February snuck up on me: February Challenge, gotta get some stuff out

I am so far behind on everything, Grumpy Nation.

But… for the first time since NOVEMBER, my computer desktop at work is finally fully functional.  Like, I can use dropbox and WinSCP and not get a BSOD 5 minutes after logging in.  So… that’s a miracle.

February is the best month for challenges, even if there’s an extra day this year.

I’m going to combine two previous annual challenges:

1. 2018’s No Devices In The Morning Challenge

and

2. 2017’s Write Every Morning Challenge

I will be taking one weekend day off for the write in the morning challenge, which is good since I didn’t realize February 1st was February 1st until Saturday afternoon.

Everything I said in that 2017 post is 100% true this February as well, up to and including the 8am office hours one day a week.

Work problem Part 2: Creating Good Habits: Trying out Atomic Habits

In my previous post, I discussed my work problem and how I’m trying to break some bad habits.

As a reminder, my bad habits were:

  1.  Surfing the internet instead of working in the morning and at work.
  2. Not being able to work from home, even during working hours.
  3. Not following my work schedule, instead binging on service/teaching tasks.
  4. Not using unexpected free time chunks wisely.

The laws of creating good habits are similar to those of breaking bad habits, but they have a lot more detail.

Make it Obvious

A.  Fill out the habits scorecard:  I opted not to do this as I want to fixate on specific work habits, not a complete life audit.  Instead I thought about problem points with work.

B.  Use implementation intentions for each habit.

  1. Surfing
    • On weekdays I will either snooze or get up/use restroom/brush teeth/get dressed/eat breakfast/leave when I am woken by DH’s showering.  I will not lie in bed with the internet.
    • I will work when sitting at a computer.  Playing/surfing will be relegated to the small iPad and my iPhone except during specific break-times when leechblock is off.
    • I will write for one hour when I get to work.
  2. Home
    • If I wake up in the middle of the night and using the restroom/trying to get back to sleep doesn’t help, I will get up and do work.  I will not surf the internet.
    • I will work when sitting at a computer.
    • I will continue to use my iPad pro only for reading/commenting on pdfs.
  3. Schedule
    • I will follow my schedule by prioritizing harder things in the morning and leave class prep/service/etc. for after 3pm (exceptions:  lunch break I can do whatever and getting reviewers for articles newly in my editorial box can happen whenever)
  4. Free time use
    • I will not consider half hour or more chunks to be small chunks of time, but rather larger ones in which tasks can be started.
    • I will have a list of things I can do with unexpected free time (email, cleaning out office, updating classes for next semester) for smaller chunks of time.  I will not binge through these over the course of a few days, but leave them to be spread out.

C.  Use habit stacking

  1. I have stacked the iPad to the restroom which is stacked to teeth brushing.  Other internet usage is stacked to breakfast which is stacked to getting out the door.
  2. I have stacked being at the computer with work.  Being awake at night with work instead of play.
  3. The schedule is a stack.  I just need to start following it.
  4. N/A

D.  Design your environment

Most of the things here were covered under bad habits.

Make it Attractive

A.  Use temptation bundling– give an immediate reward for working on or completing the habit

One of the examples in the book is to play podcasts or watch shows while exercising.  Unfortunately, the tasks I need to do require attention and so do the temptations.  I mean, I could eat chocolate while working, but that seems likely to be not good for me in other ways.  Post-rewards used to work for me, but lately I’ve been realizing that I can just give myself the reward any time I want to and I end up just, say, reading the entire novel.  I think this may have something to do with being financially independent– I seem to have lost a lot of that delayed gratification muscle.

B.  Join a culture where your desired behavior is the normal behavior

I mean, I do work at an R1, and I did start that weekly brown bag.  So I already kind of am in this culture, but I’m definitely not doing great.

C.  Do something you enjoy immediately before a difficult habit

This is what has gotten me into trouble in the first place, so not a good idea as the enjoyment part has been stretching out.

So I’ve kind of struck out on the “Make it attractive” step.  Any thoughts?

Make it Easy

A.  Reduce friction

  1.  Surfing.  Most of these things are covered under bad habits (increasing friction), but for writing in the morning I will plan ahead the day before to know what I will be working on writing.
  2.  Home.  Most of these things are covered under bad habits (increasing friction).
  3.  Schedule. I need to continue to plan the morning work the afternoon before.  I used to do this and it worked well.  One of the current problems is that even when I do this, I just ignore the schedule.  This started happening when things out of my control messed up my schedule too many times in a row.
  4. Free time.  I need to make a list of odds and ends that can be done in shorter amounts of time that is easily accessible.

B.  Prime the environment.

  1. Surfing. Leechblock and other things from bad habits
  2. Home.  Isolate particular areas of the house, specific machines, and specific times of day for work vs. play.
  3. Schedule.  Have a working computer.  Remember to take Vit D (possibly even schedule in the second pill?)
  4. Free time.  Have the list easily available.

C.  Master the decisive moment

Not sure what to do about this.  Maybe just be better about getting started on things?  (Though getting started isn’t my only problem– not getting distracted is also a problem.)

D.  Use the two-minute rule to downscale your habits until they can be done in two minutes or less

I think that doing this is part of the problem– it’s not the small habits I have trouble with, it’s the longer ones.

E.  Automate your habits.  Invest in technology and onetime purchases that lock in future behavior.

I’m not sure what to do here.  I could buy another computer, but that’s worthless if I just start using it for play.

Make it Satisfying

A.  Use reinforcement.

See above on “temptation bundling”

B.  Make “doing nothing” enjoyable– this actually belongs under getting rid of “bad habits”

C.  Use a habit tracker.  Keep track of your habit streak and “don’t break the chain”

I need to think about whether or not this is worthwhile for keeping track of writing or getting into work by a reasonable time.  In the past keeping track has been more of a pain than a help because I know if I’ve broken the chain or not without plotting it on a chart.  And plotting on a chart is another step that takes effort I’d rather use for something else.  But I can think more about good metrics.

One big problem with measurement is that when you measure, you tend to focus on the measurement rather than on the larger goal.  For example, with weightloss, you focus on the number which can lead to unhealthy behaviors and forget about the “why” (it’s not actually weightloss that’s the goal, but health or whatever– pounds is a really bad metric for that.  Even if fitting into your clothes better is the goal, pounds are not the right metric).  So I can see myself wasting time writing unnecessary stuff or coming into work completely sleep deprived just to hit some arbitrary metric when that actually hurts my true goal of getting stuff done.  So this is non-trivial.  What are good short-term metrics?  I don’t know.

D.  Never miss twice.  When you forget to do a habit, make sure you get back on track immediately.

I will try to be better about this.  Part of my problem has been multiple days of interruptions outside of my control.  But hopefully those will have settled down.

How do you keep up with good habits?  Any thoughts on how I could fit my desired habits into these laws of creating good habits?  Do you have any tricks to suggest?

I have a work problem: Breaking Bad Habits: Trying out Atomic Habits’ list

This summer and this semester a lot of things have gone wrong with work.  All summer was non-stop bad research news, followed by almost an entire semester of my work computer being broken and/or replaced unpredictably.  I also taught at days/times I’d never taught before and never really figured out a new rhythm (next semester I’m back to one of my more regular schedules).  And I had so many emotional conversations with students needing to drop a class or out of the program entirely (why me? I have no idea).  And I have a ton of service and teaching and those are just so much easier to do than hard research.  Finally, DC1’s heavy homework load and DC2’s lack of a heavy homework load mean that both our kids need more individualized attention in the evenings than previously. These things combined caused me to feel unmotivated and to lose many of my good research habits and to replace them with the quick hit of websurfing and watching youtube videos.  I kept thinking, I’ll be better later…

But, like tomorrow, later never comes.  But in my case it’s jam every day.  And I need a bit of spinach to grow a strong research agenda.  (Obviously my mixed metaphors need work.)

I finally decided enough was enough.  I need to fix my bad habits so I don’t stagnate.  I’d like to get another paper under review before my annual review in Spring and I have lots of projects, just none close to the right stage, and nothing will be close to any stage if I don’t start now.  Today even.

Having just read Atomic Habits, I decided, why not try their recommendations to see if they help at all.  Of course, it’s really easy to create a new habit if the habit is easily definable.  Like, you want to exercise at a certain point each day, or you want to drink more water, or what have you.  It’s a bit hard to know where to start when your problem is a big amorphous work problem.

So my first step was to list my bad work habits (and, in a later post, to list the good habits that I want back!)

  1.  Surfing the internet instead of working
    1. This has particularly become a problem in the morning– I used to just check email and read a few webcomics.  Lately I’ve been watching full youtube videos!  What used to be ~15 minutes before getting ready can stretch to TWO HOURS.  That’s ridiculous.  I should either be asleep or working.
    2. It’s also a problem at work.  I’ve been avoiding leechblock by using chrome in addition to firefox, or by getting out my phone and surfing on that instead.
  2. I have completely lost my ability to work from home (other than some successes with doing anything involving pdfs on my iPad Pro– more on that when I talk about good habits).  This wouldn’t be a problem if I was being productive at work, but sometimes I have to stay home because DH is out of town and I want to be here when DC1 gets off the bus, or I want to hide out from well-meaning students and colleagues who just want to chat.  I’m great at writing blogposts at home, but not so great at sitting down and doing work.  My home desktop just doesn’t feel like a work computer anymore.  I mean to work, but I either end up surfing the internet from my desktop or I end up on the couch watching youtube videos or reading novels.
  3. I have stopped following my daily schedules for work.  I generally put the important big stuff on my list for the mornings and then the stuff that doesn’t take brain power (service/teaching) and has shorter deadlines in the afternoon.  But instead of doing research in the morning, I’ve been doing the service/teaching stuff and then when afternoon rolls around instead of switching, I just do more service.  Or I go home meaning to work but end up on the couch reading instead.  I would say that service fills up any time hole, but actually one of the reasons I said enough is enough is that I ran out of obvious stuff to do and I want to get back into good habits again before it starts filling up again.
  4. I am not using little bits of free time, and my definition of “little” has gotten pretty wide.  It’s no longer, oh I have 5 min, let’s check twitter, it’s more, oh, I have an HOUR, well, can’t do that thing on my to-do list that’s marked for 2 hours, might as well surf the internet.  This needs to stop.

I would link to the atomic habits cheetsheet here, but it looks like he’s taken it offline.  You have to buy a copy of the book AND KEEP THE RECEIPT if you want a printable version.

In any case:  Here are his laws of breaking bad habits:

Make it Invisible:

  1.  Surfing:
    • Move the iPad charger from the bedroom to the bathroom.  I had initially thought to move it to the living room, but that just lured me to the couch.  I do need to briefly check my email in the morning at home, otherwise I end up checking it at work which leads to a bad habit there.  Putting it in the bathroom provides a good place to do a quick check.  DH also suggested that I allow myself to use my phone while eating breakfast, which will bundle those habits as well (more on this in the good habits post).
    • Leechblock Youtube at work
    • Hide the shortcuts for all web browsers that aren’t Firefox so I don’t just move to chrome when Firefox is leechblocked (my “new” work computer has all the shortcuts)
    • Make the phone more inaccessible at work.  I need it to be such that I can hear the buzz if someone texts or calls, but such that it doesn’t call to me when I should be working.  I am thinking about putting it in a cloth bag that we get tamales in, but it might make sense to put it in a drawer or put a sheet of paper on top of it or just turn it over so I can’t see the face.  I will work on this.
  2.  Working at home:
    • I can’t hide the couch or the bed, so I’m not sure what to do here.  We talked about maybe setting up a work station just for work in another room, but my spot in the office really is ideal (nice window, DH’s desk next to mine), so I’m hoping I can reclaim it for work instead of play.  Also I might have to buy a new desktop or laptop to get another station, and I would definitely need another monitor.
  3. In theory I could hide the service/etc. from myself until later in the day, but I think that might be counterproductive.  For this one I don’t think making it invisible is the best idea.  It will probably require willpower.
    1. DH suggested a calendar reminder for the schedule, though I’m not sure if that will help nudge me when the list is right there.  But who knows.
  4. Using bits of time is more of a pro-active thing than a re-active thing, but hopefully #1 will keep the internet from being as attractive as it had been.

Make it Unattractive:

After talking this one over with DH, we decided this one wasn’t helpful because “highlighting the benefits of avoiding [my] bad [work] habits” just makes me depressed.  I need to think less about this stuff, not more.  Because thinking leads to anxiety, anxiety leads to 2am wake-ups, which lead to too little sleep, which leads to poor work, mistakes, and lost willpower.

Make it Difficult:

Many of the “Make it Invisible” bullets above are also making it difficult.

Make it Unsatisfiying:

The two items recommended here are to get an accountability partner and to make the consequences of bad habits public and painful.  I have a great accountability partner for going on a walk each day, but I have been far less successful in getting an accountability partner for work.  Invariably they start slipping and get irritated by my nagging or they start slipping and I take it as permission to start slipping too.  And when my accountability partner is DH, *I* start slipping and he lets me.  So yes, it would be lovely to get an accountability partner for work, but it’s not realistic.  I did start a weekly brown bag for research at work, and that helps somewhat.  I did have to forbid the phrase, “incremental data progress” from the weekly update recently after using it one last time as it is far too easy a phrase to hide behind.

There’s another item in the “How to create a good habit” list that actually belongs in the bad habit list:  “Make ‘doing nothing’ enjoyable.  When avoiding a bad habit, design a way to see the benefits.”  The example given in the book is each time you don’t eat out, move the money you saved from not eating out to your vacation fund.  I’m not really sure what an analog for any of the four items above would be.

So I wasn’t able to think of ways to get all of my bad habits into his methodology.  However, many of these had opposites that seemed to fit in the “How to create a good habit” section which I will discuss in a future post.

How do you break bad habits?  How do you stay focused at work?  Any thoughts on how I could fit my bad habits into these laws of breaking bad habits?

Atomic Habits: A book review

After being less than impressed with The Power of Habit, I decided to give Atomic Habits (amazon link=> we get a cut) by James Clear a spin.

tl:dr Although this book is much better than The Power of Habit, it is ultimately still an imperfect book.  Definitely worth giving a read, maybe not worth purchasing unless you have a specific easy-to-define-and-implement habit you want to focus on.

Unlike The Power of Habit, most of the book (until the last section) is made up of examples that make sense and are not taken out of context. It also goes much more into depth with more nuance than the previous book (which it does cite extensively).

Each chapter ends with bullets and potentially actionable items.  There are habits cheat sheets with “laws” explaining how to create a good habit and how to break a bad habit.  These laws are broken into easy to remember subheaders:  Make it obvious, Make it attractive, Make it easy, Make it satisfying.  Make it invisible, Make it unattractive, Make it difficult, Make it unsatisfying.  This is helpful– I hope that the podcasters at By the Book pick this one up sometime.

The “Advanced Tactics” section that the book ends with is problematic, relying almost entirely on anecdote and contradicting most of the rest of the book, leaving the reader with a particularly confusing “it’s complicated” message, along with additional bizarre messages like you should only try to do what you do well (I should really be a grocery bagger, I thought to myself, though that is not where my comparative advantage lies) but you should also only chase your passion (because people do more when they enjoy the work) but you should also do the boring bits (because the most successful people do the parts they don’t enjoy).  Examples from this section are very correlation is causation.  After reading it, I felt a sense of hopelessness, like maybe I should just early retire and forget my career, which I hope was not intentional.

For me– most of the stuff discussed in the book I already do or have done.  But I also have been struggling with bad work habits for the past couple of years.  I used to have very good work habits, but somehow they’ve been broken.  I need to fix that, but I’m not sure how.  It seems to be more complicated than say, getting into the habit of taking a walk every day or calling about politics.  (And… when I start focusing on one area of life, something starts slipping in another, which is not what any of the online lifestyle bloggers ever mention… it’s always exercise more and everything else will get better too.)

I’m not sure if this book will help with that, but I’m going to think really hard about the systematic problems I’ve been having with my work and give these checklists a spin.  I also want to get a book on habits by an actual academic to see if that has any useful advice.

And, of course, I will blog about all of this in a future post.

Moving away from paper: I tried to get an IPAD Pro with Apple Pencil (an obnoxious post), but ended up with something reMarkable

My office is full of paper.  I don’t read scholarly articles very well unless I have a pen or pencil in hand and can write on them.  Paper is heavy.  Paper takes up space.  Paper is difficult to organize and difficult to find.

Properly labeled pdfs are easy to find!  You can put them in folders and search for them.  They alphabetize easily.

My problem has always been that the pdfs don’t have my notes on them; the paper does.

So… the phd students in my department have been taking notes with ipads and ipad pencils.  They take notes on their assigned pdfs using their ipads.  Instead of carrying a bag full of paper, they bring a slim tablet with one of these electronic pencils.  They protect their documents from theft or loss by backing their pdfs up on the cloud.  The technology is so much better than when the tablet/stylus idea first came out.

I decided I must have one.  I hope to better organize my service load and literature reviews.  I hope to better be able to carry my reading on planes without breaking my back.  (Imagine– referee reports, reading for external letters, particularly interesting conference papers, and so on.)  I’d like to have my notes in one place!

My first attempt was a total failure.  I bought the wrong size– for some reason I thought an 11 inch ipad Pro would be 8.5×11, but no, 11 is the diagonal.  So I had to send it back.

My second attempt resulted in a pencil that was amazing when it worked (it writes like a good quality smooth pen!), but customer support on the phone decided it had bluetooth problems and had to be replaced.  Fortunately we went through apple service on the last day before it had to be returned because they were going to send me a refurbished pencil without my name on it rather than a new one with my name on it.  Instead we returned it and ordered a new one with my name.

My replacement pencil also didn’t work.  Luckily one of my conference locations this summer had a genius bar nearby.  The Genius Bar determined that it was indeed something wrong with the Ipad’s bluetooth and not the pencil that was the problem.  They didn’t have any in stock, so we had to return and, in theory, buy a new one.  Thankfully this was also before the warranty ran out.

I disappointingly bought the apple recommended portfolio which has no place for the pencil– it just kind of dangles there on the side of the ipad and easily slides off.  Instead, I should have bought the otterbox (we get no kickback for this one) which is the same price as the crappy one apple makes but covers the pencil.  But, I decided instead of returning the disappointing apple portfolio, I would get a really nice case and leave the portfolio on.  So I went to Etsy and got this beautiful wool case from Germany (no kickback here either).  It is lovely and makes me feel a little guilty with how nice it is while at the same time feeling like I am middle aged and can afford to occasionally have nice things that make me look like a grownup.

I planned to do NOTHING with this ipad pro except email, google hangouts (which is how I communicate with RAs), texts (I don’t have a good reason for this, but I don’t text very many people), pdfs, editor stuff, and notes.  My vows:  I will not search the internet.  I will not play games.  I will not read novels.  I will not update the blog.  I will not do anything except treat it like a kindle that I can write on and communicate with.  It will be a work machine and nothing else.  (The reason for this is that I have a heavy addiction to DH’s ipad and I need to not succumb to temptation, which is easy for me to fall into the habit of.)  So I installed adobe reader and planed to use “notes” to take notes and safari for nothing but email, downloading pdfs, and editing duties.

While I was having problems with the ipad Pro, I sat next to a gentleman who had what looked like an oversized kindle.  He was taking notes on it with a stylus.  He was able to move around text and turn his printing into typing and just do all sorts of neat things.  At a break I asked him about it.  He said it’s a tablet from a European company named reMarkable (no kickbacks, just think this is a cool product).  It only has internet access for pdf uploads and downloads, which are done using an app on your desktop or mobile device, and for emailing your text.  It is optimized for note taking and marking up pdfs.  It handles deleting and remembering mark-ups better than the notes or adobe reader on the ipad pro (which can accidentally delete everything far too easily, and can make it difficult to delete earlier things once things have been saved once).  He told me it also functions as an e-reader for books, but doesn’t do as good a job (I have not verified).  Best of all, it’s less than $600 including the stylus, unlike the ipad Pro.  The case they sell is more like a pocket, so do not recommend, but the reMarkable doesn’t really need a case.  It is exactly what I wanted, except a little smaller.

In the end, I bought both.  I decided that I would use the iPad Pro for trips because it’s a lot lighter than my laptop and more functional than my phone.  I used it on a recent trip to read and mark-up the readings for a tenure letter I had to write and it worked well for that purpose (though after using the remarkable, Adobe Reader is a bit clunky in terms of switching between scrolling and annotating, and it would be nice if they made better use of layers to make erasing after the fact easier).  The reMarkable will be my go-to at home and work as I transition from paper to electricity.  If we were cash poor, I definitely would have returned the Apple Pencil when I returned the broken iPad Pro instead of buying a new one and just stuck with the reMarkable, which really does do everything I wanted.  If I weren’t prey to loss aversion, I might have looked into getting a slim laptop instead of the iPad Pro for more functionality after sending back the broken iPad Pro.

How do you mark things up?  Do you still use paper?  If you use electronics, what do you use?

Ask the grumpies: Systems to catalogue books? Thoughts on endnote vs. librarything?

Lisa asks:

I was going to ask you and your readers [ed:  emphasis added] for recommendations on book catalogue systems, but then I saw your Library Thing icon and I read your very positive thoughts on that. I also see a brief reference to Endnote, so assume that you use Endnote for research.

Can you share your thoughts on the two different systems? I want to start a book catalogue for non-fiction books and texts, mainly based on my reading list so I have a central system for compiling book information (eg reviews, quotes, recommendations, “to buy”, “to borrow”, summaries, quotes etc etc). If I was to go into academic research (a possibility in a few years time), it is likely that I would use endnote for “real” research. At the moment I need something to manage my non-fiction reading list and “hobby research” which currently is a hodgepodge of messy notes, lists and links. I want to invest my time into a good catalogue system, but unsure if Library Thing is sufficient, or if I should take it a step further and look at Endnote. I can get a discount version of Endnote through my uni alumni, so cost is not a deciding factor. My preference is always just to use one system, but I am unsure if I am trying to force one system to do two different things (ie use Endnote as a book catalogue system, or use Library Thing for storing notes and quotes etc).

Can you compare Library Thing and Endnote? How you use each of them? How much cross-over is there? Would there be any scenario where you would recommend just using Endnote, ie for someone starting out with their book catalogue and notation systems? At what point do you prefer to segregate your work research and personal research systems?

also interested in your reader’s thoughts … particularly any librarians out there (I am in a regional area, otherwise I would be hassling the librarians in the city about this)

Also just out of curiosity, does anyone know what systems Journalists use for this sort of thing? I am not planning to become a journalist, but I am wondering if what I want to do is similar to what some journalists might do to keep track of their source information and ideas etc.

(I am not going to catalogue fiction books and I assume that Library Thing would be the best product for that scenario).

#1 says:
We’re glad you asked! To take the last question first, we have no idea what journalists do, but maybe someone in the comments will!

Other thoughts:
https://libguides.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/c.php?g=423116&p=3851803

I think you might want two solutions for this.

For fiction and non-fiction books that I have for my own use, I love LibraryThing. Their cataloging setup works for me and I like its display options. The books I have for ‘professional’ purposes are in there too, although in my field we don’t use books so much as articles. You could have separate collections under one account if you want to separate things. The site is specialized for books and does not have an easy way to output citations or include page numbers. You can export a list of your library but that’s about it. No uploading files, although you can put some pictures in your account if you want to show them to people. It’s good for books in that it’s got ways you can put on your own tags and sort collections. You can put in up to 200 books for free before paying for an account. The lifetime membership I bought in 2003 is the best $25 I ever spent.

For articles, book chapters, web pages, etc., I use Zotero. I used to use EndNote but Zotero is free and open-source. You should choose one or the other, as it’s not easy to exchange libraries back and forth between them. These days I’m loving how Zotero lets me work across multiple computers and have access to my library everywhere both through a webpage and through a downloadable (free) program that sits on the local hard drive and integrates with word processing software for doing citations and bibliographies. Zotero, or anything like it, will reformat your paper and works cited for various formats required by publications with just a few clicks (e.g., Chicago style, APA, MLA). You can upload PDFs of your articles and Zotero will suck in the info you need for cataloging, such as date, title, DOI, etc. Then those PDFs (and your library) are accessible anywhere you can see a webpage. There’s a limited amount of free storage, but buying more isn’t expensive, and the amount they give you is totally fine for most purposes.

You could also do everything in Zotero if you wanted, although it doesn’t have pretty cover displays for books the way LibraryThing does. It’s certainly better to put books in Zotero than it is to put other media in LibraryThing, because Zotero is built with more flexibility as far as media type and cataloging it all correctly. You can put interviews, talks, government documents, films, etc. in there, and you can also use tagging and notes. Zotero doesn’t do quite as well as LT in managing, editing, and arranging collections of books, but it’s better for everything else and better for citations.

Does that help?

#2 says:  I use Endnote because it is free through my work, no other reason.  The best thing about librarything in my opinion is that you can buy a cuecat and scan in the barcodes of the physical books into library thing and it pulls everything up. With endnote/refworks/zotero, you have to look up the book in your library system or possibly some other way (maybe googlescholar will pull down cites, I don’t know) or else manually input the data. Endnote is lovely for making lists of works cited in any format that you need, which is the main reason I use it. I have zero crossover between the two systems– librarything is solely for my home library, endnote is solely for my research. But I mostly deal with articles and only the occasional book or book chapter for my work work.  If I were only allowed the use of one, I would go with endnote and just not catalog my fiction.

Ask the grumpies: long term thinking and a mushy brain

Mushy brain asks:

I am a social science PhD who has been out for 10 years now.  I was on the tenure track and am now off it and location-locked in a big city, and unlikely to go back on the tenure track.  I’m currently on the first year of a 3 year contract in a soft-money research-only position.  This job is a mix of research and administration, without a lot of room for publications for me on the current project for the next year as we’re in the start up phase.  I currently have no papers under review and nothing in my pipeline other than this project that has just begun, which is an unusual situation for me.

I’m trying to think about some slightly bigger thoughts than just my current job on the current project.  My boss is supportive of my thinking long-term and thinking about what will come next after this grant.  Also, in a few weeks there may start to be time to work on more variety of things while the data roll in (over 14 months).

But all the ideas I think of sound hard and, while some seem very cool and interesting, they mostly require other people’s help.  I don’t know if I should pursue them.  Also I have other ideas that seem more doable but less interesting.

I suspect I would be kind of a sucky co-author this year, and motivation is very hard.  I currently don’t have any co-authors on anything I’m working on.  The question is whether I should start something and if so, what.  I sort of want to, but I’m not sure I’m able to be a great co-author right now.

Am trying to overcome the thing where my brain feels super mushy all the time.  Mush mush mush.  I wonder if there is a medication for mushy brains.

I dunno.  Do you have wise thoughts?  I would like to keep publishing more papers, but I don’t know how long it’ll be until I feel more capable of focusing on things.

Dear Mushy,

Whether or not you should start new projects is a question only you can answer.  Logically it makes little sense for many academics to work as hard as we do.  Once tenure has been gotten or the tenure-track has been side-stepped, what are the rewards, other than fame, knowing the answers to interesting questions, and an internal sense of well-being?  These are things only you can decide whether or not to care about.

We would encourage you to think about what your end goals are.  Are there interesting questions that you want to know the answers to?  Will more publications help you get your next grant or your next job?  Are there specific people you miss working with?  Does your cv feel neglected?  What is it that is driving this sense of unease?  Once you figure that out you’ll be better able to do a cost-benefit analysis and maybe find some motivation.

As to mushy brain, one of us finds that vit D helps her (her husband needs B-complex).  A friend needs the appropriate levels of thyroid medication.  Sleep is also incredibly important.  Caffeine, chocolate, etc.  If this isn’t a new thing, then perhaps you could get screened for adult ADHD.  Outside of physiological reasons that a doctor can test with some bloodwork, questionnaires, or maybe a sleep study, we don’t really know.  I mean, some people use prescription drugs for conditions like ADHD off-label, but we can’t recommend that in good conscience unless and until those drugs are on-label or your doctor recommends them.

Perhaps our grumpy readership has better suggestions?  Help?