to help you take control of your days and to leave more room in your schedule for doing the things you love.