I can’t believe my last post was July. Since then many ideas for posts have been jotted down in notebooks and on pieces of paper. Some have been half written and are sitting in drafts. Others are half composed in my head. I blinked in July and suddenly it was November and I felt like I hadn’t achieved anything. My year of downshifting did not go to plan and I was as busy as ever. Life threw up the usual smeggy stuff and that, along with the energy and time dedicated to continuously juggling two roles, just didn’t leave time for much else.
But I’ve had a holiday since then, one of the better ones. I spent time with my family, made some stuff and tried something new. I’ve taken a deep breath, reflected on what I did achieve and have some new strategies to try and make it all a little bit easier.
This year I’m going to try not to juggle so much. There is so much evidence around that we humans are not good at multitasking very much, so I’m going to try to limit it. I attended two wonderful workshops by Maria Gardiner from Thinkwell last year that really pulled together what I had already started to think and feel about the way I work. Maria’s background as a cognitive behavioural coach and clinical psychologist means that she unpacks the flawed thinking that so many of us in academia have about work. Basically, I’m inefficient. Maybe I’m being hard on myself, but if I’m going to get where I want to go then I need to become more efficient. I can’t physically make more time in a day to get through my long to-do list, so something has to change. I looked at my work habits logically and I kept a time diary for two weeks, much like you would a spending diary before preparing a budget. I realised that, even after all this time, I grossly underestimate the time it takes to do things and I don’t allow for any contingency in a day. I realised my to-do list, which always has about 20 things on it, would realistically take a couple of weeks, partly because I only worked two days per week in each job. I dedicated a lot of headspace to creating, prioritising and re-prioritising the lists, trying to remember where I was up to the last time I was in that office as things seemed to come up with twice the speed they were supposed to, because I only worked in each role less than half the time. No wonder I would go to sleep at night feeling terrible that I hadn’t got enough things done. I was setting myself an impossible task and wasting time and energy thinking about it. This year I’m diarising the tasks (with a time allotment), leaving contingency in a day and saying “no” a lot more. If my diary is full then I can’t take on a new task … and I still have so many things to do.
My friend Kristin Alford also passed on another tool to me at the end of last year and I’m giving it a shot too. She suggested the personal kanban which is based in management ideas that I came across in my organisational theory studies. Sure, I still have a lot of things on the to-do list, but I can’t do 20 things at once. I can probably manage 3-5 and this will force me to only have those 3-5 things in my ‘doing’ list at any one time. I’m going to allow things to go backwards into the ‘backlog’ pile as well as moving into the ‘done’ pile, but I already feel like only carrying around a ‘doing’ list of a few things, rather than a ‘to-do’ list that’s impossible is making me feel a lot lighter.
I guess, on the whole, I’m trying not to struggle against it all so much. Things are the way they are and I just need to work with it, and make it work for me a little better.
I’m also planning on starting a new blog this year that’s more specific to my research. I will probably cross-post some of that here too, but I expect that this site will become a home for stuff on science communication and agriculture and for more reflective pieces (such as this one).
I’m really looking forward to getting back into the swing of things.