Until a few years ago, the Easter holidays meant a break from whichever academic institution I was in at the time (school/college). The prospect of a few weeks without classes was an exciting one, and I always looked forward to it: I could spend time with my friends, sleep in late, and – very importantly – wear my own clothes on a daily basis.
Universities seem to work a little differently. An expanse of free time, you say? Pfft. A perfect opportunity for extensive essay-writing!
So here I am, for the fourth year in a row, spending the holidays in academic seclusion. I have three essays due in less than two weeks, and I’m now in the frenzied writing stage where I feel guilty doing anything other than work. (I got a draft finished today, so I’m rewarding myself with a spot of blogging. Woo!)
I’ve been conducting a little experiment during the process of writing these essays. I’m on a mission to find ways of increasing my productivity at the moment. I’ll be starting a PhD here in September, after all, so this seemed like a great opportunity to find my favourite working environment in and around the University of Birmingham. So, without further ado, here are Ella’s Top Places to Get Stuff Done!
When I was first looking for a good spot to settle down and make some serious progress, the library seemed like an ideal place to go. And, in some respects, it was. There were plenty of books (obviously) to help me make my ground-breaking discoveries, and I felt quite at home with a nice big desk and plenty of light streaming in through the windows. The issues came later – namely when my laptop came up with a ‘low battery’ warning. Plug sockets are somewhat hard to come by in the University of Birmingham library, and my quick trip to the next floor to find one turned into a 30-minute expedition around each of the library’s many floors.
The new library on campus – due to open this summer – has a plug socket for each work station. Amen.
I’ve always been attracted to the idea of working in coffee shops. I love having a bit of background noise around me, and it chills me out when I’m surrounded by people chatting and having a nice time. Plus having ready access to hot drinks is always a good thing: a fresh cup of tea or coffee is my ultimate comfort when I’m working. There definitely needs to be the right balance of atmosphere for me to work well in a café, though. Too much noise or too many people can affect my productivity, and there’s not usually space to spread out here unless it’s really quiet. This place is probably best for an early-evening work session.
Mason Lounge, Arts Building
I stumbled across the Mason Lounge in the UoB Arts Building when looking for a quiet place to sit and work one evening. I saw the plug sockets and vacant spinny office chairs. I was excited.
I got settled in and had a pretty productive couple of hours. It was a bit draughty in there, so I didn’t get too comfy, but it was nice to be able to use the vending machines and wheel myself around if I needed inspiration. Plus there were University PCs and printers there, so the Mason Lounge gets points for practicality, too. Happy days!
The Shakespeare Institute Library
As you might’ve guessed, I haven’t spent a whole lot of time on the University of Birmingham main campus – I’m actually based at The Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-upon-Avon. I live much closer to the main campus, though, so it’s much quicker to go there if I want to get out of the house to get on with my work.
The Shakespeare Institute Library is a verrrry nice place to be, however. It was in here that I decided the Institute was where I wanted to do my MA: each of the three floors are crammed full of books about Shakespeare (including big pretty ones), and the place is full of spinny desk chairs, plug sockets, desk lamps, and book chairs. It even has big windows that look out onto a cute little garden with a Shakespeare bust in it. What more could you ask for?
As much as I’d love to spend all my time here, it’s a long way to travel, which means less work time and more petrol. Plus I have a track record of getting distracted and ending up eating cheesecake in one of the many local cafés. Anywho, the SI Library is great, but it only works for me if I’m already in Stratford and stay totally focused throughout.
Having access to a decent-sized workspace was pretty high on my list of criteria when my boyfriend and I were house-hunting last summer. I knew that I’d only be in Stratford 2-3 days a week, and I wanted to be able to work from home the rest of the time. This is the desk I’ve lovingly constructed from a dressing table, a chest of drawers, and several wallpaper samples. I love it! It’s pretty and spacious, and I really like being able to look out of the window and people-watch while I’m thinking. Not having people around me does mean that I sometimes end up watching one too many episodes of Say Yes to the Dress, though…
Luckily, I’ve found that using the Pomodoro Technique has helped massively with these sorts of distractions recently. More on that next time! Check back soon to read more about the various tools I’ve been using to hit my essay-writing targets :).