29 Oct

routines and rituals

Recently, I had a discussion with a friend who was finding it difficult to switch her brain off and go to sleep. I told her she needed to create a bedtime ritual to set up a series of signals to her brain that it was time to checkout of the day.

This morning, I’m feeling pretty rough after my own battle to sleep last night. It took me ages to get to sleep, and I woke up at 4.30am and couldn’t get back to sleep again. I’m an eight hours a night girl. If I don’t get my eight hours, my brain doesn’t work at full speed and I feel like I’ve got a hangover – queasy and vagued out. Last night I would have been lucky to get five hours.

And I realised this morning that I really should take my own advice, and create some rituals and routines for myself. I’ve blogged about the lack of routine that comes with working from home. Work tends to bleed all over the rest of your life and it’s tempting to stay up late to push through something when you’re on a roll, knowing you can sleep in the next day. Additionally, the fact you don’t have to blow dry your hair, put on makeup, construct an outfit, and drive to an office means the morning routine of getting up, getting ready having breakfast, and leaving home disappears.

This morning I stumbled on James Hayton’s blog The Painless PhD (found via this interesting article on The Conversation about how isolating the PhD process can be) and I read his post about how he wrote a PhD thesis in three months. Appealing post title, particularly because I’ve got roughly two and a half months to write mine! The post presents the 10 ‘secrets’ to taking a leaf our of Hayton’s leaf and writing your thesis fast. Tip number seven talks about the importance of routine.

So I feel like the universe is speaking to me right now about routines and rituals: a conversation last night; some self insight on the topic this morning; and a blog post coming across my path… They do say things happen in threes.

I did have a bit of a morning routine going on for a while at the beginning of my sabbatical, but I’ve let it slide. I am also utterly inconsistent about wrapping up my work at the end of the day – I tend to just keep going til I’m exhausted, starving, or just completely over it. And I blame Breaking Bad for wreaking havoc on my bed time routine – I’ve been glued to the TV for several weeks, watching all five seasons. (So close to the end. Such compelling viewing! I’ve gone from feeling sorry for / kinda liking Walter to absolutely despising him in a flash – like a switch flicked off at the beginning of season five… Anyway, I digress.) So this morning I’m taking 15 minutes to rethink how I do things.

I really want to nail this because I think having routines will help me to work more efficiently and manage my energy level, but I know it will take time to make these routines a habit. In particular, I know it will be difficult to make end of the day and bed time rituals stick because there is always that temptation to keep on working at knock off time, which can blow out the bed time ritual as well.

So I’m looking for things I could include in these rituals to send my brain signals that it’s time to get going, time to knock off, and time to check out. Any ideas?

28 Oct

writing my thesis with the help of nanowrimo

I have blogged before about using the Pomodoro Technique to focus and get motivated on work. I’ve been Pomodoroing like a mad woman to get my PhD interview transcripts coded (I’m still going, but I’m nearly done! Ish.). I like the structure the Pomodoro sessions provide and the motivation that comes from doing these sessions with someone else.

On 1 November, I start writing my findings chapter in earnest. This will include writing lots of memos as well as integrated, coherent sections of my findings chapter. I need all the help I can get on the motivation front to get this findings chapter written, preferably by the end of the month.

Fortuitously, November is also the month of NaNoWriMo, when aspiring and published authors alike commit to writing a 50,000 word novel in a month. So this November, I’m doing my own version, which I’m calling DisWriMo. I am definitely not the first person to think of using NaNoWriMo to get a chunk of academic writing done. If you Google NaNoWriMo thesis or NaThWriMo, you’ll find other people have done this before.  And there’s a whole bunch of NaNo Rebels who are doing academic writing this year. [Update: AcWriMo 2013 is go!]

I’ll be aiming to write 1666 words a day, every day in November. Seeing I have a lot of writing to get done, I’m going to be tough and not allow any extra words I write on any given day to count against the next day’s target. So if I write over 1666 words in one day, then the rest are just a bonus.

Of course, if I have a 50,000 word findings chapter, I will have the most unhappy examiners in the history of PhDs, so I will be writing some other parts of the thesis during this time too. In particular, I’ll be writing a chapter about my participants and some additional content for my method chapter.

I know this is going to be hard work but I’m telling myself it’s only a month. One month to get a big chunk of my writing done. One month of berating myself in my head about setting such a high daily target. One month of limited time for other stuff, including leisure time. Just one month.

And at the other end, my thesis will be 50,000 words better off.

24 Oct

just katiedavis

For five years, I’ve had two Twitter accounts: one private account (@katiedavis) that I have used to tweet about both my personal and professional lives, and one public account (@katiedatwork) that I use pretty much exclusively for work (and the occasional rant about about poor customer service).

When I first signed up for Twitter, I made my account private because I wanted to know who was following me and I was a bit hesitant about this brave new world, where people were living out their lives so publicly, one coffee tweet at a time. Because I wore my heart on my Twitter sleeve, it was important to me that I connected with individuals, that I knew who was seeing my content in their feed. My content has often been intensely personal. I have tweeted extensively about people in my life, including my family, as well as big life events and their impact. I tweeted as I waited anxiously in the hospital foyer the day my niece and nephew came into the world, and I have continued to tweet about them ever since. My Twitter archive is like a baby book, full of milestones, tales of our adventures, and all the ridiculously amusing things they have said. I tweeted about house hunting and buying and renovating my first house. I tweeted about grief. I tweeted about my parents’ divorce. I tweeted from friends’ weddings. I tweeted my way through the last five years, reflecting on my life, sense making my experiences, recounting stories, and developing friendships. My private Twitter account has been my lifestream, a mish mash of personal and professional content, and increasingly, reflecting the fluidity of my personal boundaries between work and life.

After a year or so of tweeting, I decided I needed a second identity. I created a separate public account I could use to interact with my students and to tweet about events or professional topics. I had a personal policy of not allowing students to follow my private account (ridiculous idea, by the way) and I wasn’t keen on interacting with organisations using my private account. My private account was was like my lounge room, where I vegged out in my PJs, and I wanted to know who was hanging out with me. It didn’t take me long to realise I don’t actually mind having my students follow my private account, and in fact, that it could help with building rapport. I think it’s important for students to understand that we are people first and academics second.

Increasingly, having a private account has frustrated me. It stops me from participating in conversations. It means I have used my ‘work’ account to tweet about things that I would have preferred to tweet about from my other account. It is annoying to explain. It is frustrating to maintain. It has fragmented my online identity.

So I have been thinking for some time about killing off my public account and making my private account public. But it’s not really as simple as going public, because the internet has a long memory. Even if I change my tweeting practices, pull back on the personal content, add a layer of ambiguity to my tweets about the kids in particular, I still have an enormous archive of very personal Twitter content following me around. I am personally unfazed by this because I don’t tweet stuff that I wouldn’t just come out and say. But I am conscious that I’ve contributed to other people’s online identities by interacting with them or tweeting about them and that has made me cautious about making my account public.

Last week, inspired by Kim, I started deleting tweets (after I downloaded my archive, of course). Twitter only allows you to access the 3200 most recent tweets you’ve made. So I started working backwards, deleting 3200 tweets at a time using a couple of different apps. I managed to delete about 12,000 and that’s the extent of my visible tweeting history. I think.

So now I’m just katiedavis. And I like it.


06 Oct

five nourishing things

I started this last week really, really tired. I was worn out physically after a busy week, lots of driving and several nights of only a few hours sleep, and I was worn out emotionally because last week was pretty tumultuous. I had an early morning chat with a friend who challenged me to do five nourishing things for myself during the day. So I’ve kind of taken this on as a challenge for every day. And I am really finding it helpful.

Here are some of the things I’ve been doing.

Little things

These are the little things that don’t take a lot of effort but have a lot of impact.

Starting the day with a green smoothie

For the last fortnight, I’ve been having a smoothie for breakfast every day (and one for a snack in the afternoon, too). This week I screwed up all my courage and graduated to green smoothies and surprisingly, I am loving them. They are refreshing and filling and satisfying, and (the biggest surprise of all!) delicious. Here’s the recipe for my current favourite.

Breakfast banana blueberry smoothie

  • 200ml almond milk
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla yoghurt
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla protein powder
  • 1/4 cup frozen blueberries
  • 1 frozen banana
  • 1 tablespoon shredded coconut
  • 2 cups baby spinach
  • 8-10 pieces of ice

Drinking lots of water

When I work at the office, I drink heaps of water. When I work from home, I don’t. Lately I’ve been making a concerted effort to drink lots of water. This week I switched back to having a bottle of water on my desk so I remember to drink up big.


It’s not actually normal to have aching hands or a bit of a dead feeling in your arm. Who would’ve thought? This week I went looking for some hand stretches and worked through them a couple of times.

Going to bed really early

I went to bed at 8.30pm one night and my light was out by 9pm. Unheard of! Unfortunately I couldn’t back this up with another early night the next night, but I did get a couple of early nights during the week.

Listening to new music

I’m not sure how this is possible, but I didn’t know about Spotify until this week. Well, I knew about it, I just didn’t give it much thought. When I’m having an average day or I need a productivity boost I usually go and buy some new tracks on iTunes. But now I know about Spotify, I can have new music all day long.

Knocking off at normal o’clock

Since I’ve been on sabbatical, I have noticed I can’t work as many hours in a day as I do when I have all my usual work commitments. Working on one concentrated task – particularly when that task is analysis – needs to be confined to a certain amount of hours each day. I have learned that I can put in about six hours on analysis in a day, as long as I use the Pomodoro Technique to break the work up and take regular breaks. So this week I knocked off at 6pm a couple of days – completely, not just from PhD.

Going out. At night. Like a grown up (or even just going out for coffee during the day)

One night last week I went out. At 8.30pm. And had a cocktail. Just one, and I was only out for about an hour. But it was kind of nice. While I was out, my sister called and she wanted me to check if I had something at my house. I had to say ‘I’m out’ three times before she understood and it wasn’t because she wasn’t listening. It’s just that I don’t go out. Which is a bit ridiculous, really. At 8.30pm I’m usually stuffed and staring mindlessly at the TV, or I’ve abandoned my desk in favour of sitting on the lounge with my laptop, or I’m teaching. So I’ve just gotten into the habit of hanging out at home. Normally this isn’t a problem, but at the moment I am climbing the walls at home because I haven’t been into the office for three weeks. Getting out of my PJs (because I was, of course, already in them) and leaving the house was really, really good for my sanity. I also made a point of getting out to get a coffee or pick up some fruit a couple of days this week too.

Whacking on a face mask

Pretty self explanatory! This isn’t a difficult thing – you’ve just got to think of it ten minutes before you have a shower and then you’re all set.

Bigger things

These things take a little bit more effort, time or money, but they make a big difference.

Having an extra massage

I have been having fortnightly massages since I’ve been on sabbatical, but this week I was really sore and pretty stressed, so I had an extra massage. This takes time, effort and money, and since it’s remedial massage, it involves some discomfort. But I always feel so much better the next day.

Cleaning up my online life

I was forced to do some long overdue website maintenance and I turned that into a prompt to clean up all my sites. I spent most of yesterday updating content management systems and plugins and just generally tidying up my sites and my server space. I plan to extend this to tidying up all of my online presences in the next little while – including changing passwords, because this whole project was prompted by a compromised password.

Having a PhD free weekend

There’s a difference between taking a day off purposefully and having one accidentally (that is, as a product of procrastination). The main difference is that the latter never ends up feeling like a proper day off. Yesterday morning I realised I didn’t have any PhD energy in me, so I just did other work and I didn’t let the PhD guilt get a hold. That’s not an easy feat, but I did it. This morning I had to do some errands and when I got home I felt so tired it was distinctly possible that I was already asleep and just didn’t know it. So I didn’t do any PhD work today either. I also didn’t do the other work I should have done because it was also analysis and I just didn’t have it in me. And I think this break from thinky thinking was the very smartest thing I could do, because for the first time in many weeks, I actually *want* to dive back into my analysis and I’m looking forward to getting on with it tomorrow.

Getting my eyes tested

I caught myself leaning right into my monitor when I was working on a spreadsheet and it reminded me that my annual eye test was actually about four years overdue. So I made an appointment and got my eyes tested and ordered new glasses.

Future things

This week I’m going to extend the list and incorporate some new stuff into my five nurturing things. I might even blog them each day… Or at least compile them into a post at the end of the week.

Do you have any suggestions for nurturing things I should try?