Back in the Saddle

Today, after much grumbling, grousing, self-bribery, and stalling, I finally climbed back in the research saddle.

Okay, “finally” may be a bit overblown (I’ve only been gone for a week), but I could feel the projects piling up and the stress of amorphous far-off deadlines was really starting to get to me.  I knew that it was (honestly) past time to get back to my journey on the road of completing coursework, but I just couldn’t seem to find the motivation.  Twelfth Night and some particularly stressful situations in my personal life have been taking a lot out of me and it’s not even the end of the day these days before I’m tired.  I’ve been waking up from full nine-hour nights of sleep tired.  I’ve been going about my days just trying to eke enough time out of my schedule to get the things I absolutely need to do done.  Far-off projects got back-burnered in favor of imminently approaching deadlines.

Well, the nearby beasts slain, it was definitely time to start on those quickly approaching things.

As usual, I started with a list.  Nothing helps me more than my giant whiteboard.  I know

The whiteboard after today's re-eval.

The whiteboard after today’s re-eval.

I’ve expounded upon its merits before.  It’s extremely useful to me to know exactly what I have on my plate and exactly when all that is due.  Making lists helps me to ensure that nothing slips through the cracks.  Often, I make several lists: things that are long-run stuff, things that I need to do on a given day, things I need to do in a given week, things I need to do before I can take the day/weekend off, etc.  I find that the very action of writing this down helps to calm me when I begin to feel overwhelmed.  The above-the-desk hovering keeps me focused, on task, and reminded of where I’m going at all times.

Once I had that, it became easier to prioritize tasks.  I have a general map in my head of these projects and what it’s going to take to blow them out of the water.  I don’t tend to micro-manage myself (at least on paper) if I can possibly avoid it (some days I can’t).  I know what each of these things are going to demand of me, and I know how to break those down into smaller bite-sized chunks.

Having a mega-list means that, so long as I go down the list each day and ensure that I’ve done something towards accomplishing each bigger task, I can finish the day and be done with it.  There will always be more work to do; I will never be absolutely finished.  I sleep easier at night (and, perhaps more importantly, find it easier to take some much-needed time to unwind at the end of the day) when I know I’m on track for my big projects.  I find it easier to relax when I know I’ve done a certain quota of work.

It’s great for self-motivating.  I write my deadlines in a scary color (often red) so that I know they’re hard deadlines and that I HAVE to meet them.  I thank every teacher who ever red-penned work of mine for instilling the “red is important” feeling in me; I use it to my great advantage these days.

I did my daily grind work (caught up on my reading, took a gym trip, checked in on all my syllabi to make sure I wasn’t missing anything), and then I took the afternoon to start rolling.  I’m a born researcher; I’m good at it, I like doing it, and it is the kind of task that self-fulfills and self-motivates.  Doing research just makes me want to do more research.  There will always be more questions, more things to find out.  All I had to do was push the snowball over the hill and stand back.

So I did.  I made a list of books I need to grab from the library.  I looked up some articles.  I reviewed my notes on the topic I’ll be teaching to the undergrads in a little under a month and reconnected with the material.  I put some thought into my conference presentation.  I returned to my German translation.

A Broad, her Bud, and the Bard; leggo me, PiC, and Will who now sit on my desk (...picture included because I've spent too much time at my desk today)

A Broad, her Bud, and the Bard; leggo me, PiC, and Will who now sit on my desk (…picture included because I’ve spent too much time at my desk today)

Sometimes, ritual is important.  In academia, it’s very easy to float through life not really having any sense of what day of the week it is or any rhythm to your work because your schedule changes so dramatically so quickly.  These tasks that I had been putting off were things that provide normalcy and stability to my wild, gypsy life.  Doing them re-centered me and re-focused me.

And I feel a lot better now.  A lot more in control of my semester, a lot more on top of my work, and a lot more ready to face the coming months.

I’m not going to say “bring it, coursework”.  I’m not going to say “I own you, academy”.  Hell, I’m not even going to say “YEA! I AM AWESOME!” until I’ve had another couple days like this, but things have definitely taken a turn for the better.  Here’s hoping that I can stay in the saddle and wrangle this bronco on home.  You know.  Before the summer hits and I have to hide away underground and study non-stop for my comps.

Into the Abyss

So I have previously mentioned that part of my process come panic time involves a giant whiteboard.

This is a survival mechanism which I developed in my Master’s.  Often, a graduate student lives in three to four different worlds an each world is represented by a separate syllabus.  Each has its own deadlines, requirements, readings, library pile, points of interest on the internet, points of contact at the department, rules, regulations, and practices.  Often, meshing these worlds together is the cause of a great deal of stress come finals time (see my momentary freak-out about over scheduling myself towards the end of last semester).  Also, because a course can contain many little assignments in addition to a large one, often things can get lost in the shuffle.

To combat this, I developed the whiteboard technique.  Whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed by deadlines, I make a chart.  I list what the assignment is (and, if it requires further specificity which due to the nature of grad-school courses it often does not, who it is for), where to send it (if you’re talking about abstracts and publication submissions, often those e-mails can get lost in the shuffle as well), and when it is due.  Then I leave myself a place to check off when the assignment has been completed.  On the side, I create a list of ongoing projects with no due-dates, just things that I need to remember to do.

Getting it all down in black and white (and often also orange, purple, and green when I’m feeling whimsical) helps to assure me that a) I didn’t miss anything, b) I won’t miss anything, and c) I really and truly do have a handle on my life.

At the end of the semester, when all is said and done, I leave the whiteboard there for a while with all of its check boxes intact.  It gives me a sense of accomplishment to see that I’ve met all my deadlines and, at the end of a semester, one needs all the sense of accomplishment one can find.

But the other day, I took the leap.

I erased the whiteboard.

It’s pretty freeing to be able to sit at my desk and have a giant blank slate hanging over me.  Of course, my summer projects are taking up a lot more of my time than I had anticipated (I dramaturge eight to ten hours a week, German class four hours a week, study approx. ten hours a week, have been trying to catch up on my sleep, my e-mails, my reading, my knitting, my life, and my gym schedule, I haven’t really had time to touch my papers that I wanted to brush off over the summer yet but it will come).  These ongoing projects, though, the kind with no deadline, they’re not exactly whiteboard material.  It’s like looking into a great white expanse of nothing.  My time is my own again.  I’m not working under pressure, I’m not working under any imposed or hard end-stop, I’m just working as much as I can as fast as I can.

…so I guess on the other hand not having white-board deadlines also means that I’m probably working more in between all the other things I do, but at this point I’ll just relish the change of pace.