Ask the Grumpies: Flying into the department 2-3 days/week and family time

traveling parent query asks:

I have a preschooler, my husband has a stable government job he loves, and we just bought a house in our current city. I have a potential (who knows…academia is a dumpster fire) opportunity which is a short plane ride away. It’s an amazing post in my niche but not a city I’d want to uproot my family to given the lack of comparable job opps for my husband + our love of our current city. It is a very exciting job and might allow me to make a lateral move back eventually. I think given the changes in remote work, I’d need to be in 3 days a week during the semester, and maybe 1 week a month during the summer. Am I bananas for thinking this is totally doable given our financial situation, my husband’s overall competence, etc? I mentioned it on a mom site I read and people thought it would destroy my family, but like, my husband is an equally involved and competent parent, his job is very normal hours, my kid is easy going? Management consultants have kids and I could make up for term time travel with flexibility during the long (not in the US, shorter semesters) summers?

I thought in your careers, you might have met someone who has done something similar? Did they end up miserable?

I live in a location where it is difficult to solve the two body problem so I know a lot of people who spend 2-3 days/week on campus and the rest working from home (or from coffee shops in their home cities). As far as I know their family lives are fine, even those with children. Even those racking up frequent flyer miles. I am unaware of any divorces or delinquent children.

Interestingly, the person I know who did this with a preschooler is a woman (she was the next pregnant lady in our building after I had DC2, so she gets DC2’s outgrown clothes… I think we’re at the friendship level where I’d hear about problems, and if not, I’m really close friends with her mentor who knows everything in their department). The men generally have older kids or no kids.

The two in my building that rack up frequent flyer miles say that it is a good idea to get into the habit of using the airport and plane time to get work done.  It’s actually easier for them to focus because there’s no interruptions.  (This is not my experience with flights, but I guess if you’re taking the same flight over and over it becomes more automatic.)  My external friends who do long daily train commutes (think San Diego to LA or SF to Palo Alto) say the same thing– commuting when you’re not the person driving allows you to do focused work (their advice is to leave on an early enough train that you can snag a seat).

Alice offers this advice:

I’m not an academic, but can speak to the travel for work side of things a bit. Early in my career, I worked for a company whose business model involved heavy travel, and when I was pregnant/when our child was younger, my husband’s job required a lot of travel.

When I was the one traveling, I didn’t have a relationship or a child. Most of the people at the company were single or in relationships but only a scant handful had younger children. The travel was fly onsite early Monday/fly home on Friday afternoon, and videochat wasn’t the thing that it is now. I know one man whose wife and daughter moved to the onsite city with him even though it was a 1-year job because his toddler would forget him while he was away. She’d be shy and hesitant at first on Saturdays and then engaged and joyful on Sundays… and then he’d fly out on Monday morning and it would start all over again. He said the pattern was too heartbreaking for him to continue it. So that’s a negative potential with a very little kid.

However. When I was pregnant and until my daughter was about 3.5, my husband’s job had him away every other week or every third week, depending on what was going on with his work situation. His travel was usually Sunday-Thursday. We didn’t have the problem of our daughter forgetting him. We did do some videochatting, but not much. I made it a priority to make sure that he and I were communicating, generally via text, every day. And I made sure to send him a lot of photos, particularly while I was home on maternity leave. The travel was hard for him emotionally– he got tired of it and felt like he was missing R&R time that he would’ve had if he was home. But it didn’t wreck our marriage or our family.

From a family relationships and kid emotional development standpoint, what you’re outlining could be fine for all of you. In my opinion, it could even be good from a gender roles standpoint. For us, my husband’s travel really cemented the Mom Does Everything pattern. With you being the traveler, it might do the opposite. To me, that seems like a good thing. If your husband is already responsible for family logistics or if he’s willing to take them on, this could give your family a level of balance that mine doesn’t have.

I can’t speak to the financial side of things, but would advise being really thoughtful about your flight timings and keeping a sharp eye on weather forecasts if you get the job. Never book the last possible flight you’d need to catch in order to make it to your first commitment, and if the weather is predicting something big in your home city (blizzard, hurricane, etc.), consider getting to or staying in your work city before it hits. For my husband and myself, the companies had planned and paid for the travel, so if flights were cancelled or if there was a delay, missed time at work was accepted, even if something important was missed. If you’re doing a more DIY traveling for work setup, travel-related flight/weather complications may not be okay in the same way.

Grumpy Nation– have you seen families where one person travels a few days a week work?  What advice do you have for someone about to embark on weekly journeys?



  • A 10-15+ person silicon valley startup is different than a smaller established SBIR mill/Consulting company in many ways.  It’s interesting how the processes are much more modern but also there’s a lot less stuff figured out.
  • This company calls for a lot of video meetings, whereas the old one did skype but with the video always off.  DH moved back into the guest bedroom (he also has a desk next to mine in the office next to our bedroom) which has a much better setup for video and we can both have zoom meetings at the same time.  (One day a week, all 4 of us are zooming in different rooms at the same time).  I miss him.
  • DH decided to decorate the guest bedroom to make it more his office and less a guest bedroom (he’s left all the pictures of waterfalls up– my whimsy suggested decorating it like a mid-level hotel room–Gen X does cliché ironically).  His mom got him one of those fake street signs that has his name on it so now the little bathroom hallway that separates the Great room from the guest bedroom is called “[DH’s first name] Rd”.  The guest bathroom is a little alleyway or cul de sac off the main road in this scenario.
  • He bought a standing desk and a new monitor and a new keyboard/mouse setup because the guest bedroom setup isn’t perfect.  He’s contemplating getting a new chair, though I’m actually the one who needs a new chair and he can take my old aeron once DC1 (who I traded chairs with) is back in school.  We’ll see what happens.  Money is a little part of it, but the big thing is me wanting to actually go and *sit* in chairs.  When you’re spending $1K on something you want it to be perfect, or at least not to cause back pain!
  • DH has decided to raise his allowance an additional $720/year for a total of $3,600/year.  Not all of this is going to jetpens for fountain pens and ink.
  • I know the whole point of an allowance is to spend on what you want without anybody judging you or saying no, but I did tell DH that I would not feel comfortable with fountain pens that cost over like $500 being in the house.  So he bought this one to add to what is now a collection (if you have three of something, it becomes a collection). It is substantially pricier than his other two.  But he’s had the other two (and his space pen) for at least 2 decades, maybe more, so I trust him to take care of it.
  • DC2 requested a fountain pen for hir birthday, so zie will be getting a platinum preppy that DH will be installing a converter for hir so zie can use his inks instead of just cartridges.
  • Part of me really wants to buy a fountain pen that matches the iPhone I plan to get just because it matches.  But then I remember that I don’t actually *like* fountain pens all that much (I like paper that makes fountain pens feather) and would not choose a fountain pen over a nice gel pen or rollerball.  Plus I would feel *terrible* losing a $25 pen.  (I think I can handle losing a $5 pen these days.  My beloved Clena is $3.30.)
  • None of those jetpens links are sponsored.  I just like the company.
  • My aesthetic is mostly black, but there’s something appealing about getting a light purple phone.  A touch of whimsey amid the darkness.
  • I have been learning a lot of new pen jargon from watching jet pens videos.  They don’t always explain the terms but I’m starting to pick them up anyway.
  • RBOC two weeks in a row– I think that matches my currently scattered personality.  I really need to do some deep work on two of my papers (my current two important papers) and instead I’m just futzing around on minor things.  Bad bad me.

How to get more citations as a junior scholar (in a social science without embargoes)

With Google Scholar being so easy to access these days (compared to other citation indices that you had to get from the library and look up one article at a time), getting your work cited becomes more important than ever for things like promotion and tenure.

Unfortunately doing good work isn’t enough if people aren’t aware of it.  On top of getting things published in good journals, you also have to get your stuff out there so people know about it and recommend it to other people.

How do you do that?

If you’re in a field that allows you to put up working papers prior to publication, then do that!  You can put it up on SSRN and/or on your own webpage concurrently with sending it to a journal.  (Or sooner!  Though do be careful about having a version you’re happy with posted and make sure you’re not in an area where people steal ideas from each other prior to publication.)

You can also send your paper to people that you cite– people are generally very nice when junior people do this and sometimes they even send back helpful comments and encouragement.

Make sure you cite other people and other important papers– google scholar and other indexes often let people know when they’ve been cited and if your paper looks interesting, they may look at it and keep it in mind the next time they do work.

Make sure you cite yourself, if appropriate.  I had a junior colleague who at one point had more publications than citations.  That should not be!  Not after your first two publications, at least.  Google scholar doesn’t care if citations are self-citations, though some indices do keep track of that.  In any case, citing yourself appropriately means that people reading any one of your papers can find other relevant papers of yours without having to look you up personally.  That means they’ll be more likely to add multiple relevant papers of yours to their next literature review.

Also:  get out there and submit your stuff to conferences.  Even if you don’t get in, the committee will have read your abstract at the very least and might remember it then next time they have a student doing something similar.  Even better is getting accepted and having people see your work in progress.

Have a short elevator pitch for whatever project you’re working on– once conferences are back in person, people like to ask junior people what they’re working on, and if you have a short summary of something interesting, they may remember it and you.

Grumpy Academics:  How do you get more citations?  How do you get your work and your name out there?

Ask the grumpies: Time to retire?

CG asks:

How will you decide when it’s time to retire?

#1:  I am always ready to retire.  For me this will come down to money.  I will need enough money to keep myself in books and housing and food.

#2:  I don’t think I will…?  It will probably end up being a combination of life circumstances (like health) and job stuff.   I dunno.  I’m still in the taking it a week at a time mode.

Grumpy Nation:  How will you decide it’s time to retire?

DH is employed again!

He did a bunch of lengthy lengthy interview processes from job openings former colleagues sent him which all ended with the companies saying, “you are amazing but we cannot have you remote” (even though he was always upfront in the first interview that we cannot move for a couple of years) and then finally got a job offer at a start-up where many of the workers are already remote.  TWO of his professional friends work there and one of them is the former colleague who left when DH’s last company had to temporarily cut salaries (and then left the next place he went when *they* cut salaries because of covid and that cut didn’t turn out to be temporary).  It’s a pay increase from his last job and he will be making about 10K more than I do.  (The first offer was pretty much identical to my salary but then he negotiated!  In theory we will be at par again after I’m promoted, but we will see.)

I’m not sure what to say other than that.  I will probably have really obnoxious posts about being rich again and that adjustment.  Though this is a start-up so it may not last long so DH wants to put a lot towards savings, which is smart.  (And if we move to a coast, selling our paid-off house would only provide a 20% down payment for another house.)  So where do we park that savings?  I guess you’ll find out in obnoxious posts after I figure it out (Vanguard index funds?  probably.  But *which* Vanguard index funds?).

Right now what’s more in my mind is the loss of time.  It was really nice having a househusband, even if he was spending 20 hours/week doing unemployment stuff (he’s now a six sigma yellow belt and has some project management thing, thank you unemployment commission).  I could just put any Ottonlenghi (sponsored link) meal I wanted on the meal plan and it would magically happen even if it took hours to make without me doing any of the cooking.  And you saw all the gorgeous baking DH has been doing.  Now I’m like… we need to eat more spaghetti with jarred sauce.  And when was the last time we had macaroni and cheese with tuna and peas (aka stovetop tuna cheese casserole)?  Also he could be first stop for any questions from the kids.  And he was just taking care of things.  Now we’re going back to 50/50 and it’s an adjustment, though thankfully the school year is over so I have some time to adjust.

The kids have a week off, so I’m having them meal plan for a week and put the necessary groceries on the list.  I’ve given them a budget of $250 which is more than we usually spend, but I didn’t want them to feel like they had to trade-off expensive fruit in order to get ice cream.  They’ve so far only spent $80 after getting our regular necessities (we have a list of bread/eggs/milk/bananas etc. that I put on before they started) and ingredients for 7 dinners, which suggests that DH and I really spend an awful lot on fancy cheeses and organic produce.  DC1 thinks we should buy restaurant sushi with the rest, but DC2 is lobbying for one of each kind of oreos.  (In the end DH and I added some things like pecans and cat litter and the bill got up to $125, give or take.)

Our state unemployment office is not letting him request the first week of unemployment benefits that they withheld that’s supposed to come to him automatically after getting a job (they claim he already requested it, which he did not).  He’s going to have to play phone roulette again to get that reinstated, but, fun story, he’s not allowed to call them about this until he is actually on the job, and he has to call during working hours.  And last time it took an hour of hitting redial before he was able to get through.  Talk about an ordeal mechanism.  And how seriously unfair to lower income people who cannot spend an hour during working hours the first week of a new job to get the bridge money they need before their next paycheck.  He hasn’t decided whether or not to make that call, since of course, we can afford not to.  But our government is just going to use that money to hurt Trans people, immigrants, and women, so…

So, yay DH!  He was definitely ready to be working again.  And he LOVES working with at least two of his colleagues and they love working with their other colleagues, so it should be fun.  Plus the head of software is a woman and that is ALWAYS a good sign.  (Women are like canaries in the Tech Coalmine– if there aren’t any, and there aren’t any in management other than project management, it is probably a hostile environment.)

… I don’t have any questions.  Being selfish and just enjoying the change.  

How to run a meeting

I hate meetings, so I run short efficient ones where everyone leaves knowing exactly what they have agreed to do and when to do it by.

My meetings method is a combination of middle-school cooperative learning when I was always the de facto group leader via being the nominal “secretary” (regardless of which white boy was the nominal leader) plus the meetings chapter from Getting Things Done.

Here are my basic tenets (I think these are all from GTD):

1.  Don’t have a meeting if you don’t have an agenda.

2.  Follow the agenda.

3.  Don’t leave the meeting without action items.

If you don’t know what the meeting is going to be about, just don’t.  Don’t have a meeting.  You have to be able to write down the items you need to discuss.  Circulate them before the meeting and add anything anybody else needs.

Don’t let the meeting get derailed.  Stick to the agenda.  When you start to stray from the agenda, note it, and note that you can add whatever it is to the next agenda if need be.

Here is the important part:  At the end of the meeting, go through every single person and ask what their action items are and what the timeline is.  This is great because a lot of the time everyone will assume someone agreed to do something, and they may have even agreed to do it… but without this last step, they will simply forget.  Or they will mean to do it and just keep putting it off until they forget.  And then you will discuss it again at the next meeting, wasting time.  Again.  The other nice thing about going through everybody is that if someone doesn’t have an action item and another person has a ton of action items, the overloaded person will feel ok about giving some up and the underloaded person often feels guilty and will volunteer.  This doesn’t always happen, but for your people who don’t want to be perceived as bad people but also don’t generally volunteer, it’s nice.

Then after the meeting, send your minutes or a summary of the meeting as you understand it and remind people of the action items they agreed to and their deadlines.  They won’t always do it, but you’ll get the majority rather than the minority of people actually doing things they volunteered for.

The part that is from all that irritating cooperative learning:

If you’re in person, write on the chalkboard or on a word document on an overhead the things you’re discussing as you’re brainstorming (or you can use concept map software, you do do you) to help organize the discussion and to keep you from straying too far from the point.  A big benefit of the board is that it helps guide discussion and you can ask questions and write down people’s answers to help facilitate.  You can take a picture of the board after.   (Why yes, I am a fantastic discussion leader in class.)

If you’re on zoom or another online thing, use a google document and make sure everyone has access.  Being able to edit a google document of the agenda together is fantastic, and it’s easy for people to see what you discussed for each items and to claim action items.  You can use different color to group things or make them stand out.  One of my colleagues I’m on a grant with uses the google slides shareable version of powerpoint instead which is interesting.

So… it’s that simple.  And definitely allow your meeting to end early if you get through the agenda.  Do not have a norm where the meeting time is filled up no matter what you’re talking about.

A few other pointers:

Sometimes it’s good to call for a preliminary vote that doesn’t count to see where everyone is thinking when a discussion starts running in circles (for a set of job candidates, for example).  Sometimes it will turn out that the votes are so uneven you can just stop at that point.

You can also call votes about whether people want to to stop a discussion and do the actual voting or if they want to continue the discussion.  Sometimes it’s just one person who is dragging things out and they’ve said their piece and won’t let go but nothing they say is going to change anybody’s minds because they’re not saying anything they haven’t already said.

If you’re not the person in charge of the meeting (say you’re at a full-day “retreat”), you can still take charge the way I have done– by asking if you can go up to the (chalk/white/key) board and “take notes” to help people organize their thinking, asking questions to help know what to write down on the board, but actually guiding the discussion.  I hate doing this, but I hate pointless long meetings more, so…

I always start repeated meetings on time whether everyone is there or not (and ask if I can start early if everyone is early).  This keeps you from having that thing where everyone shows up five minutes later every week.  If you have that one person who is always 5 min late, they stay being 5 min late every week instead of eventually becoming 20 min late, and all the people who want to get done will show up on time instead of 5-10 minutes late etc.  (This is especially true when the meeting is over before the late person gets there because you’re that efficient.)

How do you keep meetings short?  Any tips or pointers?

I bought a standing desk

I outsourced the figuring out what to get to DH.  He likes shopping waaaay more than I do (exceptions:  food and books).

He ended up picking out an Updesk Uplift v2 in black, 60*30.  That’s the biggest size that will fit into the space my old desk occupied after cannibalizing all of the space around the old desk (the computer has to go under the desk now instead of next to it and DH and I will have touching desks).  We also got a thingy with monitor arms (Fully Pole-Mounted Monitor Arm) so the monitors can be adjusted more easily and they take up less space (no more sitting on DH’s old college biology textbooks).

The desk came with a bunch of random free stuff.  The mat for under the keyboard is great.  I’ve been enjoying playing with the balance board during faculty meetings– it really does seem to help.  I do not like the desk set and will probably give it away.  I have put a more complicated desk set on my amazon wishlist for Christmas, but I’m open to suggestions if there’s something you love.  Currently I’m using an old coffee mug that DH was gifted but never used to hold my pens (it says “Engineer”).  We also got a filing cabinet.

I also temporarily moved my desk set-up to the guest bedroom, to the delight of Nice Kitty whose room it belongs to.  The carpet is the BEST– I can stand for long periods of time when the balance board starts hurting my feet without my feet hurting.  Sadly, the internet wireless doesn’t work as well in the guest bedroom and I can’t directly hardwire myself to the internet through the wall like I can in the office.  That’s fine for faculty meetings, but not so great for conferences or meetings that I’m running.  (My meetings are short!  New record:  5 min.)  So we’ll be moving back to the office with the hardwood floors.  I wanted to get a colorful rug from overstock, but DH bought a mat instead.  He says we can still get the colorful rug, but he wants to have an anti-fatigue mat for his own use.  We’ll try this out.

I’m using the footrest that I never used while nursing that was supposed to go with the glider that I never used while nursing (the mothers helpers loved it for rocking to sleep, but I guess I never rocked– just used magical mommy milk to induce naps) with the two position chair I got in graduate school (long story:  they only sell them in bulk) since I traded DC1 for my Aeron.  As noted before, I’ve swapped the purple pillow with an everlasting comfort pillow.

I have three of the four settings programmed:  Sitting, standing without the board, and standing with the board.  I really like it so far!  I also like that it has a lot more desktop space than my old home office setup which never really quite fit my big Moleskine.

Desk: $720

Monitor arms:  $85

Filing Cabinet:  $100

Anti-fatigue mat:  $40

That is a lot of money!  But if it lets me work without agony, it is worth it.  (Just last week I was able to go back to touching my toes… hopefully that keeps up.)  I have a LOT of work to do this summer.

Amazon links are sponsored, other links aren’t.

How is your home office set up?  Oh wait, I just asked you that.  Um… what kind of rugs do you like?  How do you keep your pens and pencils and post-it notes and other sundries on hand?  Also:  is it weird to lust over cat-shaped paperclips?

On back pillows and back pain

I do not recommend the purple back cushion.  It is $39 and only has one strap and is impossible to keep in place.

The purple seat cushion is better for what it does (though I also had a lot of trouble keeping it on my chair and it’s also expensive), but I wonder if some of the back pain I’ve been having this past week is attributable to it.

For lumbar support, I instead recommend this Everlasting comfort lumbar support pillow.  It is bigger and has TWO straps, and is $30.

I have just purchased a standing desk and an adjustable dual monitor holder.  After I’ve moved over and used them for a while, I will let you know how they’re doing!

I would like to get a new desk chair also (I have a middle sized aeron, bought second-hand five years ago in paradise, but just traded chairs with DC2 and am using an old two position chair that DH reupholstered 15 years ago), but I don’t feel like I can do that without actually sitting on them.

What do you do to prevent back pain?  Do you have a favorite home desk setup?

Ask the grumpies: How are you dealing with returning to post-vaccination life?

Jessica asks:

I would be interested in a post on more of your thoughts about transitioning out of covid life as you get vaccinated. I realize it might be a bit different for you since kids aren’t vaccinated yet. I am more than 2 weeks past my first dose and so is my boyfriend (the only person I live with), so I’m starting to think more about what I will do once I’m fully vaccinated… It will definitely be a slow transition as case loads hopefully go down. It’s hard to know what will be appropriate.

Also, I am usually very extroverted and adventurous, and I am excited to see more people again but also feel like the pandemic has kind of changed my personality, or at least temporarily changed my level of comfort with high amounts of activity. I still miss doing things, but doing things is more draining now. So that’s also going to be weird to figure out.

This is going to vary a lot for people all over the country based on their own cost-benefit calculations.  Right now even if we didn’t have kids I wouldn’t be going out at all (except my in-person classes) because I get filled with such RAGE seeing all the anti-maskers about being awful.  I’m still so angry about my last dentist visit I can’t even imagine trying to get my hair cut or to pick up groceries.  We’re also still well into the purple zone (4x the cutoff of new cases per day of the orange zone line).

I’m not even sure that I will be going fully back to the work office in the fall– it has been really nice not being constantly interrupted by students or given a bazillion small service assignments just because I’m there.  Also I seem to be the only person that junior faculty ask for advice which… I’m fine with when it’s junior faculty in my field and I’m the right person for it, but less fine with when there’s a better person to ask (I’ve been doing a lot more, “Go ask X”).  Though I guess I’m still getting those emails.  One of my friends asked me to restart our daily walks two weeks after our second vaccine.  But I just don’t want to go into work, so I said no.  (I have to rush home after class for another zoom meeting, or I would do it after class on the days I go in, I guess.)

Regardless of the vaccine situation DC2 (age 9 next fall) will be going back to school.  I can’t see middle school working out from home (unlike this year where elementary school has been fantastic).  This particular middle school has had pretty low case loads, and most of the elementary schools that feed into it are similarly low caseloads.  I’m strongly hoping that DC1 will be able to get vaccinated this summer– but first Pfizer has to approve and then we have to find a place that gives out Pfizer.  But we’re willing to drive to find a place.  (Our little part of the state has leaned heavily into Moderna.)

I’m hoping to be able to convince my sister to drive down from the city to see us once she’s fully vaccinated, but I suspect she’s going to hold out for us going into the city which is less safe.  DH will probably not be convincable about that until the kids have been vaccinated.  My in-laws are still making noise about visiting us in the Fall– they’re both fully vaccinated but summer in the South is awful (even ignoring high prevalence rates and evil anti-vaxxers) so their visit would be pretty much just stuck inside our house which is pretty boring as delightful as my children are.  We thought briefly of going up to the midwest to visit ourselves, but there’s still the problem of getting there.

So yeah, I don’t know.  I’ve been leaning heavily into not putting on pants, not making small-talk, etc.  It will be hard to go back.  This time last year I really wanted to get away to like a cabin someplace beautiful and cool with water, but somehow I’ve lost my yearning to actually be in nature.  Maybe it’s all the beautiful pictures that Microsoft shows on start-up screens — anyplace we could get to without a plane trip just isn’t going to measure up.

At some point after classes end, I have a plan to take all our plastic grocery bags from curbside to the grocery store recycling place.  But that’s the only major thing we’ve got.  Basically I plan to cling to my house and zoom as best I can.

What have you all been doing since getting fully vaccinated?  What do you plan to do?

Wanna see my planner layout?

No, I’m not trying to horn in on the shu box.  As you can see, there is nothing neat, beautiful, or inspirational about my planner layouts!  (Except my beautiful pens, of course.)

But I’ve been trying some new things with planning this year because I’m just too scattered with too many things going on.  And yet, I have the luxury of having just one work-space rather than having to transport things back and forth.

To start with, I have my Moleskine calendar which I have had every year since my professional organization stopped providing them free.  I use this just for due dates and actual appointments.  I picked a somewhat light week appointment-wise because I was able to strategically place my beautiful EnerGel Clenas over potentially identifying names, which I cannot do every week.

Weekly calendar

I actually ran out of ink in my main Clena and had to refill it because I love this pen so much. It’s .4 blue/black. The brown is also .4 and has brown ink. It’s even prettier with the sticker removed, which I did eventually.

The new thing is that instead of having sheets of half paper scattered all over my office with to-do lists and daily schedules and full sheets and notepads with project info… I’ve moved most of my projects to Trello or Github (which both have benefits and drawbacks), and I’ve taken over one of DH’s unused Moleskine lab notebooks (he prefers lined or dot grid– I had been trying to buy a blank black hardback one for ages but they’d been sold out and finally he remembered he had one he wasn’t using) to replace the scattered paper.

DH's Hobby/Bucket List

The one page that DH used in this book before he decided he prefers Leuchtturm1917 with lines or dot grids over unlined Moleskine. He has since completed the coffee roaster (it has been years since he last used it) and has made 3 Moccasins (not 3 pairs, 3 individual slippers). He also has started occasionally taking B-complex for the memory and it seems to help? I guess DC2 has kind of been teaching him Spanish? He has definitely not worked on singing.

So basically here’s what I have been doing with the Moleskine.  I keep the left side, which you can’t see, blank and use it for notes from meetings.  (I would have to redact the heck out of them, so I just didn’t take a picture.)  On the right hand side, I plot out the week on an hourly basis.  The one thing I wish I didn’t have to do is write out the times.  Writing them out I am able to take up less space than I would if I could find a washi tape I liked or bought a pre-made planner, but I think I will make that trade-off now that I know more about what I like in planners.  Then I fill in items from my weekly calendar like class-times and meetings.  I put little brown stars next to them to indicate they are things where I have to either be somewhere or I have to get on some kind of call– basically I have to actually do those things at that time.  The rest of the hours I fill out with what I hope to be doing with the rest of the time.  Usually I’m pretty good about sticking to the schedule in the morning, but in the afternoons I kind of lose steam and get better at convincing myself to do something else.  I try to build in a little slack if I can.

Heavily redacted planner page

In all its glory. (Post-it notes removed.)

A new thing for me is listing my main goals for the week.  What are the two research projects I hope to make the most progress on?  What are the stupid little service or teaching assignments that have to get done?  Weekend usually gets written on Thursday or Friday when I realize that I didn’t get as much done as I needed to and I’d rather be super lazy near the end of the week than I would not work at all on the weekend.  Though… to be honest the weekend stuff is generally aspirational too unless there’s a real deadline and often gets pushed off to the next Monday or Tuesday (*guilt*).  But I never seem to get done what I need to get done if I just write down what needs to get done– I have to write down more than I need to do to trick myself to do what I actually have to do, if that makes sense.  I blame my Catholic upbringing.  #raisedCatholic #guilt  I could actually do everything I put in my list, so it’s not actually unrealistic.  I just … don’t.  And this is one reason why I’m not at a better school, but I do ok still.  (It doesn’t help that there are more people in my life encouraging me to work less “take a break” “can’t work all the time” etc. than there are encouraging me to get stuff done because they have an inflated idea of my actual productivity, not realizing how much of my time on the computer is actually surfing the internet.)  (That was a digression.  But no, spending less time at the computer does not actually make me more productive in the hours I spend at it.  Been there, done that.  I hedonically adapt pretty rapidly and end up maaaybe doing an hour of work and then get hit with deadlines and regret.)

That Friday was a great day because a coauthor who had been not doing much (she’d been meaning to, but life would happen) and I threw the paper back and forth at each other every hour and we made a huge amount of progress on it.  So it looks blank, but was actually me doing straight up writing every other hour and either dealing with email or checking on citations/figures/etc. on my off hours.  Flow is the best.

That little line of stars and dashes used to be next to a post-it note listing all of my current projects on it.  The stars mean “work on this project this week”.  The dashes mean “you could work on this project this week if for some reason you couldn’t work on another one”.  The x means that there’s nothing I can currently do on this project (in this case, it’s in a student’s hands right now and I’m like 4th author and it’s about machine learning so…).  The checkmarks mean that I submitted that project or passed it off to a coauthor and don’t need to do anything with it until it comes back.  Usually I only have 2 projects I’m actively working on, 1 under review, and 1 in the data collection/lit review/RA doing stuff stage, possibly also one at the grant proposal stage.  But right now is messed up because I’m doing a ton of little papers with students because of that NSF item you see listed and some other grants from other agencies that want things, plus they help students get things on their cvs which is nice.

Another new thing I have that you can’t see is a growing to-do list post-it that is currently residing on the left side of the paper.  It has a list of all my upcoming deadlines which appear to be mostly referee reports and editing, though there’s currently also some end of the semester teaching stuff.  I like the post-it notes because you don’t have to rewrite them and you can move them week to week.  I am on my second “projects” post-it though because some stuff is off my plate for now and I have a couple of new things on it.

Sometime this summer when they come out, I have decided that I want to get an Academic Year Passion Planner to replace both Moleskines.  It combines an hourly layout with a weekly spread with lots of additional *space* for all these other extras.  I’m hoping that up at the top I’ll be able to put deadlines for each day like with my small weekly calendar.  The spaces at the sides and bottom will fit my post-it note to-do lists, goals, and weekend hopes.  The blank pages can be used for notes from meetings.  I will likely ignore every single passion aspect.  If it doesn’t work out, then I will go back to this method in time for me to get the 2022 Moleskine calendar for Christmas or maybe I’ll know more about my likes and dislikes to try a different planner layout.

How do you deal with planning?  Do you have a planner or calendar system?  What do you use?  What works or doesn’t work for you?