Tag Archive | working

Trying out the tomato…

Last week I attended a workshop titled “Survival guide to writing up your master’s thesis or PhD dissertation.” I love these kinds of events. I think of them as self-help groups, and even though I only learn one or two new tricks each time, I am reminded of many more, and for some reason, I find these events super motivating. It helped that the presenter was really excellent, and I found out that my university has a whole department full of psychologists and other professionals whose job it is to help students succeed. Who knew? 
So what did I get out of this workshop? First of all, break down planning into 3 stages. Create a long-term, week by week, plan to get me to the end of my dissertation. The presenter likes to find a calendar where she can see a whole year at a glance. Then, plan the week, so I know when I have blocks of time to work on my thesis. She said 3 hours of writing in the mornings, and time in the afternoon to format, read, and do other less taxing but still dissertation-related work, works for her. I think it’ll work for me too because I am a morning person, and I lose focus towards the end of the afternoon. Finally, micro-plan your work sessions, so you know exactly what you will work on when you begin. She also said that asking for an extension does not equal failure, which was nice to hear.
Finally, she reminded me of two things I already knew. One was the feature in Word where you can easily navigate through a long document using headers. I haven’t used it yet, but may try it. The other was the Pomodoro technique, where you work in 25 minute spurts, separated by 5 minute breaks. After 4 pomodoros, you take a longer break of 15 minutes. She also mentioned that there are Pomodo apps. This was exciting, as downloading apps is an excellent way to procrastinate, but also because having the app plan my day takes the whole external control thing even further than me twisting my egg timer and keeping track of how many pomodoros until the next long break.
I tried it out for the first time today, because I am still transcribing, and I find it difficult to concentrate on such a boring task. Good news! I love the method, for tasks like this. I like that the computer tells me when to work, and when to stop. I realized how much time I waste on checking emails, and Facebook, when I am supposed to be working. Twenty-five minutes seems like a reasonable period of time to remain focused. The only thing is, 5 minute breaks are a bit too short. It takes me longer than that to make a cup of coffee. And the 15 minute big break? What is that? I just put in 100 minutes of sustained transcription time, this is a big accomplishment, I deserve to celebrate! I need at least a half hour 🙂 I have that coffee to make, some emails to respond to, and a blog post to write, but I like this method. The app actually lets me alter the details, so I think I’ll extend the long breaks, and try to keep at the 25-5 short breaks for 4 cycles. I’ll let you know how it goes…

The rhythm of a phD

Sometimes I wish I was a musician. Then I would be able to explain in fancy academic language the frantic waiting game that is the PhD. Unfortunately I am an educator with a history of working with very young children, so my metaphor is of a children’s game called Red Light, Green Light, or even better, What time is it Mr. Wolf?, or maybe Mother, May I. These games involves a whole group of kids lined up in a horizontal line, calling out in unison, “What time is it Mr. Wolf?” or “Mother, mother, may I take a step?” The mother one is a good one because the educator, or the child in charge, gets to answer, “yes, one giant step forward” or “10 tiny steps backwards.” At some point all the children rush frantically towards or away from the Mother/wolf/traffic light/whatever, who has to tag one of them, and then it all starts again.
My phD kinda feels like that. I work frantically, I send in a draft. I wait. I breathe. I get feedback. The feedback makes me realize how much work I need to do, when I thought those chapters were almost done. I work frantically. I send it in again. I wait… and so forth. I like the waiting, because the frantic working would be insane without the forced breaks. Actually, all of academia is like this. Submit a paper, wait, revise like mad, submit again, wait again, revise again. Submit a conference proposal. Wait. Get accepted. Write the paper, put together the presentation. Submit the next proposal, wait…Maybe this is why we always end up taking on too much, because we need something to do other than wait. The problem is everything always comes back all at once. Add the teaching, and I want a vacation. And I haven’t even started collecting data yet! 

How to write (read, work…) slower

I recently read a post by the Thesis Whisperer on how to write faster. Now, this particular website is one of the major motivating sources of my doctoral experience, and I have nothing bad to say about this brilliant Australian researcher and all of her great guest posters. I just have a different problem. I do things too fast. I lack the patience to be meticulous. When I began the PhD my partner actually told me that I need to work slower, and that was the best advice I have ever received. So here are some ways I am trying to work slower :

1) Never send a text, or even an email, without walking away for a few hours and then re-reading. This is good advice for everyone, but when I finish something I am usually so excited, or just relieved, that I want to move it along as soon as possible. Then I think about it and realize I forgot something.

2) Because I read and write and think and process ideas all at the same time, I don’t slow down to use a proper reference manager while I am writing, and I end up inputting all my references by hand at the end. A better thing to do would be to collect references, input them into Mendeley or another program before beginning to write, and then use the cite while you write feature. The problem is that I often need to find new references while writing…

3) Read things twice, or three times, away from a computer or other device where you take notes. Sometimes I read in the bath, or in bed, or on the bus. It’s just me and my book. Other times I prop the book open in front of the computer, and take notes as I read. The second method is much more productive, but the first is more enjoyable, and makes for a deeper understanding, and time to reflect and build an argument. The ideal would be to read the book once for pleasure, and a second time to take notes. The problem is that there is always another book to read… Similarly, and this may be a generational thing, I prefer to print out articles and read them with a highlighter in my hand, as opposed to on screen, but I don’t do this very often, because I want to save paper. I guess I just need to develop a closer relationship to the iPad.

4) Work in short bursts. I am a morning person, and I pick up my kids from school at 4:30pm. I drop them off at 8:30, so, when I am not working at one of my many part-time jobs, I work on my own projects from 9am to 3:30pm. Then I lose my ability to concentrate. After school, and on weekends, I play with the kids. I might read after they go to sleep, but it is rare that I will try to write at night. These forced breaks actually help me work faster during shorter periods of time, but then build in the necessary breaks to be able to look at my work with a fresh and critical eye.

5) Surround yourself with people who take the time to do things properly, whether it is the highly organised person who makes beautiful charts in excel or the well-read person who is taking 10 years to complete her phD because she is reading everything, in the original language. Maybe some of their patience will rub off on you.

6) Stop taking shortcuts – reading only the abstract, using someone else’s citations instead of a proper database search, etc… productivity is overrated – my goal is to enjoy the journey, and to challenge myself to be the best academic I can be.

7) And finally, do your PhD in a second language. You will learn things you wouldn’t otherwise, and will have to work harder to choose the correct word and to structure your sentences well. I think that’s one of the best decisions I have made along this journey.

On another note, I read a book that I suspect will change the course of my life, and my academic career. Reconfiguring the Natures of Childhood by Africa Taylor (2013). It is published by Routledge as part of their Contesting Early Childhood Series. For those of you not interested in nature, or childhood, or interdisciplinary work, the use of Latour’s ANT theory is brilliant, and she also introduced me to other theorists and to concepts in geography that she applies to early childhood. It’s a fantastic book, to read again and again, anywhere. I spent a week reading it and being blown away. One of the main ideas is that you can’t separate humans from nature. And then, cycling to school through the park with the kids, my son says somethings about how nature is so calm and peaceful and we need to not pollute (he’s 6), and my 10-year-old daughter turns to him and says, “but we’re part of nature, we’re not outside of it.” I love it when everything comes together like that.

Where do you like to work?

Where do you like to work?

I went to a workshop once on academic writing, and the presenter had us all go around the room and share whether we prefer to write at home, in our offices at the university, or somewhere else. Have I already mentioned that one of my main reasons for returning to school to do a phd was so that I would be free to hang out in cafés all day? Montreal has a great café scene, and I discovered an awesome new one last week – it has everything a café needs for a grad student, in my humble opinion: free wifi, great coffee, and a quiet environment. There are other places I prefer to go to with friends, but café Résonance is perfect for working. I don’t mind paying $5 for a latte, I think of it as rent for the 4 hours I spend sitting there working.