Balancing Productivity and Self-Care in Grad School During COVID-19

Wednesday, April 15, 2020
by Graeme Northcote

The title of this post is misleading. It implies that productivity and self-care are separate and opposing things. But they aren’t. We can’t be productive without taking care of ourselves. This relationship between productivity and self-care is particularly important right now, during a stressful, frightening situation where expectations on all of us nonetheless remain high. While we navigate the coronavirus pandemic together, we can try three simple things to tackle our research and writing:

Be Honest

List of things that can cause stress right now

Productivity is a matter of strategy, not willpower.

Lisa simpson asking what the english equivalent is for...

Set goals based on what you can do right now, not what you think you should be able to do. 

Be Open

We’re all in this together. Let’s not be afraid to reach out when we’re struggling, whether we need some specific support or just want to talk. If we make a concentrated effort to stay connected with the people in our lives, we can create new habits out of communicating our successes and struggles to others. Productivity is a collaborative, community effort!

Productivity is a collaborative, community effort.

Here are some ways you can reach out and be open about the support you need with your academic work:

  • Schedule regular check-ins with friends and family, to see how each other are doing.
  • Book an online appointment with us here at the Writing and Communication Centre for help with any stage of the writing process (even if all you have is a thesis topic and aimless panic).
  • Attend a Virtual Writing Café or form an online study group with your peers.
  • Ask a live peer tutor your questions on Instagram or post your questions to the WCC Subreddit.
  • Exchange coping strategies with your colleagues.
  • Communicate your own boundaries when you need time or space to yourself. 
Homer to marge

Be like Homer! Disconnect and unplug sometimes. It’s all about balance. 

Don’t forget that there are many support services available to help. They want to hear from you. If you’re struggling with any aspect of your mental health, reach out to Campus Wellness. They have dedicated support services available right now, and their website has links to a wide variety of other tools and services that you might find useful. Every single one of us can benefit from these services to ensure that we are maintaining our mental health. 

Be Kind

Sometimes we’re our own worst enemies. It’s easy to get caught up in everything we aren’t able to do right now, but that guilt won’t make us more productive. Instead, let’s accept that we’re doing the best we can under unusual and stressful conditions, and celebrate the things we are able to do, even if they might seem like small accomplishments under ordinary circumstances.

Here are some ways we can be kinder to ourselves:

Adjust Expectations (to fit the situation)

Set manageable goals for your academic work that account for a decrease in productivity, and allow yourself extra time during dedicated homework hours to cope with stress, anxiety, or distractions. Develop a specific, day-to-day work breakdown, but then adjust that schedule as needed. Something that would usually take you two hours might take four or more. That’s fine! Plan for that. Simply working harder doesn’t increase productivity. Identify and accept your current limitations so that you can get things done while still taking care of yourself.

Take Breaks (and be diligent about it)

Take regular breaks from work to refresh and recharge yourself. Leisure and relaxation are crucial for maintaining productivity. During stressful periods, schedule plenty of short breathers between longer stretches of work to keep yourself motivated and engaged. Plan small rewards around specific accomplishments, to show appreciation for your own hard work. Take it seriously! Breaks are not a gap in productivity, they are an essential part of it. Give yourself a relaxation quota each day, and stick to as firmly as you would your work quota.

Freak out (in moderation)

It’s okay to be afraid, and it’s okay to be struggling right now. None of us should panic, but we should all find a time and place to share some of our stress and fears with someone else. Reach out to friends and family when you need some comfort. If you find yourself freaking out at some point during the day, step away from your academic work and allow yourself time to process those feelings.

Homer on a floatie talking on the phone and sipping a drink

Be like Homer! Get things done but treat yourself well in the process.

So, how do we balance productivity with self-care? Well, we can’t, not perfectly. We’re all going to be a bit less productive for a while—and that’s okay. What matters is that we take care of ourselves and each other, so that we can keep doing what we need to be doing without burning out in the process. We will get through this, and in the meantime we all need to practice productive self-care.

Take care and stay safe everyone!