Hello, and welcome to 2015! I hope it has started off well for all of you.
My year has started with a bang, or a couple of them. We have just moved house, I have started my postdoc, and because of moving house, I am cut off from the internet (while our truly awful national telecoms provider is not answering repeated calls for assistance). I have had to battle slow 3G and find cafes that offer free wifi with the cost of a flat white and a scone (or two). So I am having a hard time getting my work year up and going. If I was one for making new year’s resolutions about productivity in writing, quitting sugar and being more patient on the roads, I’d be in big trouble!
I closed up shop just before Christmas in order to have a proper break from email and work-related worries. I started reading my email again, and thinking about this blog again, about 2 weeks ago, but I have done very little about either. Lots of ‘mark as unread’ so I can come back to it. Lots of doodling about blog posts, but no actual writing. Lots of meh, really. I just can’t seem to make myself get back to work in earnest. All I really have is excuses, feeling panicked about falling behind, and too much chocolate consumption.
I remember this sluggishness and ensuing panic from each year of my PhD, especially moving from year one into year two, and year two into year three. I took proper (ish) breaks each December, desperate for rest and time with my kids. But when January started up again, I battled to get back into my reading, data, research. It took me ages and some sort of crisis, like a deadline for writing or a seminar I had to present, in order for me to actually begin being productive again. There were always too many other things that needed to be done. Now, I do not have the same old excuses – an office to open up, new tutors to settle in, workshops to run for other departments, and so on. I no longer have a ‘dayjob’ as I have started my postdoctoral fellowship, and my diary is pretty empty of training, workshops and meetings for the first time in several years. And yet, and yet… I am stuck, struggling to find my work mojo after having turned it off, even if only for a few weeks. I think this may be a familiar state of affairs for many PhD scholars who have to start work and settle kids into new school years and get the rest of the lives going again in January, as well as their PhDs.
I have, in keeping with my theme from AcWriMo about trying to learn my own writing lessons, made a plan I think I can stick to. I am starting small, psyching myself into it. I am writing this post, which will get this blog, which is dear and very important to me, up and running again. I went to a lovely café yesterday and made use of their free internet to send a slew of emails that really did need to be sent. I made a few lists, and will return to said café tomorrow to keep going. By next week, when crisis point one, a conference abstract deadline arrives, I should hopefully be in a more productive space, and be getting into my groove again.
Finding your work/research/PhD mojo again after a break can take time. If you’re in this stuck place, struggling to get going again, I empathise. Perhaps, rather than making terrifying lists of all the big things you need to accomplish this whole year (I did that last year and it completely paralysed me for a good week or so), you could psych yourself into it all again slowly. Make a small list – most urgent things first. Use your coloured markers or pens to make this list:
- What can you ask for help with? (Orange)
- What can actually be put off or done by someone else? (Red or orange)
- What can you indeed say ‘no’ to? (Red)
- Now, what is yours to do, and when does it need to be done? (Green)
Carve out time now for your PhD/research. Put it into your diary as a meeting with yourself or your PhD and try to hold it as firmly as you would that staff meeting or meeting with your supervisor/HOD/line manager etc. Start as you mean to go on: be gentle as you get going again, but be firm with yourself and others. Your work for yourself – and a PhD often feels like this, a bit on the indulgent and personal side, especially if you are also a parent and working and have so many other things to do for others – is valuable and important. It deserves to be marked out and held sacred. You deserve to have that time, and have others respect that.
It is one thing to tell yourself this and to make this starter list, and another to hold yourself and the people around you to these ‘resolutions’. Life has a way of getting in the way. But, I think, if I start gently but purposefully, and I check in regularly, and I keep myself accountable to my plan, as realistically as I can, I will be okay. I hope more than okay, but I will settle for that for now. I hope 2015 will be everything we hope for, for us all. See you next week!