• Abbie Tibbott

Working from home this Christmas? Here's some work-life balance advice

It's going to be quite a different Christmas for us all this year, but for those studying and writing, life goes on, and deadlines loom ever closer. If you've travelled home for Christmas or are trying to get to grips with more downtime, I've put together some tips to help you get a better work-life balance. I'm by no-means perfect, but I've found these methods to be helpful in getting things done with more distractions around.

Plan ahead, always

I always keep a running checklist of things to do, usually on a scrap of paper in my diary. I like to make note of all the little bits I need to do, as it gives me a better picture of how much I have left to do before a test or deadline. I allocate tasks to different days depending on their priority and how long they take. I also take into account other tasks I have to do outside of work, and try and set time to achieve those too. It can be annoying to have to spend time on other things, but you can't let your life go to pieces around you! I tend to spend around an hour a day on household tasks, as well as an hour or two for running errands or meeting friends. Putting everything down on paper also means I can let other people know my plans and they're usually much happier to work around me if I've left time to help them out too!

Be honest with your family

I have to admit I'm lucky. My mum works out of the house part-time, so I'm home alone quite a bit and I don't have the distractions that others face. If you have gone home for Christmas, try to agree with your family on the time you need to focus on your assignments. Be honest and tell them about the essays you have left and how far along you have progressed. Understand that your family may need you to help out, or may simply want to spend time with you if they've not seen you since the start of term, but be frank about what you need from them. Try and have this conversation as soon as possible, in order to make it clear how it will work once you start. If there's no possibility of compromise, you're behind on your work or you don't think the family time is worth the hit to your work, you might be better staying at uni.

Set clear working hours

Decide on a compromise between the hours where you work best, and the hours that you can fit in around your responsibilities at home. Working late might not be possible if you share a room or you have limited internet, just as working in the morning might be too hectic. Try and map out how much time you will have each day so you can be the most productive and use those hours wisely! Tell others that you do not wish to be disturbed, chose a separate room and invest in some noise-cancelling headphones. It may feel a bit anti-social at first, but it's better than trying to do everything for an assignment the day before it's due.

Focus Focus Focus

Hopefully by now you will have figured out to an extent how you work best, and use that to your advantage when studying in short bursts. I recommend instrumental or low-fi music, all of which can be found on Spotify or Youtube. Put your phone away! Set a timer for 30 minutes and work for that time and minimise interruptions if you can. After that time, review what you have, take a quick break and move on to the next thing, rinse and repeat. If staring at a laptop screen for long periods hurts your eyes, try and mix up computer work and physically writing as it gives your eyes a break. Drink lots of water and get up and have a wander every now and then, it'll do you some good! If you waste your time watching Netflix or playing on your phone, time will pass quickly and you won't have achieved anything meaningful, which leads to more stress and having to work harder the next day.

Achieve something every single time

Sometimes I'm really not feeling it, and would rather do anything than work. It's normal to feel burnt out if you're under pressure for a deadline, but it's really important that you don't get into a cycle of procrastination. For each session, I set a big goal that I have to achieve. It's the highest on my list in terms of priority and it needs to get done that day. Ticking that off my list as a minimum means that I'm not procrastinating the big things and I can walk away feeling accomplished. At the same time, I usually have a few secondary goals that would be great to achieve if possible, usually in the form of emailing, planning or bits of research. If I get these done I feel even better, but if I don't, I know the world won't end.

Get the right mindset

Get dressed and get organised before you start to work. I promise that working in your bed in your pyjamas is better than not doing anything at all, but it shouldn't be the goal. Put on some comfy clothes that signal to your brain that night has become day, and try and work from the same place in order to develop some consistency. Keep your workplace stocked with water, stationary, chargers and a decent light source to minimise the time you spend away from your desk during a study session. A little mental preparation goes a long way into being successful.

Nobody's perfect

I've written many essays over the Christmas period, and I've only recently got myself a desk. For four years I wrote in a dark dining room with little natural light, on the floor or at the kitchen table and it was hard work. I loved coming home, but tried my best to have as much done as possible before I returned, because I knew that working would be difficult. If everything is getting too much, take a step back and make a harsh list of priorities. If you're at uni, submitting everything at a lower level is better than submitting nothing, and if you're at school, having a grasp of the main content of every subject is better than focusing on just one. It may not be the best set of results, but you can learn something from it and hopefully make better decisions next time.

There you have it, my best methods in fitting in study time around a busy family period. We might not be seeing much family outside of the household this year, so make the most of it and channel energy into your work, future you will thank you!