Knowing when to pause – a reflection

Mental health and well being awareness is becoming pervasive, and academia is no exception.

I am writing this blog at 3.30pm, and I’ve just had a bath. A deep bubble bath, in which I read a few chapters of a gothic horror novel (Bone China if you’re interested). In the middle of the day, on a Thursday.

I can hear the anti-work from home crowd cheering and pointing – “THAT is why everyone must come back to the office immediately! So lazy! So unproductive! Boo!”

But I’ve worked from home for 12 years. I built and ran a successful business from home. And in that time I learnt being productive all day, every day – particularly when working on a long, innovative project (like a PhD) – is just not realistic. In the early days I would sit at my laptop, flicking from tab to tab, trying to find something meaningful to do. Sometimes I did – I’m not suggesting heading for the tub every time you briefly lose focus. Sometimes five minutes away from the screen and a cup of tea will bring me back. Sometimes it’s a change of scenery – a move to the kitchen table, outside, or the local coffee shop. I treasure my weekly trips to campus; a different walk, a different view from a different desk, different people to interact with.

But sometimes I’m unproductive for hours. And I’ve learnt that is the time to stop. If I’ve been switching between tabs or programs for 30 minutes without actually doing anything, I give myself permission to walk away. To pause, to breathe, to reflect. To take the dog for a walk, to stretch, to take a longer lunch than usual.

This week my household has been ill. Just a regular cold, but enough to wear us all down a little. My youngest son has been off school. On Tuesday I worked on campus, and barely moved from my desk between 9:15 and 18:00 (a very productive day). But I lost a filling at lunchtime, so on Wednesday I had an emergency dental appointment. This morning I had another medical appointment for an ongoing condition that needs to be managed. News of a recession seems to fill my brain as the Bank of England raises interest rates, and my bank balance, savings I thought would sustain me throughout my self-funded PhD, looks a lot lower than I expected one year in.

I was so tempted to cancel my supervision meeting, but fought the urge. The one hour session was challenging, as it always is. Not unpleasant, never that, but just when I think I’m getting a handle on my project my supervisors ask “What about ________?” and I’m suddenly back a few steps, with more aspects to consider, or justify, or include, or exclude with reasons. I love that my supervisors challenge and push me in this way, but processing feedback takes a little time, energy and space.

Today, I did not have the energy. Today, I had a bath.

Tomorrow I will start again, renewed.

Published by sarahjalcock

PhD researcher at the Open University with a focus on Learning Analytics, Learning Analytics Dashboards, feedback and Self Regulated Learning. Follow me on Twitter @SarahAlcock19. Author text is licenced under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike CC BY-SA

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