10 Jan

the very hardest thing

Earlier, I was eating my lunch and reading Penelope Trunk’s latest blog post on the incompatibility of big careers and involved parenting, when my sister turned up (delivering groceries, because these are things I don’t do when I get busy). I went out to the car to say hi to my niece and my sister told me about a conversation they had this morning in which my niece asked whether I would be finished working once they saw me on stage (at my graduation). Seeing me on stage has become a bit of a metaphor for winning me back from work. She was somewhat disappointed to find out I would still have to work, even if I wouldn’t have to write my book anymore (this is how we talk about my PhD). But I told her I would have weekends back and I’d be able to hang out and then we both said we’re sick of me writing my book all the time.

And this is the very, very hardest thing. Not being able to spend time with my little loves, especially when they really need it.

03 Jan

my non-resolutions and what’s on the horizon in 2014

As a follow up from my post yesterday about what I did in 2013, today I’m sharing my non-resolutions for 2014, a couple of things that are on my to do list for 2014, and some reflections on what’s on the horizon for me in the year ahead.

I should start by saying I am more excited about 2014 than I have been about any new year in a very long time. It’s going to be a big year, full of new challenges, moving on and big opportunities.

On non-resolutions

I could write a list of fifty resolutions. Easily. There are many things I want to do differently, many habits I want to change, and many new things I want to try. But I’m terrible at seeing my new year’s resolutions through.

A wise woman recently called me on my habit of setting overly ambitious goals. She said something like this:

It’s great to be ambitious and set goals that are a stretch, but every time you set yourself a goal that you don’t end up hitting, you die a little bit inside. So think carefully about your goals because over time, consistently falling short of them wears you down.

You might think that sounds like bad advice. After all, shouldn’t we be aiming to be the best person we can possibly be? The reality, though, is that we (read: me) wear ourselves out by working like mad to hit crazy targets, and then we wear ourselves down when we miss them. Double whammy. Ambitious is fine. But achievable is critical.

So this year, instead of having a spreadsheet full of resolutions (did I just admit I’ve done that in public?!), I am making one commitment to myself from the very long list of things I might have made resolutions about. This one thing, though, will help me to realise some of the other things I might have resolved to do because it will give me back a large chunk of the commodity that is most important to me: my time.

In 2014, I am going to take a day off, every week. A whole day.

No thesis writing. No email checking. No responding to student tweets or Facebook posts. Just. Nothing. For one day, each week. Every week. Even when I have marking deadlines. And even before my thesis is done.

I’ve already tried to cut a deal with myself about this commitment. In fact, I tried to cut a deal with myself about it back in December, when I first told a friend about it. I said, “I think I’ll start it in February, once I’m passed this intense writing period”. And then I realised that was a completely ridiculous deal to be cutting. I know I need downtime to maintain my productivity and I know I need it to maintain my health, and yet here I was, ready to commit to yet another month of working seven days a week.

So I started this week, by having new year’s day off.

One day off. Every week. No matter what.

My to do list

There are three things on my to do list this year.

First, the big, obvious one: 2014 will be the year I finish my PhD. I just have to push through with writing for another six weeks or so, and then revisions for as long as that takes. I think I should feel like I’m on the downhill stretch, but the reality is submitting my thesis still feels like a lifetime’s worth of work away. I’ll nail this item on my to do list by focussing on what I have to do today, rather than what I have to do to finish.

The second and third things on my to do list are nebulous ideas and I’m not sure what they’ll end up looking like. So I’m keeping these to myself for now. What I can say is these two things don’t necessarily involve big changes, but are really about consolidating.

The horizon

On the life front, I’ll be doing more of the same in 2014, but now with more time! We have some big education milestones this year… I will finish my PhD and the twins start school (*sob*). Did I mention I will finish my PhD this year? I already have a Pinterest board full of ideas for things I want to do around the house once the PhD is done, but more than anything, I am looking forward to saying goodbye to the nagging guilt that rears up whenever I have some time off. I am also really looking forward to having a proper break from work (and PhD – in case you didn’t know, I’m going to finish it this year) and I will be scheduling in a couple of weeks of holidays in the very near future.

There’s some fun stuff happening for me at work in the next little while:

  • For the next six months, I’m acting coordinator of library and information education. Time to get my admin ninja on! We have lots of exciting things happening so it’s a great time to be in this role.
  • We are about to try out a bunch of different consumer technology products in our teaching. Thanks to a small infrastructure grant we won, we are setting up a mobile teaching tech suite. We’ll be implementing the tools in different ways – a bunch of different models really – and evaluating the success of the different models from both staff and student perspectives.
  • I am getting involved in a university-wide teaching and learning project, on a partial secondment for six months. 

So that’s how my 2014 is looking. I’m excited to see how it all pans out.

02 Jan

my 2013 done list

A while back, a friend introduced me to the idea of done lists. I’ve used them in my teaching, specifically with students in our Executive Information Practice major, which is a bit like an MBA for information professionals. The point of this activity is to get students to think about what they’ve already achieved and how that might apply to where they want to go with their careers.

As I started thinking about my 2013 review post, I realised I didn’t want to write a post that reflected on any of the crap that I encountered in the last year – unless I could do it in a positive way. So I decided that a done list might be a good way to reflect on the things I did in the last 12 months – not necessarily things I achieved, but rather, things I did that I want to remember.

Here it is!

Life

  • I started this blog in June and made 54 posts, many about my PhD progress, and many about other aspects of my life.
  • I watched a serious amount of awesome TV. In the last 12 months, I watched Sons of Anarchy, Breaking Bad, The Bridge and Homeland, start to finish. All the seasons. Well, I think I actually had a season of Sons under my belt from December 2012 and I still have two episodes of seasons six to go. But the point is, I watched more than 14 seasons of various television series. Plus an epically long first season of Person of Interest. Ironically, this happened in what was probably the busiest year of my life to date.
  • I read 20 novels, which was considerably below my annual target of 52 (which I’ve never managed to hit!). But 20 isn’t too shabby when you think about how much potential reading time I’ve spent in front of the TV writing my thesis.
  • I redecorated my home office and turned it into a space I love to be in.
  • I got myself a life coach and with her help (and the support of good friends) I started to change the way I think about lots of things: being busy, food, balance, what’s actually important and what isn’t, and my own rules for living. As I challenged my thinking about these things, I instigated some major changes which have had a huge positive impact on my health. I haven’t had a cold since July (if you know me, you’ll know this is nothing short of miraculous) and I’ve recovered well from the slipped discs that made a mess of June.

Work

  • I co-chaired the Sixth New Librarians’ Symposium, which was no small feat, given that we did not use a professional conference organiser. Over the same period, I was also on the committee for ALIA Information Online 2013. Two conference committees, simultaneously, for conferences held in the same week. I won’t ever be doing that again! It was crazy, but fun, and definitely something I’m happy to see on the done list, rather than the to do list!
  • I committed to not taking on any external speaking gigs for the whole of 2013 and I stuck to it. Even though my default answer is generally yes. Even when I really *wanted* to say yes. This helped me to maintain my focus on teaching in Semester 1, and on PhD in Semester 2.
  • In Semester 1, I taught three units instead of my usual two. When you’re teaching a dual mode cohort (which takes a lot more time and energy than teaching only on campus or only online students), an extra unit makes a big difference to workload. But I did it, I enjoyed the teaching, and I still managed to get one of the three highest teaching evaluation scores in my school.
  • I co-authored a number of journal articles and a couple of book chapters, which will be published over the next 12 months or so.
  • With four of my colleagues, I have been editing a book on Information Experience and we got the manuscript off to the publisher in December.

PhD and sabbatical

My six month sabbatical kind of ended up being more like a four and a half month sabbatical by the time I had a week off-ish at the start, got over a bad bout of the flu, properly cleared the decks of work that was hanging over, dealt with unavoidable work commitments, worked on other publications, and then had a (very) little bit of time off over Christmas. I didn’t make my goal of having a complete draft of my thesis by Christmas. But here’s what I did do:

  • I completed the final round of data collection, which involved follow up interviews with a few participants.
  • I coded all of my interview transcripts in great detail. I coded the first six transcripts phrase-by-phrase and then I coded them another two times as I worked to get to a higher level of abstraction. I sorted codes and re-sorted codes and re-sorted codes and then eventually, after more than three months, I finished the coding.
  • I completed my analysis through the process of coding and writing up my 13 main categories.
  • I wrote upwards of about 50,000 words. This included 40,000 words of findings, a couple of thousand on my method chapter, and several thousand words of memos.

And that’s it! I’m sure I’ve forgotten something, but that just could be my inner productivity ninja looking at this list and thinking it’s not enough to have done in a year… Hmm. Now there’s a thought pattern I need to change!