Reflections on a researcher’s routine during lockdown

Guest blogger Adriana Alcaraz Sanchez looks back at the weeks of research during lockdown.

Since all this started – even before the actual lockdown — we started hearing conflicting messages: “Make the most of this time to lock yourself at home and write a lot!” to “It’s ok if you feel like rubbish and you aren’t productive, you don’t need to prove anything to anyone”. Similarly, since all this started, I had good days where I woke up motivated and I thought: ‘all these people that can’t bring themselves to do anything… they are just lazy!’, but also had other days where I was barely able to bring myself to get out of bed, and thought: ‘these crazy workaholic people, don’t they feel anxiety?

Now, almost three months after, and with no hopes of returning to ‘normal’ in the foreseeable future, it seems that both narratives are completely wrong: I can’t be expected to be working all day, nor can I just keep waiting for this situation to pass. For the last few weeks, I have felt like being in a weird ‘limbo’; secretly telling myself that this is a temporary situation, that it will end soon, when at the same time I don’t know when that will be.

At the beginning of the lockdown, I was not only finding it quite difficult to settle in but also, I was quite reluctant to find a ‘new’ routine. What was the point if this was just temporary? It seemed that, with cancelled seminars, cancelled workshops, with no possibility of meeting friends or going out, I had loads of free time at my disposal. However, that fact itself wasn’t allowing me to be more productive, rather the contrary. While I tried to take advantage of the situation to organise my time differently, at the back of my mind I was worried about how long the situation was going to last, what would happen next and how the world would look life afterwards. But at the same time, I was also feeling that I was using excuses for not working on my thesis or that I was merely procrastinating, thus, worrying more about my lack of productivity. Funnily, as a result of these worries, the self-fulfilling prophecy was confirmed: I was then sad, demotivated and incapable of doing anything. I brought myself to a worse situation than I originally was in.

I tried to change my mind-set by looking for things to do that weren’t research related. I even decided to finally start a longed-for hobby: I bought a keyboard and learned how to play it. I also (despite some previous hesitations I had) ended up buying a bargain-priced Sims game to practice my failed architectural skills. As a result, I became a bit more motivated again, and little by little I managed to get more work done every day. But, also, and most importantly, I truly realised how dedicating time exclusively to myself was helpful for keeping my motivation up (and to keep me sane). Without these boundaries, I wasn’t doing any work nor enjoying my time off.

Screenshot 2020-06-14 at 16.43.26

My current desk views. Pic: Adriana Alcaraz.

Before the lockdown, I used to spend many hours every day at my office on campus. On a normal day, I wouldn’t return home until past 7 pm. Back then, I wasn’t really meeting more goals than I do now. During those hours at the office, I was also spending a lot of time just browsing the net, talking with colleagues or distracted in my thoughts (things that, in many occasions, were also useful to bring new ideas in). But I was dedicating very little time exclusively to myself and to the things I like to do. In a sense, I was doing fewer things than I do now. I was just working.

Now, I still haven’t found my perfect ‘lockdown’ routine. On some days the management of my time seems to be working alright, but on others, it just doesn’t work. When it doesn’t, I really miss being able to go out as and when I wish to distract myself with other things. But self-pity won’t help me much, and while some days I do allow myself to feel frustrated and take care of my needs, most of the time it just blocks me.

Thus far though, I have found it very useful to be part of a community, by checking in with friends, colleagues and other social circles. This also applies to my research work. More than ever, having the chance to share my struggles with others, allows me to get them ‘out’ of my head. For that, I’ve found signing up for events like the Virtual Writing Retreat, a group of researchers who support each other while writing and working on their research, very useful.

I might not completely like this situation, and probably I won’t be happy with the ‘new normal’ either (which seems to be creeping inadvertently), but I’ll take from it the opportunity for connecting with myself a bit more.

About the author

Adriana is a first-year PhD student funded by the SGSAH DTP Studentship, working at the Philosophy Department at the University of Glasgow. Her research, at the intersection between philosophy, psychology and cognitive science investigates the variety of conscious experiences during sleep, including dreams, hypnagogia and other associated phenomena. You can find more about her research in her academic website (www.adrianaalcarazsanchez.com ) and in her Twitter: @hawally_

Would you like to write a guest post, or be interviewed for our ‘5 Minutes with…’ series? Email chiara.bullen@glasgow.ac.uk

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