Working from home because of COVID-19? Here are ways to spend your time

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*Stock image for illustrations purposes only.
Working from home because of COVID-19? Here are ways to spend your time.
By Lim Vin Tsen
17 March 2020


“Classes are cancelled, exams are being re-scheduled, university buildings are staying shut, meetings are being postponed indefinitely,” A Ph.D. student who is based in Austria tweeted last week. “Now what am I supposed to do?”
Working from home can be a big adjustment for some people. Make sure you take the time to develop a routine that is going to work best for you. Below are a few tips to help you set up helpful habits and look after your mental wellbeing while you are working remotely.

Take time to set up a dedicated work area
Clear some space in a quiet area to set up a consistent workspace will allow you to focus and help separate your work life from your personal life at home.

Connect with your colleagues
Social interaction is an important part of maintaining your wellbeing. Set up online meetings and catch ups with your colleagues or call friends and family on your breaks so you don’t feel isolated.

Make sure you take your breaks
It’s important to take the same breaks you normally would if you were in the office. Make sure you take your breaks away from your computer to give yourself a chance to fully switch off.

Take care of yourself
As a first step, don’t neglect your physical and mental health. Meditate. Do jumping jacks in your living room. Practice yoga. Whatever it is that works for you, do what it takes to care for your body and mind.

*Stock image only for illustration purposes.

Learn a new skill
Let’s face it. If you’re stuck at home, you’re probably not going to become an expert on how to run a mass spectrometer. But you could beef up your computer programming skills—for instance, by learning how to create a fancy new graph in R or how to produce documents in LaTeX. You could also read a book about a new topic or circle back to that online course that you never finished.

Revisit that long forgotten project
Somewhere in the deep, dark depths of your computer’s file system, do you have an unfinished manuscript or unpublished data? If so, then you might want to use this time to dust off the files and figure out whether what you have is, in fact, publishable.

Promote your work online
Consider devoting time to a bit of marketing. Does your personal website need updating? Have you been meaning to set up a Twitter profile and learn what hashtags are? Would you like to write a popular science article? Or create a YouTube video about your research? If so, this might be the perfect time to wiggle your way out from underneath the rock you’ve been living under and find new avenues for connecting with other researchers and sharing your work. If you’re struggling with social isolation at home, then social media might also help with that—giving you a way to interact and commiserate with other scientists, such as those on.

Apply for funding
You might benefit from spending time scouring the internet for fellowships, grants, and awards. Don’t just look in the most obvious places, such as federal grant agency websites. Take a look around for industry awards, lower profile fellowships, and little pots of research funding that you might be able to apply for. Even if you don’t receive an award, the process of applying will help you master the skill of grant writing.

Think about your career plans
When you’re in the lab, it’s easy to focus on your next experiment and neglect long-term career planning. So, consider using some of your homebound time to learn more about yourself and your career options. You could read a book about career planning, test out career options with online job simulations, or use free introspection tools, such as myIDP. These things will help you reflect on the skills you have, brainstorm skills you’d like to develop, and think about where you see yourself headed in the future.

Be nice to your fellow humans
If you live with others, being cooped up with them fulltime might be less fun than you imagined it to be. Channel your frustrations into something harmless—for instance, by punching a pillow, exhausting yourself with pus-hups, or placing a tea towel between your teeth and screaming as loud as you can. Whatever you do, don’t punch anyone.

Do fun stuff.

*Stock image for illustration purposes only.
Close your eyes and think back to the time before you went to grad school. What was giving you joy? Is there an old hobby you can pick up again? One upside of your home confinement is that you no longer need to spend time commuting back and forth to work. Can you reallocate that time to doing something that will bring you joy—or, at the very least, alleviate some stress?

It’s an incredibly turbulent time for most of us. Take care of yourself and others, and remember to wash your hands!

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