This post is about one of the key strategies I’ve put into practice this year: finding the best work space based on the task at hand. By limiting the work that I do to a specific place, I have purpose in each session and less multi-tasking distractions…
First, a caveat: I recognise that not everyone works in the same way, and that there will be limitations to the spaces you can access. For example, I know that first-year PhD students in my department don’t get their own desk. However, I hope that some of this advice will still be useful if you mould it to your own experience.
So, with no further ado, here are my 7 work spaces based on the writing I’d like to get done:
This is where I go when I don’t need to focus too much because there will be background noise and conversations to overhear (my bad, I know!). I mainly use cafés to work on my to-do list, go through my notes, put together my plan for the week, answer emails… you get the picture. I always avoid the busiest times so as to not feel guilty taking up valuable real estate when I’m just nursing a cuppa.
I’ve claimed a desk space at the postgraduate office in my department. This is where I spend a lot of time developing my thesis. I was in a car accident five years ago so I’ve become extremely aware of my body and, thus, I’m pedantic about ergonomics. This is the desk where I sit the longest for, so I’ve made simple changes to ensure my shoulders, neck and back don’t suffer because of my PhD. One easy fix is to make a laptop stand by wrapping a cardboard box, so it’s both sturdier and prettier (if your laptop gets too warm, you might want to purchase a legit one).
This is where I mainly focus on PhD Life, The Study Blog and Postgraduate Mentor Administrator tasks. I love my job so it would be easy for me to stay here all day and only work on these three areas. By delimiting my PG and Study Tips work to this one desk, I do all that I can so as to not spend all my time on these fun things.
This is a tricky space. On one hand, I love working in my pyjamas. On the other hand, there are so many distractions (cleaning, organising, Netflix!). However, working committedly from home has its advantages: I’m comfortable in this space, I love the view and having food and drinks at easy reach. I am a night-owl who usually doesn’t like to be in the university too late at night so this is my evening work space, usually reserved for two purposes: laying the blueprint for the next part of a chapter, or editing what I’ve already written.
Warwick provides many valuable academic spaces. However, I am a sucker for libraries a bit distant from me because if I find a book there, I won’t borrow it (although I could through SCONUL Access). I trick my brain into thinking that returning the book would be a hassle, so I force myself to consult it right then and there. This is diametrically opposed to what happens when I visit the Warwick Library: picture me carrying an extremely heavy backpack full of books I might not touch for weeks. To avoid any borrowing temptations, my favourite library to visit is the British Library in London because they really won’t allow any books to leave the building (and also because their books and bookshelves are beautiful).
Getting from Coventry to London takes 1 or 2 hours via train. A train really locks me to one task because there’s nowhere else I could go. This is when I indulge in a drink and a chocolate bar, and whichever piece of writing I’m working at that moment other than my thesis: usually a journal article, a conference presentation, or a new research idea. Sometimes I get distracted by adding the train views to my Instagram Story though (hey, I’m only human!). Of course, this entry is also applicable to planes (well, hello there #cloudstagram).
Sometimes trains have taken me further than London. Finding cheap accommodation in English towns has actually been easy between Airbnb and hostels. A weekend getaway to focus on my academic thoughts and take in the countryside is a win-win. Particularly as such a trip forces me to leave my laptop behind so there’s no internet or current thesis draft to steal my train of thought. I basically get to write my own thoughts about my topic. It’s the perfect exercise to figure out exactly what I’m trying to say, not what someone else has said on the matter.
Of course, some days my writing patterns change and specific deadlines force me to work on projects at the “wrong” desk. After all, thesis writing habits should be a bit flexible, but this pattern has certainly helped me this year. The one thing that stays constant in all these spaces is the use of the Pomodoro Technique with my Focus Keeper app.
Until next time!
Images: Author’s own, taken by Sofia Rios.