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How to Stay Sane as an Academic Through Covid-19

I'm putting together some blog posts to help academics work smart through the Covid-19 crisis. Do reach out via Twitter if you have a topic you'd like me to include. My second post of the series features a request from Louise (thanks for your suggestion). Today's posts looks at ways to can stay sane in amongst the seismic shifts that are taking place in how we live at work right now.

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Staying sane or as I tend to call it - how not to lose your sh*t as an academic - doesn't just relate to a global pandemic. Keeping your head above water is something I think we all deal with during the course of our academic careers. But the current situation certainly brings this to the fore. Especially when we have had to rapidly adopt a new modus operandi. Working hard and pushing ourselves to the limit with time, emotion and energy is sometimes treated as a badge of honour in academic circles. Shout out to the perfectionists among us, you know who you are. But, we need to work smarter than this.

Feelings of Failure & Finding Balance

When it comes to balancing teaching with family life it can be easy to feel that you are not succeeding at either those roles. I am sure many of us are familiar with a BBC news clip where an academic was in the middle of a high-brow interview and suddenly his young daughter gatecrashed it. For two week's they were the most famous family on earth and the clip went viral. Whatever you are juggling on your plate: the good stuff, the fun stuff, the emails, the kids, the general life admin that keeps piling up - no one has the perfect approach.

One suggestion I have here is that failure is a good thing and do you know what? You now need to fail smarter and faster. Yes, you heard me correctly. So put down the coffee and I'll tell you why...

Now I don't mean reducing the quality of what you do but learning to work smarter is something I think we can be better at in our profession. It was the reason I set up this blog! So my advice to anyone right now is to be the naughty kid at school - don't be the one trying to be good at everything or the professional people pleaser. Instead, set out and prioritise what you want and go for that stuff at 110%. Let the other tasks slide a little - send that email a bit later, renegotiate that deadline - let some unimportant things fall off your list and see what happens. You might not get in as much trouble as you first thought. Also (where funds permit) think about what tasks can you outsource - the shopping delivery for example? Ok, that one might not be feasible right now but later down the line it might. Save those hours running around the supermarket like a headless chicken for something better. Stop trying to do it all is the advice I have received.

Another tip is to look at your to-do list and be really clear cut. Ask yourself, "will this task matter in five years?" It does go against our natural instinct within the academy of perfectionism but rather than being a jack of all trades be the master of a few. Realise the fact that your to-do list is never going to get completed and make peace with it - but make sure you are doing the right things on that to do list! Get ruthless with it. Pursue the projects, tasks and measurables that are going to shift the needle on your career, think about things that matter to your family and also think about tasks which are important where you simply need to do the right thing. As you get better at this you will make decisions faster.

Switching Off

In my last post I talked about having rituals to start up and turn off from your workday and these are really important to help you be as productive as possible. It's about being disciplined with your time purely to protect your own sanity. Don't be at everyone's disposal all the time - for example checking email first thing in the morning and last thing at night - is that really healthy? Be stricter where you engage with different information inputs such as email - not to the detriment of your role, but so that you have some clear time to be away from these things and your loved ones have your full attention. Get used to saying no as well, otherwise you will be constantly over-stretched. My rule of thumb is if a task or opportunity is not a 100% yes, then it's most likely a big fat 'no' or a 'not right now' job. These actions enable you to have a bit more in control over how you are working and importantly with new tasks that hit your in-tray. The other thing to think about here is about your personal priorities - health and well being, diet, exercise are crucial - this is the stuff that is going to matter in five years. This may mean an hour away from the inbox to cook a healthy meal but this will set your focus and concentration up for research thinking time or helping the kids with their maths homework. So don't see view some menial tasks as a time drain like you did before, view them in different way - how they bring value.

So there you go, a few thoughts to set you up on your day. I don't profess to have all the answers but I think it's good to share tips and ideas, I would really welcome your thoughts on this topic, so drop me a line over on Twitter.

Need a little more help?

During the month of April i'm hosting the Dr Sam Mentoring series where you can book a free 30 minute coaching session to help you navigate your academic and research career goals. To find out more and book online simply click here.

Read some more

I have already shared some thoughts on the concept of work-life balance and it's fair to say that I think that concept has a lot to answer for. If I had my way i'd ban that term! You can have a read about what I think here.

Dr Sam Lynch - is a researcher in consumer decision-making and omnichannel fashion retail. You can find out more by visiting the homepage or reach out via twitter @drsamlynch

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