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.

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