How to… do selfcare as a PhD candidate – Part I: Plan it!
You are currently writing on your thesis, you have absolutely no time to waste. Am I right?
Lesson nr. 1: You are NOT wasting time by looking after yourself and your health!
So, how do I get to my time slots for selfcare, may it be sports, nail polish, movies, coffee with friends, time with my family or date night with my love? I plan it. Actually, I plan my working hours, which will lead me to my free time slots for selfcare.
I am sure, you are using some kind of planner – Google calendar, a bullet journal, a filofax, whatever, you have some kind of planning tool, because as a grad student or PhD candidate you know that you need help with your appointments and important dates.
And now the bad news: Planning is hard work. Time management means that you are absoutely honest to yourself and you must know your working methods. You have your daily, weekly, monthly workload – those things you absolutely have to do in your job, for your project. You need to eat, drink, rest, sleep. You need time to relax – alone and with your friends/your family/your partner.
How many hours are you really working on your stuff? Nobody just sits 8 hours straight in front of their laptop and writes the perfect dissertation. Split your work in shorttime loads. The pomodoro method is very helpful with that.
I am working 45 min. on my stuff, then there is a 15 min. break. Of course, you can also work 30 min. and take a 10 min. break. It depends on your own style.
Lesson Nr. 2: Taking a break is important!
I enoy lunch with my colleagues und I really need coffee breaks, just to be social and get some fresh air and fresh thoughts. If we are honest to ourselves: working without a break, because you are stressed out, because you are nearly missing important deadlines, does not really work that well. Stressed work is bad work.
Now we are again back at lesson Nr. 1: You are not wasting your time by taking a break, but you have to plan it. Focus on your work and be honest to yourself: How long does it take you to get your shit done? How can you use your time in a good and efficent way? Close all social media sites, set your phone to flight mode, plan your day. You need time for things like checking and answering mails, time for the most important tasks on your list, time for less important tasks and so on. Actually, next to your workload you should also know how to rate your tasks. One of the most used concepts are the so-called SMART-tasks. This method, again, needs you to be honest about your own willingness and motivation and ability to structure your work load. This leeds us to our next lesson:
Lesson Nr. 3: You are human! Be kind to yourself.
We are no machines, and yes, even if you are very good at planning your days, sometimes you just can’t do the things you normally do. Some days are not your days for being very worky, wether you had it coming by staying awake the whole night before and partying very hard, or because it is that special kind of day where nothing works out. But in these cases, be gentle to yourself. If you need a break, take it. I sometimes arrive at my office at 7 am, really destroyed and demotivated. By noon, when still in that phase of mental state, I will leave. Of course, there are always those colleagues asking you “You are leaving? So soon?” but hey, just imaging the next day, when you work 10 hours in a very motivated manner, because you had half a day of resting.
Yes, I know, sometimes you just can’t go home like that, but then you have to look for different tasks. Clean your desk. Swipe through your files, clean your desktop, bring some of the books you already read back to the library etc. There are many ways to help yourself out of a miserable day. And if nothing seems to help at all, call a friend, your mom, your partner, chat for 5 minutes, explain them your bad day… after all, talking about things we feel miserable about helps a lot. And do not be afraid, all of your colleagues experience that kind of bad days. Yes, even those who are always so super organized and never ever make any mistakes.
You must never ever forget: YOU are the one in charge for your work. And sometimes, if motivation is missing, self discipline is all you have left. There are even these days, where you have to pull yourself together and GET. YOUR. SHIT. DONE. I am sorry, but yeah, academic life is that hard.
I think, you might have gained some insight of how all those things (self-discipline, planning, motivation, working methods) are an important chain – they are all connected and therefore they are all esentially important for your success – and your selfcare.
When you can plan your working tasks, you can plan your selfcare. And nobody does know better what helps you refilling your batteries after a long day’s work, except for you. Is it sport, is it reading a good book, is it just your sofa and the TV? Is it time with friends or your family? You know the answer, you know yourself. Make that knowledge count!
My next selfcare-post will be on sports and the importance of a fit body for a good mental health. So, stay tuned, work on yourself, plan your workload and discover how much time there will be left, if you really want it!