How I work
One of the best, and yet possibly hardest things about doing a PhD is the flexibility it gives. For the most part, you can work when, where, and how you want. For example, I am writing this at home in my pj’s, under a blanket, on the sofa! I spend 1 or 2 days a week working from home, and I find that doing this helps me in several ways. Firstly, it reduces my commuting and therefore saves me time and money. Secondly, it gives me a chance to do lots of household jobs like laundry as I am working. Finally, I find that the change of scenery helps to boost my productivity, and there are some jobs I find easier to work on at home. Flexible working means I can make the most of the days when I am in the motivation zone (see my previous blog on motivation) and am able to take the time I need for self-care on the days when I have a slow day. That’s how I use the flexibility that PhD life gives me, but it has taken me a while to work out how to make it work for me. Everyone is different, and so it’s important to work out how to make it work for you. Here are some potential pitfalls with flexible working, how you can avoid them, and ways you can create a flexible working approach which suits you.
There are two main potential pitfalls with flexible working; working too much and not working enough. With more traditional, 9-5 type jobs, the boundaries of these hours mean it’s clear when you should be working. The flipside of this is that you know that you do not need to work outside of those hours. I am aware that in many jobs there is a pressure to work extra hours, but the idea here is that in such jobs you have set contracted hours. The flexibility of a PhD means that there are no such boundaries, resulting in the danger of not knowing when to switch off. This may then lead to working extended hours, not taking time off, and potentially burn out. The other danger is that because you don’t need to be sat in the office at certain times, it becomes all too easy to fall into poor work habits, and not work as much as is needed. Interestingly, it is also possible to have a combination of these; where you are ‘working’, or rather sat at your computer with a PhD document open, but over the course of 8 hours, you only do a couple of hours of good quality work. The key to avoiding these is being organised, finding work boundaries which work for you, and sticking to them.
Ideas to Try
Reflect on how you work best – Are there different places or times that you work best? Are there types of jobs which you find you’re better at in different places?
It’s all about balance – There may be some days that you work more, and others where you work less. It’s not about working 8 hours every day, but it should balance out over the course of a week or a month. If you have had a couple of long days in a row, then you absolutely don’t need to worry about having a shorter or more relaxed day.
Work smarter not longer – As I mentioned above, it’s possible to be ‘working’ for hours without really working. Be honest with yourself about how you spend your work time and think about how you could be more efficient with your time.
Treat it like a job – Everyone is different, and some people may find that the flexibility of a PhD doesn’t work well for them. Therefore, it may work better for them to treat it like any other job. This means setting themselves working hours (e.g. 9am-5pm), a lunch break (e.g. 30min), and focusing on work for those hours in the way they would if they were an employee.
Jennifer Gardner says
Yes, flexible working requires self-discipline. In fact, you are your own boss, so you can manage your own schedule. The difficulty I have encountered is that I am constantly thinking about my work and putting it off until the last moment. I suppose my example is a lack of self-discipline. However, I am more attracted to the flexible working option than the standard 9-5.