Finding a Sustainable Routine

My workday always begins with this mug.


When I take my first sip of coffee, surrounded by the fairy lights and motivational postcards of my workspace, my brain knows that it’s time to get writing.

I write until my thoughts get foggy. Some days I can do three or four hours; other days I manage one or two. I wander away from my desk every now and again for sustenance. If I’m feeling ambitious, I switch over to a mug emblazoned with the words ‘dream big’. Sometimes that mug can be intimidating, though. The one with colourful chickens on is a friendlier option if I’m feeling overwhelmed.

After lunch, I try to get out of the house if I can. There’s a forest a ten-minute drive away – it’s my favourite place to go if I need to clear my head or think through some thorny ideas. A local National Trust property is an excellent bet if I can spare a couple of hours: walking through sheep-filled parkland and indulging in hot chocolate and cake can be the perfect antidote to work stress. I’m fairly certain that the forest and the National Trust will both feature in my thesis acknowledgements as they’ve made such a big impact on my PhD experience.

Late afternoons are dedicated to admin. There’s usually one form or another to be filled out and sent off into the ether, and extra-curricular projects need varying degrees of attention to keep them moving. I can’t think clearly enough to build arguments and analyse costumes at this point, but I can manage an hour or two on the more straightforward tasks on my to-do list.

Sometime between 5 and 7pm I put my laptop away and get started on some serious me time. I really enjoy cooking with a podcast on in the background, and I’m a committed period-drama enthusiast with an ever-growing list of TV series to keep on top of. Settling down with a good book (strictly fiction only), a hot water bottle, and a Bailey’s hot chocolate is always a winner.

I religiously perform one final act of self care before heading to bed. I know the thing my future self will most appreciate in the morning is a clean kitchen (complete with clean mug and cafetière) and a tidy workspace. I make sure everything is in order, then take myself to bed to rest before starting over again in the morning. Weekends are for days out with my partner, sewing projects, visiting family, and relaxing.

A winter walk at Hanbury Hall with a homemade hot chocolate

I settled into this routine back in September, and I now guard it zealously. It’s not always possible to keep to it – seminars, meetings, and other commitments mean I have to spend some days/afternoons away from home – but I try to at least have my morning coffee and writing session. I’m now in the third year of my PhD. I’m lucky to be feeling a burning desire to write – a drive that I hope won’t leave me as suddenly and mysteriously as it began – and I’m privileged to have this time and space to research, write, and think. I’m taking each day as it comes and praying to the writing gods for a long and fruitful productive patch.

Whatever happens next, I’ve definitely got better at looking after myself since burning out last summer. I know my limits and I’ve honed in on what helps me to switch off from the PhD side of my life. Will my routine carry on working as I get ever closer to my final deadline? I don’t know yet, but maintaining a well-curated mug collection can only be a good thing.

The dream team. Can mugs also go in thesis acknowledgements…?