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So much for that… December 20, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in career, work.
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I was so glad the semester was over.  I can sit and relax, I thought.  Of course, my idea of relaxing is relative and tends to be significantly more intense than other people’s.  But still…

This morning involved me sitting down and looking at all the deadlines I have over the next couple months.  Papers, more proposals, and even a couple white papers…all due before the end of February.

I am going to count my lucky stars that I have a job that keeps me busy and that I enjoy.  I’m also glad I decided to turn down teaching another class next semester.  On the other hand, there’s no rest for the weary…and I’m feeling awfully weary.  I guess I’ll make a point to relax a bit extra between Christmas and New Year’s.  Maybe the puppies will even let me sleep in one or two days.

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A personality in equilibrium June 24, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in career, societal commentary, work.
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Do you ever feel like you can’t win?

I am not the most on-the-ball person. I admit that I have trouble keeping up with things.  On the other hand, I try to prioritize and make sure important things get done.  But I always feel stuck in the middle.

For instance, there is someone who I would like to work with.  She’s very smart and competent.  She’s also very nasty and has little patience for people who can’t keep up with her.  And if she thinks you’re flaky, it’s the death blow.

By her standards, I am sure that I’m flaky.

On the other hand, I hate working with flaky people myself.  I sort of understand where she’s coming from because that’s how I feel about working with another person whom I consider flaky.  He’s very easy-going and pleasant to be around.  He also never gets things done and stresses me out beyond belief because of his failure to get anything done prior to 24 hours before a deadline.  I’m sure that I come across as bad as my more competent coworker mentioned above whenever I have to deal with Mr. Flaky.

Between the two of them, I try to feel like I have the right balance of ‘let it go’ and ‘git ‘r done’.  I’m not so high-strung/demanding/sarcastic that people hate dealing with me but I’m also more competent and on top of things than some other people I have to deal with.  However, when I end up dealing with either extreme, I find myself leaning to the opposite extreme in response, and I don’t particularly enjoy it.  I feel like I’m oscillating back and forth.  Oscillating about an equilibrium point is not the same as having balance, and I really prefer that I have balance.

The key to success: careful delegation of brain cells June 7, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in career, societal commentary, work.
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I’ve been reading with great interest the discussion on work/life balance and all the various issues people have to juggle.  In particular, GMP talked about people working ‘regular hours’ versus those who work more erratically.  The funny thing is, not only am I dealing with this myself, I’m trying to convince my teenager of this.

When I started college, pre-kids, I had never really learned any study skills.  Even though I was taking AP classes in high school, I’d worked in ‘crisis management’ mode through most of it.  (Probably the one exception was AP biology…)  I’d basically see what was due the next day and do that.  I very seldom (if ever) had much difficulty with my homework and studying was pretty much a waste of time because I got everything I needed in class.

You can pretty much see where this is going…  (And this is a BIG reason why I’m not crazy about traditional schooling methods.)

Of course, nothing stays as easy as high school, and college was a lot harder.  The problem was, no one ever told me how I was supposed to study.  More than one of my classmates used the same methods I did (and were equally unsuccessful).  I took a year off, working at a job.  When I went back, I wasn’t entirely disciplined, but it seemed like I had worked myself into a schedule by having a regular job. This carried over when I went back to school.

Then I had kids…and the need for a schedule was reinforced.  You only have kids in daycare during certain hours.  And if you’re lucky enough to have a spouse, maybe they aren’t going to be willing to bail you out when you’ve got unmet deadlines.  Or maybe they have deadlines of their own.

The question I kept asking is how I could do it all.

At some point, I realized I was chasing my tail and making no forward progress.  I could sit and work for 24 hours and still not make “sufficient” progress.  I think that view came from high school, too.  I used to be able to sit down and finish something.  But as you get older, the problems get bigger and more complicated.  There are very few things I can sit down and complete in just a couple hours, and most of those are usually brainless tasks.

So there’s another thing I had to come to terms with: I can’t do everything, certainly not in one sitting, and even everything I’m already doing may be too much.  Sometimes I have to let things go by quitting them or maybe I just have to put less time into them than I like (which is pretty much everything these days).  The important thing I need to ask myself at the end of the day is whether or not I made progress.  (I also don’t bother asking if I am happy with my progress because that inevitably leads to me feeling like my efforts were inadequate, which is only counter-productive.)

I try to maximize my potential by doing the most thinking intensive stuff in the mornings.  I try to make chunks of time to work on those things as large as possible.  (I have a tough time getting focused on a task, and once I do, I need to try to keep that as long as physically possible.  Interruptions (aka meetings) are a death-blow to my productivity.)  In the evenings, I try to spend time with my kids.  After they’re in bed, I try to get a few more things done.  When I’m teaching, the night activity is almost always grading.  There is absolutely no reason to waste perfectly alert morning brain cells on grading.  If I have a choice between getting an assignment graded in the morning so I can hand it back in the afternoon or waiting until the following class session so I can do it at night, I almost always choose to wait and do it at night.  Maybe the students aren’t as happy, but my productivity is a lot more important.

I have tried to do other work at night, but that’s more benign stuff like putting together presentations or even planning out my next day (one of the best evening activities).  I am far better off getting to bed early than sitting up trying to work on something important and making virtually NO progress.  Usually I sit there and work far past the point I’m exhausted, don’t get enough sleep, function less effectively the next day, feel like I didn’t get enough done, stay up late to compensate…and it just becomes a horrible downward spiral.  Now that doesn’t mean I can always do things on a schedule, but it usually comes out better when I do.

No, as much as I don’t like it, it’s better just to leave stuff undone and make sure I’m getting enough rest and exercise.  The funny thing is, most people don’t really seem to mind.  It drives me nuts not having things done, but when I talk to my supervisor (as an example), I’ve just gotten the general feeling that I was making sufficient progress to keep him happy.  (Maybe I’m wrong?  I hope not…)  In fact, both in my own experience and what I’ve heard of others, those who wield deadlines like bludgeons and expect people to work far beyond where they are effective (especially in the face of extenuating circumstances) are generally viewed as bullies.  That seems to be the case both in industry and academia.

Waiting for the answer November 15, 2011

Posted by mareserinitatis in papers, research.
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I hate waiting on paper submissions.  Makes me insane.  You spend all this time hustling to get the paper out and then *bang!*, things settle down a bit and you wait.

Unless there’s another deadline right behind the first, I can’t necessarily make myself go into hyperfocus on a project.  That means I’m waiting while my mind has the ability to wander…and wonder.  I ponder what I did right and wrong, what things will the reviewers pick up on that I missed, etc.

I know some people feel better about getting the paper off.  Once it’s out of sight, it’s roughly out of mind.  I think it’s a much better approach to focus on that which you can control…but I can’t say I’m terribly good at it.

And in the meantime, I still have a week and a half to go.

How about you?

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