In the final months of my PhD, COVID-19 restricted everyone in Ireland to work from the seclusion of our homes. PhD’s are a group that is already at risk of developing issues associated with working in isolation. Thankfully, I had a strong network of friends and fellow PhD seekers in place before the lockdowns hit. Keeping motivated proved difficult without the spontaneous “water cooler” or coffee break chats. There was also a lack of off-the-cuff ideas and moments of inspiration based on something a colleague said.

To keep productivity going, I developed the strategy that I called a “Power Hour” of work where I turned off all notifications and wouldn’t leave my chair for a snack or coffee. The “Power Hour” is something I did virtually with a friend, where we would leave the chat stream open, set a start time, and at the end of the hour a moment of reprieve and chats. If we were struggling during the”Power Hour,” we would type a short status update in the chat and the other person would provide a little comment, thought, or just a motivational GIF or emoji to keep working.

I used “Power Hours” most commonly for writing sprints, which worked very well. I would produce as much in an hour as I likely would have in three hours without the focused concentration. This concept has also been adopted in a lengthier version by the COST Action I participate in, called INDCOR. At the group meetings, which had largely become virtual because of COVID-19, the participants would open a shared digital document to write collaboratively. There would be scheduled breaks every 2-3 hours where the groups would return to the virtual call to discuss progress, ideas, and to socialise over a coffee break.

I have noticed that virtual writing sprints in the form of “Power Hours” are a great method of collaborating or Zooming through work ;). They provide a focused time period where two or more people work on a project together. The virtual connection allows for talking out loud, informal discussions, and the ability to see writing progressing in real time. Virtual Power Hours are particularly useful for those who are accustomed to and enjoy working in an office environment. While, some people prefer a silent environment, I like hearing the taping of the keyboard, the coffee machine brewing and the other ambient background noises. They provide a level of company and comfort in a buzzing-like atmosphere of productivity. Of course, virtual calls cannot replicate the office environment, it does provide a level of collegial connection to academic productivity. Even talking to someone for five minutes about what you’re working on can improve your mood and perception of what you’re doing. They other person or people in the “Power Hour” call can provide re-assuring “mm hmms” or tidbits of information like articles they know of, other resources or little techniques that could improve your work and progress.

As we enter 2021 with more inevitable lockdowns, the Virtual Power Hours will be my method of maintaining some level of an office environment, which I am missing greatly. I also miss my ergonomic desk chair and full workspace set up, but that’s another thing. Happy writing!

Have you tried online writing sprints during COVID-19? What other office-centric techniques have you found works well to increase your productivity?

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