Adapting to a Pandemic World

And how to make a difference in the process
JUN 2020
Morgan
J.
Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology

I am the absolute worst at working from home. During college I often did my homework not only from home, but also while all nice and cozy in my bed – needless to say, those days are long behind me. When I got to grad school, I vowed to have some sense of normalcy about my workday and have done quite well imposing a structure to maintain healthy and productive work hours.

With this new set of circumstances, namely a rapid move back in with my parents, all hell has broken loose. I am now part of a household of four people with very busy schedules trying to work, complete assignments, participate in conference calls, cook, clean, and not drive one another absolutely insane. The lack of face time with my friends and lab mates has also made it difficult to remain motivated about science that, as of right now, I can’t move forward with experimentally. Saying that I have struggled to adapt would be an understatement. So, with some self-reflection and the help of friends and family, I’ve compiled some tips to help those of us who are WFH newbies.

Plan morning commitments

Getting up in the morning is always the worst part of my day, no matter how much I plan, so I’ve given up on trying to become a morning person amidst a global pandemic. However, I have found that scheduling commitments earlier does establish a sense of normalcy. This past week my lab hosted a virtual journal club at 9 am on a Friday. By getting up at a normal time, making myself presentable, and beginning the day with an engaging scientific discussion, I felt much more motivated to continue with my planned tasks. These commitments don’t have to be work-oriented in nature. Simply planning a conversation with a friend can get your brain actually functioning for the day.

Establish a mid-morning break routine

Find something that you can look forward to every day and place it right around when the mid-morning slump comes. For many, this seems to be a cup of coffee or a latte. Reward yourself for finishing the first part of your day – you deserve it!

Time block your day

I live by my Google calendar. Although I can remember my assignments and deliverables with ease, one-off meetings always escape my brain. When working from home, Google calendar is a useful way to set up a daily schedule so that important meetings and to-dos have their time and place. Take some time at the end of each day to identify tasks that you want to complete the next day. It is not enough to write them down – actually block them out on the calendar, leaving a little buffer time for inevitable distractions. And the best part is that when you’re done for the day, you’re done.

Do something else

If you’re a graduate student at MIT, you’re probably here because you have a lifelong love of learning. It’s easy to take some of the extra time that working from home allows to get ahead on more projects, but this period of uncertainty could, in fact, be a welcome pause, and it may be best to use it to do something other than what you already do day in and day out. Your research isn’t going anywhere! Personally, I am using this time to learn more about investing and personal finance. Find a topic that calls to you (or choose one at random to keep things interesting) and take 30 minutes each day to learn something new about it.

Chill the f&*# out

Seriously. I have to remind myself of this way too many times a day. Things will fall into place. We’re doing the best we can. Keep at it!

Resources and getting involved

This is a stressful time, and the importance of having a productive workday pales in comparison to that of your health and well being.

Here is a crowdsourced list of resources for individuals in the Boston area regarding finances, medical care, food access, etc. during the coronavirus outbreak:

http://bit.ly/COVID-BOS

There are also many ways to make a difference as a student at MIT. Here’s how you can help your community:

This situation will require everyone to adapt, and also accept that productivity just will not be the same. At the end of the day, just one foot in front of the other will keep you on track.