Annual Review


This year, today, I tried doing an annual review.

I shamelessly stole my friend Stevie’s method


, which is based on “Roses, Thorns, Buds” (which was a new idea to me). The Review has three phases.

Rose: Highlights

Here, I went over my calendar from 2019 and wrote down all the highlights.

For example, here are the first three:

Tobago! warm water, snorkeling, night boating, nylon pool, rum punch, wine place, bird island

Helping host WAIM workshop at iConference

SF with Rupal! Work, encouragement, reading old emails, pisco sours.

This stage gave me a long list of things to be grateful for, and illustrated that, to me, social connection and travel are meaningful experiences that consistently make my highlights list.

Thorns: Challenges

Here, I listed things that were difficult throughout the year or for a time. For example,

Difficulty focusing on work, self-soothing online
[a project] feeling stuck

This exercise helped me see that:

1) my year had a lot more positives than negatives!
2) 80% of the difficulties I listed are to do largely or entirely with how I spend my attention

Buds: 2020 plans

This section had a few parts: themes, dreams, and routines. (<– that was a happy accident that I just discovered as I wrote them down :)

Themes

Taking advice from another friend, Jake, and a podcast episode he recommended, I chose two 2020 themes, instead of resolutions. They are like guiding stars– they help you make decisions and stay going in the right direction, but they aren’t goals you can succeed or fail at. This is important to help me manage my failure schema: I will struggle to stick with something once I feel I’ve failed at it.

My 2020 themes are:
The Year of the Rat Park (referring to this great TED talk)
and The Year of Attention

I will spend energy building a life that has lots of space, time, and infrastructure for social connection and I will spend my attention intentionally.

Concretely, this means setting aside time each week to work on our backyard (so we can host people!) and trying to be aware of how I am spending my attention: thinking of it as a limited and important resource. The first will be accomplished through scheduling time each weekend for working on the backyard, and the second will be addressed through journalling, and perhaps some other mindfulness practices.

Dreams

This part was very hard for me. The idea here is to dream big. What do I want to accomplish this year? What would an ideal outcome look like?

I struggled with this because it does define success and failure, but I took the instruction to visualize what’s possible. I imagine I can:

complete 3 current projects,

include pomodoros in every working day,

and go to the gym at least 4 days of every week I’m in town.

Routines

To support my annual themes and goals, I will implement some daily structure that I hope will take some of the need for willpower out of some basic parts of my day (like breakfast) so I can direct it where I need it: building the ability to focus on difficult projects for an extended period.

These routines can be changed as I learn more about how I work best, but they must be changed intentionally and for at least a week.

On a working day, I’ll have 30 minutes to get with it and make coffee before heading out to the gym. Upon return, I’ll take a shower, and do 3 pomorodos before lunch. After lunch, I must do at least 2 pomodoros. I may do more, or I may fill up the rest of my work time with administrative or tedious work, depending on how my mind is doing that day.

I can stop working at 5 if I like, guilt-free if I’ve stuck with my goals and spent my attention well. If I’m on a deadline or I don’t feel good about my work day, I can work until 7. But no matter what the day was like, 7pm is a hard stop.

After that, I can work on an art project, read, play a game with B– whatever it is, it needs to be an actually refreshing activity, not self-soothing scrolling on twitter or reddit.

At 11:30, I go to bed.

We’ll see how this works! I hope it will help me manage distraction and feel good about work. I revisited my dissertation timeline and put it in my calendar, and hopefully routinizing my work week a little and making time for relaxation will help me reach those goals without burning out.

Time will tell!

Do you do an annual review? What are your hopes and goals for 2020? I’d love to hear your thoughts :)

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GTD + Bullet Journal Introduction

Displaying IMG_20180304_101120.jpgI’m a long-time user of the productivity system “Getting Things Done,” but I’ve been occasionally derailed by boredom, travel, and (ironically and counterproductively) deadline crunches. After moving back across the country, I hadn’t gotten back on the horse because there’s always something more urgent (or fun) to do than a wholesale review of my life.

I’ve also long had an eye on bullet journalling. It’s flexible, personal, and can involve fancy pens and even elaborate art if you like. I hesitated for two reasons. First, it just doesn’t seem right to use pen and paper in 2018. It doesn’t have all the affordances of a digital system, and it feels indulgent somehow.

After I finished and passed (yay!) my integrative paper, I needed to reorient myself to the many projects that were on hold for weeks before that deadline and to plan my next steps. Overwhelmed by the many projects and possibilities, frustrated by the difficulty of time-blocking in my digital calendar, inspired by my friend’s fancy journal tape (I am a sucker for a good craft supply…), and homebound with a busted rib, I did a lot of research and dove in.

There is a LOT out there about how to get started, and I’ll make a recommended resource list, but the best place to start with bullet journalling in my opinion, is with the basics. It’s tempting to look all the beautiful things people do with it, but because I am using my journal as a tool for future planning, rather than an artistic outlet or an archive, I avoided looking at the online communities until I had the system down (more or less.)

To be clear, I don’t have a problem with outlets and archives, and I am not a purist by any means, but I wanted a system that works for my functional needs first, and if I manage to make it pretty and fun to do, well, all the better :) I don’t plan to be a bujo celebrity on insta (they do exist) and I don’t expect you to be impressed with my system on an aesthetic level.

Starting next week, this series of posts will explain how I incorporate GTD principles into my bullet journal, and how I use it to stay on track in grad school and life.

Index of (planned) posts: 

 

  • Getting Started with Bullet Journalling
  • My GTD + Bujo System
  • Graduate School + Bujo
  • Tools
  • Trackers, Tricks, and Tips

Also, if there’s something not on this list you want me to write about, please leave a comment!

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The Alternative?

This is a “reprint” of a post I wrote for an in-class, private blog as an assignment last term, slightly edited. It is a response to articles about mental health challenges in graduate school; something like this one.

I was inspired to fetch and post this publicly by a conversation I had with some more senior (and one former) graduate student today about whether and how we were prepared for the intellectual and emotional work of grad school.

I post this with gratitude to my friends whom I mention here, all now PhDs in their own rights :) 

I feel lucky to be here.

I am aware————————–de=erd   [<– this is the contribution of my cat, Mandelbrot! I’ll use this occasion to try that sentence again]

I was convinced for most of my life that I was only possessed of aptitudes for which I could not be paid: drawing, painting, poetry, the verbal sections of standardized tests, and getting things down from high shelves. This would have been fine– that’s what hobbies and short roommates are for!– except it also turned out that I was pretty bad at doing things that did pay, and pretty miserable doing them, too. I thought I was just not very clever, and rewarding work wasn’t in my future, until I met some grad students.

I had this impression that in order to pursue a PhD, you needed to be some kind of savant– that if I were to meet people who were doing so I’d have so little in common with them that we couldn’t even communicate. But I was way off.

The graduate students I met were sharp, of course, but also friendly and fun! They had meaningful conversations thoughtfully, and, surprisingly, they cared about *my* thoughts, too. They wanted to know what I was curious about, what my ideas were. They even thought some of my ideas and questions were good, and I felt like I was a real, equal partner in our discussions. Meanwhile, at work, I would be asked for my opinion, ignored or over-ridden by someone senior to me, required to execute and stand behind something obviously stupid, and then told to clean up after those ideas went wrong.

And the more I got to know my academic friends, I noticed something really amazing. More than anyone I knew, they sincerely loved their work. People say, “don’t ask a grad student about their thesis topic,” and I can’t think of worse advice. I mean, yeah, don’t ask when it will be done, but if you like to learn,  the person to ask is someone who taken on huge opportunity costs to become an expert in a topic that they care about. So they were experts, they worked hard, and they loved their work. I quickly grew to love graduate student parties, because I could go around and ask, “so what do you study?” It might take a few follow-up questions to convince them I was actually interested, but eventually, I could learn a ton about something from someone who knows all about it, and gave up what is often considerable income potential because they care about it so much.

The value surplus of my friends’ work expand the human knowledge by pin pricks, and I worked to– what exactly? prevent a start-up from failing? Make some board members (marginally more) wealthy?

So if there’s a checklist, my friends had autonomy, mastery, and purpose, and I had none of the above.

After being told by a senior executive that I was here to be “something nice to look at,” being spied on, and finally asked to do something unethical, I quit my last start-up job, and I promised myself I wouldn’t find another until I took those GRE books out of my trunk and put them to use.

I spent the next year gathering research and teaching experience to give this an honest shot. By the time I got into this, I had seen my friends go through comps, prospectus defenses, dissertation defenses, and the job market. It looked terrifying, though they all handled it with grace. They confessed it was brutal, and it was totally worth it.

The choice was perhaps easier for me than them, even with open eyes to the difficulties, because the payoff–rewarding work– was a unicorn I never dared believe existed (and frankly my alternative was pretty shitty.)

My partner, Brandon, persuaded me to write a plan (in GTD style) for how I’d get in to graduate school. I went back to check it out (had to go look in the “Completed” section by the way– what a trip!)  Here are the purposes and principles for my “get into graduate school” project:

  • Enjoy learning and researching for 4-7 years, and expand human knowledge by a pin prick at a time
  • Qualify for a career in which I can continue to enjoy learning and research (in academia or industry)
  • Qualify for a career in which I can continue to expand human knowledge (pin pricks at a time)
  • Qualify for a career in which I can spread enthusiasm for science among people like me, who initially were intimidated or uninterested
  • Qualify as a expert in something, about which I can write
  • Qualify for a career in which I could feel autonomy, mastery, and purpose
  • Have an income for 4-7 years
  • Expand my social network with more thoughtful, invested, ambitious people
  • Publish a first-author paper
  • Don’t idolize R1, TT jobs
  • Don’t put your name on half-assed work

Fortunately, all of these things can be accomplished if I end up working in industry. So as as intimidating as the pressures created by the structure of academia are, and as much as I want to fix the issues that plague the academy for the sake of current professors and undergraduates, I am walking in with open eyes and and a back up plan.

It’s fun to end with a photo, so here is Mandelbrot gloating about her astute blog contribution.

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De-slackifying

So far, this is going quite well. I found a few things I was dreading doing and putting off because they were unclear, or complicated, or something I had minorly screwed up in the past and was afraid of.

But avoiding the task doesn’t solve any of those problems (in fact, it exacerbates the latter!) so, once I got my head clear and recovered some of my confidence yesterday, I clarified them, broke them down into next actions, and tackled them this morning.

And you know what?

I didn’t fail or die or anything! My cat even still likes me.

Now, it’s time to go grocery shopping and make a whole bunch of burritos so I don’t have to cook next week 😉

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Winter Break 1.0

Long time, no see! I just got back from winter break. You’d think that I’d have had time to write something, wouldn’t you? Well, that’s sort of what this post is about.

Before winter break started, I was really excited about all the work I’d be able to get done. It was a simple formula:

No class = more time

Right? Not exactly

During the last lab meeting before winter break, we went around the table and talked about what we would do before we met next. I talked with my cohort about what winter break would be like. I planned my trip. I knew it was a norm to joke about how difficult it will be to get work done, but I knew I had bitten off less than I could chew. I look back on my confidence with amusement.

Now I see that having no structure in my time is, for me, a disaster. I did get the main priorities for the break completed, and I’m happy with what I’ve done, but let’s just say that if I didn’t return 5 days ahead of time just before a huge snowstorm that gave me an excuse to not leave the apartment for days on end, I would be significantly less happy.

And those few days were like pulling teeth to get anything done, even though I clearly had the time. Like the total cliche I am, I found other things to do. I cleaned, I cooked– I even baked a loaf of bread! (That part was worth it. delicious.)

It’s important to me to learn from this experience for a few reasons:

First, I will have other breaks, including summer, when I will have to get work done.

Second, and hugely, assuming all goes well, I will have a lot of unstructured time during which to write my dissertation. During that time, I need to write my dissertation, not worry about writing my dissertation and then write it all at once at the last possible moment.

Thirdly, I need to have practice imposing and conforming to structure on my time to be a researcher who succeeds in accomplishing her own priorities, rather than what happens to be urgent at that moment.

After a year or two of arranging my life pretty haphazardly and years of historic failure to handle long term projects for school, I’ve been pleasantly surprised with my productive response to the structure of last semester. What that tells me is that, just like studies suggest, I am capable of improving and building new skills. Now it’s time to extend that to productive use of unstructured time. And I’ll have several, but not unlimited opportunities to practice and refine those habits before dissertation time.

I’ll report on my plans and progress in this area, and I hope you’ll leave your suggestions for being productive with unstructured time in the comments!

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