How I motivate myself to work on my PhD

If you haven’t heard, there’s a pandemic going on, and now the holiday season is also upon us. These things are timely and feel immediate (i.e., they are here right now), while my PhD doesn’t feel so urgent.

I noticed a few months ago that I didn’t feel much urgency related to my work. I thought, “I’m getting back in the groove of things, I still have 1.5 years until I need to finish my PhD, it’s all good, that’s loads of time.” That’s all fine, but time is ticking away. If I don’t focus and work now, I’ll be pressed for time later.

I needed to make my PhD work feel more urgent. But how to do that without any pressing deadlines? While February 2022 (the end of my PhD contract) keeps gradually coming closer, it’s still too far away to give me a tangible feeling of immediacy.

I turned to classical project management and laid out a plan for the rest of my PhD. I thought about what the major stages of my work would be and roughly sketched them out in time. I ended up with this:

Now, the point of this exercise is not so much how reliable this planning is. Sure, it’s good to shoot for realistic estimates, but it’s difficult (actually, impossible) to predict how long each stage will take. I’ve based my estimates on past experience and tried to add a buffer whenever possible. (The basic rule is that you should add 1/4 of the time you estimate as a buffer. So if you think a task will take you 4 weeks, give yourself 5 weeks in your estimate to account for any delays.)

You may question how realistic my planning is. “Programming an experiment for 5 months, really?” Believe me, with piloting and adjusting the task 49573 times, it will take that long. “Data collection for 38 participants (with two behavioral sessions + one MEG session per participant) will be done in three months, are you sure?” No, I’m not sure… that’s wishful thinking, to be honest. “You’ll be analyzing the data for 5 months, isn’t that too long?” Hahaha! I could probably keep analyzing such a dataset for a year or more… but I hope that at this point the sense of urgency will be very tangible and I’ll fly through my analysis!

The goal of having this table is to give me the ‘Oh sh*t!” feeling. Every morning when I lazily open my laptop and think, “Hmm, what will I be working on today?” I am greeted by this reminder that the time to work is now. “Oh sh*t, I don’t have much time, I’d better get to work!”

It shows me that I have a task that I need to be doing now, namely, programming my experiment. I don’t have time to waste; I need to get going and make progress. Tomorrow (or next week, or next month), I’ll have other tasks to do. I need to start working now, so I don’t end up pressed for time later.

I realize that this may be stress-inducing for some people. If this type of reminder stresses you out, which then paralyzes you and prevents you from making progress, don’t create such a timeline for yourself. Find out what works for you and do that.

For me, this works because it gives me a small jolt of urgency, that little bit of stress which motivates me and gets me started. I keep the tab with this reminder open at all times and glance at it often. So when I don’t know what to do next or don’t feel like I need to move on to the next task, I glance at the project timeline and think, “I have work to do! I’d better get going”

And finally, it also shows me that the end is near. I’ll program the experiment, collect the data, analyze them, and write up the paper. Then I’ll put together my thesis and… there’s my PhD!

How do you motivate yourself when you don’t feel like doing a task or working? What types of reminders work for you? Would such a project timeline help you or stress you out?

My baby turns one! One year of motherhood

Last Tuesday, our son William turned one year old. Time really does fly! I’m starting to understand what Gretchen Rubin meant with, “The days are long, but the years are short.”

He is wonderful, fun, crawling all over the place, laughing, biting our noses (it really does hurt!), and always ready for a cuddle. But there’s something else worth celebrating…

A mother and father were born one year ago.

My husband and I became parents for the first time. We have learned a great deal about taking care of another human being and also about each other. I’ve discovered that Jacob can be surprisingly resilient at times when I have no more patience left. That’s amazing because it means that even if I’m spent, he has us covered.

And I also learned that I can (most of the time) understand and anticipate William’s needs and take care of him in a way that makes him feels good. I don’t always know the answer beforehand, but as things unfold, I somehow find answers. While uncertainty can be scary, I find it reassuring to have faith that we will somehow find a way.

A family was born one year ago.

I get the family feeling most strongly when we’re walking down the street with our baby in the stroller or hiking with William in the carrier on Jacob’s chest. It’s lovely to be together! It was still very pleasant when Jacob and I were a couple, but adding a child amplified the fun somehow. I can’t quite explain it, but simple, everyday things are more enjoyable. Even lying on the couch with the three of us feels like a special activity–family cuddle!

Happy birthday to William and happy birthday to our little family!

Mindset shifts of a new mom: A constant, fun companion

When I was pregnant, it was fun to think that my baby was my constant companion: he was with me wherever I went, and I could always rub my belly and feel like I was being cuddled. But at that point, I couldn’t yet see my baby. I could feel him move, but he still remained abstract in my mind, a bit like a little alien inhabiting my body.

This changed once William was born. Now I could clearly see his face as well as touch him and hear him, and he certainly made himself heard. During the first few weeks, we were apart only briefly. It’s strange to spend so much time with another person especially when you’re used to quite some autonomy. It can be unnerving or stressful, but it also grew on me.

I remember one time my mom took care of William while I took a nap. Upon waking, I had the strange, anxious feeling that I had forgotten him somewhere–that’s how unusual it felt to not have him next to me while sleeping.

By now, William is almost a year old, and I’m more used to being away from him for a couple of hours or for a day. But I’m also more used to being with him all the time, and it doesn’t feel so strange or anxiety-provoking anymore. He’s become a part of our life and a part of our family, and I miss him when he’s not there.

The truth is that William is really fun! He loves chilling on the living room floor and just playing with his toys. These days he plays with me when he hides behind the table, shows his face, and laughs at me. When I’m working, he crawls to me, pulls books off of the bookshelves, and plays close to me. While I’m exercising, he tries to crawl under me or climb over me (he makes push ups seriously difficult!). When Jacob and I are cooking, he joins us in the kitchen and plays by our feet. (He loves it when I empty or load the dishwasher! The moment the dishwasher is open, he crawls to it at top speed, shouting in excitement–the dishwasher is the most fun thing ever!)

I don’t mean to say that it’s all rainbows and flowers, of course. William sometimes whines and moans, wants to be picked up, or doesn’t want to play by himself. Sometimes he wakes up at an inconvenient time or doesn’t like an activity I thought would be fun for him. But, naturally, he is a separate human being and cannnot fit perfectly into my agenda. Really, nobody can carry out my plans flawlessly, not even I.

The funny thing is that I am someone who enjoys independence and control over my time, and I do appreciate child-free time. And yet, there’s something special about my son’s playing next to me while I write; it’s really pleasant to have him crawl around my feet while I cook. I’ve come to cherish William’s companionship, and I look forward to the many more activities we will be able to do together in the future.

Mindset shifts of a new mom: It’s not up to me

When William, my son, was about three months old, he started showing some character. I’d feed him, change his diaper, dress him warm, and put him in the stroller for a lovely walk outside. After a brief nap, he’d start screaming so loudly that it was painful to listen to. I tried walking faster, then slower, then singing a song… but he kept screaming. The only thing that soothed him was when I took him out of the stroller and held him in my arms. But once I put him back down, he continued crying and didn’t stop all the way back home.

I felt so bad. Was he hungry? Was he uncomfortable? Was he too cold? Was he too hot? What should I do to make him feel better? What should have I done to prevent him from crying? I couldn’t think of anything.

I was so worried every time we went out for a walk and awaited the time he’d start crying. I wanted to take him outside, so I kept at it, but it was seriously stressful and frustrating. I had imagined idyllic walks with my baby snugly tucked in his stroller, and this had been the case for the first two months when William slept for hours in the stroller. But now I had a screaming baby. Why this sudden change? What had I done wrong?!

This continued for a couple of months and started easing up around 5 months or so. He started enjoying the stroller a bit more and lasted longer before he started crying on our walks, and the crying was less intense. By now he’s usually fine for 1.5 hours before he gets frustrated (which I can understand; if I sit for 1.5 hours, I also get uneasy).

So what changed? How did I resolve this mind-boggling issue? Literally, the only thing that helped was TIME. He simply had to grow out of it. How frustrating and freeing at the same time! There’s nothing I could have done to fix it, I simply had to wait.

Now when I see parents out for a walk with a very young, screaming baby in the stroller, wondering what to do, I think, “There’s nothing you’re doing wrong. That’s just how it is right now, and it will improve over time.”

This applies to many other baby-related issues. Between 3 and 6 months, William was taking super short naps, 45 minutes max at a time. Four times a day. It was infuriating! I’d get him ready and put him to sleep, have 30 minutes to myself (if I was lucky!), and then there he was again, awake, ready to do it all over again! I read sleep books and blogs and followed their instructions, but nothing helped. What else was I supposed to do?

Seriously, nothing. Over time, he started taking longer naps, about 1.5 hours, and now he sometimes even naps for 3 hours! Nothing changed, just TIME.

We had so many examples of this. Breastfeeding. Leaving the house. Traveling in the car. Receiving visitors. Eating solid foods. And I’m sure there are things I’m struggling with right now that will also fall in this category after a few months (sleeping through the night, hopefully???).

It’s frustrating as well as freeing to know that there’s nothing more to do right now. On the one hand, I wish there were something I could do to fix things. On the other hand, it doesn’t all depend on me. Sometimes, things simply take care of themselves.

Mindset shifts of a new mom: Enormous responsibility

For the first two weeks after William was born, I had a similar dream every night: I was out and about, flying over mountains and slaying dragons, as one does in dreams, and then a wave of panic hit me, “Where’s the baby? Who’s taking care of him? Is he okay?”

A huge change had occurred. While being pregnant, I didn’t have to do much to take care of the baby. Then, when he came out of my body and became his own little being, I had to take care of him ALL. THE. TIME. And his father and I were responsible for everything that happened to him. That’s an enormous change to get used to.

I referred to this adjustment as “brain rewiring.” My brain had to make new connections in order to represent this new way of life and this new responsibility. Therefore, I tried to cut myself some slack and give myself time to adjust. If I was feeling overwhelmed, I’d just say, “It’s okay, my brain is rewiring,” which acknowledged the fact that I needed time to adjust to this momentous change and gave me some space in the here and now. At this time, I found this TED talk about matrescence extremely helpful because it normalized my experience.

During the first two weeks after William’s birth, I felt many new, very powerful emotions. In the evening, after a day of caring for our baby, Jacob and I would curl up on the couch together with the sleeping William on Jacob’s chest. This simple sight brought me to tears when I thought, “We’re a family now. We’ve made a new person! He’ll be our child forever, and we’ll be his parents forever.” This simple realization was sweet, scary, and overwhelming in its enormity.

I also experienced a lot of “split mind” (the phenomenon is discussed in the book What No One Tells You). Even when I was doing something else, a part of me was thinking about the baby, wondering what he was up to and how he was doing. I experienced this every time I went to the gym and left Jacob and William at home as well as when I went out with friends (it turns out it’s possible to be having fun with my friends and at the same be thinking about my baby). When I started working again, I thought about William throughout my work day, wondering what they were doing at daycare.

I was almost surprised but also very relieved to see that other people can take care of William just as well as I do, and that he’s happy when they do. That made my responsibility a little easier to carry and gave me breathing room. After all, raising a child does take a village.

Photo credit: Janina Pietersen

Mindset shifts of a new mom: Lack of predictability

There’s no way to convey the enormous change that occurs when you get your first baby. It’s not like anything you’ve ever imagined because your mind is not capable of imagining something you have no precedent for. But anyway, I’ll make an attempt of painting a picture for you.

You get woken up every ~3 hours in the night, and there’s no ‘good night’s sleep’ in sight; proper rest is not in your near future. You’re feeding the baby every ~3 hours, which is its own ordeal, and then the baby poops, so you change his nappy and maybe his clothes. When the baby falls asleep, you may think you have some time for yourself, but beware: he may wake up any second. He may sleep for 3 minutes or for 3 hours. You never know if you’ll have enough time to pee, eat lunch, do the laundry, call a friend, or all of the above.

A lack of predictability on the micro level

The toughest thing for me was the lack of predictability. It’s one thing that I like to plan out my days and have a routine–that was definitely out the window. The thing was that I wanted to be able to eat my breakfast without being interrupted, but if my son started crying, I had to pick him up, feed him, change him, etc. I could only return to my breakfast maybe an hour later.

It felt crazy to not have any wiggle room and to accept that whatever I was doing could be interrupted at any time, and, if that happened, I had to drop everything on a moment’s notice.

I’m talking about a lack of predictability on the micro level. Will I be able to finish cooking this meal? Don’t know. Will I complete my 10 minutes of exercise? No idea. Will I be able to brush my teeth or even pee? We’ll have to see. The biggest one was the shower. One time I got in the shower and 2 minutes later William started crying (I had just put him to sleep, and I was alone at home). I was all wet, with shampoo in my hair, and he was crying like crazy! I got to him as fast as I could, but I’ve never felt so guilty about taking a shower in my life.

It gets better with time

The good news is that it got better over time. After a few weeks or months, William no longer cried as hard when he woke up, and I didn’t have to feed him right away. In other words, I had more wiggle room: I didn’t have to drop what I was doing right that instant but I had maybe a couple of minutes.

The same was true for when he was awake and was gradually getting fussy. When he was really small, I had to attend to him immediately, pick him up and rock him, and I couldn’t put him back down at all. As he grew, the time from starting to get fussy to really fussy became longer and longer, which gave me time to, e.g., finish my meal or finish putting away the dishwasher.

Now that William is almost a year old, we have much more flexibility. He rarely wakes up crying anymore. Instead, he calls out to me while playing in bed. When he’s awake, he can sometimes play by himself for an hour, and I can do something, while checking on him and occasionally engaging with him. When I notice that he’s getting fussy, my strategy is to show him a cool toy to play with (opening and closing doors is his favorite right now), while I gradually finish up what I’m doing and get ready to take care of him.

The illusion of predictability and control

Life is slowly becoming more predictable for me again, but not entirely. Fortunately, William is keeping me on my toes by once in a while doing something unexpected such as being wide awake and wanting to play at nap time (or worse, at 2 am!). The good thing about this is that it reminds me that we can’t always predict events in our lives and we can’t control what happens.

It’s terrifying not to know what is going to happen to us. Will an illness cross our path? Will a terrible accident strike us? Or will we meet an amazing person who will bring joy to our life? Will we discover a new passion, a hobby that absolutely sets us on fire? Some people are excited by this range of unknown possibilities, but I tend to be scared by not knowing. The logical response for many of us is to try to control life, which is not always helpful.

A baby is exceptionally good at showing you that you can’t control what happens in your life. As I began shedding the illusion that I can predict and control my life, I was very uncomfortable, but I also found a new sense of openness. My heart became receptive like an exquisite musical instrument: I found my baby’s smile infinitely lovely; cuddling on the couch with my husband and son became my favorite activity in the world; seeing my son’s amazement at water flowing from the tap filled me with amazement too (not for the water but for my baby’s ability to learn about the world).

The truth is that none of these moments are a given, and I can’t predict what will happen next. So I’d better notice the current moment when it’s here because in an instant it will be gone.

Back to reality

Now, all this ‘appreciating the moment’ stuff is great, and I mean it, but it’s also not easy to appreciate the moment in the middle of the night when your child is crying and you so desperately want to sleep. Believe me, I’ve tried to appreciate that unpredictable moment, and it’s HARD.

That’s the truth about parenthood: it’s great, and it sucks, sometimes in very close succession. It’s really difficult sometimes, and especially the early months of no predictability are super tough for an adult who is used to mostly doing what she wants in a day (and gets mad when the line at the supermarket is oh so long, how is this even okay, it’s completely going to throw off my plans for the day!).

It’s super useful to get help from other people, so their lives can be unpredictable for a few hours instead of yours. Alone time is AMAZING at restoring a sense of well-being and self-efficacy, and so is doing something small for yourself such as reading a few pages from a book.

And the last thing I’d like to say is a cliché but a very true one: This, too, shall pass. It really does pass, even when you don’t believe it will. One day you may even miss it, or at least parts of it, so let’s appreciate those lovely moments while they are here.

A day with a 6-month-old baby

William, our son, turned 6 months, woohoo!!! He’s getting cuter every day, but he’s also becoming dangerous–he has two sharp teeth now!

He’s starting to get into a routine these days, which is music to my ears. It’s not super precise yet, but it’s much more predictable than in the early months. That feels good to me because it means I can structure my day a bit more.

The night

I’ll start with describing the night because it’s my least favorite part. Even though William sleeps much better now than when he was smaller, I still don’t enjoy being woken up in the middle of the night…

We put him to bed around 19:30, and he usually sleeps until about 22:00 or 23:00. When he wakes up, I feed him, put him back to sleep, and go to bed myself if I wasn’t in bed already. (If I’m really tired, I go to bed at 21:00 and get some sleep before he wakes up.)

Then, he wakes up around 2:00 or 3:00, so then I feed him again, and we both go back to sleep.

Finally, he wakes up around 6:00 or 7:00, feeds again, and goes to sleep again (or, like today, wakes up nice and fresh at 6:30). I usually wake up at this point–it would be nice to sleep a bit more, but I’m just not able to fall asleep again.

The morning

I love mornings, gloooooorious mornings with the suuuuuun coming in… I don’t think that’s an actual song, but I’d like to make one up. Seriously though, mornings are awesome!

I often have breakfast around 7:00 or 8:00. William usually wakes up between 7:00 and 8:00 (if he’s not awake already), and then we do his morning routine: feeding, diaper change, and get him out of his pajamas and into clothes for the day. We play a bit and go out on the balcony for some sunshine.

An hour and a half after he’s woken up, so between 8:30 and 9:30, we start the naptime routine. That includes reading a book together on the big bed and cuddling, so it’s a lot of fun! 15 minutes later, he’s in bed and soon falls asleep (on most occasions but not always!).

William usually sleeps for 1.5 or 2 hours at this point, so it’s his long nap. Not always though–sometimes he wakes up after 40 minutes, so his reliability is not 100% yet. I usually do laptop work during his nap such as writing a blog post, doing a financial review, checking email, messages, reading articles, or doing online tasks.

When he wakes up, which is usually between 10:30 and 11:30, we have a feeding again and change his diaper. We are also starting to introduce solid foods now, so he eats a little bit of that as well. Then we play, and I usually do household tasks and eat lunch around 12:00.

Two hours after he woke up, we start his naptime routine. Again, we read a book and cuddle on the bed for 15 minutes, after which he goes to sleep. This is usually around 12:30 or 13:30.

The afternoon

Once William’s asleep for his second nap of the day, around 13:00 or 14:00, I do my training. I exercise for 30-45 minutes with equipment we have at home. While I love going to the gym, I’ve found during the Covid period that it’s very convenient to train at home. Zero travel time really makes a difference and makes it possible to train a little bit every day. It also feels good to move my body, activate my muscles, and lubricate my joints every day.

In the afternoon, William sometimes sleeps for 1.5 hours and sometimes for 40 minutes. If he wakes up and I’m still training, I put him on his tummy in front of me, and we both exercise. He loves watching me do squats! He laughs like crazy–apparently, my head bobbing up and down is really funny!

Usually, William wakes up between 14:00 and 15:00. Once I’m finished training, I feed him and change his diaper. Then, I may try to give him some solid food, and afterwards we play together and call a family member or a friend to catch up. I may do some household tasks or online tasks if I haven’t gotten a chance to finish them before. If the sun is out, we may go out on the grass behind our building and chill there.

Two hours after his waking time, so around 16:00, we go out for a walk. He usually takes a 30-minute nap at this time, but, again, not always–yesterday, for instance, he refused to sleep that late. The man is starting to have preferences!

We take a good, long walk, about 1-1.5 hours. I really enjoy that because I get nice movement, and we both get fresh air. I either listen to a podcast while we walk, or I have a friend join us for some social time.

The evening

We get home around 17:30 and relax. I feed William and warm up dinner for the adults. Jacob and I have dinner at 18:00, and at 18:45 we start the bedtime routine. We change William’s diaper and change him out of his clothes and into his pajamas. Then, we read a book on the bed, cuddle, and put him to bed. He usually falls asleep around 19:30.

Once the little one is asleep, we clean up the kitchen and living room a bit and get things ready for the night and/or the next day. Finally, Jacob and I have some time together to talk or read on the couch. We tend to go to bed between 21:00 and 22:00, depending on when we get sleepy.

And that’s it! This is William’s (and our) rhythm at 6 months of age. It’s really nice to have some structure and predictability in the day. Funny enough, everything can still move +/- 2 hours: sometimes he wakes up earlier (as early as 6:30) and sometimes later (as late as 8:30); some days I wake up early (as early as 6:00) and other days a bit later (as late as 8:00). But the outline of the day is the same, which feels comforting and makes it easier to plan things.

Little one, soon you’ll be a creature of habit just like your parents, woohoo! Until you become a teenager and rebel against any routine, staying up all night and sleeping during the day… Ah, let’s enjoy the days of (relative) predictability while you’re still small!

Completing the challenge: The benefits of my first Whole30

I did it! I completed my first Whole30, woohoo! A Whole30 is a 30-day self-experiment where you take out certain food groups (grains, dairy, alcohol, sugar, any craving-inducing foods) and then reintroduce them one at a time to see how they affect you, i.e., whether you can eat them and feel good. I wrote about the beginning of my self-experiment here.

Today when I’m writing this it’s day 31, or day 1 after the Whole30 is finished. I’ve observed a couple of solid benefits during my 30 days of eating vegetables, fruits, meat, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats.

Stable energy

Quite quickly, my energy became stable throughout the day. I used to feel sleepy after a meal, reasonably energetic an hour later, and then very tired as I got hungry again. This became especially exacerbated when I was sleep deprived (which is not uncommon when you have a 6-month-old baby).

On the Whole30, I wasn’t sleepy after meals, and I didn’t have that I’m-about-to-faint feeling when I was hungry again. That’s a huge deal for me! It is really tough to try to get through your day feeling groggy and/or like you’re about to pass out. It felt great to have solid energy throughout the day!

Stable mood

Along with that, my mood stabilized. I used to get irritated and impatient when I was hungry (a.k.a. “hangry”), and I was also just more dissatisfied with things in general. As my energy and blood sugar stabilized, so did my mood. I felt at ease and more mellow throughout the day.

This also has to do with the fact that before starting the Whole30 I was trying to battle sleep deprivation by drinking green tea and eating dark chocolate. While I love these things, they were making me a bit jumpy, anxious, and impatient. When I removed them, I was afraid that I’d be unhappy and groggy the whole time. But once my energy became even and stable, my mood did the same, and overall I felt relaxed and at ease.

Patience and “Zen”

Funny enough, I became more patient. It took more to get me annoyed (don’t get me wrong, I still got annoyed, but my threshold was higher), and I became better at keeping things in perspective. For instance, if William was crying when he was supposed to be sleeping, I thought, “Poor little thing, maybe he is teething, let me cuddle him” instead of, “I was supposed to have time to read now, I’m so upset that he’s crying!”

I felt like I had more leeway in my response to other people. Instead of immediately getting frustrated or deciding that someone is an idiot, I was better able to consider people’s circumstances and generally be more patient.

William is extremely excited by my Whole30 progress.

Improvement in William’s eczema

An unexpected consequence was that William’s eczema improved. (I should mention here that I’m breastfeeding William, so what I eat has a direct influence on what he eats. Duh.) I was wondering why removing green tea and chocolate would have anything to do with his eczema, and, after doing some research, it struck me that both are high-histamine foods. Once I realized that, I also stopped eating sauerkraut (which is a very high-histamine food), and his eczema has been improving even more quickly.

I wish I’d known earlier that this was contributing to his eczema! How great it would have been if I had figured this out earlier and he hadn’t had eczema for the last 3 months… But I didn’t know back then. I tried out a bunch of things, and they barely helped. Now I’ve finally found what seems to be the answer, so now that I know better, I’ll do better. And I’ll give myself grace for not knowing earlier.

Love for herbal tea!

Finally, this Whole30 experience has rekindled my love for herbal tea! I’ve discovered that Pukka teas are awesome! I particularly love their Chamomile and Vanilla tea, their Three Licorice tea, and their Night tea. I can drink these all day long… (By the way, this blog post is not endorsed by Pukka; I just like their teas 😀 )

What’s next?

Now that the 30 days are over, I should be reintroducing the foods that I excluded for 30 days and observing their effect on me. While I’d love to do that and see exactly how grains, dairy, and sugar affect me, I’m a bit afraid to trigger William’s eczema again. So I’ve decided to go slowly and introduce only a little bit of each food at a time. If I notice that his eczema is getting worse again, I’ll immediately take out the food again. I really hope he tolerates ice cream well! 😀

Create a system instead of searching for motivation

With so many people working from home during the COVID19 pandemic, finding motivation is an extremely common obstacle right now. Many of us are struggling to do our work, and we wonder why.

We assume that it’s due to a lack of motivation. “I’m less productive than usual, so it must be because I don’t care enough about my goals or because I’m not trying hard enough.”

But we miss the fact that we’re not in our usual work space, and our work habits have been disrupted. Literally nothing about our work life is the same: we don’t go to the office anymore, we don’t have set working hours, we aren’t using our comfortable work stations, and we don’t meet our colleagues, at least not physically.

Instead, we’re at home. (This refers to those of us working from home, clearly.) If we have a laptop, technically, we should be able to do everything we were doing before, so we expect the same productivity as before. But that’s not fair.

We may find it confusing to be working from home if we usually see home as a relaxation zone or simply a non-work zone. We may not have a working space set up at home, and our laptop may not be as convenient to work on as our work station. In addition, we may not have silence and/or we may be getting interrupted by the people we live with if we have a partner or children.

Alternatively, we may be lonely or bored. If we live by ourselves, we may have complete silence and calm, and that may be part of the problem. Perhaps we need the stimulation provided by many people working in the same physical space. What’s more, a coffee break or lunch break with a colleague provides much-needed social interaction, while also reinforcing the feeling that we’re at work.

Lots and lots of things have changed in the way we’re working right now. Sure, our motivation may be lower as well, but that’s probably not the main issue. Instead, we’d do well to address the changes by creating a system that gets us going.

Create temporal boundaries

Many people benefit from having specific times of day for working such as set working hours. This creates a separation between home and work even though the physical separation is not there right now.

To make this more tangible, in addition to giving yourself working hours, schedule something outside of those times: a call with a friend, a walk by yourself, or an online exercise session. In this way, you’ll actually have to stick to your self-imposed working hours because you have other things happening outside them.

For couples with kids where both parents are working from home, setting up shifts can be very helpful. One parent may work for 3-4 hours in the morning while the other parent takes care of the kids, and vice versa in the afternoon.

Whenever possible, try to create new work-related routines. In preparation for your workday (or shift), you may put on your work clothes, make a cup of coffee, and sit down at the same makeshift workstation every day. Then, once your work time is over, you can change into your home clothes, go for a walk, read a book, or cook dinner.

Create a physical workspace

If you have the opportunity, create a physical workspace for yourself. It’s great if you can work in the same workstation every day, thus distinguishing between ‘work’ and ‘home,’ which is the rest of your house.

Try to limit interruptions while you’re working. Leave your phone in a different room or on a high shelf and stop yourself from accessing social media (use an extension in your browser if necessary). Ask your partner and/or kids not to disturb you while you’re working (easier said than done… haha).

Create accountability

Many people need to feel accountable to someone or something in order to complete a task. Their own desire to do something may not be strong enough to propel them to action, but if they know someone else expects them to do something, they do it.

The most straightforward type of accountability is to have a supervisor you report to. You know what work they expect you to do, so you do it. In order for this to work, the supervisor needs to be familiar enough with your work and needs to check in often enough. Also, there need to be some sort of consequences that take place if you don’t complete something on time. For some people, simply not meeting an agreement is motivating enough; others may need more tangible consequences.

A buddy or a support group can also be a good source of accountability. You and a colleague may team up to tell each other what you’re going to work on today or this week and then revisit what you’ve accomplished at the end of the day or week. Support groups can work similarly where people share what they’re working on and then review their successes and challenges.

Whatever type of accountability you choose, make sure it works for you. You need to feel that someone is counting on you and that there is a real expectation that you will do your work. For more info on creating accountability, check out Gretchen Rubin’s extensive suggestions here.

Remember your ‘why’

Finally, remind yourself of why you’re doing this work. What are you trying to accomplish? Why is it important? Why do you find it interesting? What do you like about your work and why are you the right person to do it?

Once you connect to your ‘why,’ use the momentum and get going.

What helps you get your work done in these unusual times?

The sweet luxury of going to bed early

I’ve been going to bed at 9pm, and it’s been a game changer.

It feels strange to call it a day so early when the sky is not even dark yet here in the Netherlands. But I feel so much better! The next day, everything is easier and more pleasant because I’m rested.

I tried to stay up ‘late’

As you may know, I have a 5-month-old baby. He likes to wake up 2-3 times a night, so I’m not getting the best sleep of my life right now. Over the last few weeks, I decided I could take it, so I was going to bed around 10pm or 11pm, only to be woken up by him several times during the night and then again at 6:30am. That was not fun.

Then my husband started taking our baby in the morning. That meant I could sleep until 9am if I wanted to (which is super late for me!). Surprisingly, that didn’t work well: I found it difficult to fall asleep at 6:30am, and once I finally managed to sleep, it was shallow sleep. Once I woke up around 8:30am, I felt groggy instead of rested. Apparently, trying to sleep in “late” isn’t my thing.

Resisting going to bed

Now, the obvious solution would be to go to bed earlier, but I resisted it. I felt like I finally had time to myself! We put our baby to bed at 7:30pm, and after that my husband and I would have time together, or I could read a book or watch something fun. This time felt special, and I didn’t want to give it up by going to bed early.

But then I thought about it: was I really doing something special with my time? In fact, what ended up happening was that by 8pm I was so tired that all I did was to check email or social media. I didn’t really have the energy to do something more demanding like read a good book, and I didn’t want to watch a movie because that gets me excited, so I can’t sleep. What’s more, Jacob (my husband) uses this time to work, so it wasn’t actually quality time together.

Going to bed early

Finally, I gave in and decided to try going to bed by 9pm. In fact, it wasn’t as difficult as I had thought, but it felt very, very good. I got uninterrupted sleep during those first few hours of the night, which made me feel much more rested. And when my baby woke up at 6:30am, I was ready to get up with him. Okay, to be fair, I would have liked to sleep for another hour, but it wasn’t too bad.

I noticed very pleasant changes: I was more rested (duh!), so my energy was higher throughout the day, making it easier to do all my things. I was also generally more upbeat, less easily frustrated, and just experienced life as nicer. By going to bed a little bit earlier, I made my whole next day better!

And how about the special evening time? Perhaps because it doesn’t feel like free-for-all time anymore and because I’m not that exhausted, I’m able to make better choices for my evening time.

First of all, I make time to do stuff during the day: write a blog post, read a paper, do online shopping, cook, tidy up the apartment, etc. In that way, after we put William to bed, I have nothing else I really need to do. So I have about an hour (7:30pm – 8:30pm) of quality time to myself. I use it to journal, talk to Jacob, or do something else I find meaningful. Also, let’s be real, I respond to messages. It may also be nice to play piano at that time, but let’s see if that will actually happen–it usually feels like too much effort at that time of day when I just want to relax.

And then, at 8:30pm, I do my bedtime routine where I do my evening reflection, prepare my water bottle for the night, brush my teeth, put on my pajamas, etc. The goal is to be in bed by 9pm. To be completely honest, it doesn’t always happen, but even 9:30pm is good. Since the sky isn’t completely dark at 9pm, I put on my eye cover, and then it’s nighty-night!

How about you? Do you stick to a bedtime, or do you go to bed whenever you feel like it?