Category Archives: PhD Life

Read about how we deal with our time problems, how we manage to stay somehow healthy (We are all mad here, just trust the Hatter), what we do to relax, how we manage to be social withput cutting sleep short – how we manage to stay alive in this crazy big world called Academia.

Destroying The ‘Innate Workaholism’ Myth

Recently, I had this career planning workshop for high-performing young female researchers. We talked about many things like time management, finding our values, preventing burnout and so on. But one very common theme, at least for me, was the question of “work life balance” (a bad term actually) and something which emerged around it: I want to call it the assumption of ‘innate workaholism’ in this post.

 

What do I mean by ‘innate workaholism’?

Most of these high-performing successful women from the workshop felt like “I can’t not check my emails during a holiday” or “There just is so much work where I’m needed” but also didn’t see that it’s really a mentality issue they have and that this behaviour is probably something they were socialized into. They argued that “No, it’s not a problem: I think it’s more a question of personality. I have always been like that.” Well, yes, maybe you have. Or have you really? Have you really been like this as a small child? If you think and listen closely, can’t you determine the first time you did this? Why did this behaviour serve you at the time? In this post I want to argue that I think it is dangerous to embrace the assumption that workaholism is a character trait. I say it is a behaviour instilled in us by socialization and the societal pressure of what has been called ‘the busy bandwagon’.

 

The societal problem of the ‘busy bandwagon’

Have you ever heard an obvious workaholic justify themselves by stating that they it’s not a systemic problem that overwork is the societal norm and systemically encouraged but much rather, it’s supposed to be a question of “personality type”? In the American discourse, workaholics would be called “type A” personalities. That this is a cultural construct becomes obvious already in the fact that I wouldn’t know how to translate this to German without using some New Age Denglish terminology. Denglish, by the way, is a term for German-English, the fact that many English words become part of German vocabulary or become ‘germanised’ (eingedeutscht). In fact, studies have actually shown that this concept of popular psychology is actually bogus; see here (de) and here (en). If you don’t remember where you’ve already heard the term “busy bandwagon” before, you might want to check out the review of Make Time and my digital minimalism project of last year again.

 

Workaholism as an addiction

In this workshop, I was reminded a lot of some Mel Robbins audiobooks I had been listening to (they’re like coaching sessions). So she will coach a person with a specific problem and then explain the point in a larger perspective. Many of those are audio only and you can’t get them as “real books”. Especially relevant for this particular workshop is Work it out where she coaches women for career success. There are many different situations and problems addressed, different kinds of bosses, not being heard or visible, doing lots of “invisible work”, etc. But she also has definitions of workaholism.

Because how can you really tell whether you “just like work” or are a full-blown workaholic? Like any addict, we tend to be in denial, after all. Most smokers will also respond to you that they “just like cigarettes” when really hardly anyone truly “likes or enjoys cigarettes”. But you don’t want to see that this is a place where you’ve lost your self-control and freedom to an addiction, especially if it’s a socially rewarded activity which, essentially, made you successful in the first place, like it is the case with overwork or an unnaturally hard work ethic.

First point: What made you successful in the first place is not necessarily what will make you successful in the future (as seen in Essentialism One and Two). So the assumption behind societally accepted overwork isn’t actually valid. Saying yes to all opportunities maybe gave you initial success but you will forever plateau there (or burn out) if you continue to do so. So the rationale of “Work hard and you’ll be successful” isn’t necessarily true. It might have been at some point. But it sure as hell isn’t now.

Secondly, addiction really is a quest for connection. Mel Robbins also cites this TED talk where Johann Hari explains that addiction mostly only fills a void. What people really want is connection. You strive for connection but don’t really know how because you’ve linked being loved to achievement, so your default solution is to work harder. Engaging in the addictive behaviour will ultimately ever only be a substitute for what you really want and that is connection. But, obviously, you’re never going to get real connection with real people by throwing yourself into your work and being stressed. So the addiction becomes self-perpetuating and hard to break out of.

The image behind burnout is that of a house which looks really normal from the outside. It might even look nice. But it’s only when you get really close that you see it’s all burnt out on the inside. That’s us. We look successful. The fact of being burnt out is so well hidden that we even fool ourselves.

 

Find the underlying psychological issues

Mel Robbins always maintains in her coachings that even most seemingly strictly work-related problems have an underlying psychological issue which might not at all be obviously connected to or the root of the superficial problem at hand. It’s her philosophy that you need to find this problem. See where you first reacted this way. Most bad habits are behaviours which have served you in the past. Mostly, way back in the past.

For me, working (too) hard, it turns out once I started reflecting about it, is not something ‘innate’ as I had always thought. It’s not ‘part of my character’, even though I have firmly believed so for a long time. I have just built a self-image around hard (over-)work so much that I can fool myself. Thanks to this exercise of asking when and determining the first time this has happened, it turns out that it started when I was nine. It started with a small thing really. My parents probably didn’t think much of it. It happened when my parents told me I had to quit one hobby (ice-skating) to focus on studying more, so I would get into a good secondary school. It was a tiny incident looking back. But it implicitly taught me that my worth is linked to my success. And that’s where I started collecting achievements when I wanted to feel valued.

I’m not saying I’ve solved this since I am still working on this problem myself. But it gets better when you start acknowledging it. You can reverse this. I’m still at a point where I’m really only happy with myself when I perform. But at least I’ve seen now that this is not some a priori innate trait of mine. I have learned to behave like this because it served me in the past. But it doesn’t serve me anymore now. So I owe it to myself to change. And so do you.

 

A utopia to shake up your concept of work

In case you’re still not convinced, here’s a little utopical thought experiment I came up with to help you rethink if you really just work so hard because “you love to work” and “couldn’t imagine another life” or whether it’s something differnt.

Imagine this other society, this utopia where it’s normal to work between 4-5 hours per day. It’s ok to hover in between, to go over 4 hours if you need to finish something. But it’s actively discouraged, even financially retributed if you go over 5 hours because the policy makers’ opinion is that it will make you ineffective to work too long. (This is an actually true and not all that utopical part but that’s probably hard to imagine or believe for a high-performing young professional like you who is expected to work 10+ hours.)

You work your 4 hours like everybody and are pretty much expected to have a very rich life outside of those four hours, for which there is ample time and financing provided. They pay you well in your job because they like the quality work you do. They like how you focus on what’s essential and disengage with any superficial work. In such a society, overwork is discouraged, looked down upon and even punished. There is no way you can access your work projects or data to continue to work after you’ve left the workplace. It is even prohibited.

Do you really think you would still be working 10+ hours “because it’s your personality”? I hardly think anyone would. 4-5 hours is more than enough to make most of the work you love. To come back to work refreshed the next day and perform your best. To not be stressed and feel “haunted” by your work.

 

Jump off the “busy bandwagon”

If our societal definition of success weren’t “being busy” anymore, we could see through the systemic nature of the problem. We would value someone as successful not because they work long hours but because they have banished superficial work from their lives. Then, it would be easy to jump of the busy bandwagon. But if it’s what everybody else is doing and expecting, that’s much harder to admit. Your boss, after all, is a role model everybody is secretly expected to emulate. Especially if you’re a woman who is afraid she could make a bad impression and that then, not everybody would like her anymore. Because apparently that’s what a women should strive for: to be liked by everybody and be very careful. Even tough that’s not exactly a behavioural pattern which will make you successful. How many (successful) men have you met who care about whether somebody might not like them if they did thing XY (which is essential to their career)?

 

Conclusion

I don’t want to say that I am “better than you” now because I’ve started to see through this system. I’ve only made headway on this path over the course of the last year. It’s has been quite a journey. I read lots of books, listened to audio books, took time to reflect, to try out new things and rearrange my habits. It’s not been easy. Things have not worked out right away. Old habits where more persistent than I thought. I have had to face hard truths and investigate psychological issues.

It requires courage to really look into your own mind. We overworkers especially have trained ourselves to look to work for solutions for all the problems in our lives. Or at least to help us ignore them.  But, plot twist: your actual problems won’t just go away if you bury yourself in work and your underlying psychological issue won’t solve themselves. You have to unlearn this habit of throwing yourself into work to avoid your problems. To do so, you have to make an active push against what’s valued in our society. That’s hard. It requires courage. But I encourage you to at least try.

 

So much for now,

Best,
S

 

 

Diss-cembering to the End

Okay, I am actually feeling like Frodo, except for not standing on Mount Doom and being totally wrecked by an evil power. I am actually feeling like Frodo, sitting at my desk, enjoying some Christmas cookies, tea and writing this blog post, next to the wonderful Christmas tree I decorated with my dad.

So, I am just sitting at my desk, in front of my PC, listening to music and surfing the internet. Two books are lying next to me: one mystery novel to relax my mind and “The professor is in” by Karen Kelsky (for more info see her website!).

Well, I am almost done with graduate school – you know why? The Frodo-feeling I have is actually caused by my sending my thesis and my catalogue to my supervisors the day before Christmas.
So… actually, I am waiting now for their opinions. I have time for my corrections and revisions in January – and I can reach my goal of submitting my thesis in February. If you remember my first Diss-cember post, I actually planned to sent my text by end of December or the beginning of January, but now I am two weeks in front of my schedule and I am so relieved… well: I feel you, Frodo!

It was not easy to sent my thesis to my supervisors. I always panic in front of the sent-button. And I admit it, I had my mum on the phone – the only human being with the perfect ability to calm me down (next to my love, who empowered me with choclate before going to work). This is what I meant with asking people you love for help during the time of finishing your thesis. There were several occasions in the last four weeks where I stopped working in the evening, perfectly relaxed and proud of what I did that day – only to start crying or shaking nervously few minutes after going to bed.
These were no attacks of panic or fear, just signs of my stress level. My brain literally could not stand the pressure, so movement and tears were necessary for my balance. I acted like a maniac, but I know that a lot of people did so, even some of my peers told me not to worry – we are all mad when it comes to submitting your PhD thesis.

I had and I am still having a lovely Christmas break. I was in desperate need of this break, to be honest. I  have a little cold, I am constantly tired and I am not doing anything at all except for sleeping, eating and reading funny stuff I want to read. And I am not even thinking about my thesis. There is no need. To cite the last line of Harry Potter: All was well.

There was no reason to check it again for mistakes or filling in new literature quotes or for re-phrasing certain parts. There may be need to check it again and do corrections and revisions, but I am not able to do them now without the help of my supervisors; there are some points we have to discuss again, we all know this. I have collected my arguments and I have written them down and I liked it. Really.

Remember: A good dissertation is a done dissertation.
So, I am done, and I am eager to reset my brain for the corrections to be done soon, for I will be back at my work on Thursday. But that is okay, I can scroll over my things I have to do in January and I have two days to write a new plan for corrections and do some proof-reading before hitting the last miles of PhD-road again.

I thought it would be very hard for me to let all my thesis stuff be all this time after Christmas until the New Year will catch me in my cosy reindeer socks and cuddled on my couch watching Christmas movies. Actually, it was nothing near hard or stressful.
I made it clear to myself on the evening of the 23rd – I have done the best work I was able to do, I have written down all my good and precise arguments, I am sure that there are not too many nasty misspellings in my text (yeah, I grew really blind on them, I am sorry) and I was really brave for standing up against that enormous workload and getting all my sh*t done the way I wanted it. And I was able to let go an hit the sent button.

I am still too tired and exhausted to figure out how all that worked so well, but everything is good and I am concentrating on my health and my sleeping rhythm to re-collect my strength.

So, shoutout to all my dear writing buddies who are working on their thesis right now, or are thinking really hard about how to get back to work after Christmas break. The silver lining is real and the end is near. You can do it!

Enjoy the last days of 2019 and I wish you all the best for 2020 – make it your year, make your dreams come true!

Astrid 🙂

Why “just focus on your thesis” is not entirely good advice

Which doctoral student has not yet heard the infamous sentence “You just focus on your PhD”? Of course, this advice is given in all sorts of contexts and I can’t talk through them all here, but I will discuss one reason why it is good advice and two why it’s not good advice. It’s not particularly Christmas-y, but then again, this is a PhD life blog and not a Christmas blog 😉 

 

Pro: ‘Extras’ only count once you have the PhD

Extras are great and important (see point below). That peer-reviewed paper, being the head of the student committee, that stay abroad, a fellowship at a prestigious institution. All these things are assets on your CV, no doubt. But they only really count once you have that PhD. You won’t get a post-doc because of your nice CV unless the PhD is done. 

So while these extras are priceless once you have that thing in hand, they are practically worthless if you don’t get the PhD done. So the advice “Just focus on your PhD” is valid in a way, especially when you’re at a point where you already have so many ‘extras’ (which are also all around the same ‘value’) that new ones really won’t upgrade your CV any further. This is the point where the degree is the only thing standing in the way of applying to the next higher positions. 

But there are (considerable) negative sides to his (usually well-meant) advice as well: For example, when you don’t already have those extras hiring committes nowadays want to see beside the PhD, then it’s not good advice. (For more info, read: Karen Kelsky’s The Professor is In.)

 

Contra 1: Nowadays, you need extras as well, so you can’t completely neglect them to really focus on the thesis

In The Professor is In (great book, review to follow!), Karen Kelsky writes in her chapter The Myths Grad Students Believe (23-28):

[Ph.D. students] rest all their hopes in the completed dissertation as a magical talisman of scholarly success, unaware that is is scarcely more than a union card – the bare minimum proof of eligibility […]. Certainly, they are encouraged in this by faculty advisors, who, when confronted with the anxious reports from the job hunt, offer the easy evasion “just focus on your dissertation”, as far preferable (for both advisors and advisees) to a hard conversation about an academy in crisis, on the one hand, or flaws in a student’s record, on the other. (Kelsky 2015, 23)

When reading Kelsky’s more-than-useful guide, it becomes quite obvious that the “just focus on the dissertation” advice, many times, is a lazy excuse. Sometimes it is well-meant advice because, after all, this strategy used to be really good and worked 30 years ago. So your advisor might not even have it in for you when they repeat this advice. But it is still bad advice for the job market now.

You need to add some other high-value items to your record which result in additonal quality lines on your CV. Kelsky’s tip is that you should try to add one (quality!) line to your CV per month. However, mind that not all lines are worth the same, so don’t only go for easy-to-get items. Rather go for easy-to-get items only if you really can’t help it one month. Otherwise, plan ahead which item you add to your CV every month. People will know which ones were not really great achievements. (A book review doesn’t count as a quality item, in case you were wondering.) Respect some basic rules while doing that, mainly well-known truths such as: Peer-reviewed papers should always be preferred to conference proceedings and excessive conferencing. But, of course, nobody’s expecting you to deliver a peer-reviewed paper per month, so you’re allowed to “fill up” with some of the above. Just remember to fill your time-planning glass with the big rocks first, then add the pepples around them.

 

Contra 2: It’s demotivating to not have goals ahead

Now for the first time in my life, I have no perspective. When I was in school, I worked for graduation as a “middle term” goal, but I always had going to university in mind as a long term goal. When I arrived at university, I worked towards a degree but I also always knew that I wanted to do a doctorate afterwards. So my long-term goal was the doctorate. But now, I have no real long-term goal. And I find it devastating. That’s the main reason why for me, recurring repetitions of “Just focus on your thesis” are hurtful and counterproductive. I don’t want to blindly focus on a writing text which might or might not give me a perspective for the future, in the future. I need a perspective now.

 

So dear advisors, well-meaning friends and loved ones,

the next time you think about saying “Just focus on the PhD” or similar sentences, do us all a favour and don’t. Just shut the fuck up. Thanks.

If you’re an advisor, think about what Karen Kelsky preaches: Your job is to prepare your advisees for the (current!) job market (not the job market from 30 years ago). And repeating “just focus on the PhD” just isn’t enough. If that’s all you do, you’re not doing your job.

 

So that’s it for now.

Best,

S

 

References

Karen Kelsky, The Professor Is In: The Essential Guide To Turning Your Ph.D. Into a Job, NY 2015. Do get that book, its value is priceless!

 

 

 

What’s your *one thing* which will move you forward in 2020?

Recently I witnessed a class at our climbing gym. It was about which strength training exercises you can do for antagonist muscles which are neglected in climbing. But those are not what I want to talk to you about. After having witnessed 10 minutes of this class while streching out after my climbing session, the trainer had already enumerated about 15 different exercises. I coulnd’t even recall them all. And all I wanted to do was yell over to him: “Can you please proceed to show us the *one thing* which will have an actual effect?” This will be a post about effective mini-habits, new year’s resolutions and some strenght training geekery.

 

Keep it simple

I find that many self-improvement measures, be it in the climbing gym or office productivity, tend to be too complicated and too much. But complicated and excessive things will not get done on a daily basis, especially as those things (such as strength training for antagonist muscles) are things you have to do aside from and in addition to your actual work. If these self-improvement routines are too complicated, too hard or too time-consuming, you will not keep them up very long. Like I have preached many times now: If you want to make it sustainable, do less than you could. Leave one in the bar, so it remains fun (or as fun as possible). Don’t ask yourself to do something which is maybe even harder than your main work. Keep the mini habits mini.

It is my experience that if you look close enough (sometimes you’ll need tons of reserach), you can always find the mini-habit which has a tremendous effect. For years, my ballet teacher screamed at me because my arabesque supposedly wasn’t good (=high) enough. But she also persistently failed to show me the *one* exercise which actually works. I found that only years afterwards on YouTube. (If you’re interested: The point is that lifting your leg higher than 90 degrees up requires a different muscle group than up to 90 degrees, but that muscle group is hardly ever used and difficult to even ‘find’ or activate when you haven’t really used it before. The trick is to do a développé-based strength training: You lift the leg to the knee and from there, lift not from the foot but from the hip – it’s just a tiny, hardly visible movement but gets hard after a few reps already – then you slowly open into the développé but only a bit, not even until the leg is (half-)streched because the stretched leg tends to evoke the wrong muscle group again. Do that only once you built that strength).

 

“What’s the *one* thing I can do?”

It’s not like I am the only and first person to realize this. Famous self-help gurus such as Tim Ferriss have made this the key piece of their philosophy. Tim Ferriss call it the ‘minimum effective dose’. For getting fit, he suggests you train with a 20-24kg kettle bell two times a week and do 75 kettle bell swings each time (work yourself up to 75 in sets while you can’t do them all at once). 10-20 minutes total training time. That’s all. He has proven that you can have amazing, replicable results with this technique. Or, if you don’t want to work out, try his “30 in 30”, that means having 30g of protein (such as in a shake) within 30 minutes of waking up. This charges up your metabolism and he was also able to show than you can achieve dramatic changes in your weight if you do just this morning routine, even if you change nothing about your other habits at all.

 

Simple is sustainable

Many people think running is a good way to get fit. But really, if you genuinely don’t really like it and you’re only doing it to keep yourself fit, it’s incredibly ineffective. The cost in time (and suffering for someone who doesn’t like it) is high and the results will stop coming in once you’re body has adapted to it a little bit, so you’ll have to do more and more. Human beings are very effective runners, so especially endurance running is probably your worst bet ever for getting in shape: rather try High Intensity Training (HIIT). Also mostly, I think running is just too complicated. You need to change – whereas you can kettlebell in you pyjamas. You need ‘equipment’ – at least I totally tend to go overboard with making running complicated because I used to train quite ambitiously in my youth.

So to get back to the trainer from the beginning: After ten minutes, so many techniques had been enumerated that I couldn’t even remember them all. The Tim Ferriss stuff has become so popular because it’s simple. And simple is sustainable. If you have trouble even remembering what exactly you have to do only five minutes in, it’s not “habit material”.

So what can you do? From what I’ve gathered from Youtube videos, especially “Grundkurs Bouldern”‘s Ralf Winkler offers the supplementary training trias of push-ups, pull-ups and squats. I think that sounds good. They are well-known, no-bullshit exercises pretty much everybody knows how to do and they plain work. 

Also, you always need to remember that training is highly specific. Often trainers will enumerate tons of exercises but the only thing an exercise really does is train exactly this movement, so it might not even be transferable to the skill you actually wanted to learn (!). That’s why push-ups are good. They train your whole body. People of different skill and fitness levels benefit from them, but they also don’t “pretend” to train bouldering – they only give you some additional fitness. They train you to do push-ups, not much else. Most “bouldering exercises” don’t actually do much for your bouldering. That’s why Louis Parkinson from Catalyst Climbing (London) suggests you do your boulder strength training directly on the wall.

 

The one thing and the Pareto principle (80/20)

Most of you probably have already heard about the Pareto principle. It’s probably already a bit dated by now, but the idea behind it is still universally good: 20% of your work will give you 80% of the results. The other 80% of work only give you the additional 20% of perfecting your output. Whether a PhD student can afford to just ditch the last 20% is another question, but the principle is still worth using at least with annoying everyday tasks. Often you just need to hand in *somehing* and perfection will give you no additional reward whatsoever. So dare to keep it simple and effective.

 

Make better new year’s resolutions this year

When you make new year’s resolutions this Christmas, please think of my post and come up with a way of simplifying what you were planning to do in the next year. Even if you think your resolution was already quite simplicistic – cut it in half and it will be perfect. Always be very concrete in forming your goals, have cues to trigger the activities (see the review on Atomic Habits, to follow) because unconcrete goals (like “Learn French”) don’t work. Come up with something concrete such as “Learn 20 items of vocabulary per day” or “Sit down to learn French, in a timer-timed timebox of 20min every day”.

So if you want to do something for new year’s resolutions, don’t just pick some classic line everybody else uses. Take time to reflect on your goals, what exactly it is that you want and especially take the time to research what the single most effective, super-simple mini-habit to achieving that goal is.

I’ll follow up with some more new year’s resolution themed posts to go with the holiday season over the next weeks.

Have a nice pre-Christmas panic attack at work and be sure to eat some cookies while you do 😉

Best,

S

How letting your inner feminist out will make you more successful

Today I wanted to tackle a common fear, i.e. that you will be disadvantaged and disliked once you let your inner feminist out. While I can’t speak for everybody and my environment certainly isn’t exceptionally conservative or ‘backwards’ in that regard, I think it is quite safe to say that becoming a feminist is likely to make you more successful rather than turning you into the universally-hated, notorious ‘feminazi’, like many womxn erroneously believe.

DISCLAIMER: I am neither a professional advisor nor actually qualified to give you any kind of advice! Apply this only after reflecting whether you think it’s appropriate in your workplace. It should be, but if you’re stuck in a clearly very backwards environment you might better not do anything to make the situation even more miserable and dire. Check with a local gender equality advisor how best to proceed.

 

Don’t “dial down” on the feminism, level up

For a long time, I felt that I was somehow ‘holding back’ on the feminism, even tough on the inside I really wanted to be more of a feminist. Society tends to tell you that it will make you look bossy, undesirable, etc. But at some point, I realized that this is exactly one of those subconscious habits which cause womxn to be less successful than they could be. Because not daring to displease some, trying to be universally liked, accepted and appreciated by everyone is a ‘trait’ which might end up making you seem less qualified than your male peers and  come off like you’re not leadership material (btw, it’s actually literally not possible to be liked by everyone, even though womxn are taught to strive for this goal!). Because being edgy makes you interesting. It makes you look like a leader.

 

Don’t swallow your pride – swallow other people’s expectations

Daring to be yourself, asking for what you want and deserve, and not giving a hoot whether some idiot colleague (who doesn’t even matter to your success) might end up disliking you for your feminism will make you seem confident. People who only like you when you’re miserable and disadvantaged really don’t deserve your worries! Standing up for yourself will actually increase your worth in other people’s minds and once you start drawing boundaries and saying no, they will respect you more. In the beginning they might be a little annoyed; nobody really likes change after all. Change is hard. Gendered discrimination used to be the norm and it will remain so as long as we’re accepting accomplices to it. Just recently, I have personally had the experience that I felt so much more valued in the workplace after standing up for myself and against sexualized discrimination.

 

Love yourself first

Maybe it wasn’t even other people who behave differently now, maybe it’s just my perception which has changed. But I feel so much more empowered for it and thus, ready to tackle all sorts of things, not only discriminatory colleagues 😉 I feel much more respected and valued now, but that might just be a by-product of me respecting myself more. Standing up for your rights is a sign of self-love and self-respect. And like they say, maybe you need to love yourself first before others can love you.

 

So show yourself some self-respect! Love yourself first and allow yourself to unleash your inner feminist – we all have one of those!

 

Best,

S

How to Diss-cember without losing your mind…

This is it. This is the last month of my intensive writing bootcamp to finish my dissertation. That was the reason why you have not seen any posts from me recently… I was busy. Busy with writing, reading, writing, planning my writing, … and nearly lost my mind on it.

The last phase of your PhD is the most exhaustive one in you career, trust me on that.

Oh, and it is December already, so, I have to get all my Christmas presents for my loved ones as well, next to finishing that dissertation.

But December also means candles, cookies, lights and it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas – and yes, I admit it, I LOVE that time of the year. The play on words “Diss-cember” is not that new, I know, but it totally seemd accurate for the first sunday in Advent. I even picked a nice image with a candle to provide you with some seasonal flair. 🙂 I hope you like it.

Here comes my list of how not to lose my mind – I hope it will help you, too:

  1. Make a plan.
    Okay, yeah, this is the most obvious thing, I guess.
  2. Stick to it, but be gentle with yourself.
    Allow yourself to miss some of your own deadlines. Calculate enough time spots for breaks. After all, you have to take good care of yourself, because you cannot afford to drop out for days or weeks beacuse of getting sick or ill or whatever stress can do to your body and mind.
  3. Ask for help and tell your friends about your last phase of writing.
    You may need some eyes to get through your text, doing corrections. I am just saying… I, myself, am perfectly unable to see my mistakes, and I want to thank all my dear test readers on this occasion for helping me with my corrections and revisions.
  4. Reward yourself when you finished a task or a bullet on your huge to-do-list. And YES, you have time for that, because you have your plan, right? 😉
  5. It’s allowed to shout, cry and being frustrated. This is actually called soul hygiene. It is allowed to say that you want to f*ck all this sh*t. Really, without such little controlled breakdowns you will harm yourself. I have them at least three times a week. If you are not working with Microsoft Word, there might be less occasions. 🙂 Sorry, not sorry.
  6. Celebrate your good days – good days are days where you get a lot of stuff done and can relax in the evening.
    This is also an opportunity to reward yourself with some self-care-stuff like watching a movie with a huge mug of hot chocolate on your couch. It is as simple as that. And it is so important, because you have to enjoy this feeling of being satisfied with your work.
  7. Be actually satisfied with your work.
    Yes, I know, I am a perfectionist myself and I am never ready to submit a paper, even if I had the time to review it at least three times. Therefore, tell one person about your good work and tell them that you need help to enjoy the feeling, too. Really, try it.
  8. Get fresh air and do some physical training.
    You need your body to be trained – and yes, just take a walk around the block, it’s 10 important minutes to get your mind clear again.

I am buried with books, in the middle of revisions and quotations still to check and verify, half through my writing plan, and highly desperate for the Christmas cookie season to start. (image: Pixabay)

Until now, everything just worked out fine for me. I try to keep moving, I try to stick to my plan and I try to be at least proud of me by doing so. Yes, the last thing is the actual hard work to do. I could spent another year on doing research, on writing, on reading, but: A good dissertation is a done dissertation.

There is a silver lining: I plan to submit my thesis in february at last. I am still good in time, I planned even a nice Christmas break and I am pretty sure to get enough work done to actually enjoy it without any bad conscience. 😉 And soon, I will have finished my good dissertation!

So, I am sorry that you have not heard from me and that I had no time to do any posts, but I guess you can forgive me. 😀

Have a very nice and not too stressful December, enjoy picking your presents for your loved ones, eat a lot of cookies and do not forget to celebrate the important things in life.

Stay tuned, dear fighters of academia!

See y’all,

Astrid

What to make of the Online Cult of ‘Ultra-learners’

Yet another post which almost became a book review but ended up becoming a reflection! I really wanted to do something else, like a tutorial along the lines of “Transkribus for Dummies”, but since that’s already done and Scott H. Young’s Ultralearning popped up on my screen, I just had to review it. It has received praise from Cal Newport (Deep Work, So good they can’t ignore you & Digital Minimalism) and James Clear (Atomic Habits), two authors who are definitely among my inner circle of personal development books. And it also treats a subject which has fascinated me for a long time – Ultra learning. That is the art of ‘aggressive self-directed learning’. To early-modern-ize the title a little bit. (Yes, the fellowship left its marks, but I’d do it again any time!)

 

Preface to the Readers

But first, let’s not get carried away. I have a word of caution to go with this (a real review will follow some time later). Ultralearning is a book promising techniques for self-learning. That is, especially self-learning to reach ‘amazing’ spectacular results, like – of course -the author has achieved. This, in my opinion, is problematic. By putting all of this down on paper in a very ‘meta’ way, Scott H. Young epitomizes a whole generation of online ‘superlearners’ who market their own learning results. While the empowerment is great, this can also easily frustrate people: Especially imposter syndrome prone PhD students might end up feeling belittled by these marketers’ apparent lack of humility. So let’s get to it. And, if you haven’t already noticed, the theme of this post is ‘early modern’ 😉

 

Liber I: On Sensationalism

Since I myself have gone through a period of phdlife-induced imposter syndrome just now, I also wanted to point out that listing amazing feats like “Pass a Maths/Analysis one semester class in 10 days” can also end up frustrating people. Especially if you have high standards. After all, to do our position as a Humanities blog justice and put the critical into thinking, essentially, these so-called ultralearners do nothing but capitalize on sensationalism in the end. If we break it down to the roots. Which, I am sure, they don’t really want us to.

Just like extreme athletes have to break one breathtakingly crazy and dangerous world record after the other, ‘learning gurus’ on the internet will tell you about one crazy intellectual feat after the other. About how they ‘hacked’ skill XY. And you, as a dutiful Humanities person with sky-high standards, might end up feeling inferior because your definition of mastery is quite different from the goals they have set for themselves. You will know this and still feel inferior. You catch yourself wondering how it is that these people are able to learn all sorts of great skills with apparent ease in no time while you’re still not done with your thesis. It can’t be that hard, right? Wrong. Don’t let internet personalities pretending to be real-life superheroes make you feel like an idiot. After all, they earn money from making you feel like they are better than most others, regardless of their frequent assurances that “really anybody can (learn to) do what they did.”

 

Liber II: The Art of Marketing

This is a dangerous trap, one might say. So I can’t give a 100% positive review, because I dislike this tendency behind it all. Tim Ferriss, Benny Lewis, Steve Pavlina and what all of their names are. They all fashion themselves as the greatest ‘meta-learners’ ever (self-fashioning also was a big thing in the early modern times, if you wanted to know. I happen to have read multiple papers about it over the last few days 😉 ). And, I get it. Meta-Learning is important. I totally acknowledge their achievement of making the public more aware of this. I was even deeply influenced by some of them. But at the same time, I can’t help but notice – in my capacity as your very Enlightened (with a big E) Humanist – that essentially, they don’t primarily learn to accomplish those amazing feats because they really want to learn them.

 

Liber III: Modern alchemy

The main outcome is that they make money from sensationalism, just like extreme athletes or any kinds of people who make money online nowadays. But that means that they don’t learn a skill to learn that skill, but rather: to blog about it. Because they make their living from that blog and the coaching business built around it. The skills they learn are sales proposals. Just like early modern alchemists would give sensationalist demonstrations of experiments and (some) tried to make people believe they knew how to make the philosopher’s stone and were perfectly able to reveal this secret to others.

Just like our ultra-learners do. This technique of promising greatness and riches taps into all those very human longings we can’t seem to shut off, even at a time when most of us don’t believe in the philosopher’s stone anymore. But in reality, we still do believe in it. Because we want to believe in it. We just call it differently and it comes in disguise. But essentially, it’s still the same thing all over again.

Conclusio: Redefining “success”

A big part of what they do is redefine “super-human success” and “mastery”, more or less achieve it and then sell to people the idea that they are not special: Everybody can achieve what they did and here’s how. (And input your credit card number below, of course). So, let’s have no doubt about that this is not only and not innocently about learning. Another component of their magnum opus pointing at this conclusion is the fact that they hardly choose boring projects. The projects they choose mostly also make for a great sales proposal, are apit to cause quite a stir, and yield the possibility of going viral &c. Alchemists sometimes did that, too.

 

These are my reflections for now 😉

Best,

S

Book review: Essentialism. Part II

A while ago, I wrote a book review on Essentialism by Greg McKeown. Today I wanted to follow up with a part II. “Why?” you might ask. I gave the book to my dad for his birthday (as an actual book this time). He loved it but when we talked about it, I noticed that he had remembered completely different things than I had. So I decided to listen to it again and this time, other things stuck with me. I always find that the really good books can be read millions of times and every time, you will find something you hadn’t previously noticed. Essentialism definitely is one of those books.

 

Essentialism is the disciplined pursuit of less but better

But what does ‘disciplined’ mean anyway? The author gives the following example: the normal state of the closet is to get more and more cluttered if a conscious effort is not made to get rid of non-essentials. Consciously making this effort over and over again is what he calls ‘disciplined’. You need to re-do it all the time even though you might feel like you just did it. But the clutter piles up again and everytime it does, you need to act even though you don’t want to. You need to know where the next thrift store is and when it’s open. You need to have a plan in case somebody drops off their clutter in your closet.

 

Do less than you want to do

This might be known to some of you as “Leave one in the bar” from working out. McKeown realized that it would be difficult keeping up a journaling habit every day because people tend to write more and more every day. This ends up making the habit harder every day and one day will come when you won’t stick to it anymore. So he asked himself how he could overcome this limitation. And he decided that the solution was to always do less than what you want to do. This helps to ‘keep the fire going’ and stops you from losing motivation.

I have this problem with my own routines, be it exercise or translating some of this Latin text every morning aside from my actual PhD writing. I tend to think “Well this went well today. I might just to two pages of translation tomorrow, then I’ll get done earlier.” But the text is 250 pages long. And after three days of translating two pages every morning, I lose motivation. Apart from the fact that two pages takes away enough energy that I am not very effective with my PhD writing anymore. I decided that I need to do less than I feel I could. That’s what makes it sustainable. I have been much more successful doing one page per day now. It’s for this reason that some ‘habit formation philosophies’ like Mini Habits (Steven Guise) or the Japanese Kai-Zen have become popular. In order to make it sustainable, do less than you could. This also goes for working hours, in my opinion, though I’m still trying to figure out what works best for me and is most sustainable.

 

Protect the asset and have more fun

This is kind of self-explanatory. But probably worth mentioning again here: One of the main reasons high-functioning people sabotage themselves is by not getting enough sleep and not taking time for fun, play and rest. For me personally, I have decided I need more active rest (=play/fun), not passive relaxation like binge-watching 😉 Otherwise, my work-life-balance project is going ok: I never work evenings anymore (at least until this week where I succumbed twice already) and I take one day off completely every weekend. However, without some more prioritization on what I work (not only taking into account how long), I feel that I am still not doing as well as I could.

Also, by the way, did you know that being tired and dehyrdated both reduces your brain capacities as much as being a little drunk constantly? It’s sound cheesy and simple: But I think we could all do with some more sleep and water. Also, getting enough rest helps you prioritize which is one of the most important skills ever in this busy world full of distractions. Which leads me to the next point:

 

What’s important right now?

If you don’t know what’s important right now, what’s important right now is to find out what’s important right now. This is my new credo at the moment. Over the last stressful weeks, I have noticed that the biggest factor in me sabotaging myself, except for procrastination probably, is not knowing what’s the most important thing and thus, wasting time on non-essentials. Your time and energy will be gone no matter what you do. Your dissertation will only get written by you writing your dissertation.

 

This is it for now. But actually, there were many more takeways, so I’l probably do a part III at some point 😉

Best,
S

 

(PhD) Life Wisdom Learned from Bouldering. Part I

At some point recently, us to Epigrammetrists were in the boulder gym bouldering and we realized that bouldering actually teaches you quite some insights for life. And not only life in general, but also the PhD life in particular. When I started typing the blogpost, however, I realized I had material for way more than just one single post. So you will get a little series now to which I’ll add every once in a while 😉

 

You don’t have to take bad holds

In life as in bouldering, we often feel obliged to take all the footholds, handholds, opportunities and possibilities we are offered. But in bouldering, at least on routes where there are more than enough holds, you always have the possibility to avoid some of them. Often, with bad holds just as with opportunities we feel we have to take but don’t feel comfortable with them, we don’t even realize that we have the possibility to just not take them. I often find that I can climb routes much better when I find a way of leaving out the dubious holds. Then I don’t need to be fearful about it and usually, you realize:

 

There is more than one possible path

There is more than one possible solution. In bouldering, this quickly becomes visible because people just tend to do the same climb in hundreds of different possible ways. But they don’t remember this in life. Also related:

 

You don’t need to reach the top the way the others did.

Getting inspiration is a good thing, of course. But often, we end up putting pressure on ourselves afterwards. Unlike in bouldering, in real life we often feel that we need to do it exactly the same way as the others. In bouldering, it quickly becomes obvious that we just have different strengths and prerequisites and thus, what works for someone else might not work for us. Then we just find another way. Maybe the other person is already at a higher skill level, is taller or has more strength – of course they can pull off other ways, even more elegant ways of doing things. But maybe you can’t. Then deal with it. Get over it. Remember you can find your own way. This is definitely something to apply to life.

 

Sometimes it’s a leap of faith

 

Sometimes all that is needed to succeed is for you to take that leap of faith. To trust in your ability. To just do it without worrying, maybe you even have to shut your brain off. When you hand in that paper, when you’re standing in front of that big audience to give your paper (maybe not so much then), or when you need to let go of both handholds so you have a chance at throwing yourself at the next one.

 

This is it for now. But there are many more bits of bouldering wisdom to come your way, so stay tuned 😉

Best,

S

R you ready for archaeological data?

Since I am trying to work myself into the use of programming with R and accomplishing my data analysis with this tool, I have struggled more than one time with the way of thinking “programmer-style”. As trained archaeologist I have practically no idea of the thoughts and ways to work with code.

You may know that really old joke when a programmer gets to do the food shopping and you tell him “Bring one package of milk, if they have eggs, bring 10.” So, the happy noob will head to the market and get one package of milk and 10 eggs. Programmers are used to a different kind of thinking – so they will bring you 10 packages of milk, because they see the condition for it: They have eggs in the store.

I am so grateful that there are no loops necessary in R programming. I tried it once for a course in C++ and it was… well, a decent catastrophe, but still, a catastrophe. I gave up in the end, after hearing most of my tech colleagues saying that an archaeologist has no need for programming. I might have answered that tech people have no need for history, and guess what, some of them really believe that. Because computer science is a modern thing. I did not tell them about the long history of cumputer science – that maths actually was a subject for women, because all man had to be philosophers. History is full of fun facts, my dear hardcore-tech-people, maybe you would like to try it sometime. (Forgive me the bitterness).

I still have to work and think hard on the analysis I want to do. I am not just heading for a simple quantitative analysis, I want to discover certain patterns of motiv combinations, considering the different samples of different temples and other finding spots – just naming one example of the questions I have for my data.

But, again, I had to start at the beginning, meaning cleaning my data. I had to think about naming my categories, about the facts I want to analyse. So, I once again found myself cursing my ex-computer science teacher at school, because we were girls and all he explained to us is not considered necessary knowledge for compter science at all. Well, if you call powerpoint and MS Word computer science, yes, we did that. It was back in the year 2005 and I am a victim of gender-biased teaching, I am afraid to say so. I am a girl, I am so talented in languages, and so interested in Latin, ergo I do not need any kind of technical knowledge. Or stuff like computer science, chemistry, physics, etc. Actually, I always thought, I am too dumb to do stuff like programming scripts for data analysis. Guess what – they made me believe that I am more talented to do other stuff like history and Latin. Maybe that is even true, but how can anybody be too dumb to use certain tools and methods for his or her work? It took me a  long time to figure this out.

I cannot imagine doing anything different than I am doing now – I love my job. I am used to people looking at me in a very bewildered wax, because I tend to say things like “I am not interested in people as long as they have not been dead for at least a 1500 years” and stuff like that. They are wondering why I am working with things like GIS and SFM and now programming languages, because old and dead stuff means… I don’t know, maybe they think, we are still using stone tablets to write on. A lot of people are very fast to ask questions like “Why would you need to learn computer science stuff? Why do you need geoinformation systems, I thought, you are analysing stones?”

I have stopped being angry about these kinds of questions. If some poeple cannot understand your way of working, then you have to do it anyway and maybe in the end they will get your intention when seeing the results. I figured out how to use R for an analysis of two categorial variables – meaning, I can show you now the distribution of motifs on the right and left side of stone altars in my geographical area of investigation.

Well, for a first try it does not look that bad… And there is more to come.

I have not found out everything yet – there is still a lot to do with the layout etc., but I have now found a way of basic understanding my data and a basic way of working with it.

I will present charts like that in my thesis and I love doing so. I will work on my 3D-skills and I will keep on trying new things with GIS software, no matter what.

I am doing all that stuff in my own way: When I have time, when I have my head free for this kind of task. Individualism is one great challenge when you are an archaeologist. Idealism is one mightier challenge and it is hitting me hard sometimes. But hey, I guess, I like it. More than I used to do.

R you ready for something new?

Stay fierce, dear fighters of academia – yours, Astrid 🙂

To err is human – to R is happy pirate noob

Okay, I have to admit it, I saw the quote “to err is human to arr is pirate” and I totally loved it first sight.

Then the love decided that I should try an introductional course in R – and suddenly I am here, writing about this 2-day-experience with a really catchy headline…

So. R. Some of you may know that this is a programming language, very used and beloved by data miners and statistic-geeks. For more information have a look here.

I am not going to do any tutorials on R or so, because I am still a total beginner – but a really happy noob, as you may know. I decided some months ago that the word “newbie” or “noob” is not a negative term for me – I am at the start of something new. So, this is just the beginning of a learning process, another one, because I am learning all my life. 😉

If you want to learn a new programming language, you might take a look to my dear Ninja’a blog on this, this and this blogpost concerning programming and learning programming languages (oh, there is even another one…).

First things first: NO, it is not easy. Learning a new language (no matte if spoken, dead, programming or fictional – now, do not tell me, you never tried Elvish or were fascinated by the Navi-language) is not easy, it takes a lot of time and practice and a lot of thinking and remembering and a lot of mistake-making.

I am currently finishing my dissertation – and it will be done by end of December, hear me!

And I have an amount of 432 objects in my Excel-file that I need to analyse. Okay, I could do it with Excel, BUT: there is a nicer way of building graphics and of analyzing a lot of data (I am really proud of resisting and not calling it “big data” 🙂 )

So, I just managed to combine all my relief motifs of different trees, plants, cornucopiae, sacrificial servants and so on and I ran my very first script with this new defined variables.

And I know, these things are just peanuts for every experienced programmer out there, but I guess for a 2-day-course I am quite successful.

I have to rush now, I need to go to a quite interesting talk – so forgive me for being so late with this post, but maybe I can please and entertain you in your coffee break on this nice monday with his litte blogpost.

Stay calm and keep going, my dear readers!

All the best,

Astrid (also known as the happy noob) 🙂

Don’t check your phone first thing in the morning

Since many of you enjoyed my post on procrastination, I thought I’d follow up with a tip already mentioned here in more detail. It’s her tip to not check your phone first thing in the morning. I have tried it, highly recommend it and these are my experiences.

How to do this

I didn’t actively plan on actually implementing this tip. But when I woke up in the morning and was about to grab my phone for the usual checkup (which usually ends up taking much longer than the intended 2 minutes), I remembered Oakley had said to not do this but to first do 10 minutes of work instead. So I thought, I need to get through these bills anyway. And I did that. And I had the first achievement of my day. Then I checked my phone and still lost a lot of time.

10 minutes of productive work instead

Now this doesn’t work every day for me and I’m not enforcing it either. But this morning, I realized I broke the habit of having to check my phone first thing in the morning. I still do sometimes. But I don’t have to. And when I don’t all the effects she described really set in: you are primed for a productive day. After those inital 10 minutes of work, you often continue working because it’s so rewarding. And after the initial urge is past, I sometimes don’t feel the urge to check my phone for hours. This has downsides too, of course. Yesterday I didn’t know our first meeting had been canceled because I hadn’t checked my phone (or at least my work email) since after 5 pm the day before. It was a small setback in the moment. But it’s really a victory. I feel like I’m gaining back my freedom.

The “priming effect”

I also really feel like the “priming yourself for a productive day” thing really works. It’s easier to exercise willpower during the day or at least to overcome the barrier to start getting work done. It’s easier to resist the urge to check the phone. (In some situations I still want to procrastinate, of course, but hey – it’s ok to leave some improvement for tomorrow, right?)

Also, some say that checking your phone puts you in this passive-aggressive reactive mode – instead of clarity, purpuse and empowerment – because of information overload. This is not a mindset you want to have in the morning because you should first get 2 hours of dissertation writing done, am I right?

 

It triggered a chain reaction of positive change

Sometimes things are urgent. But when they are, people tend to try to call you or reach out to you in a more aggressive way anyway. So you won’t miss anything crucially important. But you gain a few good early morning hours where you can get work done. And after I got work done during the day, I feel that I don’t need to punish myself in the evening by working long hours or checking email constantly. This little mini-change actually triggered a chain reaction of positive change.

Next step: Write down todos the night before so your brain can pre-process them

Another one of those tips I more or less subconsciously implemented is to write up todos for the following day the night or evening before. This lets your brain work on it overnight and you’re more ready to get going the next day.

Maybe the next thing I implement will be to prepare my things for the next day or to tidy up before going to bed. I am really motivated to step up better routines right now 😉

Hope to pass on the motivation,

Best,
S

Devices and productivity on the go

Today I want to share some reflections on productivity on the go since I just returned from an archaeology and ancient history sailing excursion (inofficial) summer school (it was great and will probably happen again next year as an international summer school on “The Maritime Ancient World” or something, so watch out if you’re interested). The point is that on and before the trip I was, of course, confronted with a difficult choice: Should I bring work devices at all and if yes, which ones are best?

You should not bring productivity devices to your time off at all

First of all, I probably shoulnd’t have brought any device. I had a tablet (my old Lenovo Yoga Tab 2) but I hardly used it – thankfully. I had only brought it in the first place because I hadn’t finished this article, which I ended up not finishing anyway. So that was actually a success, work-life-balance-wise. But on the return journey, I spent a few hours on the bus web browsing options for productivity devices which are suitable for situations where you don’t want to bring the laptop (like on a sailing boat).

But if you really have to, these are my requirements

A device like this should be small and portable, but also not too expensive since I really don’t use it except on holiday. It should comfortably allow you to work effectively in a moment of need (command line utilities and LaTeX inevitably needed for that; also decent RAM).

I am generally a very non-tablet kind of person. I think tablets cannot be used for productivity. I am probably not your average user, but I really want a commandline, LaTeX and some computing power, even on the go. I don’t need Microsoft Word (Learn how you can live happily ever after without it here). On the other hand, I don’t really want apps which I find to be generally very un-usable and non-productive things. A fully functional keyboard is absolutely necessary but since I have small hands, I am much less picky with keyboards than most people.

Also, since I have migrated to Linux completely (by now actually that long ago that I can officially say “years ago”), I ever since am less and less able to tolerate anything else. Insisting on Linux really massively reduces your choices on the mini netbook or ultra-mobile pc (umpc) market. However, on the umpc market, Linux alternatives seem to be taking off recently, so maybe this won’t be an issue anymore a year from now.

But at the moment, most tablets firstly don’t even have a “desktop mode” at all (thus only apps) and secondly, if they do, don’t have a Linux option. Such as my Lenovo Yoga Tab 2 where the keyboard only works with Windowds which is becoming less and less acceptable for me. Of course you can always just install Linux, but tablet-like devices have so many features (like touch screens and stylus support, etc.) that you really miss out on half of the features and I am not really willing to pay for tons of features which I can’t even use. So that makes things kind of complicated.

 

What I found

Despite my non-conventional needs, I have found some possibly interesting options which I wanted to make you aware of. Also, if you are interested in small netbooks or mini ultra-mobile pcs (umpcs), Liliputing generally is a great resource to find reviews of mini computers. They are available as blogs as well as on Youtube.

Many Kickstarter projects feature such mini computers. However, the problem with Kickstarter is that projects might not end up working out, there are huge delays in delivery and you don’t know if there will be any customer support later when the product prematurely exhales its last breath. But if you’re in for cool products which not everybody has and don’t need one delivered to you rightaway, like me, you might consider keeping an eye open on Kickstarter.

Since I am only really interested in products which feature a native Linux option, I will not go into detail with Windows ones. If you are ok with Windows, congratulations, there are many more interesting products out there for you.

The Gemini PDA

The Gemini PDA Android & Linux keyboard mobile device is meant as a smartphone with a keyboard and comes in Android or Debian. However, Debian is supposed to be patchy and it doesn’t really work well for the intended use. The keyboard is too wobbly to be really productive (according to my extensive review research). It looked really promising at first, so I was a bit disappointed by the mediocre reviews.

The Topjoy Falcon

The Topjoy Falcon seemed perfect to me but I missed the Kickstarter campaign and you currently can’t buy it regularly. Also, a general problem with cool gadgets coming out of Kickstarter projects: If they do take off and lead to a regular production, the post-Kickstarter prices are so high that the product really isn’t all that attractice anymore. (Remember, I wanted a relatively non-expensive product for holiday use only.) This sadly is the case with most Kickstarter tec gadgets. But it also features Ubuntu.

 

GPD products

The Chinese GPD company specializes in ultra-mobiles devices. They are much smaller than what you regularly would get because they specialize in this niche.

They have the GPD Pocket 2, the MicroPC (like a 6 inch toughbook), a new ultra-book project going on (GPD P2 Max) and a range of gaming devices. They have a history of successful Kickstarter projects and the prices are great when you get it from a running campaign. The only downside, in my view, is that they aren’t exactly cheap anymore in the regular price and then again, it’s a risk buying from a smaller, less established brand (possibly less customer support, etc.).

They usually release and ship with Windows 10 but they collaborate with Ubuntu Mate for UMPC, so a customized Linux version becomes available shortly later. Which, personally I think, is pretty damn awesome.

Lenovo Yoga Tablets

This is also more like an honourable mention. As I said, I still have a Lenovo Yoga 2 Tab from my pre-Linux era a few years ago. It’s nice and all but the keyboard – which is the essential part for me if it’s supposed to be a productivity device – only works with Windows. (Also, not that I have tried with anything else because I really just want a new device right now.) 

But it’s actually quite a cool product. The bigger one has a beamer function included which might come in handy at some point. I still use mine for watching films sometimes. And I am a big fan of Lenovo. It’s a bit sad that they don’t offer a great Linux umpc. I would totally get that. 

Honourable mention: Paper tablets

ReMarkable

It’s not a netbook, it’s not a tablet either and it’s also way too costly if you’re not going to use it regularly, but I just love the ReMarkable paper tablet. I have never owned it myself but I have tried it out and found it quite awesome. You can use it to read and annotate PDFs, take notes or even make drawings. However, people also have some criticisms on the software and it’s really quite an investment (around 400-600€ depending on whether you can get a special offer). Paper tablets are interesting for academia people because classic ebook readers aren’t great for PDFs but papers mostly come in PDF form. Many colleagues use ‘normal’ tablets for this exact purpose, but that’s another screen your tired eyes have to look into. When I work a lot and want to get reading done, I am usually quite glad to not have to stare into another screen. Also, there’s the thing that the blue light wakes you up at night, etc. etc. etc. So the ReMarkable doesn’t have as many features as a tablet, but in harmony with the Digital Minimalsim principle of non-multipurposing, it thereby also comes with many less temptations for drifting off.

E-Pad

Also, during my research for going more digitally minimalist, I came across the E-Pad 10.3″ E-Ink Android Tablet & eReader with Pen (also a Kickstarter thing) and it sounds really good. But I actually has apps which was a reason for me to reject it at the time since I didn’t want to many options for distraction. Now, looking back, it doesn’t seem so bad though. (I found this review really interesting. A plus is that it as access to full Android and not a proprietary system.)

 

Conclusion

So, that was it for now. It maybe wasn’t an overview over the more common products. But then again, you can get that from somewhere else. Maybe this was helpful to some of you.

Best,

S

 

Procrastination and the PhD life

For once, this is not a book review. At least not really because I will discuss some concepts I read in Barbara Oakley’s A Mind for Numbers, NY 2014. The book’s about how to learn more effectively in math and science and I thought it might help me learn new computer science concepts more quickly. But it’s really a book highly recommended for anyone. It’s a book about learning how to learn, about how to master procrastination and your work process. Highly relevant to the PhD life, obviously, so I thought I’d share some of my thoughts on it with you 😉

 

Defining the problem

Well, where to start? We all know what procrastination is, of course. The idea of having to start a task we find daunting, our brain lights up with pain. Procrastination offers a quick relief. It doesn’t seem too harmful in small doses but, like Arsenic, if consumed in excess the consequences are not fun.

Interestingly, for the most part of my life, I have never had a single issue with procrastination. It’s not that I had never felt the need to procrastinate. But during my schooling, I found most classes utterly boring and useless. So I ‘procrastinated’ on paying attention by completing other boring tasks which were dull but didn’t require a lot of focus. That way, I hardly ever had to do any stupid homework at home. By completing all my homework in class, I never even had to use my willpower at home and had enough left to focus it on the important stuff.

Even during my university studies, this method still worked, because sadly, I still found myself in a situation were most classes were shit and a waste of time, to be quite plain. So I did my homework, assignments, research for seminar papers and even some paper writing during boring lessons. At home, I had a consistent routine of spending 1-3 hours in the morning on some deep work and learning, for example like practice for Latin grammar, learning Ancient Greek and the like.

Having read some of Oakley’s tips now, this sounds like it was a freaking great idea because not only did it work really well, it also fits quite well with the learning theory (apart from the fact that you should avoid multitasking, but then again, I’ve never been a greater follower of rules, to quote Dumbledore from Crimes of Grindelwald on the matter).

 

The anxiety and procrastination inducing PhD life

But didn’t I just claim that we all know procrastination all too well and then followed up with how I never had a problem with it? Well, not thus far. For me, problems with procrastination only started once I started work and thesis writing. Now that I didn’t have frequent classes anymore I had to show up for, I lacked the hours to get those boring tasks done. Nobody controlled if I showed up for my work as long as it got done somehow. Also, had I not felt so well one day when I still used to ‘procrastinate’ during class, I could just sit there and do nothing while still “getting something done” in the way that I at least completed my attendance to the class.

Before, if I didn’t do anything, class still progressed. Now, when I didn’t do anything, nothing would get done. Also, tasks used to be much smaller than “Complete PhD thesis”. Even if you divide that one in smaller tasks, it’s still huge and daunting, there is no way around that. And all of a sudden, I had those bursts of anxiety related to procrastination. In the good old days where there was no procrastination issue in my life, I was so much less stressed. (It’s actually proven that procrastination causes stress and takes at least as much time and energy than just doing what needs to get done.)

We procrastinate on things that make us feel uncomfortable. […] The dread of doing a task uses up more time and energy than doing the task itself.

This has been going on at least since 2016 in my life but it seems to have been a mystery to me until I read Oakley’s book today. I haven’t really found the cure to my own newly discovered procrastination problem yet, but I wanted to share some tips Oakley provides in her book.

Don’t let your procrastination habit get the best of you

First of all, procrastination is extremely detrimental if you have big tasks ahead of you which require deep work and understanding, such as learning math (Oakley’s example) or writing that great peer-reviewed paper. If you ever only cram at the last minute, your brain has no time to form any firm connections, leaving you with superficial only. Not good.

First things first. Unlike procrastination, which is easy to fall into, willpower is hard to come by because it uses a lot of neural resources. This means that the last thing you want to do in tackling procrastination is to go around spraying willpower on it like it’s cheap air freshener.

  1. Use the Pomodoro technique (25min timed work sprint without distraction, reward and break after each session). Working on a little time constraint also has the added benefit of teaching you to function under pressure.
  2. Train ignoring distractions like you would work on meditation. In meditation, it’s all about recognizing a thought and actively deciding to discard it. Applied to procrastination, that means that you need to first become aware when the impulse to procrastinate comes in (not always easy!), then train yourself to ignore it.
  3. Use this little “digital minimalism” challenge to practice: When you notice the urge to open social media, don’t. Acknowledge the impulse, maybe reflect why you had it and what the reward from it would be (are you expecting a mesage or just want to avoid working?), come up with a way of substituting the reward or delay the gratification (“I’ll work another Pomodoro, then I can have a social media break as a reward”).
  4. Don’t “reward” yourself with a bad habit when you haven’t done anything to deserve it. This is easier said than done, especially if the habit is already automatic. Then the first step is to un-automate it and re-route your reaction to the cue which usually triggers your routine habit behaviour. This new reaction, however, still needs to be rewarding or you won’t go through with it in the long run.
  5. Oakley suggests to stop yourself from checking your phone first thing in the morning and to set a timer for 10 minutes of work instead. This little willpower training will “prime you” to make better choices during the day. Other people also say that unlearning the snooze habit is really important. However, I feel that I don’t have a problem with snooze when I’m truly motivated. I only it do when I really dread the day.
  6. Only apply willpower to your reaction to the cue. 
  7. You are bound to fail sometimes. We all fail sometimes. Learn to control your reaction to failures. Have a plan B for when they happen and, most importantly, failures are a necessary part of the learning process, not an indicator that you’re incompetent or unable to get things done.
  8. If you want to be kept from your digital devices, give them to somebody to watch over during your pomodoro timers.

 

Leverage all the external factors you can get

Social pressure can be an effective means against procrastination. For example, I sometimes procrastinate on climbs I am a bit afraid of and never finsih them, thinking I can’t do them. Once in the last month, for example, I brought a fellow fellow to climbing and she watched me do my current ‘final opponent’ boulder which had eluded me for weeks and countless attempts. With a colleague watching, I did it on the first attempt.

Turns out all I needed was that little social pressure and encouragement to pull through. I’d probably had that one in me for weeks and only couldn’t do it because I bailed out of it again and again. So these tips are even valid for climbing: When you think you can’t do it, hang on just a little bit longer. Always train until you actually fall (hint: most times, you probably won’t at all, even though you dread you might) or you’ll never use your full capacities and won’t progress. If you never try, you’ll never know. Overcome procrastination now 😀

To rewire your reaction to a trigger, try developing a new ritual. In the case of procrastination, this rewiring is sometimes called learned industriousness.

Meeting times or even lunch dates can be used as mini-deadlines to push your productivity. I always find I get the most productive shortly before I have to be somewhere because I’m trying to cram in just a little more, to get just that little other thing done. This is quite effective productivity-wise, but also the reason I am notoriously late. Not a good habit either. But it was helpful to read Oakley’s tips to understand this behaviour for what it really was for once: a mini-deadline-driven productivity burst.

Remember, habits are powerful because they create neurological cravings. It helps to add a new reward if you want to overcome your previous cravings.

Identify cues which trigger routine behaviours. Try avoiding the cue alltogether, if possible, or if you have to. Or try to change your reaction to the cue. How does your old habit serve you or how did it serve you when you first started doing it? Is that even something you still need? Does it still serve you? Can you substitue the rewards or tweak it in any way, if possible, without resorting to require willpower? If you resort to willpower too much, you will ultimately give in to distraction and temptation in a high-stress moment of weakness. So try to build a system which doesn’t rely on it, making it anti-fragile to high stress situations (which are bound to occur).

Process, not Product

I’ve never really had a snooze issue on excavation days. And for good reason: Excavating is about the process, not the product. You don’t know what’s going to come out of the ground (well, more or less, but you know what I mean), so you just show up for work. That’s another main concept from the book. And it might be the solution to my work-related procrastination problem. Focus on the process, show up for your timer, don’t focus on the product or on which outcomes are due. This is probably the main problem I have with procrastination at work. I look at the to do list, see all the products and outcomes it asks for and I end up paralyzed. Had I just sat down for two hours, like I would have during a boring class, the most daunting thing would probably already be done. So that’s my homework for now. I will practice to not let myself think about the product. It’s the product which triggers the pain causing us to procrastinate, so get the product out of your head. The process itself is not daunting.

When we think about a daunting task, pain centers in the brain fire up. Shifting your focus to something more pleasant (i.e. procrastination), makes you feel better temporarily. In that way, it is like a drug addiction. Like with any addiction, you start telling yourself stories to explain it away. But in the long term, this bad habit is going to slap you in the face: Procrastinators have worse health, lower grades and report higher stress levels. So apart from the fact that dreading a task instead of doing it takes more time and energy than to actually do the task, it causes even more stress leaving you feeling even more incapable of getting things done. The vicious circle continues and spirals out of control. Sometimes, procrastinating and then still finishing right before the deadline can make you feel high and invincible. Just like the thrill in gambling or other bad habits which feel good only in the short term.

When you’re on auto-pilot during a habit or routine activity, it’s like zombie mode. You don’t make decisions which can be good because it saves energy. However, you need to monitor your habits very closely and make sure they serve you rather than destroy you. Because what you do every day accumulates, you become the product of what you do every day and if that’s procrastination, you might end up with a result you don’t like. Well, there would be even more info in the book but I’m not done with all of it yet and the post is already too long again.

So, that’s it for now, (might follow up)

all the best,

S

How to… do selfcare as a PhD candidate – Part III: Social life

Welcome to part III of our selfcare-series and I decided this time to write about social life, because I am a few days away of going on a long holiday. I definitely need a break and I really need to do this. And yes, there is still a lot of work to do – there is still a thesis that wants to be written.

But let me begin with… well, with us. We are all human beings. Human beings are social beings. Actually, this is very simple and logical and necessary for our survival – but, yes, you must have time for being social, espescially while trying to achive things like a PhD.

There are for sure some periods of your writing and thesis finishing phase where you are very anti-social and love everything about this kind of life. However, you may know that we cannot survive without social contacts and you may know that there are a lot of people who love you and who want to be part of your life because they care for you.

I have mentioned it before: the problem with your time. But you might remember part I and part II of our selfcare series – you have to plan your time carefully and you have to build up some routines. I am sorry to say this, but yes, you will sometimes need to make clear that your first priority is in fact work and your thesis – but that doesn’t make you a bad friend or a bad son/daughter/whatever. Some people will not understand it, I know this from my own experiences. Sometimes, this may be the case because they have no idea what you are actually working on and why it is so time consuming. Sometimes, it may be because they are not so interested in your life – we know these kind of people as toxic people and no, they are no good and you should not listen to them. Seriously, DON’T you ever let anybody tell you that you are a bad person because you are keeping your priorities fixed on your academic career. You need balance, and balance means that you have to say “no” to some social events. And you know, people who love you will understand.

But how to get that balance? Sometimes you cannot say “no”, because you should absolutely not. Like, birthday parties, visiting your grandparents or parents, vacation with friends, … some things are important for your well-being. The tricky thing is to know how to handle the huge amount of things that seem important.

You have to plan your time and you have to talk to your friends and your family about these things. They must know that you cannot be a spontaneous person for some years. And they love you and they will understand it and encourage you. The same thing works with you being good to yourself and allowing yourself to go on a holiday and getting some fresh air. And fresh thoughts, because your brain needs to relax.

So, the important thing I want to tell you in this post is: You have to be good to yourself. And this is really hard work, trust me. There is this toxic academic background: We are used to a huge workload and of course we will work night and day, we have to publish and doing research, we have to attend conferences and so on.

I can tell you a lot about this feeling, the terrible imposter syndrome – and the people who are always asking where you are going – at 5 pm, because they are still working and how can you possibly go home?

You can read about this academic overwork on all social media platforms. We are the new generation of academia. And what does this new generation mean? It means that we have a chance to change the system – at least a little bit. If all of us try to be good to ourselves, if all of us admit that taking a break, spending time with family and friends is totally normal, because we are social beings. Let overwork not be your guide in this jungle we call academia. Talk with your colleagues about it. Talk with your loved ones. Create a good environment of people who know how hard our world can be – and let them help you in reverse to never let go of the important things in life.

This advice does not mean that people who love to be all alone and love their work should stop working. I know these phases myself. There are times – months, sometimes only weeks – that I spend nearly alone, with my material and my research. I simply don’t like people in this phase. And then, when I am done, I will get back to normal.

And there are times that like to spend with my loved ones. And sometimes I do this with a real bad conscience – I should be writing/reading/… and instead I am eating the third slice of cake of my love’s grandma, having a blast at the barbecue party in her garden.

One day, I will remember this. I will never ever remember the days and hours locked up in my office with my research. I am proud of my work when it is done. But I remember the stories, the talks, the laughter, and for this I need real people.

So, next time you have the birthdayparty of your mum coming up – just drive home earlier that day. Surprise her. Or your love spends the day cooking for you – join him or her. Cook together, laugh together. And the day after you will start again, refreshed and relaxed – and in a very good mood. And being a happy academic you will do research happily. And happy research leds to happy ideas. And happy academic ideas lead to good work.

That’s it – be good to yourself, take a break and by the way, you are such a good looking person, you have it all, the intelligence, the wit, the spirit. You deserve a break. Go, get it!

See you all when my holiday is over. 😉

(Yes, I will struggle to get back, because … I mean, we are heading to Sardinia, you know – sea, sunset, the food! But yes, I will come back. After all… I have a date with this thesis.)