A reflection on productivity and priority

By Roxanne Radpour, Guest Editor and Associate Editor for Archaeological Pigments

This has been a significant period of struggle and reflection, and it has produced a lot of thoughtful conversations with family, friends, and colleagues. From these dialogues and personal experiences, there are two major impacts of the pandemic I have noted from being transitioned into work and social isolation that now often weigh in my mind. The first is redefining what it means to be productive (and to be okay with that new standard) meanwhile ‘surviving’ the new day-to-day. The commute to work that would involve a wave to the neighbor, a hop on the metro, a pastry from the nearby cafĂ©, has now been reduced to a few trudging steps from the bed to the computer. The various activities we scheduled for different days of the week, i.e. gym workouts, a wine night with friends, a relaxed read in a coffee shop after work, have been replaced with social media and virtual socialization. The daily routine with the subtle distractions/breaks that allowed us to decompress has now, in comparison, been stripped to the bone.  As a recent Ph.D. graduate, I had been active in practicing ‘self-soothe’ tactics to lower stress and mentally step away from work. However, having literally graduated into the pandemic, and finding myself living at home for the first time in years, the old coping mechanisms had to be adapted. We all have had to adapt. We are still adapting. 

As researchers, we are creative, resilient, and persistent in our work. That also requires realistically managing expectations of our work productivity to protect ourselves and developing new ways to maintain that productivity. For example, I didn’t become the Python expert I had hoped to be this summer, however, I did indulge in very interesting books and papers, i.e. Bird by Bird, a particularly fun read on writing techniques mingled with both personal and humorous anecdotes. 

Did I finish all of the papers I that established as my productivity markers? No, but I will not beat myself up about it, and I have drafts nearing final versions that I am very happy with. Did I anticipate zero fieldwork and conferences, or not being able to join colleagues in their laboratories? No, and I had begun feeling this weight on my shoulders for stagnating my professional progress. From this, though, I allowed myself to engage in new work opportunities during this time that I had not previously considered, and have just finished a consulting role (a monumental learning opportunity and a new notch on the work belt!). 

Even with all of these things I was trying to accomplish, I was struggling (and still do) with permitting myself to take breaks, giving myself ‘off time’ from work now that home and office were fused together, even allowing myself to the time to exercise (if the motivation arose – self-accountability is difficult!). This is where the power of mentors, friends, and even uplifting strangers on social media comes in. These various resources have helped me feel motivated and empowered again to do important, beneficial things for my well-being. Just as I tried any means to ‘survive’ the end of my thesis (my then priority), I am developing new methods and expectations to keep myself and my family healthy and productive during this period (my now priority) – thank you, Zoom workouts and my dog (her walk demands have substantially increased). I know I haven’t been alone in these struggles, and I wonder how others have been able to provide themselves allowances or what they are doing to stay fresh and decompress. Have you found your productive mode? Do you have resources you can reach out to? 

The second major impact I have noticed is the heightened awareness of what is happening beyond the academic community. Due to the ever-growing presence of digital and/or social media in almost every aspect of our lives, and with increased exposure by working from home, we have more exposure to political, social, and economic events in communities near and far. During my thesis work, I often had my head down, oblivious to much around me – an occupational hazard… or an easy excuse? The pandemic has re-emphasized that life around us cannot and should not be ignored. That caring for the health, safety, and justice for ourselves and of those around us are extremely important in the broader scheme of a productive society. More than ever before, I am choosing to stay aware and be active the best to my ability, and to consider the state and needs of the local and global community beyond my profession. How, if it at all, has this time period redefined your priorities?

Thank you for engaging with us in this mini ‘experiment’. I hope the issue, small in stature but mighty in goals, plants a seed for future involvement, not just within the SAS bulletin, but within our community. Let this continue to be a space where we can provide support for one another, through grants, mentorship, opportunities, and more.

Wonderful books for writing, history, and relaxation.