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Posts Tagged ‘academia’

Oh dissertation. How I avoid you! You make me break out in a cold sweat. You have come to haunt my every waking thought and many of my sleeping thoughts as well…. and yet, I just can’t seem to quit you…. or rather to FINISH you….

I realized recently that until this dissertation is done, signed, sealed and delivered, I will have no peace and no rest. I will never be able to TRULY relax and enjoy a real day off. Sure there will be other projects and other priorities – articles, hopefully a book or two – that will replicate this feeling of dread and doom hanging over me in the future – but that’s in the future. And in the meantime, after I finish the diss I can take at lease a couple of weeks off. At least. 

Last week I wrote a preface to the dissertation. I realize that the preface is something that most people write last, but I felt I had to do it for a number of reasons. First and foremost, recent events in ResearchLocation, particularly as they relate to my interview subjects, have made it difficult for me to contain the scope of the dissertation.

In other words, do I include a discussion of recent political events or not? How do I account for NOT including them if I don’t – or alternatively how do I finesse the fact that I WASN’T there to observe and interview on these events if I do? After some serious consideration, I decided to limit the scope of the dissertation to the time frame leading up to and including the research. Hence the preface in which I address recent dramatic political events, point out how my research informants have been central to these upheavals, and justify my decision theoretically. All in all I think I’ve done a pretty decent job of it and it clears the deck in a way. 

In other news I received comments back on the introduction from my advisor. I didn’t really want to write the introduction before finishing all of the chapters but she insisted and in a way it WAS helpful. However, now she has come back with a bunch of comments, which while insightful as usual, make me tired just thinking about reading through them and making the necessary changes. Especially since I was somewhat leery of the whole exercise in the first place.

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I am something of a time management, personal organization junkie – as you might have guessed from the Life Improvement Experiment. So I was checking out the latest posts at some of my favorite productivity blogs and I came across this one on the best software for time management at Whakate and started drooling and thinking –  hmm, maybe I’d better check out this piece of software or that website app and give them a try – when it hit me:

My life is not that complicated right now.

Yes, there are always little things that need to be kept track of, but really, what do I need an elaborate time management system for? The answer is, I do not.

The fact is that I have found some aspects of Paul Allen’s Getting Things Done (or GTD as devotees term it) incredibly helpful for getting things, well, done. But when I reflect on it, two things become clear:

* First, my experiment with GTD was most successful during January and February of this year, when I was using a combined calendar/list system I “designed” (really it was so simple it doesn’t really deserve that appellation) myself and kept in my Moleskin Weekly Planner. I’ve since abandoned it in favor of a more elaborate system using Circus Ponies’ Notebook – a product that I LOVE for many reasons (and that I will blog about at some point) but that doesn’t function very well FOR ME in terms of day-to-day organization. I need to go back to a relatively simple PAPER-based system. Whether that is the moleskin again or something else (I am intrigued by some other systems on home management/plans for moms), I’m not sure. But it is clear that what I really need to do is to keep it simple.

* Second, GTD is not the ideal system for an academic. Others have blogged and written about this topic (sorry, I’m too lazy to track down the links right now), but what it comes down to is that long-term projects of a somewhat amorphous nature are more difficult to “fit” into the GTD system, which tends towards a work model that features lots of on-going projects and tasks with relatively discrete steps and well-defined outcomes. As a consequence, at least for a consummate procrastinator like me, I end up getting the small stuff done more efficiently than ever, but the big picture suffers.

Which brings me back to the larger point:

 My life is not that complicated right now.

Basically I have three primary responsibilities right now:

  • FINISH THE DISSERTATION
  • Teach
  • Take care of my child and tend to my family life/social reproduction

That’s all. That’s it.

Yes, other stuff comes up – there are conference abstracts to write and job sites to check and bills to pay – but seriously, it is not like I am juggling a full-time job with multiple projects and priorities (something I have done, I must say, with considerable success in the past). I have two projects – finish the dissertation and don’t make a fool of myself in the classroom.  And of course being a good mother and person is important to me as well, but really, should I be concentrating on being super-mom and homemaker right now? No, I should not. It is a distraction.

That isn’t to say that I should stop trying to be organized – but only in so far as it helps me achieve my goals and particularly the first one (dissertation, dissertation, dissertation).

So the take away?

Time to stop using time management as a time waster.

Time to get back to basics. My life will probably not be so straightforward again for a long time (maybe when I’m old and “retired”). It hopefully will not be so straightforward this time next year (I hope not – because that would mean I haven’t finished yet). Time for me to become much more single-minded. The other stuff can wait. Buddy is doing fine. I already live with a dirty bathroom and I’m still not much of a cook and there is no particular reason why I need to work on transforming those particular aspects of myself right now. Or rather it is worth doing if it helps keep me healthy, sane, and focused. Not if it becomes a distraction.

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Students

I’m really enjoying my class so far this term – all of the students are really into the topic and since there are only about 20 of them, I am managing to stay on top of the grading without too much difficulty. 

But on Thursday 6 of them didn’t show up and one snuck out during the break. Three of them wrote me later to apologize and explain (when they sent along their paper topics, but still…) but I was annoyed. I know the weather is getting nice but a lot of their grades are based on participation. Plus it was some of my more talkative students who were absent so the discussion dragged a little bit.

So it is OK. This time.

Grrrr… .But they’d better not make a habit of it..

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Tuesday, nap time. Buddy is still in his jammies after a busy morning playing with nana at our house. He’s sacked out on “the big bed” – the place he dreams of sleeping all the time. He is, however, always denied this dream at bedtime – poor kid!

I did get almost everything done for my class but yesterday morning I came home after dropping Buddy off at daycare and went back to bed for a couple of hours. Such is the price for staying up until 12:30 am writing a lecture for class (not to mention grading – oh the humanity). Staying up so late really doesn’t work if you have to get up between 3-4:30 and convince your toddler to go back to sleep until 5:30 or so. 

Tuesday is no day care so this morning was a lost cause work-wise. Buddy and I did some painting and then spent some time playing hide-and-seek in the “big bed” amongst all the pillows. 

Tomorrow however, I will do my (at least) an hour’s worth of work on the diss first thing in the morning. Which means that tonight I need to finish the discussion handout and preview the films I got from the library. I can’t believe how fast this month is going. I’m feeling that familiar sense of panic in my stomach – it is always there but now it is stronger. I’m coming to realize that I need to finish the diss not only to get a job, but because I want to know what it is like to not have this constant feeling of dread and low-grade panic with me all the freaking time. I’m coming to the conclusion that I will have no peace in my life until it is done.

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Ahem, yes. Well as I mentioned in my last post, this has been one hell of a week. But back on task. So far I have been working on discipline and working through the issues posed in that chapter. Here’s her definition of discipline:

Discipline refers to your ability to maintain consistent, productive behavior….Sure everyone has an ‘off’ day. If you are self-disciplined, however, you exhibit consistent focus in your day-to-day work, even if you don’t feel like it.” (pg.99)

And here are the sub-issues (so far) that I need to focus on:

  1. Finding and working with my natural energy cycles (difficult with a two-year old who insists on getting up at 5:15 am EVERY DAY!)
  2. Work regularly – stop putting things off until the last minute.
  3. I need to determine my priorities and make time FIRST for what really matters.
  4. I need to make my home office a place where I can effectively work without interruption.
  5. I need to have a better handle on the basics of everyday life and handle routine tasks around the house in a more efficient way.

OK, the first three are related. Partly it is an issue of energy, partly it is a sense of constantly feeling overwhelmed, slightly panicked and not at all up to the task, and partly it is just sheer boneheaded procrastination & laziness.

The cure is obvious – regular work on the diss that must take priority over everything else. So for this (next) week the plan is that for the days that Buddy is in daycare (including the days I teach), I will work for AT LEAST an hour first thing in the morning on the diss. Committing to that means that in turn I will need to be ready to teach on Monday morning – lecture and slides ready, film reserved, papers graded, so the priority for the weekend is teaching prep.

Non- daycare days are more difficult. I wish that I could just take one day completely “off” and maybe I should, so maybe that day should be Tuesday. If I have help on that day (from mom for example), then Tuesday will be the day in which I take care of all the little household crap that needs to get done and the errands like going to the post office and so forth. Weekends I have help from SG so I will need to work, but as I mentioned it may have to be on teaching although if things go well next week I will try to commit to at least an hour on both Saturday and Sunday to working on the latest chapter.

Similarly the last two are related. My office is a disaster zone. Tomorrow’s task is to dig out. Today I worked on getting the house into better shape. The linen closet still needs to be cleaned, as does the pantry, and my closet needs to be sorted. Furthermore SG and I need to sit down and figure out a plan for the weekend and for the week so we can be more on top of things. All of these issues are items that I am trying to tackle in the second book on being an Organized Homemaker extraordinaire!

Finally, I will make a sign – maybe a revolving wheel – outlining my status. Something like “Do NOT interrupt me unless there is a serious emergency,” “Do not interrupt me without 5 minutes warning,” “Interrupt me if you must” and “OK, I’m bored, come in and talk to me.”  We can see if that helps SG manage his interruptions better and creates more peace between us.

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What a week. I was sick. Then Buddy got sick. Then I started teaching my new, self-designed, and extremely labor-intensive class on Monday (and SG had to take a break to watch Buddy because fever = no daycare for the poor little guy. Then I had to actually teach class on Wednesday (Monday I just went through the syllabus and called it a day). Yesterday I was so wiped out that after I dropped Buddy off I spent the whole day sleeping. I feel somewhat guilty about that but I honestly don’t think I could have done anything useful anyway.

Today I got back on the horse, cleared a path through the toys in the living room, threw some of the dishes in the dishwasher and did some work on my diss. Here, in no coherent order are some random thoughts and events from my life at the moment:

  • Buddy is going to spend time with his old babysitter tomorrow (yeah!) so that I can get caught up on lesson planning (boo!) and SG can do the taxes (double boo!).
  • Since he’s been sick Buddy has revised his usual wake-up time of 5 or 5:30 am to 4 or 4:30 am. We went through this for a while when we were night-weaning him, and we got through it,  but since he’s been sick he hasn’t been eating as much, so he wakes up and then he wants comfort and he flat-out refuses to go back to sleep. Basically he stands up in his crib and screams and jumps for an hour until it is “time to get up.” (We have a no getting up before 5 am rule – you have to draw the line in the sand somewhere).  I should mention that while we don’t co-sleep, his crib is approximately 5 inches away from my side of the bed – we live in a very small two-bedroom house, and the bedrooms are on separate floors (I use the downstairs one as an office). So it is pretty hard to ignore.
  • The 4 am screaming sessions, combined with his revived interest in nursing (although to be honest he has always loved it), mixed with my feeling like death on a sticke, has brought me to the end of my rope. It is time to wean. We will take it slow and gentle and it can take a couple of months, but it WILL happen before my 40th birthday in May. I. CAN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE. 
  • I’ve made little or no progress on the Self-Improvement Experiment – we have been in survival mode around here for a week. I’ll pick it up again over the weekend and have a couple of posts about moving forward.
  • On Wednesday a couple of emails went around our department list-serv congratulating two of my colleagues on landing tenure track jobs. While I’m happy for them, it is sort of like twisting the knife. Then yesterday, another friend of mine announced that she was invited to interview for a very prestigious department in the UK. Never mind that because of our family situation SG and I agreed to stay in North America, so I decided not to apply anyway, this person is not even close to being finished and she was INVITED to apply. I know that I can’t compare myself to others and that my turn will come (at least I hope it will) but I’ll admit it – my self-esteem has taken quite a blow this past week.
  • On the plus side I posted to FaceBook that while I was happy for friends that I was down about giving two GREAT interviews and getting NEITHER job and a lot of people responded both intelligently and sympathetically. Also one of my best friends, who teaches in the Bay area, sent me some super fancy Easter chocolates in the mail. I started to cry because it is nice to know that there are people out there who understand and who have my back.

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This week I am still on DISCIPLINE (and likely will be for a few more weeks) and so let’s turn to the next quiz question:

I’m good at controlling perfectionism, realizing that some things are good enough.

Actually, I am pretty good at controlling perfectionism. My advisor thinks that I have a problem in this area and that I tend to overwrite and overthink everything. But I think that the core issue is really procrastination and a difficulty with follow-through – I have problems finishing what I started.

I think that the reason for that (the procrastination) is a combination of fear of failure and fear of success. Now I know it sounds crazy that I would be both at the same time, but at heart I am afraid of change. But it is clear that I have screwed myself in some ways as a result – the research was done 3.5 years ago and I could be finished and employed by now. And now I will be on the job market (after an unsuccessful attempt this year) in the worst year in recent history for getting a job, let alone an academic job. So I have issues. But perfectionism isn’t one of them. So on to the next question:

I avoid putting things off or waiting until the last minute.

Yeah. I gave myself a 1 on this one (1-5 with 5 being totally agree) so, as noted above, I clearly have a major problem with procrastination. 

She points out that it doesn’t matter if you check off 9 of your 10 tasks on your To Do list, if the 10th is the one that really matters. She writes:

Your work as an employee will consistently outpace your coworkers’ work if  you spend your time focusing on the critical few tasks that lead to the highest performance, value, and output.

That sounds a bit dog-eat-dog but I sort of appreciate the ruthlessness implied. No silly Men-in-Black “to be the best of the best of the best, SIR” mission statements for her. Let’s rewrite that for the “almost finished” Ph.D. and job candidate:

Your attractiveness as a job candidate will consistently outshine other candidates’  attractiveness if  you spend your time focusing on the critical few tasks that lead to the highest performance, value, and output. 

In other words: FINISH the damn DISS and get some articles out for publication!

I think that the following mantra sums it up:

My (Brain) Work Must Come First

I should probably have that tattooed – backwards, so I can see it in the mirror – on my forehead.

She then has tips for specific issues:

Is the task overwhelming?

Umm, yeah. So she recommends breaking it into smaller pieces. Tried it, doesn’t really work for me – the big project still looms and stuns me into paralysis. 

Is the task distasteful?

Well, yes, in the sense that it is so daunting and overwhelming and soooo much is at stake. She recommends that you schedule a five minute work session with yourself, but that you have to sit down and work for those five minutes. Good advice, as I mentioned before, once I get started it is fairly easy for me to keep going.

Is the task trivial?

No.

And finally:

Is there no accountability in completing the task?

Well, that used to be the case, but it is getting embarrassing at this point. Plus I have missed so many self-imposed deadlines that my advisor has sort of lost the faith. She was, to say the least, pleasantly surprised to receive my introduction today. So I have new deadlines and here they are for all the world to see (if anybody cares to look):

  • Chapter 4 to advisor – April 11
  • Chapter 5 to advisor – May 4

Yikes! That is going to be tough. But I am resolute. Once those two chapters are in, we will talk further deadlines.

So what is my task for this week? I need to work at least one hour every single day on the dissertation.  Of course will aim to spend many more hours per day, especially since I have the week off, but I will only commit myself to one hour per day. I need to finish grading and prepare for teaching but I will make sure that I will not let that overwhelm my life or even one single day. Instead, My Work Will Come First.

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