Work in a Time of Coronavirus

PhD student at the University of Portsmouth, Maddie Wallace, shares her experience of single parenting, studying and working during the pandemic.


Maddie is a PhD student in the Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries researching the use of narrative techniques in disinformation and misinformation, and how malicious fiction is employed by governments to distort facts in a post-truth era. She is a single parent with four children, three of whom still live at home.


As a second year PhD student, freelance writer and single parent, I’m used to working from home.

I’ve learnt how to manage my time, avoid social media distractions and to productively procrastinate. You can trick your brain into thinking it’s getting what it wants when it tells you the floor needs mopping and hijack another mindless chore to creatively mull over the day’s tasks. I
could write a book on procrastination – but I need to clean the toilet first.

We started isolation on 15th March because one of my sons developed a cough. I convinced myself I’d be able to get back to full work productivity once this was over, but of course, that hasn’t happened. Instead, every day is an experiment involving tweaking and revision. Productivity can be
elusive, but this article by Professor Aisha Ahmed has empowered me to try and roll with whatever the day throws at me. I’d recommend it for any academic trying to work or study right now.

I’ve developed a rough routine of writing in the mornings while the five year old does some activities that may or may not be educational. Autonomy of choice means relative peace for me. I drag two teenage boys out of bed at 10am and set them up with their schoolwork. If it’s something they like – great. If it isn’t, they moan, flail around and expect me to help them construct every sentence. On a sunny day, the garden’s a good place to digest a theory paper or text in the afternoon, while the five year old shreds my plants to create potions for her imaginary dragons. Some days this works, and some days it doesn’t.

New habits take a while to embed because they force us to change our unconscious narratives; re-writing your story while trying to maintain a home and teach children doesn’t happen overnight. Or even in seven weeks. I’ve made my peace with that. Ideas that spring to mind while hanging out another load of washing can be added to an open document on my phone to be processed later. Some days I’m burning with passion to write but can’t find the time. Other days I seem to have time but no motivation.

Perhaps now, more than ever, it’s vital to practice self-kindness. If you’re struggling, then juggling tasks around and doing something different can be more beneficial than powering through because you planned to do something. I’ve changed my ‘to-do list’ into a ‘might do list’ and am practicing positive self-talk. We’re all dealing with a lot of stress and uncertainty, and meeting deadlines is harder than ever. It’s OK just to show up every day and try again.


Advice for staff with parenting or caring responsibilities can be found in our Coronavirus FAQs.

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