By Katie Stringer
Because of lockdown, we have probably all been working from home for a while now, efficiently or inefficiently. With remote working becoming the ‘new normal’, and many universities choosing to be online-only for the entire next academic year, staying motivated whilst spending most of your days within the same four walls is a challenge.
When lockdown first happened in mid-March and my university closed its doors to everyone except essential workers, I was faced with the daunting challenge of working from home for an unlimited period of time. My motivation was at an all-time low, not just from being physically unable to do work at university, but from the uncertainty about when I would return. When would I see my friends again? Would I need an extension for my degree?
Regaining that motivation is so important, not just to complete your work efficiently, but also for your mental wellbeing. So, whether you are one of those people who prefer to work in a library surrounded by your friends, or whether you prefer the peace and quiet of your own bedroom desk, here are some tips for continuing to stay motivated as we enter this next period of remote working.
1. Find what kind of work excites you
You have probably noticed that certain types of learning energise you more than others. Love listening to podcasts? Are you more of a visual learner? Does interactive work really help you memorise those key points? Find a way that works for you.
Online resources such as Khan Academy are excellent for providing visual tutorials for a wide range of topics. There are also plenty of online courses and seminars that are so informative, and many of them are free. Work in a way that motivates you, and remember to switch between topics regularly so that your brain does not get fatigued.
2. Create a good workspace
So you have a mountain of assignments, a tiny crowded desk piled high with papers, and a million tabs open on your laptop. Stressed?
Take some time to de-clutter your workspace. Not all of us have the privilege of a separate study room with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out over the countryside; however, you can definitely make yours work! Get rid of unnecessary bits of paper, stick up some photos or prints, and decorate your desk just how you like it. Many indoor plants, such as the snake plant, are almost indestructible and also provide you with that extra oxygen boost to improve concentration.
3. Rest, rest and rest
When you are working from home it is easy to forget to take breaks. Maybe you feel like you are not being productive enough to take regular breaks. Maybe you feel like you need to be chained to your desk for long hours to compensate for this.
Actually, by doing this you are hindering your work more than helping it. Taking regular breaks is so important to stay motivated, and to give your brain and body a rest. If you are struggling with structuring your day, I highly recommend Pomodoro, an app you can download onto your phone or install onto your laptop. You can choose the work/break split, and it will do all the timings for you. If there is a day you are not working productively and are feeling overwhelmed, factor in longer breaks. And there is more to resting that just scrolling through your phone! There are so many things you can do - take a walk around the block, make a coffee, watch an episode of your favourite series, or chat with a friend.
Also, remember to factor in full days off too! With lockdown now easing, it is becoming much easier to go and see friends or even take a UK-based holiday. Or even if you feel like a day off just to bake and watch Netflix, this time is definitely needed to recharge and re-motivate yourself.
Here is Professor Tara Spires-Jones, Personal Chair of Neurodegeneration at the University of Edinburgh, setting a lovely example of taking the time to do something that brings her joy!
4. Be kind to yourself and plan rewards
When you are demotivated and stuck at home with your own thoughts, it is easy to get into a pattern of negative thinking, adding unnecessary stress onto yourself which makes working from home even harder. And the cycle continues!
Remember that we are all in these strange times together, and working at 100% capacity is going to be near impossible. Treat yourself with kindness and factor in regular rewards for your work. Think, if I cross three things off my to-do-list by the end of today, I am going to bake those brownies that I love. Or, if I finally can get to grips with the methods of this tricky paper, I am going to put my laptop away for the whole weekend and go for a hike. Reward yourself with things that you really enjoy.
5. Keep in touch with your friends, family and academic network
Another really important factor to keep your motivation up is your social support network. Studies have shown that social interactions stimulate the reward pathways of your brain, so this is key to boosting your mood. Do not isolate yourself from others indefinitely – reach out to your family, friends, and academic network as much as you need. Schedule that FaceTime with your coursemates to moan about assignments, or email your professor about any hardships you come across. You are not in this alone!
Katie Stringer is currently doing a PhD in Neuroscience, jointly at University College London and the University of Gothenburg in Sweden. Her project focuses on the molecular mechanisms underlying Alzheimer's disease; specifically, the protein amyloid-beta and how it aggregates in the mouse brain. Previously, Katie did her Master's in Neuroscience at King's College London and her BSc in Experimental Psychology at the University of Bristol.