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How to Be Productive Even When You’re Stuck at Home

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So you’re stuck at home. Maybe it’s because of the weather, or maybe your car died, or maybe a loved one needs you to stay home and be there for them while they’re sick. Whatever the reason, you’re not going into work today. Don’t get too excited just yet! Your advisor probably wouldn’t look too kindly on you not working even if there is 6 feet of snow outside. You need to do something productive today while you’re trapped inside. But you may cry, “I can’t be productive today! All my stuff is at school! I can’t do anything from home!” Au contraire! You are a better grad student than most and you can be productive from home!

*Note: this probably applies more to grad students who aren’t in the computational field, but it is still useful to those who are!*

The first thing you need to do is assess your situation. If you have no power and your more pressing concern is that all your food is going to spoil, then you probably shouldn’t be doing any school related tasks. However, for argument’s sake, let us assume you have electricity and access to the internet with a computer. Nearly all graduate students rely heavily on computers to do the majority of their work. Even more probably have a laptop that they can bring with them home. This means that you are more flexible with when and how you can do your work and you can use this to your advantage.

The second thing you need to do is set a time limit for working at home. Most grad students will not want to work as hard as they would if they were actually at school, and why should you? Especially if it’s a snowy day out, you’re going to want to take some time to relax and enjoy the ‘vacation’ time that has been thrust upon you. But you do need to be at least somewhat productive and to help yourself you need to set a time limit. Pick a realistic amount of time that you feel is a proper balance between work and play. I recommend at least 3 hours. Three hours is a large enough chunk of time that you will be able to accomplish something but not so long that you worked all day.

Now that you have a time limit on the length of your work period, what are you going to accomplish? Here is a list of a few things that you can do to be productive in the time you have:

1. Read I can almost guarantee that on your computer right now there are several papers that you have downloaded, maybe even printed, that are waiting to be read. This is the perfect opportunity to bust through several papers and learn some more. If you don’t have any papers on your computer, try logging in through your school’s library and accessing different articles that way. If you’re able to get scientific articles for free when you’re using your school’s internet, then you should be able to log in and access the same journals from home.

2. Write Especially if you are working on a paper, take this chance to do some focused writing. Take the time to read through what you’ve written and edit it carefully. Make sure that what you’ve written makes sense and is clear. Check your references. Make that one figure that you knew was going to take forever. Do something that will get that paper closer to being out the door. If you not currently working on a manuscript, but you’ve been meaning to start, then begin with the introduction. Try to make a brief summary of your field based off of what you have in your head. Don’t worry about it being wrong or simplistic; at least you are writing and getting the creative mindset going. If the thought of writing up a manuscript hasn’t really occured to you yet, then write about what you’ve done the past few weeks and maybe some new ideas or connections will pop into your head. This will be a good way to organize your thoughts and some of the latest work you’ve done.

3. Organize If you’re like most busy people, then your folders, computer desktop, inbox, and internet bookmarks are pretty disorganized. This is definitely not a bad situation and in fact works quite well for some people. In my experience, however, organization can significantly increase productivity. When information is well organized, the amount of time it takes to access something specific is dramatically decreased. Now is a good chance to take the time and clear out the crap that’s been cluttering your digital life. Go through your inbox and archive or delete all those old emails. Flag it if it’s really important, but otherwise just get it out of there. Go through that huge drop-down list of saved websites that you know you have and do something about them. Put them in a folder or get rid of them. Be vicious about what’s on your desktop. If it’s a document, put it in a folder, that’s what they’re there for. Get rid of those old programs you don’t need, copy that music into iTunes or Windows Media Player, and delete those random pictures off your desktop. Having a clean slate when you start your computer can be a calming experience. Put some effort into organizing your research files. I plan to go into detail about this at a later point in time, but organize your work in a logical way and use the folders (and the search feature) to your advantage. Be descriptive in your titles and make life easier for yourself in the future. Also, get rid of things that you won’t need. Just because we have near infinite space on the computer doesn’t mean we should keep everything that we’ve ever produced. Chunking those old documents can relieve some of that mental burden. Just be careful that you don’t delete something you actually need. Remember, organization means taking steps to make your life easier in the future

4. Enjoy You’ve worked hard on your day trapped at home and you deserve some time to enjoy life at home. Make sure that you take the time to go play in the snow, call a friend, watch a movie, or hang with your friends or spouse. Just don’t waste it. Do what you need to do for work and to say that you’ve been productive while at home, but go out and enjoy life.

When you are limited with the tools that are available to you, some creativity may be necessary to be creative, but use the time that you are given to do something productive. If you are honest with yourself, I know that you can find something that is worth doing that will enhance your productivity and life. So take the time and do it, but remember to have a little fun at the same time!

Please feel free to tell me what you think in the comments! Also, if you like what you’ve been reading here, why not sign up at the top of the page to receive emails every time I make a new post. Thank you for reading!

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Written by Taylor M.

January 21, 2011 at 11:45 am

3 Responses

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  1. Nice post. I’ll continue to follow.

    VTR Insights

    January 21, 2011 at 11:59 am

  2. […] How to Be Productive Even When You’re Stuck at Home. Tips for getting things done even if you’re trapped at the house. […]

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