Cannot Let a Pandemic Go to Waste

3 minute read

Lessons learned from adjusting to working-from-home during the pandemic.

Pain + Reflections = Progress

It has been almost half a year since I started working from home; 179 days to be accurate. As fall comes, I am heading into my final year for my PhD – a year of growth from constantly dealing with stress, the pandemic and other uncertainties. It is a good time to summarize what worked for me in the past half year to stay productive and positive. Will be worth it to often come back to this post and draw some strengths to finish strong. A pandemic is rare; can’t let it go to waste!

What did not work for me

  1. Sacrificing time with friends and family for work.
    When things get busy, I tend to cut down my time with friends. Although I felt for sure I couldn’t afford this time off from work, I almost always felt worse after. My relationships with my friends sustain me, especially being far from home, and cutting it backfires.

    In late August, I had a my first ever burn-out from work. As productive as I had been, I barely found my work rewarding or meaningful. I felt down and even depressed because I missed out on my “relationship times”. I was kept to myself and my work, and lost connections to people and things bigger than myself. No work and personal success will make it up for me. Now that I learned that “feeling like I do not have time for family and friends” is a sign that I may be overwhelmed by work and I need to re-prioritize or adjust my expectations.

  2. Too much social media.
    Am I right?

What worked for me

  1. A morning routine.
    Yoga or meditation right after waking up does magic for starting the day right. My favorite part of my day is to have a hot breakfast with coffee and a book.

  2. Work distraction-free in the AM.
    I always “plant a tree” with my friend for 2 hours to tackle the work that requires the most concentration. Most of the time, I am able to finish up the toughest work I have before noon. I use the app ‘Forest’, which is the cutest timer there is - it gives you gentle nudges to put the phone down and awesome rewardes like beautiful virtual trees for doing the work. By doing this consistently for a few weeks, I got into a habit of not reaching for my phones while I work, and it really made staying focused with work much easier.

  3. Limit emails and social media hours.
    Not in the AM, especially. What I see is from emails and social media are things I cannot control but have a significant effect on my mood. Most often I got anxious by work emails and got frustrated by emotionally-charged words on social media. Maybe I am more sensitive, but it is a fact that I need more time to recover from emotional disturbance and my work inevitably suffers. I found that if I got my most important thing done in the morning, I am in a better position to handle my emotions as well.

  4. A nice mid-day break (:gift: from the pandemic).
    I’m a napper. One of the silver-linings of working-from-home is that I can nap comfortably. :) Dosing off from a book or a podcast re-energizes me and re-charges my brain. I finished lots of amazing books like Eleven Rings and The Alchemist (the 3rd time).

Dealing with the pandemic has been challenging, but also revealing in many ways. As to the final year of my PhD, I expect it to come with quite a few pains. Continual disruptions in experiments due to the pandemic, stress for a career transition, along with other things I cannot foresee. I hope at times when I am inevitably overwhelmed and discouraged, I can remember that these are also good practice for dealing with pain, and I had gone through this before..

The quality of our life is determined by the quality of our character, and our character is determined by our relationship to pain. Develop the ability to sustain pain. — Mark Manson