Hacking my work habits

(What is a hacker? Let’s please get away from thinking that hackers steal your password — those are crackers — and get back to the original idea of a hacker as someone who tries to make things better, more elegant, more efficient, more effective, or just new and cool…)

This semester I am desperate to get more writing done.  It not only betters my career chances but it also gives me a sense of accomplishment that teaching never does.  It would alleviate a lot of personnel-evaluation angst if I could get some things accepted pretty soon.  I am trying so hard to carve out times to get my brain into research-mode, and then to actually execute on my plans to write.  My brain is not being cooperative, though.  It keeps being obsessed with how I haven’t seen my partner of over a decade in a month, and it’s another month until I have time to fly and see him.  I am so lonely.

So I am hacking my work habits.

Usually my writing must take place off-campus.  In my campus office I am constantly getting interrupted by students, and if I close the door my office gets hot, and sometimes I have to leave the office to use the bathroom (thereby betraying my presence in my office).  So I write at home, and I try to also write in a local indie coffeeshop.  I know it’s dumb to pay for coffee when I have both a home office and a campus office (and I can get cheap coffee at either), but I will do whatever it takes right now and see if it works.  Sometimes I will do a sprint, such as working constantly until my laptop battery dies, and then plugging it in and taking a break to switch tasks.

I need to use external controls on myself, like accountability partners, because self-control is a limited resource, especially without my partner around to encourage me.

I have a colleague in the same position I am: too many things to write, too little time.  The two of us have made dates on Friday afternoons throughout the semester to meet up off-campus and have research time.  During this time we may not do any teaching or service work, and no surfing the net randomly — only research and writing.

When in the afternoon doldrums or at other times when I am craving a nap and yet have work to do, I have tried something new, which is the idea of a standing desk.  I first saw this idea, in various forms, at Lifehacker, which tends to show off fancy custom-made standing desks.  I have a simpler method that I’ve tried in my campus office: making a stack on my desk of a ton of textbooks, and putting my new small laptop on top of that.  It’s easy to go from standing to sitting just by moving the pile of books.  Working on the computer while standing definitely keeps me more alert and can be combined with the sprint idea.

Have I mentioned how much I love coffee?  I find it to be not only an alertness-enhancer but also a mood-elevator.  Cheaper than therapy.  All hail coffee.

Virginia Valian is an amazing scholar of, among other things, women in academia.  She has written two incredible chapters about hacking your work habits.  One is Learning to Work (PDF): how is writing like sex?  I think Boice would approve of what she says here about working in very small, but constant, chunks of time.

Solving a Work Problem (PDF) details her updated system as an assistant professor in trouble (hi!). She is now a distinguished full professor with major research in not one but two areas.  You should read this because I want to quote whole entire paragraphs of it, way beyond what is fair use.

One thing I took away from this chapter was the idea of treating yourself as a research subject and trying different things, recording the results to see what is most effective in getting the desired behavior (in this case, writing) from yourself.  I am giving myself more permission to do whatever works this year, even if it seems weird.  In a memoir I recently read, a creative writer talks about how he finally managed to work out a routine that produced excellent results every time — but it was really complex.  It involved turning out all the lights, jogging in circles, lying on the floor, etc.  His behavior, explained out of context, seems… well… maybe a bit insane.  But the thing is, I understood how he had gotten there.  I don’t want to have to go that far, but I’m giving myself more permission to engage in whatever rituals or behaviors will produce results (publications).

If you are at the point of tl;dr by now, then:

bunny with a pancake on its head

Boice says to proselytize and I am infecting my mom with these ideas.  Not only have I sent her some books about writing for her birthday, but she is also on our writing accountability site and has even started trying to moderately hack her own work habits.   Last week she IM’d me in the middle of the day to ask me if I would call her at a certain time that night and ask her if she was done with her freelance work yet.  She reports that it really did help her get motivated and complete the work.  Go, accountability partners!

Personal Goals for the semester

Yeah, yeah, I know you’re supposed to have an action plan for these things.  But I’m Boicing it a step at a time.  Action plans will come later.

1.  Survive

2.  Fix all the things that gremlins have gotten to

3.  Make a will

4.  Tinker with all our finances, including switching 403(b) providers and ramping up retirement savings

5.  Make new friends, preferably ones that won’t graduate and leave in a year or two.  Double points if they have children our kid’s age.

6.  Do educational/fun activities in the city at least once a month.

7.  Take advantage of visiting cultural opportunities (I’m thinking going to shows here… this requires babysitting!)

8.  Keep the weight down so I don’t have to buy new clothing.

9.  Get those darned pants hemmed (!)

10.  Make and book holiday plans.

Do you have any fun (or not so), non-financial (or financial…), personal goals for Fall?

Accountability! #2

This semester will be different!

This semester I will:

Too many projects…

Melting down…

Ah, to heck with it.  This is way too much pressure.

*hides in cave of denial*


If I only think about 2 projects at a time, the rest can’t hurt me, right?

Discussion question:  Are you more like #1 or #2?

Accountability: Projects of DOOM.

Do you want to hear about what I’m working on?  Of course you do.  This is just me, not even both of us.  Herein I will give all my projects secret code names in order to avoid outing myself.

Currently writing: two papers on practice with the same coauthor.  The small one is SO CLOSE to being ready to go out but I can’t get coauthor to move any faster on it than coauthor is going to move.  I just want it out.  Boring code-names: PB (practice, big) and PS (practice, small).

Also writing: lab paper with RAs.  Boring code name: Lab Paper (LP).  For various reasons, needs to get out soon, like by Oct. 1 at the latest.  (later I plan to write another paper with these data, but not until I have some more time to think about them and see if I can get different analyses to work.)  LP only needs me to finish the discussion, and then some tweaking.  This needs to get out of the way quickly so I can make room in my writing schedule for:

Stats Paper (SP1) with co-author grad-school pal (GSP).  Together with another paper, SP1 will lead to us working on a grant together, which application is due before Christmas.  GSP will take the lead on that.  We plan to write other papers, too, just not right now — probably with GSP as lead author.  SP1 should go out by Nov. 1, I hope.

Right now I am collecting the final data to finish up Innovative Stats Paper (ISP), which may or may not get a co-author on it, and which is not even close to being done, besides being hard to write, too.  But ultimately useful.

I am also working with co-author Reginald (not her real name) in order to finish up the first of a projected 2 papers covering data we collected a while ago.  Let’s call this paper Too Much Data 1 (TMD1).  We may end up getting a deadline on this one by the end of this month, ack.  Fortunately, Reginald will take the lead on Too Much Data 2.

This semester I am trying to get 2 new studies going: the Good Cop – Bad Cop study (GCBC), and the Ding-A-Ling study (DAL).  GCBP requires cooperation from a very senior colleague who has some resources I need.  His resources are currently not accessible to me right now, though he is perfectly willing to share.  There is no way for me to push him to get them for me right now; his timeline priorities are not mine.  I’ve been thinking of something like this for years, and my RAs helped design it and they are excited, so I hope it gets going soon.

DAL requires some technology and software that have been causing nightmares.  It is a small pilot study but mastering this annoying methodology will eventually enable me to do something really cool in the future.  I have set an RA to figuring out the technology problem.

Then there are various student papers I’m supervising, plus a lingering one from a long time ago that needs a polish-and-submit.

I *think* that’s all.  Now do you see why I need a whole googlesite to keep myself on track?

Maybe in a future post we can hear about #2’s projects.  Unless everyone but us dies of boredom.

#2 says:  Ooh!  I want to read the polish and submit!

#2 also says:  I will post my accountability post later today.  Spoiler alert:  It is very different than #1’s.