Book Review: Essentialism

This time, I wanted to share with you another book from my quest to regain some work-life-balance: Greg McKeown, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, NY 2011. McKeown mainly challenges one quite fundamental assumption about our time: the illusion that we could just do it all.

 

Have you ever found yourself struggling with information overload? Have you ever felt both overworked and underutilised? Do you ever feel busy but not productive?

Priorities

The word priority used to be singular only. Which makes sense because actually, it is not possible for two things to be “the most important thing” at the same time. It is this introduction of a plural for priorities which shows how we use language to lie to ourselves.  It means not acknowledgeing the fundamental truth that you just can’t have it all. This is especially revelevant for myself because I am really bad at accepting this. When asked to choose something, I always decide to do both. But this is not ‘being super-human’. This is acutally being stupid and naive.

We perceive countless things around us. Yet our greatest power is the power to focus, which means of making the choice to ignore most of the noise in order to get to the message. This is what ‘essentialism’ is about. To not ‘do more’, but to do ‘less but better’. To ignore most things in order to value the important things.

 

Trade-Offs

We often think that we’re just not good at saying no. But saying yes to something always means saying no to something else. So ultimately, we are constantly saying no by saying yes. We might as well choose which thing to say no to directly. Because you just can’t have it all.  Yet, it is understandable why people have difficulty saying no in a society which encourages you to say yes. Saying no is not the nice thing to do. It is uncomfortable. Saying yes is what is praised in the moment. People who say yes seem productive, seem like they ‘have it all’ and ultimately, most bosses do actually expect you to say yes to everything. Even if this massively hurts your overall productivity. 

Another hallmark of the subconscious unability to say no is the act of constantly cramming in “just one more thing”. Like I do. McKeown even makes the example of this one annoying colleague who foolishly doesn’t accept they just can’t have it all and thus ends up answering “just one more” email before they leave for a meeting they would already have been late to before they even started writing that last email. Let me introduce you to this colleague. It is me.

Essentialism is the deliberate pursuit of ‘less but better’.

Delusional thinking

Like I said, McKeown brings the example of people who know they have 10 minutes left to get somewhere, it takes 10 minutes to get there and yet they still sit down to answer an email before they go – thinking they could just “fit it all in”. The result is that they are guaranteed to be late and thus, still miss one of the two things. Or, at worst, both. All because they are afraid to make conscious decisions to reject something. If you don’t know this from personal experience, you have just gotten to know me. This is who I am. I am not proud, but that’s the way it is. If you don’t make this choice (of what to do with the time you have), somebody else will make it for you. This is kind of like with digital addiction.

We are ever only aware of the decisions we actively make. That these imply that we also automatically (and perhaps unwillingly) say no to other things, we often don’t want to see. At least I don’t. Before saying yes, we should ask ‘What would I give up to do this?’ rather than ‘Can I fit it in?’ which is what societal pressure tells us we should do. McKeown introduces the concept of trade-offs, i.e. the fact that when you decide to do something, you simultanesouly also reject something else. Because you just can’t have it all. When you meet person A, you secretly have rejected spending your time with person B. Only that you are not aware of this fact. Essentialism means becoming aware and accepting of this reality of trade-offs.

 

The unimportance of practically everything

Essentialism is about the unimportance of practically everything. By that, McKeown means that not all actions are useful or effective. Many are a complete waste of time compared to others. He brings the example that bosses feel one really good employee doesn’t create results twice as good as another but 10.000x as good. McKeown learnt in his own childhood that delivering papers was a poor use of his time. He had to trade one hour of his time against one pound. Being able to afford something nice would be a gigantic pursuit with countless hours of toil. He then realized that washing cars on Saturdays would be able to get him a six pound per hour return and thus, was a incomparably more effective use of his time. This is the sort of thinking he suggests we should do when he tells us to do ‘less but better’.

 

Philosophy and practice

The book is splitted in a more ‘theoretical’ part explaining the ‘philosophy’ behind essentialism and some more practical parts. These contain tips not unlike those time management tips from all of the other books I looked at so far, be it in the Digital Detox experiment oder Rest.

  1. Part two (“Explore”) suggests you ‘escape’ and save time by being unavailable (ruthlessly avoid going to useless meetings, etc.); you see what really matters, make time for (serious) play, get enough sleep and select what you spend your time with using ‘extreme criteria’. 
  2. Part III (“Eliminate”) suggests you clarify decision making, dare to say no and learn how to do it gracefully without offending people, uncommit from non-essentials and gain freedom by setting boundaries for carefully ‘edited’ amount of meaningful activities.
  3. Part IV (“Execute”) praises using a “time buffer” between commitments, removing things which hurt your effectiveness most rather than starting some new quick fix technique on top of everything, progressing with small wins, using routine to get in the flow, focusing and being in the moment by asking (“What’s important now?”).

 

So that’s it from me today and from Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. And remember: You can’t just “have it all”. Do less, but better.

Best and until next time,

yours,
Sarah

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Rest

As you might remember from the last book reviews, I am on the quest for a better life in a digital age. I have tried reducing exposure to screens, but in Make Time, I came across more than just the allure of ‘infinity pools’ like the Internet. I was introduced to the concept of the ‘busy bandwagon’. The fact that your success is measured in how ‘busy’ you are or appear to be. The more I think about it, the more disgusted I am by it. I am sick of all the people around me being proud of their business – because obviously, how busy you are shows how successful you are, right? – and I could throw up at myself for answering ‘busy’ to every innocent ‘How are you?’. Since when has the standard answer to ‘How are you?’ changed from ‘good’ to ‘busy’?

 

Jumping off the busy bandwagon

Anyways, in my quest for a better life, I now try to find a way of jumping off the ‘busy bandwagon’. In Make Time, a few simple steps are already mentioned. Things like not answering email straightaway but rather in batches, not being constantly available, making time for family and so on. But there is more to it than just ‘changing how we work’. Because, after all, working constantly is what I am trying to avoid. So thinking about how to work more efficiently is not the right way to do it.

This is why today, I wanted to give a review of another book I recently came across. Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, NY 2016. Also check out the website: http://www.deliberate.rest/

Overwork is the new normal. Rest is something to do when the important things are done – but they are never done. 

 

Introducing ‘deliberate rest’

Rest isn’t primarily a book about productivity, that would be contradictory. It is a book which argues that (deliberate) rest is not just a by-product of being human, a necessary obligation to be reduced to a minimum. No, it is an enabler of creativity which is, after all, what we really want to achieve. Being ‘productive’ doing ‘superficial’ work does not create value. (Yes, I remember I still owe you the Deep Work review). What we really mean when we say we strive for productivity is: unique creative and valubable output.

I began to wonder if our productivity had as much to do with the pace of our lives as the place we lived. I started to think that maybe our familiar ways of working and living, and our unquestioned assumptions about our need to stay always connected […] to treat weekends as a time to catch up on work […] don’t work as well as we think. […] Today’s leaders treat stress and overwork as a badge of honour, brag about how little they sleep and how few vacation days they take and have their reputations as workaholics carefully tended by [PR. …] They remind us that the working lives of even the most powerful people unfold in an environment saturated with unquestioned assumptions about the virtue and inescapable necessity of constant work. Whether we embrace the idea that overwork is essential for productivity and creativity or reject it, we all are defined by it.

In the last few years, there has been a growing interest in the habits of successful people. They have mostly been analyzed to see how those people work, how they are productive. Rest does the same. This particular book, however, notes how it is striking that all those creative geniuses mostly didn’t do more than 4 hours per day of what we would consider their most important work. Often, this had previously been judged as ‘Oh, they are so capable that they succeeded despite all their off-time’. Rest asks whether this might not have been the other way around: They weren’t successful despite the copious amounts of rest, but because of it.

I have come to see our respect for overwork as […] intellectually lazy. Measuring time is litterally the easiest way to assess someone’s dedication and productivity. It’s also very unreliable.

Rest is more than just the mere absence of work. It is not an inconvenience. Leisure nowadays is seen as a luxury to be consumed and shared publicly on Instagram, at best, and at worst, the negation of all our values surrounding success (willingness ‘to go the extra mile’, etc.) With workaholics, it can easily happen that we don’t even really exist outside of work. I think many people who are considererd ‘successful’ in Academia do not have a life or even a self outside of work.

 

8 ways to work better using ‘deliberate rest’

As we become ‘more productive’, we work longer hours. […] You cannot work well without resting well.

  1. You are capable of no more than (max.) 4 hours of ‘real’ creative work per day. This is also the generally accepted amount from the 10.000h rule study and the ‘deliberate practice’ and ‘deep work’ movements. Of course, you’ll need to do some low value work which takes up a lot of the time every once in a while. But think about this the next time you’re about to work overtime. Do you really think this is going to yield quality output or could you do that night’s work in half an hour when well rested in the morning?
  2. Add walks or naps to recharge. A short walk will heighten your ability for creative work for multiple hours afterwards. So it’s not necessary to walk while thinking. But walking and creative thought are related.
  3. Have a morning routine where you get the most important task done for 1-2h. Regularity generates creative output. Routine is also a necessary step to protect rest from the invading work demands.
  4. Sleep enough.
  5. Take regular breaks.
  6. Stop work in a good moment when you still have energy left. Many know this rule as ‘leave one in the bar’. Stop before you’re tired. And, if possible, in a good place to continue for the next day.
  7. Exercise, deep play, sabbaticals. Hobbies, like playing music, allow you to detach emotionally from work. The way we spend our off-time determines how effective we are when at work. Rest even cites a long-term study on which academic careers succeed and which ones don’t. Most of the exceptionally successful scientists intensively engaged in sports and active rest, some even did climbing 😉 While according to a study, low achievers tried to get better at work by doing more work, the ones who really ended up successful were busy with “deep play”.
  8. Not taking time off creates exhaustion (emotional and physical) and has long term health risks. Take vacations. I actually don’t get how anyone can get along with 5 weeks of holiday per year. If I’m honest and wanted optimal productivty for myself, I would need at least two weeks off at least every three months. Not that it’s possible. But when I secluded myself in the south of France last Christmas for two weeks, that was one of the most productive and mind-clearing experiences I’ve had in a long time. People in Academia should be allowed to go on “writing escapes” to get their writing done. Maybe (hopefully) my upcoming fellowship this summer will have the same effect.

Vacations are like sleep. They need to be taken regularly to be effective.

The book isn’t super long. The audiobook lasts only 7 hours. Many of the tips don’t go deeper than what’s included in the summary here, except for lots of examples. But it mentions climbing as an activity for active rest. So yay for that. And examples might be helpful to you. If you feel that overwork and not resting enough is an issue for you, the book will definitely be interesting to you.

Best,

Sarah

The archaeologist and the languages

Just make a guess: How many languages have I learned in the name of research and archaeology?
I am not talking about Latin and Ancient Greek, or any other dead language or script, like Linear B (okay, yes, actually this is just a funny syllabary of a somehow early Greek dialect) or cuneiform scripts …

Next to English it is Italian, a very poor amount of French, a not that poor but still minimal form of Spanish, slowly increasing amounts of Dutch, and very few nearly forgotten phrases of Turkish.

English is the language I am using regularly and often enough to keep it fluent. My Italian is good, but since my Italian speaking grandfather died, I have no-one left to regularly talk with. And you know how things are with languages you never speak… It’s like a plant without water. So, I try to keep my Italian plant watered with books and films and sometimes I speak to myself.

My Dutch is still in a phase of beginning (actually, I am just preparing my first presentation for my final exam – okay, I should prepare it, I will do it, just after finishing this blogpost!). And now… Why am I learning Dutch?

At least, English is one of the big main world languages, so, there is a reason. Italian – very clear for me, since there was family involved with. But Dutch? In Austria? You might have guessed it: It was for the sake of archaeological research. I had to cope with some Dutch articles and books on our project concerning Celtic divine names on Roman inscriptions in the provine Germania Inferior. There are some deities – it’s very often just their names found on inscriptions, so we have not always an idea what kind of deity. But there are some Inscriptions from the Netherlands and back in the 1970s no-one thought of publishing in English all the way. So, that is the reason why I am learning Dutch. And yes: It is a very funny language, too. 🙂

I have to admit, I am desperatly lost with French – but thank to God, Sarah is not only Latinist by training, she is also a trained French teacher and she can help me with my great task of learning French for academic purpose, meaning reading publications on my material and maybe someday arguing with French colleagues about my views on the material.

I have talked about my language endboss with another colleguae and she is also struggling with French – that is why we will try another way learning it, the two us together this summer.  And Sarah will help us out. 😉

Actually, French is a very important language, if you are working as an archaeologist in the Roman provinces. That means I really should learn some French. At least enough to speak with colleagues and read some papers or listen to talks. I tried it with some courses on University, but that was not a good idea – for the teachers sucked and the courses were incredibly boring.

And that leaves me with my next slightly doomed language experiment for the sake of research: Turkish. I had great ambitions and wanted to go to an excavation to Turkey and I prepared some language skills – this time the courses at University were quite cool and interesting and we had a really good teacher. But you cannot always have your will and I did not get the opportunity to go to Turkey. So, I have done two years of language courses in Turkish, but now, about 6 years later, nothing is left of my skills. You remember the plant at the beginning. My Turkish plant is nearly gone.

My last language: Spanish. Another family matter, because my sister-in-law-to-be-someday married a Mexican, so… yes. Spanish. I took the Langenscheidt version of getting along with Spanish in 30 days. I got to Day 25, but then I was overwhelmed, not because of grammar or just impressions – because of the vocabularies… I just had not the time to learn them in the right way. So, I will just begin again, I think in July. 😉 Never give up on language plants you have to water because of family concerns. 🙂

It is true, you cannot be fluent in every language and if you wish to be fluent in two or three, you have to work hard for it, because you have always to practice a language – you have to keep watering your plant.

Languages are a MUST for the Humanities.
I am very sure that none of my language lessons was in vain – sooner or later I will need them and then will find my vocabularies in a very hidden place of my brain by practicing them again. I love languages and this is one huge advantage when studying any subject of the Humanities. At least, I think so. You need English for sure, because you have to and should present on international conferences. As Sarah said once, another foreign language you are able to present in cannoth be that wrong, so … This is my plan. I want to do it in Italian, if there will be the possibility. Well, I am not sure, if I can talk on any acaemic subject in Italian without anything written down like I can in English, but hey, you can write your presentation down and read it, right? I mean, you are not a native but you have the guts to stand onstage and just do it anyway. I think that a lot of people will be very impressed by that.

Languages open up the ways to travelling new countries and experiencing new cultures.
Never ever underestimate that fact. It won’t hurt you to say some phrases in the mother tongue of business partners, colleguaes from your field, waiters in a restaurant on holidays (my mum always says that the most important things in a foreign language are to know how to order food and drinks, and she is damn right about that), taxi drivers on your way from the airport, … just try it.

So, how many languages have you learned? Are you fluent in more than one language? How do you learn languages the best way?

I hope you enjoyed this little field trip through my language brain – 🙂

Astrid

The Digital Minimalism Experiment: Conclusion

We’re all distracted by our digital devices. I wanted to see if I could adopt some ideas from Digital Minimalism and Make Time and I kept you up to date, too. Now, I wanted to sum it all up because the experiment is over. In a good way: I stuck with my new reduced digital life and am better off for it. It’s time for me to move on to another project. This post sums up the biggest takeaways.

Auto-unplug the internet in the evenings using a timer plug

If you want to get unstuck fast: Get a timer plug for your router. Make it switch off the internet early in the morning, so you don’t check it as the first thing you do after waking up and all evening.

Reduce TV / streaming to a minimum to free up time lost

The internet plug trick made it easy for me to stick with my new rule of max. 2 episodes of a series / 1 film per week. Since there is no internet after 19:00, I spent my evenings doing something else. This transition was super easy, I don’t miss anything and I wouldn’t go back. I have had a lot more time for reading, exercise, (cooking and) eating well, and getting a good night’s sleep. As a nice side effect, not being able to access digital devices in the evenings made me lose the habit of constantly checking something and I subsequently found it easier to reduce my phone checking in the daytime.

Get a dumb phone 

If you’re ready to give it your all: get a dumb phone. But switching off mobile data by default and only switching it back on when you really need it already helped me reduce compulsive phone checking.

Reduce social media and don’t scroll

Check social media as little as possible (as little as once per day or per week). Don’t use social media on the mobile device you carry around but rather on a computer which is less instantly-accessible. Don’t scroll so you don’t fall victim to the “infinity pools” of constantly refreshing distraction.

You don’t have to completely give up on anything if you don’t want to

To sum it all up: I had to give up on none of my digital habits. I just changed the default to “not using XY” compared to “constantly using XY” from before.

Have replacement activities

But in order for this to work, you need to have things to do instead at the ready. Like for me, I mostly go climbing now, read a book or go to bed early. This works surprisingly well.

Plan for analogue quality social interaction

Make sure to set up an analogue social life so you don’t suffer from some sort of social media withdrawal symptoms. Focus on planning quality time with people who are really worth your time.

Conclusion

As a conclusion, I thought of something last week: This experiment was great and I prefer my ‘new life’. But at the same time, better digital habits are not a cure-all. On their own, they will not make you happy nor will they take care of your overcommitment-induced stress. This is another issue you need to tackle and it might well be the next focus for me.

I’ll keep you posted.

Best,

Sarah

The “D”- and the “H”-part

It was a post of my dear LaTeX ninja, talking about the pros and cons (okay, basically the pros) of one getting started doing Digital Humanities (you can find the original post here). I just flipped through it, until the following sentences:

Because the whole point of DH is that you’re not either a programmer XOR a Humanities scholar. It’s the combination of both. Most people see that combination as some sort of 30/70 or 40/60 kind of thing. I think it has to be 100/100. And yes, that means you’ll have to be a freak with a 200% workload. I’m pretty alone with this opinion, however, so don’t panic. Most people don’t see it like that at all.  I’m generally a bit of an eccentric and maybe some might perceive my opinion to be extreme. Well, sorry, but I like extreme. I think that “real DH” should mean 200%, or even better: 300%. 150% programmer and 150% Humanities. Be hardcore at both. At least that’s my personal goal.

So, I learnt that she is somehow extreme and liking it, what I actually always thought about her, and I learnt that 100/100 is a quite ambitious goal. And then I started thinking about myself and my abilities in DH. I splitted it up, there is an “D”-part and an “H”-part. So, I would like to start with my “H”-part, meaning the humanities, basically Archaeology and Classics. I am archaeologist by training, as well as ancient historian. I sometimes like my description of myself as an archaeologist with “special features”. You know, coming from a field dealing with images, but also able to read ancient sources (well, of course, all my colleagues are able to read, but I discovered that many historians and philologists keep thinking that an archaeologist just does not use written sources –  or at least, in the wrong way).

But my special features are not just my “reading skills” all alone. I did some courses in linguistics and in geomatic engineering as well, some workshops on digital methods in the humanities, …

So, if the “H”-part, meaning my archaeology-me by training, is 100%, because I have a degree and doing my PhD, then how does my “D”-part look like?

My first tries with SFM – I worked with freeware and was amazed by the quality. Here you can see a relief side of a sarkophagus with some holes, because my photos were not that good.

I told Sarah that my “D” part is about 24.6%. The workshop on Digital and Practical Epigraphy in London (click here to read the whole post) increased my knowledge about 4.2% (don’t get me wrong, it was a 100% success, but a 100% in my “D”-part are standing for a degree, so I had to convert it). So, we are located at 28.8% by now. The moment I can run my first Python scripts in a way the are meant to run and work out, I think, my rating will increase up to 36.9%. 🙂 Cheers to that, I think.  I am convinced that this is a great number, for the sum of 3 and 6 is 9… Isn’t that beautiful? Okay, enough with the maths.

Then I thought about which part is more important to me. Basically, this is like the question, if I like bones or late antique Church Fathers the most. I cannot decide, so it is quite unfair. I need both parts, never mind how much percent they have. I am convinced that my archaeology-part is sometimes at 120%, 20% are just crazy happiness, e.g. because I am allowed to take photos in a museum on monday (so, when all museums are normally closed and it is just me and the artefacts). Sometimes ist about 84,7%, because I am that exhausted after a very concentrated climbing session or my fitness workout. My “D”-part is like a static shadow behind my the “H”-part, smiling on the archaeology-me playing with bones or being fascinated by stones. The “D”-part does perfectly know that its whole existence is mainly about my archaeology-me letting it be. So maybe the “H”-part is first place in a hierachical structure. The “D”-part comes second and is caused by the “H”-part. Does sound like some kind of splitted personality, am I right? (Just a reminder: Yes, we are all crazy here, trust the Hatter, I tell you that).

My photos are better, my knowledge of the software has increased. But still, there are a lot of “mysteries” for a happy noob like me. And I like mysteries. 🙂

So, if I had never ever found the idea of being able to do SFM and 3D-stuff fascinating, if I had never ever the interest in photography, I would never ever have ended up this way. I am a trained archaeologist, capable of mastering the “H”, and a proud and happy noob, dealing with and experiencing the “D”, while learning on the job. I think, this is a very good mixture.

What about you? What is your “D” to “H” ratio? How are you working on yourself and your skills?

All the best,

Astrid (currently 28.8%/105% – because I could post some of my screenshots of my SFM-journey…) 🙂

How to… do selfcare as a PhD candidate – Part II: Why do physical exercise?

You might have guessed it already by seeing our blog subtitle the first time, but yes: We both are really into bouldering and climbing. 😉 Well, we are beginners and not so skilled, but it is fun and we love it. Every Monday for a couple of weeks now we are meeting at our favourite climbing hall and we try for an hour and a half to let go of all the work, the stress, the frustration.

Welcome to our second part on How to … do selfcare as a PhD candidate. (For part I you may click here!)

You might be in grad school, working on your PhD, your master’s or bachelor’s degree, basically it is always the same – your workload is amazing, you wish that you are actually in possession of one of Hermione Granger’s timeturners just to get a full night’s sleep and some kind of private life.

We all know, how good it feels to stay on your couch in the evening after work. BUT: There are those nasty backpain issues, there is the wish to do something with your body just to cope with the 8 to 10 hours a day you spent sitting around, writing, reading, studying.

The truth is, you must train your body to be ready to take these sitting hours. Your back, your butt, your arms, your neck and your legs will thank your for considering this. So, the best way is physical exercise. You have not to run a marathon, but hey, every two to three days a slow 5 km run, why not? Every two days an hour of yoga, maybe the gym, maybe you are taking your bike to get to work. Everything helps, just keep moving your body.

We both try to do some type of sports up to three times a week, which is not easy, when you have a 30h project job, which technically includes no PhD writing – and oh, there is your family as well, friends, partners. Social life, too, is a very important part of selfcare! In fact, it is that important, I will write a whole blogpost on it. And yes, you must eat, drink and sleep. However, sometimes I wish my days would have up to 36 hours, just to cope with my life outside university.

But let’s get back to our sporty theme for this post: Just exercise. Take a walk every evening. Call your friends and ask them, if they are into doing any type of sport – it is always much more fun together, but please, never forget, you should get enough alone-time for yourself. You may need this. I have often heard that it is one hour a day, where there should be just time for you, you alone. I see the smiles, yes, it sounds rather ridiculous. In our huge world of academic work, there is no space for these kinds of thoughts. Well, just be the first to think them.

Take a run, just you alone, with your favourite music or in silence. Breathe. If possible, try to run in a park – nature helps. Concentrate on how you run, on how your feet touch the ground. After half an hour you will fell calm, relaxed – and ready for some hours of work again.

The same magic happens to me while climbing. Of course, I am not alone in my climbing hall, but I concentrate on my grip, my hands, my feet and I enjoy myself when testing new routes.

The best thing to calm myself down, to get rid of my working day in my thoughts, is actually some yoga practice. I took several courses, yes, but there exists a huge number of videos and apps too, so, just try it! It is important to focus on yourself and your needs.

I will describe a little evening routine to you – I do it while already lying in bed in the evening. Just lay down, close your eyes and breathe in deeply. Feel your body. How does it feel? Is there any pain? Are there lots of thoughts wandering around your head? It’s okay, just let it be. Don’t blame yourself for overthinking too much. Just accept it. The thoughts are there, the pain in your back is there, you feel tired – everything normal, so far. Just remember, we are all human beings. How do your feet feel? Your hands? Your legs, your arms? Your stomach? Your neck? Your head? Your back? Just wander over your body, over each part, look after it – how does it feel, what is there? Note it and then accept it.

Do it as long as you want to do it. I always sleep in while thinking… In the beginning it was very hard, because I thought that yoga and meditating is about being one with the universe or whatever – well: yes and no. You come first. Nobody can ever be a better you, so just watch yourself, train it. It will get easier and better and suddenly – you might be calmed and relaxed. Is there any better thing after a hard day’s work? Right. There isn’t. And you certainly know this yoga-wisdom: We do yoga because we are all nuts. 😉

I really need to do something with my body during the week; you may not believe this, but once I started I could not stop it. I get angry and moody without exercise. My back is hurting – which stops every time after some kind of workout I do, may it be running or yoga or cimbing.

So, if you are looking for a healthy hobby and somthing that is really good for your body and your mindset – try exercising. Start very small, build up a routine and let the magic happen. Always remember, you have the time to watch Netflix or to hang out on your couch, you can spare half an hour of that time and take a walk, right?

All the best, you heros of everyday PhD (or academic) life, and keep on moving!

Astrid

 

 

Book Review: Make Time

As promised, I wanted to follow up my digital minimalsim series with a review of Make Time. It is definitely influenced by Cal Newports ideas of Deep Work and Digital Minimalism, but a bit more on the productivity / personal development side of the spectrum. But actually, I found the most valuable part to be the underlying philosophy. But see for yourselves.

An average American spends 4h watching TV and 4h scrolling their phones every day. Thus, the authors of Make Time conclude that “distraction is a full-time job”.

The Theory

They identify two big destructive tendencies of today’s world: The “busy bandwagon” and “infinity pools”. Like I already mentioned in the post on my fight with the screens:

“In Make Time. How to Focus on What Matters Every Day, Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky argue that there are two destructive tendencies of our time, traps we ought to avoid at all costs. And that is on the one hand, “the busy bandwagon”, i.e. our culture of constant business and “infinity pools”, i.e. scolling dashboards which refresh themselves for all eternity, providing an endless amount of distraction. In the introduction to Make Time, the authors write:

“Nobody ever looked at an empty calendar and said, “The best way to spend this time is by cramming it full of meetings!” or got to work in the morning and thought, “Today I’ll spend hours on Facebook!” Yet that’s exactly what we do. Why?”

Change your defaults to make time for what matters

By saying “We can’t do the 57 things bloggers tell us we should do before 5a.m.”, the authors stress that this book is not meant for perfect people. It doesn’t require a will of steel. It stresses that you can make changes without crazy amounts of willpower if you just change the defaults which lead you to make bad choices. It’s not about doing more. It’s about making time for what matters. To you. The authors stress multiple times that the techniques were not written for super-humans.

Most of the techniques suggested in the book are probably already known to those who are into productivity tools and techniques. But, in my opinion, the most important thought they proliferate is that a lot of things which are non-optimal about our lives are based on the fact that we use the default option rather than actively making a choice for what we want.

The most important thing about Make Time is the philosophy behind it, according to me anyway. Since “most of our time is spent by default”, changing the default to a new default isn’t such a big deal.  But it makes a huge beneficial difference. And yet, it mostly requires that you make the mental shift: You need to come to the conclusion that you don’t want to live the default life.

 

The techniques

The main tips are based on the four steps from the authors’ previous Sprint, which shaped the popular technique of ‘design sprints’.

Highlight

The highlight is your main activity for the day. The goal, the thing you look forward to, the thing you will remember about your day. It can be something urgent. It can mean batching administrative tasks so you don’t get distracted by them at other times. Or just something very important to you or something that you will enjoy. It can be playing with your kids or writing a few pages ofyour PhD thesis. It takes around 60-90 minutes and you block time for it as if it were an important appointment. Be focused and don’t allow distractions. You will feel accomplished and up your life quality. Write down what it will be in advance, best in the morning (in one word reminder, on a post-it). All of the other to-dos go on a “might-do list”. That way, you don’t let the spirit of the ‘busy bandwagon’ and the feeling that you have to work as much as possible and be as “productive” as possible ruin what’s important to you. Try doing this highlight early in the morning or late at night. Any other time theoretically works too, but the authors have found one of these two options to most likely work for you in a reliable way.

Laser: Get rid of distraction

This can include switching off the internet, leaving your phone at home, getting a dumb phone or just un-installing the browser, the email app and social media apps on your smartphone. Without them, you disable this “swiss-army knife of distraction”. Get rid of the TV too. (Or just get the no-internet-plug, like I did, to switch it off between 19:00-08:00). 

Create as much of intentional inconvenience (logging out of all apps after each use), friction and barriers as possible (stashing the phone / TV away, unsubscribing from Netflix, unsubscribe from newsletters, delete apps, have empty tabs and an empty home screen without quicklinks to your favourite distractions; disable notifications). In short, make it as hard as possible for you to succumb to your old defaults.

One Thing to rule them all, One Thing to find them,
And in the darkness bind them.

(Tolkien on your smartphone)

JK and JZ exemplify this on “the distraction-free phone”. Maybe go back to wearing a wrist-watch. Don’t check your digital life first thing in the morning nor last thing at night. In order to get many of those benefits in one simple action which requires no willpower whatsoever, I have installed a timer plug on my wifi: it’s only available between 08:00-18:00. That way, I have gotten rid of most screen-induced losses of time and energy, am encouraged to read a book instead and still don’t miss out on any of the benefits.

And it was easy. Really no self-control involved. This is, I think, the strongest point of the book. Most books rely on super-high willpower you probably don’t have, especially in very stressful times when we’re at our most vulnerable.

Also, I found that disabeling “mobile data” on my phone really did the trick for me. I still check it when I have wifi. I can switch it back on if ever I get lost. That way, I can save my time until my light (dumb) phone comes in July. And also, you don’t get tracked as much if you’re not constanly online.

Check digital stuff only once per day, if possible. Check news once per week: How many ‘breaking news’ actually influence decisions you make daily? Hardly any, depending on your job. Also, to make sure you digital life (which you are not required to give up on completely) doesn’t eat up your real life, save it for the end of the work day. If you need email and social media for work, just do it in the late afternoon when you wouldn’t be productive anymore anyway. Also, wanting to get home will probably cause you to be less overly motivated to write 5 pages long emails and thus, help you streamline.

Also, if you are slow to respond, you reset expectations. As a detox, try to not respond to email straightaway. I have successfully made Wednesday my administration day where I batch administrative time-wasting and time-consuming tasks. It feels good to get it all done that day, but it also makes sure the urgent but not all that important stuff doesn’t ruin your focus capacities for everything else.

You will realize that once something else is “easier” and wasting time becomes an inconvenience, you won’t do it so much anymore. But of course, like we also saw in my last two posts on the topic (Fighting the screens and Digital Minimalism), tech companies spend a lot of time and energy to make their tools as alluring, conveniant and easy as possible, tapping into all of our psychological weaknesses.

But, like they write, perfection is another distraction. It’s okay to fall off the wagon some days.

 

Energize

Like the popular saying from strength training “leave one in the bar” suggests, even leaving work half an hour early, just before you get tired, can have tremendous effects on your productivity for the days after.

Exercise every day. Take 45 minutes for that. It is agreed that this will really boost your energy and reduce stress. However, don’t let this become yet another source of stress. If you’re too busy, squeeze in a super short workout. Just do something. And then again, you might have heard about this meditation quote:

You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day, unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.

Most of the Energize part is made up of sound, but well-known advice like “reduce sugar”, “take naps”, “drink green tea”, “don’t have caffeine first thing in the morning” (get light, movement and water first), swipe sweets for dark chocolate and nuts as a default, etc.

It ends with the important point often announced in airplanes: Put on your own oxygen mask first. By that, they mean that you can’t help others and be a good person before you have taken care of yourself (see Astrid’s post on that). So be egoistic, so you have the energy needed for altruism.

Reflect

Which means that you should test out a new tactic every day and write down what has worked and what hasn’t. Then use this data to learn from it and fine-tune. Journaling or a simple notebook can serve for that. Keep notes of what you find out. You might not remember it next year but it can be beneficial to have some data on what works for you in the future. Even if you decide to discontinue something now, maybe you’d like to go back to it next year and would be happy to have a record of what has worked for you in the past. Also, journaling has been proven to have tons of benefits aside from that.

Conclusion

Overall, the book is not all that long (despite being almost 300 pages). The words are not dense on the pages, there are a lot of visualizations, etc. I listened to the Audiobook anyway. I found the book to be very valuable and packed with interesting thoughts, despite it being rather short and even though the tips by themselves are not all very innovative. Combined with the more ‘philosophical’ ideas it brings up (our culture as “busy bandwagon”, digital tools as “infinity pools”, living on defaults which means its easier to change the default than bring up willpower, etc.), all these tips can be seen in a different light as in other books. That’s why I liked it. Definitely worth it, but – even while you’ll miss out on the cool illustrations, maybe rather listen to the audio book, if you’re into that.

 

Best,

Sarah

 

Resources

Jake Knapp & John Zeratsky, Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Every Day, NY 2018. https://maketime.blog/

A lot of articles are available for free on: https://maketime.blog/articles/

London Climbing – at Vauxwall Climbing Centre

So, this is going to mark a new sort of posts here on our Bouldering Epigrammetry Blog – whenever we get the chance to visit and train in a new climbing hall, we will give you a very short experience-report on it.

So, the first climbing centre “abroad” I have ever visited was the Vauxwall Climbing Centre (here you can find their website with all informations on prices, shoe loan, opening hours etc.).

I tried to find a cimbing centre near to one of my major tube lines for reasons of not getting lost (I am quite an expert in getting lost in big cities you should know), and without any further thinking I decided for the Vauxwall West at Vauxhall.

I had to registrate myself online (which you can do at the centre or at home before you go there), then I got some saftey questions asked, in order to assure the staff that I know about the main rules of indoor climbing. The Vauxwall West ist quite small, I think, but this may also be because of the building is full of nooks and crannies and you can wander around like in a little labyrinth. They have enough “wall space”, showers and changing rooms, lockers for valuables and an area to rest and have a talk and a drink.

I got confused with the levels of difficulty, just starting with the green boulders, thinking of back home, where green is the second level you can take. It worked out fine, because actually at Vauxwall West, this is the first level. 😉 I was motivated and went for my next step, which back home is blue – but blue at Vauxwall West is orange with blue dots, so, I ended up wondering why this routes are so damned difficult… yeah, I was sitting in a room with inscriptions the whole day, I was not that well able to think. I finally noticed the table with the degree colours and started with the violet routes again, for violet is the second level. And I was really good, I have to say… 😉

I felt really good and I enjoyed myself a lot. I even started some discussions with other people climbing, we tried some difficult routes together. It was really nice and despite the first sight that there will not be enough space, it was quite fine and worked out well.

So, all in all, I really appreciated my two visits at the Vauxwall West, I had a good time and the staff was both times very helpful, friendly and qualified. When you are a first time customer, you will get 50% on your second visit’s payment, which is also a very nice thing to have, because bouldering is one expensive type of sport to do in London, I am afraid…

I look forward to visiting new climbing centers on my next stays – I do hope that I have the time. 😉

Always remember: Keep going –

Astrid

London calling …

Workshop on Digital and Practical Epigraphy
(London, April 29–May 4, 2019)

As you might have seen on our Twitter or Instagram-Account, I spent a week in London, participating at a really interesting workshop. It caught me while flipping over some homepages on epigraphy and classics in february this year. I was working on my catalogue for my thesis back then and somehow really frustrated about the fact that some archaeologists have no idea about epigraphy at all. Well, there are also some epigraphists who do not think inscriptions are archaeological material either, … So, it is time that we change this view, don’t you all think so?

I want to show my network and the people around me that (mainly) stones with letters on them are far more interesting than any epigraphist or archaeologist has ever thought of before. And because of that I decided that it is time to show the world my fascination. And as an archaeolgist, I use pictures for sharing my research, before I use words. And, good thing for me, this workshop was actually on taking pictures of inscriptions – or, so to speak, different methods to produce images and/or a proper documentation of inscriptions.

So, what did I learn at this particular workshop?

We started with the various methods of documenting inscriptions. And we really started from scratch, talking about the method of making squeezes (basically pressing and smashing wet special paper on a wet stone by using a great brush – acutally you can watch a video on how to do it here), about taking drawings of the inscriptions and so on. We talked about printed epigraphic ressources as well as about online sources.

We had a very interesting introduction to photogrammetry as a method of documentation for inscriptions. We tried it out at the wonderful St Pancras Gardens – next to making squeezes, we had to pick one stone of our choice – I decided on a little broken one who stucks in the earth and has a pretty angel face on it. We took the photographs wth our smartphones. This was completely new to me, for I am used to my DSLR camera – but I was very surprised to see my results after the whole aligning, dense cloud building and mesh building on Agisoft Metashape (looks quite the same like Photoscan, does the same, feels the same – at least for me).

As you can see, it does look really nice…

After our work with 3D-models and squeezes, we got into the “serious” DH-stuff… I am talking about TEI, EpiDoc and EFES (EpiDoc Front End Services, which is a custom and a platform for publication and search/indexing of EpiDoc files). I have heard the terms “TExt Encoding Initiative” and EpiDoc before, of course, I knew that there was something about coding and tagging and XML, but how all these things are really connected, never ever came clear to my mind, because I simply never ever had the time to read through the amazing amount of information on these things.

Basically, it is a way to encode your inscriptions with all the metadata and information you have about them (e.g. finding spots, description, the museums where it can be found today, transcription etc.) in XML and to make them accessible online on a database or website of your project. There are many different projects running on these kind of scheme, just scroll through the short Wikipedia entry on EpiDoc and click on the various links!

Coding means “keep the cookies coming” – and thank God they had really tasty cookies there. And coffee. Now I finally understand all my friends who work as programmers…

The people behind EpiDoc which gave this workshop are very interested in getting people to know about their project and sharing their knowledge on how to get inscriptions online to make them accessible and useful for science and research to happen. So, go ahead and inform yourself on the various possibilities of participating at a workshop where you can learn the basics of EpiDoc!

… and EFES, of course. This is one of my first tests with EpiDoc files I had to run on EFES, and it worked – it may not look that aesthetic, but, hey, it worked out the way I wanted it too!

By the end of the week, I have to admit it, I was really exhausted. There were so many new things criss-crosing in my mind, it took me nearly four days to recover my brain… For now, I am busy trying to summarize my notes and to work them through again, just making sure not to forget anything important. I hope that soon I can find the time to write more extensive posts on the single methods I learned about.

For now, it is just a very short summary on this amazing week.

I hope you enjoyed this little overview –

take care!

Astrid/archaeogirl

 

 

 

 

The fight against the screens: Getting my Life back

As you might know, I recently read Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism and decided I had to make some changes for the better. And I had already done back then. Now I wanted to keep you posted on first experiences of my experiment and also stress some aspects I left out last time because they didn’t fit nicely in the line of argument: The last blog was, after all, a book review and I didn’t want to inject too much of my own practical applications. This post now is full of them.

Some more theoretical inputs

The attention economy uses psychological tricks to maximize screen time. Rebel against this enslavement by only taking what you need and finding ways to ignore the other bids for attention (notifications, always being available via your phone, etc.). Maybe get a second phone if you want to keep the apps, but leave the one with all the apps at home. Bring only the indispensable with you every day and read a book instead of mindless scrolling. How much more there is to life when our time isn’t drained from us by social media and binge watching series.

How much more time would you have for activities you actually care about without being glued to a screen? Passive recreation robs you of time and leaves you more drained than before. In any case, Newport lists a lot of real life examples from people who adopted this lifestyle, so you might want to adopt what has worked for them.

 

Turning FOMO (fear of missing out) into JOMO (joy of missing out)

Newports TED talk offers 3 arguments for quitting social media are actually retorts to common objections to his message that we should quit social media:

  1. You won’t end up a hermit without these “fundamental technologies”. Social media is like a slotmachine, a tool which will make you addicted and a good source of money for the attention economy. They sell your screen time and data.
  2. Your work networking won’t be harmed, you will not be invisible in the economy. Since, per his last book Deep Work (review to come), we know that the economy wants high value produced from deep work, not superficial outcomes like networking.
  3. It’s not harmless. It causes anxiety and robs you of time. It ruins your capacity for concentration. Nobody can focus with a slotmachine in their pocket. Don’t let your fear of missing out cause you to inadvertently suffer from these negative impacts.

 

Actions Taken

Realization 1: The smartphone is not your friend, so get rid of it

Like Astrid wrote in her Selfcare Part I post, you have to plan your free time. If you don’t, somebody else will plan your day for you but it will contain none of the items which are important to you. Is that what you want?

She also suggested using the Pomodoro technique or setting your phone to flight mode. Flight mode is actually a good thing. Or just put the phone in another room. You will probably be too lazy to get up and get it just because of a little habitual urge to check your phone. I sometimes find it hard to ignore the phone but when I’m on holiday and don’t have wifi, I don’t need it any more after a few days. The point here is that you need to find a balance between being available at work and unavailable in your free time. But these spaces intersect so much. I use my phone for social stuff too. This, of course, I want to do at home. But then I go on to check my (work) email as well. Then I get distracted by social stuff at work.

But I really don’t want any of those things. The idea of being ‘available’ while at work might work out for an office worker. But not for someone required to do ‘deep work’, like writing a dissertation. (Deep Work is another book of Newport’s which I will review and discuss as well, because it’s so central to the PhD life.) Being available and instantly responsive will lead you to do superficial work which, by defintion, produces sub-standard results which are in no way unique and thus, basically, will not advance your career.

 

So one of the main things I did, like I indicated in the last post already, was getting a light phone 2. The point is, it won’t come until July (at the earliest) and I really can’t wait. I want things to change for the better now, so I made some changes and have tried to formulate them in a actionable way so you can follow them too, if you like.

 

Realization 2: Screens (streaming and social media) rob me of my time and rest

 

Like Newport stresses, they are in no way as harmless as we often tell ourselves. While Newport’s reasons are helpful and convincing already, I wanted to add one of my own. These apps don’t only steal my time and attention. They steal the time I have to do some things which are incredibly important to me: getting some substantial reading done, planning, language learning, exercise, good eating and keeping my appartment tidy. These things are actually super-important to me and massively contribute to my overall happiness. When I don’t get around to doing them, I feel horrible about myself and stressed. When I do, I am living the life I really want.

Actively paying attention to my digital habits now made me realize that it is exactly these digital habits which stop me from doing those things. The sacrifice I make (mindlessly) using these tools (to no discernible end) is pretty big. Those 2h a day are the two hours I’m missing to be my best self and live the life I want. That’s crazy! How could I let this happen until now? Probably because clutching to those screens and avoiding boredom is the lazy, easy default and it’s facilitated by some psychological factors.

But then again, these companies earn money by holding me back from being my best self and living the way I want. It’s actually disgusting! Yet, it is still hard to resist. I notice when the moments are when I usually would have switched on the tablet to stream a series. It is quite apparent to me now why it works. It’s easy. A nice default to mindlessly “relax”. You don’t have the initial hurdle of turining towards active rest. It all happens on the couch. It’s so easy. And so detrimental.

 

 

Reaction 1: Streaming is limited to 2 episodes OR 1 film per week and only in company. I can’t watch alone anymore. This will hopefully stop binges.

 

TV and series work because it’s an easy default thing to do to relax. In our leisure time we are at our most vulnerable to attention predators, so we end up stealing our own time. Then we’re annoyed we don’t have time left after work. We do have time. We just don’t use it well. Ergo my new rule: No more than 2 episodes of a series per week. Take time to disconnect completely instead.

Eating well, for example, happens when I get around to cooking and taking the time to prepare a nice meal. When I have the default of wanting to watch another episode of a series, I just quickly grab something so I can get back on the couch. But actually, now that I don’t have this opportunity, I remember that I really enjoy taking time to cook and eat well. Like it is said in Make Time, the next book I will review, it’s all about changing your defaults.

Also, not watching series is just that little bit of extra time I need to keep up with language learning (which I am very passionate about but have difficulty finding the time lately) and reading more which is also a goal I only achieve on-off so far. Hopefully this will change with my new habits in place.

 

Reaction 2: I vow not to scroll.

 

Like I hinted in the last post, I thought it might turn out to be problematic for me to delete all social media. Some of them (like Twitter) I had just recently joined to advertise my blogging activities. After some evaluation however, I am pretty sure that I end up spending at least 2h on them daily in mindless scrolling sessions. It’s not so much the constant checking which is the problem (it only sometimes is). It is the infinite scrolling which leads me to stay on the apps longer than I had intended. And it’s so hard to resist once you’ve allowed yourself more than 5min on the app. Mostly, I am quite successful so far trying to only check notifications (not all that often) and then leave the app straightaway. I don’t let myself get on the dashboard anymore at all. As you can imagine, it doesn’t always work. But I think that even now, in this imperfect implementation, I am already saving tons of time.

 

More tips to counter constant distraction which have worked for me

 

Filter email

 

Another smaller measure I took (and had already taken beforehand) is to have email filters in place for my work email. This helps distinguish spam from urgent or important mail already at reception. It helps me with the urge to check my email. So now, when I open the folder, a quick glance is enough to determine whether anything requires an immediate answer. However, I have become pretty selective with that, especially on weekends. Mostly, only my boss gets answers rightaway because he usually only writes when he’s really pressed for the answer. So much for getting distracted by work email.

 

That, I feel I already have under control at this point and I also don’t feel any inclination to relapse. Email is part of the “busy bandwagon” (Make Time review about to come soon…) which I have come to reject. This was a difficult thing to do in terms of mindset but not difficult to maintain once it was done.

 

Batch administrative tasks

 

I do my administrative stuff only on Wednesdays, the day which is already full with meetings anyway. This works out super-well for me and batching administrative tasks and answering email is a widely recommended tactic. Also, I have paired this “admin day” with my “office hours” for social interaction, like detailed in the post on digital minimalism. It’s the same day our PhD lunch takes place which  I hugely look forward to, so it provides me with a highlight to look forward to in the jungle of otherwise annonying office work. I’ve done this for a few months now. I still sometimes answer urgent stuff during the week, but overall it works really well and I wouldn’t want to go back.

 

Delete and Unsubscribe

 

Also, another one-time thing to do: Unsubscribe from “dangerous” newsletters and feeds. Delete problematic apps for good. You can still access most info from your browser. But then, better don’t carry a phone which has a browser. Change the default to an environment with less temptation if you’re really serious about getting your life back.

 

 

The difficult parts: Things to do instead of relapsing

Sleep

 

I often find myself engaging in meaningless (re-)activity, i.e. mindless scrolling or streaming, when I feel “too tired to do anything”. But hey, when we’re “too tired to do anything”, why don’t we just go to bed or take a nap? I mean, that’s what our body wants, right? Our culture’s new default option of on-screen reactive unrest, however, will not make us any more awake. The only thing it really does is pass the time. So unless you want your time gone with no noticable effect having been achieved in the meantime, you’d best skip those kinds of behaviours altogether, right? But then, why don’t we and why is it so hard? Why is it generally seen as laziness to take a nap instead, even though everybody knows that studies have shown that we only do real work approximately 10% of our “work” time and that naps actually make us more productive? In any case, I will try to nap more often or go to bed early instead of engaging in screen-related time-wasting behaviours. Let’s see how this works after the holidays when it’s more difficult to nap due to work responsibilities…

 

Identifying the culprits: Underlying tendencies

 

In Make Time. How to Focus on What Matters Every Day, Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky argue that there are two destructive tendencies of our time, traps we ought to avoid at all costs. And that is on the one hand, “the busy bandwagon”, i.e. our culture of constant business and “infinity pools”, i.e. scolling dashboards which refresh themselves for all eternity, providing an endless amount of distraction. In the introduction to Make Time, the authors write:

 

“Nobody ever looked at an empty calendar and said, “The best way to spend this time is by cramming it full of meetings!” or got to work in the morning and thought, “Today I’ll spend hours on Facebook!” Yet that’s exactly what we do. Why?”

 

On-screen passive leisure activities are engineered to make you spend more time than you intended. Pre-bedtime blue light ruins your sleep. For me, it doesn’t seem to directly ruin my sleep but screens still screw with my natural daily rhythm somehow. The possibility of infinite scrolling or the ever self-starting new episodes of a series will make me go to bed a lot later than I would be tired. Often, they wake me up again at a late hour, so I can’t sleep and continue using those tools. It’s a vicious circle. Then I get up too late the next morning (which is guaranteed to be the start of an unproductive day) and, of course, am awake until late at night where digital attention seekers are already waiting to reap my life time from me.

So I succumb to both destructive tendencies: The “infinity pools” cause me to lose time in the first place. Then, the next morning, I am confronted with the “busy bandwagon” mindset in Academia and get stressed because I’m not productive enough. Living up to my own expections is hard, however, when I didn’t sleep well. Frustration. I allow myself some evening screen-indulgence because the day was so hard. Circle repeats itself.

 

Amping up your high-quality social life to fight Digital Addiction

In this TED talk about how addition really works, it is pointed out that even substance abuse (compared to which habitual addiction to a smartphone is way less severe) doesn’t work the way we think. Addiction has got less to do with the thing we’re addicted to than the environment we live in. In a perfect environment, neither our bodies nor our minds even care about alluring, potentially addictive things. This perfect world has  a lot to do with social life.

“Disconnection is the driver of addiction.”  “We’ve traded floor space for friends, stuff for connections.” – “The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection.”

In an experiment with rats, it turned out that rats with empty cages were very prone to drug addiction and overdoses, whereas rats in fun cages that had everything they might want (connection to others, toys, etc.), they did not care for the drugs at all. Even though behavioural addictions like our screen addiction are not the same as substance abuse, the same methods might help to overcome them. We engange in addiction-style behaviours when we feel disconnected. Once we connect, there is no more reason for us to cling onto a screen. And I really felt that this is true. I said that I sometimes find it more easy to disconnect on a holiday and we all have probably already found ourselves getting distracted by our phones despite being in a social situation where it’s actually impolite. This TED talk made me realize that I don’t need my phone when with people I find socially stimulating who give me a deep sense of connection whereas, as an introvert at heart, hanging out with loose contacts stresses me rathering than being relaxing. This is why I sometimes cling to the phone in these situations. Like people cling to cigarettes in times of stress. This is also why Newports advice on reforming our social lives together with our digital habits is so crucial. First of all, if we don’t manage to create an engaging social life for us, chances aren’t so good we succeed in our digital endeavours. And also, it helps us stay on track.

Games didn’t work: They’re passive recreation and engineered for addiction all the same

Another approach I have tried is replacing social media scrolling wit playing a (digital) game. Scrolling, I had identified, meant that I just really wanted a break. So wouldn’t playing a game be a better choice than mindless scrolling? At least allowing myself to play a gave was an acknowledgement of the fact that I wanted a break and to celebrate giving myself one. But the problem is, games of today are engineered to be just as addictive as every other on-screen activitiy. Their goal, too, is to maximize your screen time. So games often aren’t playable without constantly waiting by the phone. Like my Harry Potter Mystery game that I really wanted to play because I like Harry Potter. It was quite disappointing to me that I had to stop because it just robbed me of so much of my time and didn’t really leave me more relaxed, if I’m being honest. It got me through a very stressful time and I really needed some diversion. But I am determined that there must be a better way.

Avoid the multi-purpose trap

Newport warns reforming our digital lives using quick “life hacks” from technology journalism. He thinks we should rather think about the bigger issues and underlying psychology. Why did it come this far in the first place? What do a need 122 apps for?

Newport stresses the fact that the biggest culprits in our digital tools are multi-purpose devices. While this seems to be their biggest pro, it is actually the main reason we over-indulge and have a hard time regulating our use. Sure, I can put my phone away to get work done on my laptop. But then, all the bad sites are also accessible from my laptop. Still, try to re-mono-purpose your devices as much as possible.

Switch off the internet if all else fails

I could buy a time-switch plug (10€ on Amazon) to have my internet switched of automatically. But then again, you sometimes really need it. I will get that plug anyway. No internet before 08:00 or after 18:00. I decided not to work evenings anymore anyway. This could leave me with tons of time to do something which is actually meaningful to me.

 

Conclusion

Social media is a source of entertainment which, like a slotmachine, treats you to a few shiny gadgets but really it’s traded against minutes of your time and glances into your personal life – data which can be sold. Social media giants hire “attention engineers” who use techniques from the gambling world to make their products as addictive as possible.

Series make you binge because it’s easier to keep watching than to stop. Scrolling gives you infinite diversion. So refuse to scroll. Avoid your “dashboards” like a deadly enemy. I’m trying hard, but it’s hard to be successful here, especially if you have gotten used to scrolling social media as a diversion when you don’t want to work.

I hope my experiments have inspired you to start a journey of your own. Maybe you can take away some of the tips I learned about for your own (PhD) life. Also, feel free to comment and share your own experiences.

Best,

Sarah

 

 

 

 

 

Digital Minimalism – More than just a book review

I really love Cal Newport’s books. But when Digital Minimalism first came out, I was reluctant to read it. I think I just didn’t want to admit that I really needed to read that one. So, in the pre-Easter stress burst, I did. I got it on Audible and took it all in on my morning bike rides to work. This is what stuck with me, plus some personal thoughts and implementation ideas.

My initial reluctance towards digital minimalism showed how much I felt digital technologies had grown to be part of my identity. Could I be a Digital Minimalist and a Digital Humanist at the same time? Would it mean I had to give up Twitter again after I had just adopted it to promote my blog? Can I be a blogger and still reduce screen time? I wil now treat you to the takeways from the book and also keep you posted on my ongoing experiment in moving towards digital minimalism.

Digital Minimalism is not a manifesto against the digital, but rather one for enhancing your analogue life in a digital world. Thinking back about it now, I would say the most important takeaways for me were questions like “How to have a rich social life despite social media?”

 

Foundations

At the beginning, Newport brings up Henry David Thoreau who is known most widely for being the author of Walden; or, Life in the Woods. His life in the wood, however, was about reflecting upon the good life in the times of industrialization. He saw that people in capitalism never questioned why they should consume. Consumption is seen as a value in and of its own because people only count the value novel things provide. They never thought about their cost, Thoreau realized. He saw that the value in buying new things hardly ever made up for the lifetime lost because people had to work in order to be able to afford their luxuries. They had hardly any time left to really enjoy them.

This is an important thought on its own (especially in terms of work life balance, deliberating whether you are ready to continue doing half of your work for free, etc.). But Newport points out that “clutter is costly”. In the use of digital tools, people mostly look at the benefits they seemingly provide (i.e. exposure to new ideas from Twitter, networking), but they hardly weigh this is in with the time they lose using those tools.

What are good reasons you use social media for? Mostly, the answers are in no way proportional to the amount of time we waste on the internet. Not because we’re lazy and tend to procrastinate, like we so often emphasize. Because the offerings of the internet are engineered to take up as much of our time as possible, distract us and make us addicted. There are several psychological factors at play here which you can read for yourself in the book.

In any case, the point is that Facebook would provide the same value (the reason with which we justify our massive use) without the like buttons which turn it into an addictive gambling machine. Getting likes combines our deeply ingrained desire for acceptance from our tribe with the thrill of the unforeseeable outcome of a gamble. Today, we live in an attention economy. Our attention is worth a lot of money to those who offer digital services. You can still get all the benefit from those servies when using them very selectively. But of course, that’s not what they want.

Newport’s digital minimalism mostly consists of rethinking “which tools we allow into our lives (“a philosophy of technology use”) which will result in using them more deliberately and selectively. He suggests we take back control over the screens coming from our deep-held values rather than making superficial changes which might miss the point.

 

Digital Declutter

Take a break from optional* technologies for 30 days. Explore what you could do instead. Re-introduce worthwhile technologies selectively. You might go through some withdrawal symptoms but afterwards realize you don’t need certain technologies anymore.

* Optional technologies are those you don’t absolutely need in your job. If unsure about which ones to look out for, start with streaming, social media and check your phone and computer. Don’t confuse convenient with critical. Critical is only something which would result in major consequences. Not keeping up with people for a month will probably not hurt. It might even make you see that you don’t want to invest in certain relationships anymore.

 

Practices

Spend Time Alone

We need solitude to order our thoughts. That’s why we often find so much clarity on lonely train rides and the like. But solitude is not total isolation. According to Newport, it means being free from outside input in your mind. The recent anxiety epidemic is caused by permanent connection via digital media. Solitude is also needed for deep work, which Newport discussed in his last book. A concept of utmost importance especially during your PhD! (Do read the book or get the audiobook!) Finding time to be alone with your thoughts, which should be the main activity during this time of your life, ironically has become an exceptional event, incredibly rare and hard to come by these  days. So many distractions and extra responsibilities compete for the PhD student’s attention. It has become hard to keep the main thing the main thing. During the dissertation, your main job is to write that dissertation. Dare to claim back this time free from distractions.

Room of One’s Own

Today, we don’t ever need to be alone or bored anymore. Especially as PhD students who – quite litterally – don’t have a room of their own, room of one’s own is hard to come by. In general. Because people spam you with their own false emergencies and as an early career scholar, you obviously aren’t in a position to call people out for wasting your time. (Even if those same people will probably accuse you of wasting their time when you have a question which is absolutely crucial for you or you need this decision from your boss before you can continue). 

While isolation might be an unattainable goal, Newport suggests solitude really means being alone with your own thoughts. This is what we should strive for: to plan for regular moments where no other’s thought intrudes into our minds (no music, no audiobook, no screens, no talking, etc.). In short, an environment without diversion, so you can focus on yourself and on your own thoughts. Walking has historically been a classic activity to obtain this state of mind. 

When we are permanently diverted, solitude deprivation will actually make us sick. The rise in anxiety disorders of the past years coincides with the generation who grew up with smart phones. The problem is not a distraction every once in a while. Previous technologies offered these occasional diversions. Only since the 2000s, we can banish boredom and solitude completely and be permanently connected and diverted. Being sociable is important for humans as social animals, of course. But not continiously. 

Solitude Depravation

Not so long ago, it would have been a bit weird to constantly wear headphones in public. In the age of walkmans, only very few would actually spend their whole commute wired. People would be forced to have some moments of solitude while walking, waiting, and such activities. It all started with the white iPod headphones of the early 2000s. Nowadays, we can’t stand even a few minutes of boredom queueing at the supermarket. When label this “productivity” because our constant phone usage allows us to get something done on the go. Occasionally. If we were honest to ourselves, these productivity bursts are actually pretty rare events. The gain in productivity is minimal compared to the loss of lifetime we suffer from being sucked into the infinity of our dashboards.

Our digital habits have us at the brink of a mental health crisis. Constant screen exposure robs us of these moments alone where we can process our thoughts and feelings, make plans, or simply give our brains some much needed rest. This is especially relevant for creative workers, like we are as PhD students.

Giving up your phone completely will be an unnecessary struggle and make life more complicated. But there is no problem spending a few hours without it. Newport suggests to leave your phone in the car or give it to someone else to hold. That way, you still have emergency access but aren’t constantly distracted by it. Go on walks, alone, without your phone. Or meditate, as Astrid would probably recommend. Going running kind of fits this requirement as well. Journal to get in touch with yourself and your thoughts. Write a letter to yourself. Writing is productive solitude and helps you make sense of what’s happening.

 

Don’t click “Like”

Use Social Media consciously and intentionally: to network and to arrange meetings with friends more efficiently, not to replace real social interaction. Connection is not the same thing as conversation. You need meaningful quality time with friends, not superficial likes. So don’t click like because it will fool you into thinking you are maintaining a relationship when you really aren’t. Take time to consciously meet up with people. Really listen, don’t ignore them and stare into your screen once they’re there.

 

Set up “office hours”

Astrid, I and our friends have used this technique for ourselves recently (not knowing it was a techique). We decided we would consciously take time for a long Classics PhD student lunch break once a week. Everybody can join. We use an instant messaging group chat to discuss where we are going to eat each week. People will say who can join and who can’t. It has turned out that this lunch break (which can last up to three hours) has become very popular with our whole circle of friends since it allows us to share our common PhD issues. We’re all from the (wide) field of Classics but work at different institutes, so not all of us have like-minded colleagues at our institutions who share our problems. I really can’t express how much I now look forward to this lunch break every week and how disappointed I am when it occasionally doesn’t take place.

 

Taking back control: Don’t hit like, don’t interact, don’t scroll.

Historically, newspapers first were seen as a product in and of their own. Then in 1830, a witty publisher noticed that in reality, the readers were his product which he could resell profitably to those who wanted their attention (read up on this in Tim Wu’s Attention Merchants). So he made it his goal to capture attention instead of trying to deliver a good product.

Imagine you had to pay for services like Facebook. How many minutes would you spend per week? These minutes are essentially what this social network really is worth to you. Everything else is profit for the company specialized in reselling your precious time and attention. Newport suggests we “join the attention resistance” by being more conscious about our screen usage. Extracting your attention is more lucrative for these serives than extracting oil! Are we really ok with being sold out? Like the famous saying hints: If you’re not paying, your not the customer – you’re the product. The attention engineering which ensues strategically exploits our psychological vulnerabilities to maximize screen time and spend far more time than you intended. Your smartphone is a billboard you always carry around with you. 

Set up fixed hours for screen usage (i.e. phone, social media, streaming) maximum 1h per day at [time].  Go back to single-purpose computing. Check social media only on your desktop PC and remove the apps from you phone. This alone will drastically reduce screen  time already (as well as usage of that specific network). Make it as inconvenient as possible to use these apps (i.e. delete them, always log out, etc.). You might realize that you don’t need them as much as you had thought. Lots of people Newport interviewed quit social media altogether after having removed the apps from their phone. They had come to realize that these seemingly indispensable tools were just quick convenient hits of distraction. If you only use it sometimes, you can only use it for some well-chosen, conscious, high-value activities.

 

Fear of missing out

The ubiquity of Facebook, Google and the like put them in the lucky position that they never need to actually convince people of their product. People are weird if you they don’t use them. It is somehow self-evident you will use them. People are pressured into using them. Sometimes with the non-argument that “maybe there is some benefit you might be missing”. Being vague on your purposes makes you an easier victim for the attention economy. But of course, knowing what you want is more work than waiting to be entertained. If we assume average usage time per day is about one hour and compare that to the minutes people would spend per week if they had to pay, they would spend 10-20x less time on these services if they carefully monitored their use. But of course, then these services would not be top-of-the-economy profitable anymore. So they will use everything in their power to trick you to spend more time than you intend. Keeping up with friends and close social circles is important but actually doesn’t require a lot of time. But, of course, that too is a truth these services try hard to make you forget.

Cut out the noise. The dashboards can be surfed endlessly and are designed to take up more and more of your time. Use services intentionally and consciously, so you’re not used by them. Clickbait fragments your focus. Remember that your time is their money. A phone is an interactive billboard. And you give them the ad space for free. Maybe use a dumb phone to re-single-purpose your phone. I actually ordered a light phone 2

We were so eager to get connected that we never asked why we would want to be connected in the first place. New technologies are tools to support your values, not values of themselves. Get comfortable missing out on everything that is not specifically valuable to you.

We should think of all digital services as “blocked by default”, only allowed on specific occasions. Newport suggests we control usage of these tools aggressively. If we managed to resist, we would take the value for free but not let ourselves be exploited. Like the pirate’s motto: Take all you can get and give nothing back. 

 

Conclusion

Now that you got lots of helpful takeaways, I sincerely recommend you to get the book. I have the audiobook which is available from Audible. I found it so engaging and important to myself that I listened to it more than 3 times already. Each time, some other aspect resonates with me. This is an effect I find very typical of Newport’s books. I need to go through them at least 3 times to really get all the value. They are really that full of valuable insights. At least to me. I really like to listen to his books while commuting. That way, I can easily go through them multiple times and really engange with them. Though I probably should enjoy the solitude instead, according to him anyway.

Best,
Sarah

PS: You can also watch Newport in action in his TEDx talk.

Resources

  1. freedom.to “Control distractions. Focus on what matters. Social media, shopping, videos, games…​these apps and websites are scienti­fically engineered to keep you hooked and coming back. The cost to your productivity, ability to focus, and general well-being can be staggering. Freedom gives you control.” However, the tool is not free.
  2. Tim Wu, The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our heads. NY 2016.

How to… do selfcare as a PhD candidate – Part I: Plan it!

You are currently writing on your thesis, you have absolutely no time to waste. Am I right?

Lesson nr. 1: You are NOT wasting time by looking after yourself and your health!

So, how do I get to my time slots for selfcare, may it be sports, nail polish, movies, coffee with friends, time with my family or date night with my love? I plan it. Actually, I plan my working hours, which will lead me to my free time slots for selfcare.

Write your goals and your workload down, keep a to do list and plan your day. Focus on your time! It helps you to find time focusing on yourself. (image: Pexels, Pixabay)

I am sure, you are using some kind of planner – Google calendar, a bullet journal, a filofax, whatever, you have some kind of planning tool, because as a grad student or PhD candidate you know that you need help with your appointments and important dates.

And now the bad news: Planning is hard work. Time management means that you are absoutely honest to yourself and you must know your working methods. You have your daily, weekly, monthly workload – those things you absolutely have to do in your job, for your project. You need to eat, drink, rest, sleep. You need time to relax – alone and with your friends/your family/your partner.

How many hours are you really working on your stuff? Nobody just sits 8 hours straight in front of their laptop and writes the perfect dissertation. Split your work in shorttime loads. The pomodoro method is very helpful with that.

I am working 45 min. on my stuff, then there is a 15 min. break. Of course, you can also work 30 min. and take a 10 min. break. It depends on your own style.

Lesson Nr. 2: Taking a break is important!

I enoy lunch with my colleagues und I really need coffee breaks, just to be social and get some fresh air and fresh thoughts. If we are honest to ourselves: working without a break, because you are stressed out, because you are nearly missing important deadlines, does not really work that well. Stressed work is bad work.

Now we are again back at lesson Nr. 1: You are not wasting your time by taking a break, but you have to plan it. Focus on your work and be honest to yourself: How long does it take you to get your shit done? How can you use your time in a good and efficent way? Close all social media sites, set your phone to flight mode, plan your day. You need time for things like checking and answering mails, time for the most important tasks on your list, time for less important tasks and so on. Actually, next to your workload you should also know how to rate your tasks. One of the most used concepts are the so-called SMART-tasks. This method, again, needs you to be honest about your own willingness and motivation and ability to structure your work load. This leeds us to our next lesson:

Lesson Nr. 3: You are human! Be kind to yourself.

We are no machines, and yes, even if you are very good at planning your days, sometimes you just can’t do the things you normally do. Some days are not your days for being very worky, wether you had it coming by staying awake the whole night before and partying very hard, or because it is that special kind of day where nothing works out. But in these cases, be gentle to yourself. If you need a break, take it. I sometimes arrive at my office at 7 am, really destroyed and demotivated. By noon, when still in that phase of mental state, I will leave. Of course, there are always those colleagues asking you “You are leaving? So soon?” but hey, just imaging the next day, when you work 10 hours in a very motivated manner, because you had half a day of resting.

Yes, I know, sometimes you just can’t go home like that, but then you have to look for different tasks. Clean your desk. Swipe through your files, clean your desktop, bring some of the books you already read back to the library etc. There are many ways to help yourself out of a miserable day. And if nothing seems to help at all, call a friend, your mom, your partner, chat for 5 minutes, explain them your bad day… after all, talking about things we feel miserable about helps a lot. And do not be afraid, all of your colleagues experience that kind of bad days. Yes, even those who are always so super organized and never ever make any mistakes.

You must never ever forget: YOU are the one in charge for your work. And sometimes, if motivation is missing, self discipline is all you have left. There are even these days, where you have to pull yourself together and GET. YOUR. SHIT. DONE. I am sorry, but yeah, academic life is that hard.

Good selfcare begins with good structured working days. Be kind to yourself, because we are only human and sometimes, there are bad days. But there will be also good ones. (image: Free-Photos, Pixabay)

I think, you might have gained some insight of how all those things (self-discipline, planning, motivation, working methods) are an important chain – they are all connected and therefore they are all esentially important for your success – and your selfcare.

When you can plan your working tasks, you can plan your selfcare. And nobody does know better what helps you refilling your batteries after a long day’s work, except for you. Is it sport, is it reading a good book, is it just your sofa and the TV? Is it time with friends or your family? You know the answer, you know yourself. Make that knowledge count!

My next selfcare-post will be on sports and the importance of a fit body for a good mental health. So, stay tuned, work on yourself, plan your workload and discover how much time there will be left, if you really want it!

Bouldering Epigrammetry

The Bouldering Epigrammetrists are two friends, Astrid Schmölzer and Sarah Lang, from the University of Graz and we both are somewhat ‘unusual’ species in our respective fields. Astrid is the archaeologist in an (digital) Ancient History project on (Roman) Epigraphy. Before she started dealing with inscriptions and stones, she did her MA thesis in Archaeology on artificial cranial deformation in Austria. She also did a MA in Ancient History and Classics, working on early Arianism. Sarah only did her BA in Archaeology as a hobby. She is a Latinist by education, but ended up in the Digital Humanities (mostly working on neo-latin alchemy). Programming has become an important part of her life.

We currently prepare a project grant on 3D modeling using digital photogrammetry (structure from motion) for epigraphy. The 3D models are supposed to be more than just visualizations and reconstructions – we try to explore how actual scientific knowledge can be generated from them (i.e. making text readable which is practically invisible to the human eye, etc.).

While not in the same field, we share the same circle of friends and the passion for stones. Not only historical ones with inscriptions on them, but also rock climbing and bouldering. Apart from that, we’re both writers who enjoy blogging as a form not strictly academic writing which can sometimes tend to kill the fun in writing with excessive reviewing, etc. When blogging and climbing together, we realized how crucial active recreation, rest and work-life balance are to our productivity in academia. This is why we want to include this aspect in our blog as well.

The subjects we blog on range from (digital) archaeology, (digital) classics, (digital) humanities, the academic jetset, PhD life, work-life balance, time management when writing our PhDs, conferences, and how adventure, travel and vagabonding are often combined in archaeology (i.e. climbing the walls of a medieval castle in the name of archaeology, or learning to dive for underwater archaeology).

Loving bones, climbing stones. Stories of everyday phdlife