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…

…epiphany

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.

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?!

05 Jun

old skool organisation (even though we are liiiiv-ing in a digital world)

I am the original gadget girl. On any given day, you’ll find a bazillion pieces of gadgetry in my handbag. An iPad, an iPad mini, an iPhone, Flip camera, external hard drive, a pencil case full of USB storage devices, various iDevice and MacBook friendly VGA adaptors, at least two headsets (I seem to breed them), power cables for all the devices, a couple of stylus, a presentation remote, and an ethernet cable (really have no idea why I carry an ethernet cable – I think I picked it up in a hotel and in came in handy once so now it lives in my bag).

But when it comes to getting organised, I am definitely not living in a digital world. I have tried ALL the productivity apps. Every now and then, I have another go at running my life with Remember the Milk or Asana (both of which I love). But the reality is I feel much more in control of my life and my work if I manage my workload old school style. And here’s how I do it.

Until recently, I was carrying a few pieces of paper with all my notes and lists of little jobs to do. I generally like to have a notebook for this stuff but my last one ran out and I didn’t get round to replacing it for ages. There are three things I look for when buying a notebook: the pages must be plain, unlined; the paper must be good quality (like sketchbook weight) because otherwise my favourite pen (Uni-ball eye micro) bleeds through the pages; and it must have an elastic strap to hold it all together.

Moleskine notebook

My Moleskine notebook, Uni-ball eye micro pen, and my iPad

My notebook is full of the little things that need to be done from week to week that aren’t big enough to warrant blocking out a whole day in my diary (or rather, on my wall planner). I have a lot of these little jobs to catch up on and clear before the end of the month. They are things like giving feedback on draft articles, preparing ethics applications, updating my publications list, tidying up my professional portfolio site. At the moment I also have a post it on the front of my notebook that has a growing list of things I need to do to get organised for sabbatical: setting up email rules; cleaning out my Gmail so I can see stuff that gets forwarded based on the rules; changing my voicemail message; setting up different contacts for things… Yadda yadda.

The big stuff goes on a wall planner. Until recently I’ve been using the Kikki-K A2 planner which I love, but it takes up a lot of space on my pin board, which means I have to take down the pretty things I like to look at every day. I have a couple of ugly cork boards waiting to be covered in fabric and when I finally get round to doing that, I think I’ll go back to the A2 planner because I’ll have more pinning space. But anyway, I digress. Recently, I’ve been using a Word template that I update and print out and pin on my board. I started using this template when I was trying to work backwards from my PhD submission date to plot out milestones. I was in the office on this particular day which means I didn’t have my A2 planner with me, and I felt this overwhelming need to map out these timelines right there and then. So I found a template and off I went, and I’ve stuck with it for several months.

I try to run about three months of planners at once – so I know what’s coming ahead of time – and I generally have these up on my pin board (although at the moment I’m just focusing on June, because I can’t think about what I’ll be doing next month til I get there or I think I’ll drowning in overwhelmedness). At the beginning of each month, I sit down and start locking in days on which I’ll work on particular tasks. I also make sure I’ve blocked out some days off. Then, if I need to, I start blocking out my Outlook calendar to preserve the stretches of time I need to get the big jobs done (ie I stick meetings in so people can’t book me – or at least, to deter people from booking me).

My wall planner

Printed Word document wall planner, mapping out what I need to be working on each day in June

This particular Word template I’ve been using has a ‘goals’ section at the bottom, which I originally thought was naff and silly. I’ve started using it, though, as a way to keep focussed on what is most important in a given month. So this month, my goals are: complete marking; finish building a course site for next semester. These are the two big things that I have to do this month. Noting them down does help me to keep focused.

This month I’m working from home a lot while I’m marking. But during semester, I also map out where I’ll be working because that impacts on what kind of work I can do. It also means my family can have a look at my planner and know where I am going to be on any given day.

The critical thing with the wall planner is updating it. When I use my Kikki-K planner, I put every big task on a post it note and stick it on a day on the planner. I do this so I can move the post its around if something comes up and I need to do something I didn’t plan to do. If this happens, I shift the post it to the side and I know I need to find somewhere new to put it. With the Word template, I just edit the document and reprint it.

The other thing that makes this system work for me is that I don’t differentiate between work and personal. It all goes on the one planner and into the same notebook. When work bleeds into personal, you kind of need to let personal bleed into work. Or rather, you just need to be able to see it all at once.

So right now, all my self-organising is focused on one goal: clearing the decks completely by 30 June, and developing some good habits. The only time I’ve ever had completely clear decks before is when I’ve left a job. I’m daunted by the prospect, but it has to be done. I’m tentatively planning a two week break (holidays, without going anywhere) at the beginning of my sabbatical. This will help me shift gears effectively. I will plan to do a whole bunch of stuff to organise my workspace and my work tools in the second week of my break, but in the first week of July, I am checking right out of work mode.

To get to that point, my trusty wall planner and notebook are going to get a serious work out. Ugh. I feel frantic just thinking about it!

PS. This post should have been published yesterday. Behind already in week one!

30 posts in June: 4/30

03 Jun

why i’m blogging my way to my sabbatical start date

On Saturday, I mentioned that one of the reasons I’m starting this blog now is that I’m about to go on a thesis-writing sabbatical. The plan is to have a full draft of my dissertation by Christmas, with a view to sending it off for examination before Semester 1, 2014. I have 27 days of work between me and my sabbatical. I have an absolute bomb load of marking to get through in this time and a whole lot of things to put in place so that I don’t take any non-PhD work with me into sabbatical.

So why, in this frantic lead up to my hibernation, do I think it’s a good idea to start a new blog?

I am pretty panicked about the prospect of doing nothing but PhD for eight months. Apart from the pressure of knowing I need to churn out tens of thousands of perfect usable words each month for the rest of the year, I am also conscious that I need to put some things into place to make sure I don’t fall down a black hole of writing and thinking and insularity and oh-my-god-I-can’t-write-another-word-ness. I have never been in a position in my professional life where I have had only one thing on my to do list. I am actually pretty worried about my capacity to get stuff done when ‘the stuff’ is actually just one enormous thing. I do recognise that writing a thesis isn’t just about writing – there’s a whole lot of administrivia I can distract myself with when I need to. But I’m not going to have the usual variety of things to do. No classes to plan for. No slide decks to beautify. No meetings to juggle. And no email. (Actually, I must say I’m looking forward to that last one. No more living out of my inbox.)

If there’s one thing I know about myself, it is this: I need to be busy and busily creative. I can only do a certain amount of thinky-thinky work in one day, and then it really is all over red rover. But if I can mix that thinky-thinky stuff up with something that’s creative and challenging, I will get more of the thinky-thinky stuff done. So over the next month I’ll be putting together some plans for some creative projects I can dip in and out of during my sabbatical. I have a vague plan of spending an hour a day making something – something completely unrelated to my PhD and preferably not involving technology. Among many other ideas, I plan to make a quilt. My PhD quilt. Something pretty that will remind me of this time in my life. Because let’s face it: although it’s going to be a hard slog, it is an enormous privilege to have this massive stretch of time in which I can focus solely on my research. I want more than a thesis to remember it by.

Something else that worries me is how I’m going to manage my time and my self through this intense writing period. The peaks and troughs of the academic work cycle combined with teaching a couple of nights a week in semester time mean I have absolutely no routine in my life. Zip. I work any where and any time. On the days I go into the office, I have a normalish day: up, shower, breakfast in the car, long drive to work, late lunch, teach an evening class. On the days I work from home (most days right now, as semester is winding down), I start my days in the worst way possible. I check email on my phone in bed and there’s usually at least one thing in there that I need to follow up on straight away, so I usually head straight to my desk and start working. Do not pass the shower. Do not collect a coffee. Go directly to jail my office. Generally the call of coffee pulls me away from my desk a couple of hours later. On weekdays (when there’s no one else at home to make it for me), I don’t usually have breakfast and if I do it ends up being closer to lunch time. It snowballs from there. Lunch, if I have it, happens late and is generally whatever I can prepare fastest and it gets eaten at my desk. At 6pm or 7pm I usually unplug my laptop and move to the lounge, where I catch up on email and administrative stuff that can be done in front of the tv. This non-routine happens probably three days a week. It’s not ideal but it works okay.

But I am increasingly aware that I cannot do this every day for eight months straight. I need to sort out a morning routine, start planning meals that I actually cook, set aside time for, and actually take, a lunch break… The little things that normal people do without thinking about it. I love the flexibility my job gives me, but sometimes a little bit of routine goes a very long way. I crave it. I crave structure and orderliness.

So this month, I am planning on putting some things into place to give me some structure and some opportunities to be creative while I’m on sabbatical. My plan is to blog about them here. You know, saying it out loud means I actually have to do it, etc. The challenge of blogging every day in June will help me to make some small progress each day towards my goal of getting organised, getting some routine in my life, and setting up a bunch of creative projects to keep me sane while I write.

Here goes!

30 posts in June: 3/30

01 Jun

k-k-k-katie blogs june (under a shining moon)

Cover of sheet music for the World War One song K-k-k-Katy

Courtesy National Library of Australia. Digitised score available at http://nla.gov.au/nla.mus-an6090122

K-K-K-Katy, beautiful Katy,
You’re the only g-g-g-girl that I adore;
When the m-m-m-moon shines,
Over the c-c-c-cowshed,
I’ll be waiting at the k-k-k-kitchen door.

My grandmother used to sing this World War One era song to me when I was a kid. More recently, my niece and nephew have learned the song and they like to sing it to me too. You might like to listen to this recording from 1918, although personally I prefer this rendition sung by my nephew, who was two at the time I recorded this.

For some time now, I’ve been debating what to do with my professional blog. I’m still debating whether to take it down, or close it off and leave it there. I’m leaning towards the latter, but either way, aside from a wrap up post, I won’t be blogging there anymore. I’ve only blogged sporadically for the last few years and while sometimes I’d love to jump up on my soapbox and write about professional issues, the reality is I don’t have the time to craft posts the way I’d like to craft them, so nothing ever makes it out of draft. I have a professional portfolio site where I post presentation materials, information about my research, and my publications list, and that site acts as the online hub for professional-Kate, so I no longer need the blog to be my professional online home.

But non-work Kate is scattered far and wide and so I’ve also been thinking about how I might bring together all of these other parts of my life in one online space. I decided several months ago that I’d set up a new blog where I can do this. I bought the domain name for this new non-library, non-lecturer, non-researcher, Kate-at-large space several months ago. And when I did, the first thing that sprang to mind was this song. I think when the moon shines is an apt name for this site for many reasons. It’s whimsical and pretty and reminds me of being a kid. There’s something poetic and idealistic about a shining moon, even if the moon is shining down on a less-than-poetic cowshed and a clandestine rendezvous at a kitchen door. And let’s face it, life is all about cowsheds and kitchen doors and we could all use a bit of glamorous moonlight to make them a little bit more fancy.

So, it’s June. Which means two things, and both of these things have given me a reason to kick off this blog now.

Firstly, a bunch of library and information types are going to be blogging every day in June, as they have done each June for the past three years. There is a whole bunch of people playing along.

Secondly, on 1 July, I go on sabbatical. Dissertation writing sabbatical. The thought gives me heart palpitations. And I’m only half joking. Why is going on sabbatical a reason to start a blog? Surely it’s a reason not to start a blog, since I’ll be spending the next eight months pumping out my dissertation? Surely I would want to save all my words for the thesis? It would be reasonable to assume these things. But I am an odd creature and the story about why dissertation writing sabbaticals and non-work blogs go together is a pretty lengthy one, and one I’ll save it for tomorrow’s post.

I’d end this post by asking you to take a look around this site. Except there’s nothing to look at. So… ummm… Maybe come back tomorrow.

30 posts in June: 1/30