Imagine Otherwise: Christopher Persaud on Creating Balance to Avoid Burnout

by | Sep 16, 2020

Imagine Otherwise: Christopher Persaud on Creating Balance to Avoid Burnout

by Cathy Hannabach and Ideas on Fire | Imagine Otherwise | ep 118

About the episode

For those of us who thrive on doing all the things, it is incredibly easy to put off rest and self-care—at least until we hit burnout. Scholars, artists, activists, and other creatives are particularly prone to burnout under even normal circumstances but the pandemic has made this even more acute as we juggle new tasks and emotions.

As today’s guest emphasizes, building rest and recovery into our schedules is more important than ever and it requires realistically managing projects with balance in mind.

In episode 118 of Imagine Otherwise, host Cathy Hannabach interviews Christopher Persaud, the brilliant digital media associate who helps produce this very podcast. Chris’s love of working on diverse collaborative projects has led him to develop a sustainable approach to project management that prioritizes self-care.

In the interview, Chris and Cathy chat about juggling diverse projects without getting overwhelmed, why it’s so important to build rest into your schedule, COVID-19 lessons to carry into the post-pandemic future, and why building a world where we are free to experiment and ask more questions is how Chris imagines otherwise.

Guest: Christopher Persaud

Christopher J. Persaud is a PhD student at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism whose research explores how media and communication technologies are entangled with identity and popular culture. His research has three (often overlapping) streams: queer media and cultural production, video games and gaming cultures, and online communities and subcultures.

Christopher’s research has been presented at the annual meetings of the Association of Internet Researchers, International Communication Association, and Queerness and Games Conference, among others. His writing has been published in the International Journal of CommunicationSocial Media + SocietyNew Media & Society, and First Monday.

Prior to graduate school, Christopher worked as a research assistant for the Social Media Collective at Microsoft Research New England, held undergraduate summer research fellowships at Harvard University in the sociology and history of science departments, and worked on the LGBTQ Video Game Archive.

Christopher is also a digital media associate at Ideas on Fire where he helps produce the Imagine Otherwise podcast.

Episode themes

  • Building project systems to fit your real life
  • Designing your schedule to fit how you think best
  • COVID-19’s effects on grad student life
  • Centering rest and self-care in your projects

More from Christopher

Christopher’s website

Christopher’s coauthored article “Beyond Texts: Using Queer Readings to Document LGBTQ Game Content

“I want a world where people can try new things, work on new projects, and get new skills without it having to be a part of building their personal brand. I really want a world where we can be bad at things, and that’s okay, where we can try something new.”

— Christopher Persaud, Imagine Otherwise

Transcript

Cathy Hannabach [00:03]:

Welcome to Imagine Otherwise, the podcast about the people and projects bridging art, activism, and academia to build better worlds. Episodes offer in-depth interviews with creators who use culture for social justice and explore the nitty gritty work of imagining otherwise. I’m your host, Cathy Hannabach.

Cathy Hannabach [00:23]:

For those of us who thrive on doing all the things, it is incredibly easy to put off rest and self-care—at least until we hit burnout.

Scholars, artists, activists, and other creatives are particularly prone to burnout under even normal circumstances, but the pandemic has made this even more acute as we’re juggling new tasks and emotions.

As today’s guest emphasizes, building rest and recovery into our schedules is more important than ever, and it requires realistically managing projects with balance in mind.

In this episode, I interview Christopher Persaud, the brilliant digital media associate who helps produce this very podcast. Chris’s love of working on diverse collaborative projects has led him to develop a sustainable approach to project management that prioritizes self-care.

In our interview, Chris and I chat about juggling diverse projects without getting overwhelmed, why it’s so important to build rest into your schedule and how to actually do that, COVID-19 lessons to carry into the post-pandemic future, and why building a world where we are free to experiment and ask more questions is how Chris imagines otherwise.

[To Chris] Thank you so much for being with us, Chris.

Christopher Persaud [01:37]:

Thank you for having me. It’s fun to be on this side of the microphone.

Cathy Hannabach [01:42]:

I know, we’ve never done an episode like this. I’m excited.

Christopher Persaud [01:46]:

Yeah.

Cathy Hannabach [01:47]:

So this month at Ideas on Fire, we’re talking quite a lot about project management, and how we organize our schedules and our tasks to support ourselves and get things done in this very messy and very complicated situation that we’re all living in right now.

You work on a lot of varied projects, many of which are collaborative and have rather complex or overlapping timelines. What are some of your favorite practices, tools, or workflows to manage all of those projects?

Christopher Persaud [02:23]:

Oh okay, that’s a big question. So I mean the most important thing is I have a very well maintained calendar digitally. I’m very much someone who, if I don’t write it down or I don’t put it in my calendar, it does not exist. My brain is not able to recall that information, so it’s really important for me to have a system that takes care of that ability where I find it hard to remember events sometimes.

So basically anytime I’m doing something, whether it’s a class, collaborating with someone, a meeting, something like this that’s work, an appointment, everything goes in the calendar. It has its own color-coded system.

Christopher Persaud [02:58]:

And if I’m ever working on a project with someone else, for example, I’m doing a big interview project with multiple PhD students at USC right now. I’m in charge of the logistics and scheduling people. We have a specific calendar for that that where I made them set up appointment slots for when they’re free. Then I could schedule people into their calendar, which saves a lot of email back and forth too, which we can talk about later, that I also try to avoid.

Cathy Hannabach [03:25]:

I love the color coding of calendars. I do that too. I find it’s just visually better for keeping things organized because then you know that color goes with that project, or that person, or whatever, and your brain can filter it out and figure out what you need to do next. I’m a big fan of that.

Christopher Persaud [03:42]:

Yeah. Honestly, this is something that I started doing in undergrad. In undergrad, I had a couple of part-time jobs that I really enjoyed, but they were all pretty different. One was an administrative support role for an academic advising unit, and the other was basically I got paid to give prep boys trainings about interpersonal relationship stuff, sexual health, and other things. So it was more of a random you could go to this event for two hours and talk to people. That was more of an ad hoc scheduling thing. It forced me to figure out how to keep track of all those moving parts pretty early in my professional career.

Cathy Hannabach [04:22]:

One of the reasons that I was really excited to talk with you about this topic in particular is that I know that you do a lot to prioritize self-care and rest, even as you’re tackling all of these varied projects. How do you build rest and self-care into your project management approaches to ensure that you don’t burn out?

Christopher Persaud [04:43]:

Oh, that’s a great question. To be honest, I started doing this back in undergrad when I started working with your wife, Adrienne. She told me all about how she plays hockey and does gardening and all these things that help her de-stress from professor duties that were really important for balance. So from there, I was like “Oh, you can do stuff and have a career, but also care about your wellbeing.”

Cathy Hannabach [05:12]:

It’s a revelation. I know.

Christopher Persaud [05:14]:

It sounds weird to put it like that, but I definitely have had experiences with mentors or other people where they’ve been like, “I work really hard to have free time and relax time” or, “I wish that I had time to relax.” Those are the two poles, it seems.

For me, it was really important, especially when I finished undergrad and then started working. I briefly worked at a very corporate law firm for a while before I got my job at Microsoft, where I worked for a longer period. All of those experiences taught me that it is very easy to work a sixty-hour week if you’re not careful and not really take time for yourself.

So for me, given that I have a couple of chronic things and also just prefer to have structured relaxing time, it was really important to make that a priority when I started grad school.

Christopher Persaud [06:06]:

What that looks like is that I know about myself that it’s impossible for me to read theory or grad school stuff past a certain time of day because my brain just doesn’t love absorbing information past, say, 4:00 or 5:00 pm. So I schedule all of my reading and thinking work in the morning. I try to avoid having meetings early in the morning, especially, because I’m really good at being awake but I’m very bad at anything that involves me talking to people early in the morning.

That’s really important because for me given that I work on so many different things all the time. That’s a style of working I enjoy. I enjoy having different projects that I can turn to when I get bored, or frustrated, or stuck with something else. But it requires also being like if you spend six hours working today on, I don’t know, doing interviews and data collection, you’re then going to be exhausted, so don’t schedule anything else for the rest of the day, if that makes sense.

Cathy Hannabach [07:00]:

Yeah. I think this is a really great technique. It’s not just how many hours is this particular task going to take, putting that in your calendar, and categorizing it in that color—or a shared calendar that’s appropriate—but also scheduling the time after. The recovery time. I think that’s really smart.

Christopher Persaud [07:21]:

Yeah, and it’s hard. I don’t have an exact system of this kind of thing makes me feel more tired than this kind of thing. It’s more of a sense of if I spend a lot of time on what I refer to as “using my brain,” which I feel like is most of what we do, then I want to just work out for an hour and a half or go for a walk for thirty minutes, and then do some form of exercise pretty much immediately after. I find that it’s just impossible for me to switch between tasks that demand a lot of cognitive attention, so I don’t even try. I just immediately have something that de-stresses me or gets me out of my head after I spent a lot of time working.

Cathy Hannabach [08:03]:

So you’ve been working on Imagine Otherwise for, I think, about three years now. Wow, yes.

Christopher Persaud [08:12]:

Yeah, I think so. Yeah, wow.

Cathy Hannabach [08:13]:

You write our fabulous show notes and our social media campaigns. I’m just curious, maybe for myself from a selfish perspective, what are some of your favorite moments working on the show?

Christopher Persaud [08:24]:

Funny enough, I’m someone who started listening to podcasts when I started working on this podcast. I think it was summer of 2017, after I graduated college. I was like, “Well, I have all this time now.”

Some of my favorite things is literally just listening to the episodes as I’m taking notes and starting to write my show notes. The first time, usually, I listen to it once and then listen to it again while I’m typing up actual things. That first listen is always just so fun.

I feel like the guests on the show are all so different and so interesting. Even if a good proportion of them are academics, they all have such different approaches to how they do what they do. That for me is just so fascinating to think about the many different ways one can have a career and make it work for you.

Christopher Persaud [09:13]:

I also think that I’ve learned how much work actually goes into crafting social media posts. You only have a limited amount of space. Some of my research is about the story of social media and content creation by influencers. It’s fascinating to realize there’s actually a ton of work that goes into this and some scholars don’t always acknowledge that it is a lot of work.

Cathy Hannabach [09:37]:

It is. Everything from designing the images to creating the copy to cramming it all into character limits, as you point out, and figuring out scheduling techniques. Yeah. I agree.

We use a bunch of tools to run the show, and they help us do everything from planning episodes and recording interviews like this one to writing show notes, scheduling social media, and all this good stuff. Can you walk our listeners through some of the tools that you use for your work that you do on the show and how you approached learning them?

Christopher Persaud [10:12]:

Yeah. At the project management level, I like using Asana. I really enjoy that it partitions everything into a project, and then you can see what people are involved and the dates that things are due. And the whole built-in commenting and notification system is really nice. If I were in charge of a team of people, I would absolutely use something like that.

Obviously, I imagine your experience setting up all of those things is a little bit more time consuming, but it is great for the people that are on the other end. So there’s Asana, which didn’t take too long to learn. It’s pretty intuitive. Everything is, at least for me, where I expect it to be, so it just walks you through how to use it as you start to use it.

Christopher Persaud [10:58]:

Otherwise, for graphic design stuff, I’m sure Canva’s no secret now. But it is just great. I don’t have to open Photoshop or some other image editing software just to do a couple of things, like add a photo or add some text. It just makes it so much easier to get something made and then you can tweak it a little bit later, too.

I also like that it gives you the ability to have templates and not start from scratch every time you make something. That’s really nice. That didn’t take too long to learn either.

I do have a bit of experience with different kinds of graphic design software because, funny enough, the high school I went to had a track where you could learn video and image editing. I did that, which has come in handy so much in my adult life that I didn’t expect.

I think we used something else for social media scheduling originally that was built into WordPress. I can’t remember the name of it. I think it was CoSchedule.

Cathy Hannabach [11:58]:

It was CoSchedule. Yeah. We switched away from that a couple of years ago. I don’t remember exactly.

Christopher Persaud [12:01]:

Now we’re using Later, which I really like. I think Later is in a way similar to Canva because you can see what you’ve previously made and then use them as templates and get a calendar view of all of your upcoming posts. I think, just from a visual standpoint, this makes it really intuitive to use for someone who’s doing longer term scheduling.

I also like that I can see what is going to be posted on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook pages because it gives me a sense of, “Okay, there shouldn’t be four posts today.” It makes it really easy to move something to a different day without getting bogged down in the exact measurements or things like that.

Christopher Persaud [12:48]:

I also like that it has as a feature where you can have it pick a time that it thinks is best for when to post something, which I find useful because I’m always a little bit mystified by what the best time of day is across all the platforms to post something.

Those are the main ones. Occasionally, I might use more…There’s a way to integrate stuff into Asana that lets you put something directly in your calendar, which I’ve done before, and that’s nice, but I don’t really do many complicated things in there.

Cathy Hannabach [13:25]:

In addition to your work on the show you are, as you mentioned, also a scholar who’s getting a PhD, in the middle of a pandemic no less. I’d love to switch tracks a little bit and talk about how you manage those kinds of projects. So first of all, what does your semester look like right now in terms of classes and everything else you have going on?

Christopher Persaud [13:48]:

Oh, great question. I actually wrote all this down yesterday. In my program, which is the Communication Program at USC Annenberg, we take courses for three years, a full course load for three years, which I think is about a year longer than maybe many other programs. For whatever reason, we do.

So I have three graduate courses this semester. I’m taking a sociology of culture seminar, a visual communication and art communication class, and then an intro to STS [science and technology studies] grad seminar. All of these are, as all humanities and social science grad classes are, a lot of reading.

I’m also a research assistant for the International Journal of Communication, which really means I’m an assistant editor helping triage incoming submissions, assigning reviewers, and things like that. It has been really, really incredible to learn about how scholarly publishing works behind the scenes.

The International Journal of Communication is based at the USC Annenberg Press, so the department funds the journal. It’s open access, free, and everything, and basically funds graduate students to work as journal staff. So it’s a pretty cool opportunity.

Christopher Persaud [15:03]:

I’m also an RA [research assistant] for a professor in my department. He is writing several books, articles, and talks, so I help him with finding literature or summarizing things. Sometimes he does media appearances, so I help him prep for those. That’s pretty dynamic.

Let’s see. What I’m doing for research: I’m helping edit an edited volume about livestreaming with a couple professors, more senior people, and another grad student. We just submitted to a press and we’re under review. So that’s exciting. We did get all of our abstract submissions from potential contributors, so that was a lot of logistics. That was over the summer.

I’m also working on my own research. One project is about OnlyFans, a subscription-based sex work platform. People can sign up for a profile, upload and post their own content, and create a subscription for fans. I’m really interested in how indie creation and distribution intersects with race and ethnicity in the United States. That’s what that’s about.

Christopher Persaud [16:21]:

I mentioned that large interview project I’m working on at USC. I’m a part of a really big research group, and they’re primarily a bunch of quantitative people. They want to do a more qualitative project that I just ended up being in charge of. So I’m running a very large interview study. We’re planning to interview about eighty people, all said and done, for various different subprojects.

That’s a lot of logistics and project management, which I have done on my own or working for people like Adrienne or at my old job at Microsoft. It’s really interesting to be more in charge. So that’s been a learning experience. What else am I doing?

Cathy Hannabach [16:59]:

So just a few things. Just a few things.

Christopher Persaud [17:01]:

Yeah, just a few. I think that’s pretty much everything. I love working on things with other people, so I rarely will ever be doing something completely by myself. So that’s one of the things. It’s not to say that I’m doing everything for all of these things, but I definitely have my hands in a lot of things.

Yeah, that’s everything though. I think that’s everything. Maybe I’m forgetting trying to turn a paper from a course project into something.

I don’t say yes to things anymore. I’ve developed this habit from undergrad. I don’t say yes to anything that I don’t actually want to do, and I think really hard before I say yes to something. So if I’m working on something, it’s because I actually want to do it and have time for it.

Cathy Hannabach [17:50]:

Did you find that your approach to managing all of those kinds of projects had to change in the context of COVID?

Christopher Persaud [17:58]:

Oh, absolutely. In some sense, they’ve been changes that have been weirdly beneficial. Forcing us to do all of our interviews and other more qualitative data collection online has had some challenges in the sense that now you have to deal with people who might not be used to using different platforms to talk to other people. Or the emails, or the scheduling. But also has been nice because now, for example, I can chat with someone who isn’t in LA but otherwise has some really interesting things to talk to me about related to my project on OnlyFans and indie porn.

For that big games project, it’s been really interesting because most of the people we’re talking to are based in North America. Some of the questions we’re interested in are how the pandemic has changed their gaming habits and other gaming-related social activities. So we were like, “Well, this all got disrupted by COVID, but I guess now that can be a thing we talk about.”

Christopher Persaud [18:59]:

So that’s been really interesting. We’re talking to people from all over the country who have very different experiences with how their gaming and game play has been impacted by the pandemic. In the games industry, revenue has gone up quite a lot for the big players in games, but I’m way more interested in people’s actual experiences. What does that mean? Are you playing new games? Are you playing the same ones a lot more? Are you playing with friends, playing alone?

COVID has forced me and most other people to reevaluate what we actually want to spend time doing. I am getting used to some feelings about being home all the time, but I’m also trying to remember that just because I’m home all the time doesn’t mean I have to work all the time. So trying to set new and better boundaries for my work life has been a surprising benefit.

Cathy Hannabach [19:51]:

This brings me to my favorite question that I get to ask folks, which gets at the heart of why you do the work that you do in the world, and that’s that world that you’re working toward when you teach classes, when you go to seminars, when you write your scholarship. So I’ll ask you this giant question that you—as the person who’s written the show notes for hundreds of these episodes at this point—has seen so many different answers to this. I’m so excited to get your answer to this question. What is the world that you want?

Christopher Persaud [20:25]:

Let’s see. I want a world where people can try new things, work on new projects, and get new skills without it having to be a part of building their personal brand, without having to be good at something, and without having to carve a niche for themselves in some sort of market.

Because some of my work deals with influencers, content creators, and all these words we have for people that are trying to make a living on digital life, I find that it is so hard to just try something and be bad at it. So I really want a world where we can be bad at things, and that’s okay, where we can try something new.

Christopher Persaud [21:09]:

I want a world where my graduate student peers and myself are paid enough to do the work that we do, where there are good, fulfilling, sustainable jobs at the other end of this, whether they’re in the academy or not.

I want a world where doctoral students are not looked down upon for leaving academia. Maybe I want academia to be blown up and reorganized in some different way, I think is maybe the best way to answer that.

What else? I want a world where people are free to ask more questions without worrying that they don’t have the right words to ask questions or don’t have the right language to enter certain conversations. I mean, obviously there’s a reason that people need to be mindful of other people’s experiences and contexts and those things. But I want a world where people are more open to actually learning, being corrected about things, and being called in about stuff.

Cathy Hannabach [22:22]:

Thank you so much for being here, and doing this interview, and coming in front of the microphone and sharing all of the ways that you imagine otherwise.

Christopher Persaud [22:33]:

Thank you. It was great, and weird, and good to be here.

Cathy Hannabach [22:44]:

Thanks for listening to another episode of Imagine Otherwise. Imagine Otherwise is produced by Ideas on Fire, and this episode was created by Christopher Persaud and myself, Cathy Hannabach. Audio editing was provided by the awesome folks at Pro Podcast Solutions. You can check out the show notes and transcript for this episode on our website at ideasonfire.net, where you can also read about our fabulous guests and find links to the people and projects we discussed on the show.

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