I’ve fallen way behind on my fieldnotes with this project. My initial plan was to have post regularly – at least once a week. But there have been a series of disruptions which made that a little difficult – first, my brain was occupied by the anti-Muslim pogrom in Delhi, then I went away for a week (and ignored both the world and my work), and now there’s a global pandemic and it feels like the whole world is just waiting in the quiet before the storm.

I’ve read all these Twitter threads, Facebook posts, and articles within the academic community talking about how it’s okay if your productivity takes a hit during the pandemic and, for most people, business won’t be and shouldn’t be going on as usual. The thing is, I’m working way more than I usually would as a pandemic coping mechanism. Filling my brain with work allows me to avoid spiraling into an internet rabbit-hole where I’m constantly refreshing for news and updates about what’s happening in India, in the UK, and the rest of the world. I’m fortunate in that my project isn’t going to be majorly impacted by the lockdown since all my work is online. I’ve also been largely working from home for just over a year and a half, so I don’t have to grow accustomed to new habits. The only thing I haven’t managed to figure out is a good work/life balance – and that’s growing increasingly worse during this self-isolation.

One of the problems is that I love my project very much – possibly too much since I don’t know where my project ends and my life begins. I suppose this is always an underlying risk when working on something you love. However, I’m now definitely starting to feel like my work is taking over my hobbies so my brain is never off. When I try to turn my brain off by just doing a bit of mindless scrolling through social media, there’s the pandemic news everywhere – telling me it’s okay to not be productive (I already know this; I just don’t know how to implement this) or telling me all the fun new things I can be trying out (I would love to be able to do this, but again, there’s the problem of me turning into a workaholic).

Gif of a woman in front of a laptop. Text says: Oh my god I need help.

Since I work from a very tiny flat, it’s difficult to get away from it. Earlier, I used to solve this problem by stepping away from my flat to step away from my work. I’d go on walks around the city or to the library and wander around a museum or something (okay, I might be lying a little bit – this isn’t entirely getting away from work since I listen to fan podcasts while walking. What did I tell you?! I’m turning into a monster!). During our last meeting, my supervisors had warned me that I needed to take breaks lest I fall prey to burnout. Now my brain is very much on the brink of a burnout and I’m not sure how to prevent it. The day before yesterday, I stopped working at 7 pm and felt very proud of the accomplishment? And yesterday, even though I was in considerable period-cramp pain, and even though I usually would have taken the day off, I worked through the pain and worked for six hours. And again, felt quite proud of myself for only working for six hours. Self-awareness isn’t a problem here. I’m aware of the problem. My brain just seems to be intent on self-sabotage.

This week I promised myself I’d be less of a work-obsessed monster. I usually rely on daily to-do lists which often fill an entire page of the notebook and are usually entirely unrealistic and only succeed in giving me a momentary sense of satisfaction when I tick something off, but ultimately result in a pervading sense of guilt of not having ticked everything off the list (which I probably need a functioning Time-Turner or TARDIS to do). This week, I relied on my weekly planner instead. The advantage of this planner is that each day has a very fixed space to write tasks in – just a small box. This forced me to focus on only the key tasks I needed to do and could realistically hope to achieve in a single day. It also helped me pause and take stock of all the things I needed to do over the week and assign different tasks to different days (I know this might sound super obvious to anyone reading this – but I think you underestimate just how disorganised and easily distracted I am and just how many thoughts run through my head every minute). I’m going to stick to the weekly planner method for the next few weeks and see if that helps manage my unhealthy work habit.

My friend (and one of my podcast co-hosts) is trying to be kind to my brain because I seem unable to do it myself. Both my co-hosts have adjusted the episode schedule so that I don’t feel rushed (we were supposed to record last week but they convinced me to push it to this week instead). It helped a great deal. It allowed me to step back a bit and realise I don’t need to be cramming everything into my already work-heavy schedule just to ensure I’m being 110% productive every single day. I haven’t had a day off since the 15th of March i.e. nearly two weeks ago. I justified working through my pain yesterday because I’m determined to take the entire weekend off this time around. But I could easily have taken yesterday off as well as the weekend off. I’m currently accountable only to myself. If my latest episode is published on Saturday or even Monday instead of Friday i.e. tomorrow, it will only ever matter to me (I mean my mother, who seems to have become a dedicated listener of my podcast even though she is only vaguely aware of my research and the things I talk about, might be waiting super enthusiastically – but I doubt it). I’m trying to learn how to be kinder to my brain, but the process is long and slow. And I think one of the first things I should forgive my brain for is not changing overnight.

[My boyfriend just walked into the house. He works in an Amazon warehouse so can’t/doesn’t have to work from home during the pandemic.

Him: How has your morning been?

Me: Okay. Productive. I’m writing a blog post about becoming a workaholic during the pandemic.

Him: Bullshit!

Me: Okay more of a workaholic.

Him: Is that what you wrote? Or are you blaming the pandemic for being a workaholic?

Me: FINE. I’ll write that I’ve always had workaholic tendencies but now I’m becoming worse.

Are you happy now, Jack!?]