Rest and Recovery
I saw the above quote from one of the many woke instagrammers I follow and it leads me onto my revelation this week, it’s something I always forget at the time and realise how valuable it was afterwards. Stepping the hell away from my work. Everytime I work obsessively on something and pick it apart and beat myself up, I forget that all I need to do is step away from it for …2 or 3 days max and when I return, not only will I realise that it’s not as terrible as I thought- but I’ll be able to edit with fresh eyes. At the time, this is the very hardest thing to do because I’m in this ‘panic state’ -I’m telling myself if I just keep working right up to the deadline it’ll be alright. Of course, I forget that if I’m sat there worriedly staring at the screen- I won’t be able to do my best work. I won’t even be able to identify what to change or what direction to take it. So, this week, I decided that even though I was behind with my deadline, I would take 2 days off – just cleaning and doing general up-keep around the house, planning my holiday, walking. It was then that I would be doing the dishes and I’d suddenly have an idea about my thesis (“Oh that could go there…” “maybe I could focus on this instead”). It was as if stress had been a constrictive band around my mind, when it was finally freed of the pressure I’d put on myself it began to spark ideas and some of the excitement I’d first had in the project returned.
Now I quite enjoy a good bullet-journal video as much as the next person but the other day I definitely wandered into the overtly self-help, new-age side of youtube…you know the ones who constantly promote their new “life-changing” book (for only $40, impressionable subscribers!). Still, I came across a woman who recommended something a bit different in terms of setting goals. She advised you draw your current self with the worries like speech bubbles and then the future self, as you would like to be. I will admit, I was hesitant to do this. I mean- how could it be any more helpful than the lists I usually make in my journal? BUT, I have to say, I quickly realised drawing it out helped me identify what was bothering me a lot easier than my usual list-making. It might be because I’m a very visual person, but scribbling that little figure (tired, dishevelled) surrounded by concerns and then again (fresh, decidedly not wearing yesterdays clothes) really helped me identify what was bugging me.
My first figure was plagued by thoughts like “I’m online too much” and “I don’t get to do as much reading as I’d like”, “I want to learn a new skill but I don’t make time for it”. And the second, new-and-improved figure boasts that they do in fact remember to take their vitamins everyday and drink water and that they have found a way of limiting their time on social media (a girl can dream).
It definitely felt like a restorative, grounding exercise to combat the ‘free-fall’ of a PhD. I say free-fall because of unprecedented amount of freedom suddenly bestowed on the PhD candidate. No clear goals or looming deadlines. Hey wait isn’t that the dream! you might cry, carving your own path? I’m afraid to say, dear reader, that as fine and dandy as that might first seem, the realisation quickly sets in that you are alone and you’re going to have to hold yourself to account. For someone like me, whose time-management skills are subpar to begin with, it’s a hard pill to swallow. If I’ve learnt anything in the past 9 months, it’s that the first year is a crucial transition period where PhD students learn how to adapt to this new style of working.
My advice is to keep checking in with yourself (preferably once a month or more), keep re-evaluating your work-routine (what works and what doesn’t) and keep venting about how bloody hard it is (to friends, family, peers, supervisors).