27 Jul

three things i don’t know how to do

There are lots of things I don’t know how to do. These are the three I struggled with today*.

I don’t know how to do a PhD

Today I coded a transcript of an interview. It was great! What fun, to be able to sit and think and interpret really interesting content. (I’m not being sarcastic – it is actually fun, and a privilege.) But in the in-between movements, I kept thinking oh-my-god-I-don’t-know-what-I’m-doing-surely-I-must-be-doing-this-wrong-I-can’t-even-code-a-transcript-how-can-I-write-a-thesis.

But then I remembered I don’t actually have to know exactly what I’m doing because the whole point of doing a PhD is to learn to be a researcher. And then I thought oh-my-god-I-don’t-know-what-I’m-doing-surely-I-can’t-write-a-thesis. And then I stopped thinking and went and made some more tea.

I don’t know how to do one thing at a time

I’m so used to frantically multi-tasking that I have completely lost the ability to do just one thing at a time. Actually (as an old friend told me the other day in an instant messaging conversation I was having while I was on a Skype call followed by answering email), I never knew how to do one thing at a time. My attention span sucks. I can’t even watch TV without writing a blog post or answering email or having a conversation via DM on Twitter at the same time. I get frustrated at the cinema because people whinge about the light being a distraction if you have your phone on. I don’t know how to focus on one thing at a time, particularly when that one thing is something time consuming or detailed. Even if it’s interesting. Even if it’s really, REALLY interesting and I really want to do it. I just can’t seem to stop myself trying to do other stuff at the same time.

I am, quite simply, a stimulus junkie.

I don’t know how to finish <insert any task/project/thing here>

I am not a completer. I am an ideas girl. I’m a starter. I’m a mid-range runner. I like to design projects, kick them off, get them implemented, maybe even start the post-implementation evaluation… and then in the blink of an eye, I tune out. The shine of new projects dies quickly. Maybe it’s about being a stimulus junkie. Maybe things go from stimulating to unstimulating once I’ve worked out the challenges. Whatever it is, the product is the same. If something goes on for too long, I’m over it before we get to the end. My to do lists (both work and life) are full of things that I just can’t seem to finish. And I JUST WANT THEM TO GO AWAY.

This is interesting, really, because I am a details person in the worst kind of way. I am completely and utterly pedantic about details that, in the grand scheme of things, don’t actually matter. Like being consistent in the capitalisation I use in blog post titles, or finding the exact right font for a job, or lining things up precisely in a Word document. It took me six months to hang a picture gallery in my office because I was scared shitless of making a mistake, of not getting the visual balance exactly right, or of knocking holes in my newly painted wall in places I didn’t want holes. My blog posts sit in draft for days or weeks because I am never sure I’ve proofed them enough or that they will make sense to anyone but me or that I actually want to show them to the world. (*Case in point: this post. It’s been sitting in draft since Wednesday. So when say ‘today’ at the top of the post, I actually mean three days ago.)

I think I just had another epiphany. I literally just figured this out, in the middle of writing that last sentence. Like a real epiphany, not one I planned to have in order to tie this post up nicely. In fact this epiphany is poor timing, really, because it has messed up the rhythm of my writing (and subsequently caused me to let this post sit in draft for several days). This was supposed to be a post about “things I don’t know how to do”, not “figuring out the reasons I can’t do certain things”. But I am all too aware of how hard won these nuggets of self-knowledge can be so I’m running with it…

And here it is, my epiphany: Maybe I don’t know how to finish anything because I am overwhelmed by having to do everything to my own exacting standards.

So perhaps the third thing I don’t know how to do should actually be…

I don’t know how to settle for done

Done is good, but rarely good enough for me. Which is quite a problem, really, when you’ve got five months to write a thesis (five months minus two days, if we’re going to be specific).

Now, where did I put my cult of done sign?

25 Jul

why you should always pack a lunch box even when you work from home

This post is part of a series on making working from home work for you

Okay, so maybe you don’t need to pack a lunch box, but you *do* need to make your lunch ahead of time.

Today a fellow work-from-home-r messaged me on Twitter just as I was pondering the Great Lunch Decision and said:

randomly – i really hate working out what to have for lunch. such a time waster

Yes. Yes it is.

You could be forgiven for thinking you would eat healthily or have delicious freshly cooked hot meals for lunch if you worked from home. It’s a delusion that you should actually be able to turn into a reality.

But here’s how it *actually* is: Lunch time rolls around and you can’t be bothered deciding what to eat, let alone making it. Or (more often in my case), lunch time rolls on by and suddenly it’s 3pm and you’re ravenous and your blood sugar is so low you have to stuff 12 freddos in your mouth while you wait for your toast to cook or you’re going to faint in a big puddle on your recently cleaned kitchen floor.

Even if I do manage to stop at about lunch time and realise I should go and get something to eat, I generally haven’t thought in advance about what I could make so I invariably stare into the empty, cavernous, echoey fridge shouting “Hello? Hello in there? Come out and get me, lunch!”, and the empty, cavernous, echoey fridge just echoes my shout and nothing ever presents itself. So I either end up abandoning all thoughts of eating and just make more coffee, or I grab five little packets of snack food and head back to my desk where I proceed to eat a whole bunch of stuff that has absolutely no nutritional value.

If I’m going into the office, I either pack up my pinker than pink Tupperware fuel pack or I just wake up to myself and realise I’m going to get 12* coffees at the bookshop and Guzman Y Gomez for lunch. But my point is, if I’m going into the office, I almost always know what I’m going to eat. And if I don’t, it doesn’t actually matter, because there’s a food court right next to our building. In fact I can scope out how busy it is without getting in the lift, because I can peer directly into it from our floor.

But there is no food court at home. In my home, there is often no bread and rarely anything more exciting than cheese slices to have on the bread (on the off chance I have bread).

So the moral of the story is this: If you work from home and you like the idea of eating lunch, you should prepare your lunch just as you would if you were going into the office. Make your sandwich the night before, put aside some leftovers in a microwave safe container, or buy ready made meals you can throw in the oven. Don’t buy huge tubs of yoghurt unless you’re going to decant them in advance into smaller containers, because it’s a pain to have to do it during the day. Buy things in portion controlled packets or you’ll end up taking the whole packet to your desk and eating it all, because it’s easier than opening the packet, putting some in a bowl, then finding a Tupperware container for the rest.

If your office was (for example) in an industrial area and there were no food shops around and you couldn’t drive anywhere to get food, you’d never go into work without a well stocked lunch box. There aren’t any food places around the corner in suburbia, either, so the same applies to working from home. Pack your fuel pack in advance and you may actually make it to the end of the day without eating every bit of convenience food in sight or passing out from starvation and face planting on your keyboard.

* Evidently 12 is my number today. Often it’s 67. But today it’s 12.

18 Jul

proud sister

When I finished school, I started my undergraduate degree straight away, even though I had no idea what I wanted to study and not a single drop of career ambition. I started my degree and fluffed around trying to find something that was the right fit for me. Eventually, I fluffed around for long enough that I actually finished the degree I started.

I was very fortunate to have a lot of support from my sister when I was studying. We lived together, which meant I never had to share a house with strangers (or friends), but instead lived in a nice apartment, with nice (non-student) furniture. I got to drive her brand new car around. She supported me emotionally and financially through my degree. I quite literally could not have done it without her.

This year, my sister started her undergraduate degree. My sister, who thought she would hate study and had no confidence in her capacity to do this thing. My sister, who would be happy if she passed.

Yesterday, my sister got a letter from the dean of her school, commending her on her achievement in her first semester.

She finished her first semester with a higher GPA (and a bigger course load) than I managed in my first semester. Or in my first several semesters, actually.

So today, I get to be the proud sister. And I couldn’t possibly *be* any prouder.

17 Jul

holy shit! sabbatical is here and i am not ready

Tomorrow, I am officially on sabbatical. Like, holidays over, time to knuckle down and kick this thesis to the curb.

There are three problems with this.

1. I didn’t do all of the things I wanted to do while I was on holidays.

Actually, I didn’t do hardly any of the things. The things were all about getting me sorted so I would have a good, tidy, organised workspace as well as good habits, good routines and a good frame of mind for my thesis writing sprint.

There are various reasons why this didn’t happen. Which leads me to problem number two.

2. I may be on sabbatical from work, but I cannot take a sabbatical from my life.

It sounds pretty obvious, doesn’t it? But this is something I only just realised, and I only realised it because I’ve just had one of those periods you have where shit just goes wrong and even the easiest things are way, way too hard.

The everyday stuff continues. Food still needs to be bought and cooked. Appointments at sundry medical practitioners (physios, doctors, dieticians) need to be made and attended. Houses need to be cleaned. Washing needs to be done and folded and put away. Children need attention – lots and lots of it. But it’s not these everyday things that worry me.

It’s the little things that shouldn’t be hard but take up ridiculous amounts of time. The photo frames that are faulty and need to be returned. The cabinet doors that don’t fit that need exchanging. The birthday presents that are too big to fit in Australia Post boxes. The children that choose Lego as reward gifts and are too young to assemble it themselves. The clothes ordered online that don’t fit, need to be returned and rebought. The wedding presents that need to be sourced and sent to unknown addresses in Europe. (Shit. That one is well overdue.) The paintings that fall off walls. The TV antennas that die and need replacing and the technician that wants to spend an hour explaining the mechanics to me when I do not care.

It’s the big, random, complete pain in the ass stuff. The fridges that break and stay broken for weeks while the extended warranty companies make decisions about repairs (and meanwhile you have to call them ten times and eventually shout “I’m calling the Office of Fair Trading” to get some action). The shade sails that tear in bad weather, the insurance claim that results, and the banging of the broken shade that keeps you awake all night. Discs that slip, get better, slip again. Siblings that get sick, get hospitalised, come home, need care.  Shit happens and needs attention.

I want to take a rain check on everything that is not essential until the thesis is written. Birthdays, social events, life milestones… Can we just hit pause and I’ll make it up to everyone early next year? Yeah. I didn’t think so.

Also, I would really appreciate it if we could just not have any other minor disasters in the next six months. Really. I think we’ve had our fair share.

I had this vision of a nice calm life and a finished thesis. But this is *my* life we’re talking about, and it is never calm (is anyone’s?).

3. I have absolutely no idea where to start or how to plan for this beast.

That’s not quite true. I know where to start. I need to start with analysis. But I’m not sure how that happens, really, and I’m not sure how long it will take. And I’m not sure what will come after that or how long it will take. Everyone says doing a PhD is like eating an elephant. The only way you can do it is one bite at a time. But which bite do you take first?

The end

Actually, that’s not the end. Because after I wrote about these three problems, I had an…


I have been saying to myself (for a very long time): “Go go go! You’ll be on sabbatical soon and then you’ll be HOME so you can cook and eat properly and get up in the morning and exercise and take time out to be creative and pull your weight around the house and…”

Who the hell was I kidding? The start of a (slightly less than) six month thesis sprint is not the time to try to transform my life. Yes, I’ll be working at home all the time, and yes, I won’t be teaching at night, and yes, in theory, I should be able to cook dinner every night. But transforming my life is not something I could I am trying to undo four years worth of bad habits and I’m trying to do it all at once, at possibly one of the most stressful times of my life. *RE-OW-RE-OW-RE-OW* (In case you didn’t hear it, those are the alarm bells.)

When I took this job, I thought being an academic would mean I would have time to read and think. Haha. I haven’t been more wrong about anything since then. Until I decided that sabbatical was my chance to transform my life, as well as right my thesis.

I have just packed that idea up into a little box and thrown it in the bin.

Let’s just get the thesis done and come out the other side alive and well(ish).

Ready or not, here I go.

11 Jul

how to have an at-home holiday when home is your office

This is the second in a series of posts on making working from home work for you.

I rarely travel for ‘play’ because I travel a bit for work, and I actually don’t like travel all that much. I’m a bit of a home body. I like my stuff. I like my house. I don’t like long flights and I seem to always pick up whatever germs are floating around on the plane. It’s no fun arriving at your destination only to get sick straight away.

So I tend to stay home for my holidays and this one is no exception.

But it is not easy to spend your holiday in your work space, because you invariably end up thinking about work all the time and the temptation to actually do some work is always there. Four years into this gig, during which I have been spending an ever increasing proportion of my work hours at home, I have finally figured out how to take time off without traveling and without giving up on relaxation and getting stuck into work.

Make plans in advance

I am not good at being bored. When faced with a few days off work without any plans, I get a bit panicky. Which is absolutely ridiculous because when I’m working, I crave uninterrupted time… Time to read, watch TV series, sew… And then I get it and I don’t know how to fill it.

I am also not good at doing one thing at a time. In fact, as I write this post I am also watching home renovation shows on TV.

When I find myself at a loose end, or I’m not fully engaged in what I’m doing, my first instinct is to check my email or do some kind of work. So if I’m holidaying at home, effectively holidaying in my office, I really need to make sure that I’m not going to find myself at a loose end too often. But I still have to make sure I have some downtime, because I generally don’t take leave until I’m absolutely, completely exhausted. There’s a fine line between keeping myself amused enough that I don’t work and getting enough down time to recharge.

So I make some plans. I don’t plan for every day, but I plan to do something every few days: to catch up with people for lunch or dinner, do a sewing class, paint a bedroom… Breaking up the stretch of time I could conceivably be sitting at home doing nothing makes it less likely I’ll work. I know there is stuff coming up, which means I have something to look forward to and encourages me to just chill out and potter on the days I don’t have plans.

Mostly, I plan to do stuff on the days I don’t see my niece and nephew – weekdays, mainly. Weekends are kid-time, and there is always something to do, even if it might be a little (dare I say it?) boring – I’m thinking particularly of watching / playing Fireman Sam. This weekend we are going to make our first Lego review video, which will be fun!

Spend some of your at-home holiday in someone else’s home

Two days ago, I packed up and drove to a friend’s house. During semester, I don’t see much of my friends at all. This particular friend has a four month old baby and I have not seen her nearly as much as I would have liked since baby came along. Actually, I haven’t seen her nearly as much as I would have liked for about the last six years, but missing baby milestones makes it feel so much worse. She’s one of those friends whose house feels like a second home. So I’m spending a couple of days at her place. Double win: I’m out of my workspace, and spending some time with a much loved friend and her beautiful, beautiful family.

Have separate devices

Until about six months ago, I had one laptop I used for both work and life. Now I have two: one supplied by work, used for work (and a little bit of personal stuff, seeing I’m on this laptop all the time); and my old faithful, which used to be my work machine as well as my life machine.

Having separate laptops has had an enormous impact on this break from work. My work machine is configured for work and launches a bunch of work applications on login. My personal laptop isn’t as well configured and that makes working a bit more difficult. But the big difference is I don’t have Outlook on this machine (it has the student version of Office installed), and that reduces the likelihood I’ll check my work email because I HATE (yes, I shouty shouty HATE) Outlook Web Access. I don’t have an alternative setup because I also really dislike all the alternative mail clients for Mac that work with an Exchange account.

When I was ready to ‘go on holidays’ (that is, stop working), I powered down my work laptop and put it away. I told myself I would check my email and do a few bits and pieces after three full days off, and my work laptop stayed packed away until then. And now it’s back in the same spot.

With a non-work laptop, I can do my online shopping, play on social media, sewing research and media consumption without the temptation of working.

Disconnect your devices

This one is probably applicable to anyone, not just work from home types. The first thing I did when I started my break was turn my work email off on all my iDevices. I left my calendar on because I have all my life stuff in there too, so I get a few notifications. But when I have a free moment and my impulse is to check my email on whatever device is to hand, I can’t (or at least I can’t without putting in effort). If I was capable of looking and then forgetting, it would be okay. But often one glimpse at my inbox will lead to several hours work. So I’m loving not having my email pushed to my devices.

Do not sit down at your desk

Ever. Under any circumstances. In fact, if you have a dedicated home office, I would suggest you don’t cross the threshold. My office is also my sewing room and my exercise room (bahahahaha! What I really mean by that is: the space in which my unused treadmill sits), so I do go in there to do interesting and relaxing things. One of my holiday to-dos is sorting out all our paperwork. I’m doing this on my sewing table and all my sewing stuff is displaced and strewn around the house. I could use the extra space my desk would offer to make more piles of papers, but I know that sitting down at my desk would put me in ‘work mode’, and I do not want to be there.

Plan to work

Another one for the workaholics, not just the work-from-home-types: If you are like me and you need to do some work while you’re on holidays, plan when you’re going to do it and give yourself a certain amount of time to get it done. Stick to the time limit and then pack up and go back to holidays. If stuff comes up that is playing on your mind, sometimes it’s just better to get it done and then you can stop thinking about it. And sometimes there is stuff you have to deal with right then and there. So deal with it, then disconnect. I had to deal with something today and I reconnected my email on my phone to follow something up, and then it snowballed into dealing with a few things that really could have waited til I was back at work. But I’d seen them in my inbox and I knew I’d think about them if I didn’t just get them done. So I got them done.

Do the things you wouldn’t normally do around the house on a work day

When I’m working I do absolutely no housework during the day. I don’t even put a load of washing on, because I know it’s a slippery slope once I start doing housey stuff. So I’ve been doing some of the things I generally don’t do, which means I’m pulling my weight a bit more around the house. That’s a nice feeling because it redresses the completely inequitable division of house duties we normally have.

I’m also working on a bunch if housey projects over this break. I’m finishing up redecorating my office, hanging all pictures that have been leaning on the walls for forevity, cleaning out files and culling my wardrobe. So I’m in the house but I’ve got projects to focus on.

Don’t go back to work wishing you’d had more of a break

It’s your holiday. Don’t work more than you want to. Don’t make it action packed to stave off boredom and then go back to work exhausted. If you are bored and tempted to work, get out of the house or find a project. But definitely don’t blow your holiday by getting distracted by work.

07 Jul

derailing, exhaling, hitting publish

An up front disclaimer: this is a selfish post. A just-for-me post. The type I usually write and leave in draft forever and ever, amen. I contemplated turning comments off for this post because discussing this feels… like too much. But that’s just silly, right? I’ve been hovering over the ‘publish’ button for about an hour [edit: it just turned into two and a half three hours]. I think I will just hit it [edit: now, two and a half three hours after I finished writing the first cut].

Today I planned to spend the day sorting paperwork: culling warranties and manuals for products we no longer own; throwing out old tax returns and their associated paperwork (I had them right back to my first ever return); organising my degrees and awards and associated stuff. At about lunchtime, I got derailed by one folder that I knew was in there, but that I hadn’t really thought about in a very long time.

I remember a time in my early 20s when things weren’t great. It has been a long time since I thought about this period in anything more than a broad remembrance of being deeply, deeply unhappy.

I opened up a folder today labeled ‘Kate – writing’. Inside were portfolios of poems and short narrative pieces that I collated for assessment in my undergraduate degree (and some other writing, too).

I knew what was in there; I knew some of these pieces of writing were loaded with emotion; I had vague ideas about some of the poems and stories; I remembered some phrases or lines from others.

I didn’t expect the affect they had on me. The visceral affect. The slam in the chest. The quiet sadness that came next.

Sure, there are some clumsy, overworked metaphors and some less than perfect phrasing. Some of the stuff is even okay and tiny little pieces of some of the poems and narratives might actually be good. But none of that actually matters.

Seeing these pieces of writing – just looking at them, as a whole bundle of stuff – had a profound impact on me. Reading them was… Something else.

I hadn’t forgotten sitting and watching every laboured breath my grandfather took, waiting with my own breath held to see if he would take another. I hadn’t forgotten sitting with my feet hanging in the pool while I wrote my grandfather’s eulogy. I hadn’t forgotten how alone I felt in my unhappiness – not in my grief, but in my unhappiness. I hadn’t forgotten that day in that thickly grassed park and how I felt sitting in the sun in that moment. I hadn’t forgotten the time the sound of my shoes slapping turned into the rhythm for and subject of a poem. I hadn’t forgotten all of the hideous, heartbreaking things – or even the happy, heartening things – I saw and did and thought and felt when I was in this place.

I hadn’t forgotten any of these things, but I had no cause to think about them until I opened up this file today. I am reeling, still, from the shock of being affected at all by my own writing, or at least the memories it invoked. I thought I might be embarrassed by the quality or maybe even amused. Not quietly sad and a bit bewildered. Not these things.

But the sadness and the bewilderment will go away and they do not compare to the overwhelming, incomprehensible unhappiness I felt at the time. And I am glad I had the opportunity to write these things while I was stuck in this unhappiness and I am glad that I can read them now and remember these moments in technicolour and I am glad that I can reflect on this monumentally fucked up time in my life from this distance and from this place where I am not deeply, deeply unhappy, but just plain old sad. Even though it has been a strange, emotional day. I am glad.

I think.

04 Jul

logging off and packing up

Today I finished up most of the work I needed to get through pre-sabbatical. I still have one big job to do, but I’m going to leave it til early next week. So for the next four days, I’m officially on holidays. Actually, I’m officially on holidays for nearly two weeks but I do need to do this thing next week. Anyway, the point is: no work for four days!

Managing an at-home holiday when you work from home is a bit tricky. It’s like being on holidays but going into work everyday and not being allowed to turn your computer on or clear your in tray. It’s a little bit crazy-making.

You kinda need to have plans so you don’t think about work. (I sound like an addict. Actually I think I am an addicted. But I digress.) I don’t really have any plans. Ummmm….

So in a pre-emotive strike, I have packed my work laptop up and put it away, and taken my work email off my phone.

The first thing I did was have a nap.

And then I messaged my friend and fellow workaholic: Um so what do I do now?

And now I am watching TV, eating a Golden Gaytime, and blogging on my phone. I do not have a laptop on my lap and I am not working. So far, so good.

02 Jul

switching gears

Today’s the day! I am officially on annual leave for two weeks. I am, however, working today to catch up on some stuff. And if I’m honest, I will probably work tomorrow too… And I will probably work for half of Thursday. But this is okay with me, because what I’m doing by working for these first few days of my leave is switching gears, progressively. When you’re driving, you don’t drop straight from fifth into second. I guess that’s what I’m doing here too.

The whole point of working over these few days is to make sure I can actually have a proper break for, starting in a few days time, knowing that loose ends are tied up and I don’t even have to check my email. And most importantly, I’m working these few day so that when I finish annual leave, I can start my sabbatical with a completely clean slate.

Getting into a position where I can actually see the possibility of a clean slate on the very near horizon has taken a lot of effort. Late last year when found out my sabbatical application was approved, I started saying no. To everything. I started handing stuff over and clearing the decks. It’s really taken me six months to get to a point where I can go on sabbatical without taking any work-work with me. As long as I get through these last few things in the first few days of my leave, that is. It has taken an enormous effort and lots of planning to get to the point where very soon, I will have only one (very big) thing on my to do list: my PhD.

Now that I’m almost at this point where my to do list just says PhD, I am very scared. I know I’m very luck to have the opportunity to go on sabbatical. I probably wouldn’t be able to finish my PhD without it, and if I did manage to pull it off, I would definitely be using my entire six year candidacy. I’m lucky, and I know it.

But the concept of having just one thing on my to do list scares the hell out of me. I have a very short attention span, and I’m used to juggling many, many balls. I’m worried I won’t be able to focus on the same body of work every day for more than six months.

But I can forget about that for now, because I still do have a few work-work jobs on the to do list to get through before I can officially switch gears all the way down to neutral.

The first thing I have to do is de-Kate something rather large. You know how when you started something, and you’ve been working on it for a long time, it just turns into your thing? I have a few of those, but one big one in particular. So right now I’m working on de-Kate-ing it. It is going to take a fair bit more time and thinking. I hoped to have it done by tonight, but my day got derailed with a couple of things.

I am also tying up some loose ends from the Sixth New Librarians’ Symposium, which happened all the way back in February. This includes finishing up the final report to the ALIA Board of Directors, preparing the website for migration, and getting all the files that were created through the planning process organised and sent off to ALIA. It also includes preparing the session recordings for editing and uploading, so stay tuned for that!

I am just about to write some end of semester messages on my course sites from Semester 1 – a little thing, but still on the list.

I need to redirect some email.

I am going to write a summary of information that appeared recently on a discussion list, which I offered to do for my colleagues, but never quite got done. Ooops.

And I have a journal article to edit.

I have a 1pm conference call on Thursday, and if I really get my stat on from now til then, I will be able to properly be on holidays from then.

I already put my out of office on, and I cannot tell you how satisfying it was to basically say “I’m away, and then I’m back, but I’m not really back, and I won’t really be back til next year”. Who gets to do that?!