When Oxford announced its plans for Trinity term to take place remotely in support of UK government guidelines of social distancing and national lockdown, hearts broke up and down the country. No trashing? No garden parties? Coexisting with parents and siblings? Sounds like hell. But since we’re all back home, trying to support each other from afar, how can we make the best of this situation?
1) Establish a uni-esque daily regime
This may seem a given to some of you, but as the vac draws to a close and I realise that none of my deadlines have been completed, this has been a lifesaver. Something as simple as waking up at the same time every day or having different types of tea for every day of the week (No? That one just me?) can help you feel like you’re back in the city of dreaming spires. If you find it helps to add structure, try and have your meal-times similar to those at uni, so that your day is split into sections. This is, of course, dependent on who you are living with – being mindful of other people’s schedules has never been more important.
But perhaps the most crucial thing in maintaining a work-life balance is setting a cut-off point for work. Evenings at Oxford may have been spent working, but they were also full of events, pres, clubbing, film nights with friends, ping pong and pool in the JCR and, my personal favourite, lengthy chats/catchups with friends. If you know your productivity cut-off is 8pm, don’t force yourself to work past it now. Allow yourself to have some downtime and take your change of surroundings as an opportunity to explore avenues you may not have considered while at uni.
2) Use different spaces for working and home activities
Interior decorators’ advice when organising a room is to have different ‘zones’ that the brain will associate with different activities. The desk should be as far from the bed as possible, so that when you sleep, you no longer feel like you’re in a working environment. Scaling up from this, find a working space that is tailored to you and, ideally, in a different room to where you relax. I, for example, have commandeered the dining-room table and have marked my territory by leaving a hoard of dictionaries nearby.
In fact, a lack of academic workspaces can make it hard for us to properly engage with material, affecting the quality of our output. Ideal workspaces are impossible to achieve, but in such times as these, where the future seems uncertain and the restriction on our movements may be beginning to take a toll on our psyche, we need all the help we can get to put ourselves back into working-mode. Subject tutors and university officials alike have promised to take all circumstances into consideration. Who knows, maybe they’re just like us, desperately fighting to find a happy medium.
3) Only have Wi-Fi on if necessary
Wi-Fi, I have found, has been the biggest problem of working from home so far. Not only in terms of its reliability, but also because of its distracting prowess. Wi-Fi is one of your ficklest friends, always sensing when you need it the most and choosing that moment to stop functioning. Domestic Wi-Fi will be particularly strained once term starts due to every household member being on a conference call simultaneously. Therefore, in the interest of allowing each house member the chance to work productively, if you’re doing a piece of work which doesn’t require internet access (a much rarer eventuality now) then disconnect for a bit so that your parents or siblings can get the most out of their work.
Wi-Fi is also the biggest timewaster in the world. Especially now, when we’re all craving the comfort of our friends, Wi-Fi is an invaluable solace. It is very easy to wile away the hours messaging friends, group-chats and video-chatting everyone on Houseparty, Zoom or Facebook Messenger (other video-chatting services are available). Yet, in the interest of productivity, disconnect for a few hours. If you’re struggling to work, then use checking your messages as a reward; check your phone every hour or only after completing a task. Harnessing Wi-Fi’s powers for the greater good has always been tough but attempting to practise self-control now will reap many benefits.
4) Keep in contact with uni friends
Ok, so now I seem hypocritical. However, maintaining any kind of relationship, whether friendly or romantic, is a good way to transport yourself back to the good ol’ Oxford days. While having 3-hour convos with the gang daily may not be the best for your academic trajectory, it can certainly stop you pining for Oxford and missing your friends. Though studies show that interaction on a group-chat visibly improves people’s moods, I would recommend face-to-face contact, even if it is virtually. That way, there’s no reason you can’t all watch a film together over Netflix, start a book club or try and recreate Thursday formals.
5) Spend time with family
Perhaps controversial, but even if we don’t like to admit it, there always comes that point in term when we miss our family and home. So, let’s take advantage of this change! When everyone at home finishes work, have a big family meal and talk about your day. Bring back the board-games you all played as kids or curl up on the sofa with a bag of popcorn and have a film night. Appreciate the people around you, because they are going to be the ones supporting you through Trinity 2020’s 5th week blues, essay crises and work frustration. Despite the inevitable battles over independence, attempt to reconnect. Use your state-mandated hour of exercise as a chance to go on long scenic walks or start family workout sessions. Don’t be afraid to pass up a few video calls with friends, they will understand.
And on that note, I’m off to watch a film with my mum…