It’s the third week of the pandemic lockdown and I think I’m finally feeling less of a workaholic and less overwhelmed by all the work I have to do. Of course, the fact that a co-participant originally due to record in March postponed our episode may have helped decrease the workload and my stress. But I’m also becoming more comfortable with the idea that I’m not going to fall behind on work and that I don’t need to be working all the time/feel guilty for not working all the time. Three weeks ago, I was much more overwhelmed by all the different components of the project I had to focus on which only led to me being irritable and stressed out and unable to get everything done. The project elements I was struggling with included:

1) Talking to co-participants on different platforms 

I struggle with constant social media contact even in my personal life and often reply to friends and family a few days after they’ve messaged, simply because checking messages is something I find very stressful. With the participants, while I started off being prompt in replying to emails, the conversations with some participants have now moved elsewhere (such as Facebook or WhatsApp) which I have trouble keeping up with. It’s something I’m still struggling with but I’ve become better at carving out some time to just respond to correspondence (both personal and project-based)

2) Finding fan podcast episodes to shortlist 

I enjoy the process of looking for relevant podcast episodes for different participants and the themes they’re interested in exploring. I love listening to fan podcasts (admittedly, some more than others). However, at a certain point in the month, I want to be able to finalise the texts I’m going to suggest to the participants who’ve been scheduled to record episodes the following month. During that period, I’m deluged by a constant feeling of playing catch-up because I’m listening to a bunch of podcast episodes all day every day. I can’t focus on doing any other work because I feel like I need to only focus on finalising texts (characteristically, I also usually end up finalising way too many texts). What’s helping with this is that by now, I’ve listened to and documented several podcast episodes that fit into themes which we will discuss in future episodes, so I’m not starting from scratch every month.

3) The recording to publishing process 

In the middle of the shortlisting, I also had to work on publishing the episodes I had recorded. The most time-consuming process was typing the transcript, highlighting edits, and then creating a lightly-edited transcript with relevant links and images for the blog. All this was squeezed into too few days because I wanted to stick to my schedule of an episode every two weeks. I’ve only recorded two episodes in March so I’ve been able to better balance this process in the last couple of weeks; I assign a task every day throughout the week rather than trying to get it all done in one or two days. However, April is going to test this balance since I have four episodes scheduled to be recorded. I mentioned to my supervisors that I may end recording the podcast in August rather than October as I had originally planned. This would allow me to keep recording episodes more frequently so I will have all the data. But I can take my time with the publishing process, and publish episodes until October, so I don’t feel overwhelmed by it all.

4) No brain-space to do other things

The most frustrating aspect of being overwhelmed by the aforementioned elements of the project was that I couldn’t bring myself to focus on the other project-related things I wanted to do. I’ve borrowed several books from the public library and found others as ebooks which deal with certain aspects of the intersectional themes and identities I’m exploring throughout my project. I want to supplement my project by reading these since it helps me learn about identities I’m ignorant about + I don’t only want to rely on academic sources. I also felt guilty about devoting time to re-watching Doctor Who or re-reading Harry Potter, since I considered that to be too fun to count as “real work”. However, when I took a week off to travel for my birthday, I re-read The Philosopher’s Stone and realised that reading it both critically and for fun provided me with new insights which went on to inform my thinking and conversations in our podcast episodes. I’m starting to get over feeling guilty about doing these three things for research (albeit secondary research which I also find fun). Which is why I’ve scheduled time every day to do one or more of these activities i.e. read non-academic literature, re-read Harry Potter, and re-watch Doctor Who.

Currently, what has been most helpful in combating this overwhelmed, brain-is-too-full feeling is preparing a realistic and not over-ambitious weekly schedule every Monday. My weekly planner is a blessing since it has limited space for every week so I can’t get too carried away with my to-do lists. I’m definitely going to be using this even post-lockdown since it’s helping me achieve a balance between productivity and relaxation. Additionally, I’m also ensuring I finish work at 5 pm every day (which is when I go for my walk – though I do listen to fan podcasts on my walk because otherwise the walk feels wasted … baby steps!), and I have two days where I don’t work. Scheduling the last three weeks this way has made the working days fly past but without making me feel too exhausted to do fun things by the end of the day/week. It only took me two years of the PhD to learn how time off from work is crucial because it has such a positive impact on the time I’m actually doing the work.