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Posts Tagged ‘motivation’

OK, so not much happening on the self-improvement project front over the last two weeks. As I mentioned, I have basically been flattened by the combination of illness and starting to teach again. Need I even mention that my next chapter will not be to my advisor by the stated deadline (tomorrow)?

In the plus column I wrote her a long email today responding to her comments on my introduction (they were spot on as usual), promising the chapter by the end of the month, and asking to meet to discuss the timeline for finishing and the defense.  I tried to balance letting her know I was sick with some self-awareness (and some self-deprecating humor) acknowledging  that I’m the one who is responsible for the mess that my dissertation (life) has become, and at this point that is the best I can do. Also in the plus column, I have been writing, taking notes from key articles and books, and reviewing my field notes over the past two weeks – it has just been sporadic and slow.

So back to the self-improvement life experiment! So when we last left our heroine (anti-heroine?) she was still working her way through the Discipline chapter. I’m going to stick with Discipline, not only because it continues to be one of my biggest issues, but to prove to myself (and to the five of you who may be reading) that I have the discipline to stick with it. But let’s shake up the format a little. Below are the next four quiz items, with some brief comments on each.

34. I force myself to slow down when necessary; I know speed can be counterproductive.

So not an issue for me.

35. I determine what I will accomplish each day, rather than allowing other people to dictate my schedule.

Hmmm. This is a tough one. I do let myself become easily distracted by the million little things that need to get done, that should get done, that other people haven’t done. So in a sense I do allow other people’s priorities and outside distractions dictate my schedule for me. Plus there is the problem of letting SG distract me when we both work at home (see below). So this is a problem I need to tackle. 

36. I work productively from my home office and avoid distractions.

Wow. Yeah, this one is a big problem. First of all my office is a huge dumping ground for all of the stuff that can’t be upstairs (because of Buddy or space concerns). Although I know I need to ‘declutter’ and get the office under control it is like a hydra that grows a new head each time I cut the previous one off.  Seriously, I’ve tried to stay on top of it and it is the neverending project.  At some point you have to call a truce and decide that you are going to ignore the mess and just work.

Second, my office is also our guest room and contains my closet and also plays host to a lot of my personal items and hobby items (like my sewing machine) so it doesn’t exactly lend itself to a “work-only” mentality.

Finally, there are the interruptions by SG who also works at home. I’m not going to go into detail here except to say that after nearly 10 years of marriage things are unlikely to change any time soon. Still I should make more of a creative effort in this area. 

37. I handle common, routine tasks on a daily basis so things don’t pile up.

In terms of my office and tasks such as filing, shredding, and so forth, the answer is definitely not, which is part of the problem. I also tend to let things like bills slide until the last minute – I usually get them in on time, but it can be an issue and certainly does take up more time to do them at the last minute. On the other hand, I am fairly good at managing my ongoing “to dos” in a timely way. I use context lists (from David Allen’s Getting Things Done) and iCalendar and reminders to stay on top of the day-to-day stuff. The problem is that often the day-to-day stuff is all I manage to do. And that is not being productive. All I am doing is surviving and putting out fires.

That’s enough for now. I’ll tackle some of the strategies I intend to implement in my next post.

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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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Book One: Leave the Office Earlier

The TaskWrite first thing in the morning (after dropping Buddy at daycare).

EvaluationTwo out of four days isn’t bad. On Wednesday I did end up writing for a good chunk of the day, so I’ll give myself credit for upholding the spirit if not the letter of the law. On Thursday I had that interview for the adjunct in the morning and was in a tired funk in the afternoon and took a nap so I fell down both in the spirit and in letter.On Monday and Friday I did work first thing in the morning and got a lot done on both days. And I turned in the introduction so I have a real and tangible result for all my work. Which feels good. But kind of scary.

Further Thoughts: Even though I wasn’t quite up to getting started first thing in the morning everyday, the important thing I gleaned from this mini-experiment is that it is the getting started that is the hardest part for me. Once I am writing, I can keep writing. Sometimes I even want to keep writing. But I dread writing and I allow myself too many get out of jail free cards. Sometimes the answer is to be harder on yourself, not easier.

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Book Two: Confessions of an Organized Housewife

The Task: Do some decluttering, based on her discard/sort system and some of the variations.

Evaluation: I haven’t made much more progress on this front this week. I think that decluttering is an ongoing project that will probably not be done for a long time for us (I am going to say that it will get done some day). As a follow-up I’m going to set a specific goal for this week, which is to sort through the linen closet and the bathroom drawers.

Further Thoughts: I am trying to keep the overall message in mind, even if I don’t have a ton of time to actually implement everything. And that message is that being organized means more time to do the things you want to do and love doing.  Also, it is an ongoing, incremental process. I always want to wave a magic wand and have a completely organized (and clean) house. Not going to happen, and certainly not overnight.

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Book Three: Collect Raindrops

The Task: Keep a eating journal, be more aware of what I eat, talk to SG about a CSA.

Evaluation: Like the decluttering, changing eating habits takes time. I did keep a food journal and had some more successful days and some less successful days. I also did two shopping trips without Buddy, which was much better, I took more time to think  about what we needed (and was able to use my list without little hands grabbing at it) and still got out in less time then when I take him with me. And SG is excited about the CSA so I just have to remember to follow-up.

Further Thoughts: I will try to keep up the food journal for another two weeks and then review it to identify any sticking points.

Now on to week two!

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Biblioteca de la Real Academia De La Lengua, Madrid, Spain

Biblioteca de la Real Academia De La Lengua, Madrid, Spain

I love libraries. And I love reading rooms. But lately I haven’t been able to spend much time in them. So occasionally I will post a virtual reading room/work space for your (and my) pleasure. Can’t you almost smell that intoxicating old book smell?

See more beautiful libraries

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51203ugooml_sl500_aa240_I’ve always loved Nikki McClure’s work and I’ve had a number of her calendars over the years (check out her website for examples of her work). So as part of my self-improvement experiment I am including her new collection Collect Raindrops: The Seasons Gathered as an alternative/right-brained source of inspiration and motivation. 

As with the other two sources, each week I will take a section of the book, in this case, one paper-cut and the word(s) associated with it and meditate on how it should, could or might apply to my life right now. The book, like the year, starts with Winter – so I will start at the beginning of spring which is just around the corner.

Lesson One:

So here is the first word/phrase in Spring:

Eat more Kale

Hmm, that is disturbingly specific. However I think it can be interpreted in a number of ways. First of all I need to improve my diet. That was something I was working on at the beginning of the year but with work and the travel involved with the interviews, I have slid back into my old ways which involve a lot of chocolate and pastries.

Related to improving my diet, I need to work on being more aware of where our food comes from and how it is produced. For awhile now SG and I have striven to shop organic, shop humane, and to a lesser extent, shop locally, but now that spring is on the way, perhaps it is time to really start exploring the local farmers market and look into getting a CSA share. We talked about it last year but never quite got it together.

So for this week:

  1. Be more mindful of what I eat. Keep a journal of what I ate, where I ate it, who I ate it with, where it came from, and how I felt when I ate it.
  2. Talk to SG about a possible CSA share this year.
  3. And finally, eat more greens (I can only take so much kale).

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