I am always mildly annoyed by the fact that while GQ would have a bunch of smart rappers, actors, and even artists for their 10 essentials but a writer has never really been invited to talk about their essentials. More so than ever, academics—poor souls who live most their lives stuck to their computers these days—really need listicles that do some amount of infotainment for them. So, here we are, unprompted by GQ, about the 10 essentials I (PhD candidate and caffeine lark) swear by:
I know this as someone who, until recently, had a computer that barely lasted a few hours, had odd quirks like not sleeping but shutting down etc., that a good computer will really change your work life. And yes, that may mean offloading your computer of all the bloatware (Reset that work PC!), using your university discounts to buy a new computer, or simply lighter apps (Foxit Reader over Adobe Reader DC!). But yes, get yourself a computer that works.
This is an easy one. But have a note-taking system. I have a friend who buys A5 paper in bulk and has a binder system that helps them stay organised, while I have become a full-on Leuchtturm1917 Notebook hoarder who notes everything down in those things because they have page numbers and I like to have that kind of order in my life. Point is, you will need a note-system that works for you. It ought to be simple and not something that you tweak with every two months. Get a reliable pen as well (a Pilot G2 can be refilled and has a great grip; or get a Kaweco Perkeo if you like fountain pens) and you are good to go.
Hoodie + the “good” shirt
Depending on what your pandemic work situation is, you will need a comfortable working clothes situation since you will be spending ages in front of a computer or in person. Get a comfortable hoodie. Definitely get the “good” shirt (Muji linen shirts go well) for the occasional meeting that needs a decent presentation.
At the moment, having a computer does not mean that you have all that you need. So you need more tech gear to make sure that you have all that you need for the semester ahead. Get a second screen (a monitor if you need a big one; a tablet if you are like). Some people will also go for the laptop stand and the docking station. Basically, get everything that you need for your workflow. I make do with an older tablet and a computer.
Stay hydrated. No matter what you are working on, the academic lifestyle seems to promote an unhealthy lifestyle to go with your imposter syndrome. Fight that urge, drink your water, tea, and coffee. Find the best tea that you like. On some days, the tea and your favourite blanket is all that you will have that will bring you comfort.
Have cheap pleasures. Mine is buying myself flowers before I start working on a chapter. It does not always have to be the most beautiful flowers but I like the ritual of it. Some days the rituals of things will be the nicest thing that you will do all day as you work on something difficult.
The Right Software
As important as getting the right computer. Use the university licenses and get Endnote or Citavi for references. Use a note-taking sofware (I wrote a whole thing about it once). I still use Standard Notes but they have raised their prices now. Bear Notes is a good alternative if you are using MacOS, if you are on Windows, Simplenote seems to be nice.
I have also gone back to using Todoist for their better free features recently. You will be juggling quite a few things. So use something that helps you track things well.
The Library Card
This sounds stupid but, yes, use the library. From the city library that will scan, print, and do inter-library loans for cheap to the national library that will always have a good rate for students, libraries are great. They will sometimes also have free streaming services like Kanopy and audiobooks for free like Libby. Don’t hand all your money to Audible or Netflix. Save your monies.
Read the right things. Which is basically code for, don’t stop reading. Academia is a lot of reading but reading is also a nice way to unwind and find inspiration. So make sure to get the reads in. That is also code for, always read for pleasure 🙂
This will sound a little esoteric but this is where I am at the moment, have a totem. Basically, have a way of doing a small thing that makes your space your own. That may include: drinking from the same coffee mug, or burning the same candle (my choice), or something small. But have a signal that tells your brain, now I am doing X, and not Y. Helps keeping me in check.
So there it is. My grand listicle.