Peak productivity: the academic way

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life on the verge

It’s here! That manic magical time of the year where academics across the world take part in Do-Everything December. If you’ve found yourself uttering such rallying cries as, “I’d like to submit this before Christmas” or “Let’s get this squared away before the break”, you’re not alone (but you’re probably an ECR). This month, we will #finishallthethings so that we can start next year afresh, and with a chunkier CV. But how do we do it? How can we reach peak productivity when it has eluded us for eleven months thus far? I’m no expert* – just an average ECR trying to get ahead in this crazy game – but here are just a few things that I’ve tried that you might find useful.

  • Make a pile of manuscripts that would be ready to submit after just a day or two of concentrated effort. These are easy wins, and…

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Running shorter distances, faster

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I have never been one for competition. I dislike people who are sore losers or sore winners. I don’t mind not being good at a thing that I have not put much effort into trying to be good at, but I don’t like being better at it than someone who has put effort into it.

I don’t even like to compete with myself on the things that I do put a lot of effort into because I see performance as quite contingent, temporary and ephemeral. I mean, why should I pressure myself to run faster at some distance when how fast I run is down to things beyond my control, like the weather, how popular the race is, whether or not I am having a bad allergy day, etc. Plus, if I should be proud of running faster one week, should I be upset to run slower later on? And ultimately, I don’t run to be fast. I run to run, so all running that I actually run is good running.

Consequently, I have never really focused on how fast I can run. I didn’t even record all of my early race times, so I am not really sure how much my running speed has improved since the very early days. Instead I focused on running better (with less stopping to take a walk break, less feeling terrible after, etc.) and farther (from my first 5K, to 10K, to half marathon and then a marathon) and with better form (straighter posture, arms moving less side-to-side across my chest, etc.).

On the whole, this has worked pretty well for me. I enjoy running and find that when I finish I am in a much better mood than when I started. I am healthier, I sleep better and I feel stronger. I really got to enjoy the way that I could zen out and just let the distances slip by with so little effort. I liked the moment when I felt that I stepped outside of myself and was no longer running but being run.

On the other hand, the same thing all the time can get boring. So I have changed my approach for this year. To some extent, this change was an accident of happenstance. In the process of moving to a new country, I was less able to sign up for races, to train for long races, and to run long, un-interupted stretches of zen-running . But I did find myself in a country that had a lot of parkrun opportunities, which gave me great opportunities to run timed 5K runs in a way that I would not traditionally have bothered with. I also joined the run-commute club at work, which encouraged me to run the 2.8K to work (and another 2.8K back home) several days per week. As a consequence of running these shorter distances more frequently, I have been able to focus on how it feels to run shorter and faster, with the kind of body positioning that suits short-and-fast runs rather than conserving-energy-for-long runs.

After noticing my 5K speed improve significantly, I decided  to deliberately not sign up for or start training plans for any races longer than 10K. My 10K speed has also improved, knocking about a minute and a half off my PB after years of hovering around the 1 hour mark. I am still not really bothered about getting faster for the sake of competition, not even with myself, but I am interested in how running short-and-fast is making me feel, making my body move, and making me see running differently. Zen is now not just about being peaceful over long distances, it is about being peaceful under short and intense bursts of effort. A different sort of zen, but also good to know I can do.

Plus, there is always next year for the long distances. We shall see.

You’ve got to admit, it’s getting better.

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Several months have passed, things have changed, and on the whole it is going well.

I have started the new job in Manchester and have several thoughts:

  • Manchester is a great city for going out and doing social and cultural things. For example, I have seen classical music, parades, cricket games, charity football matches, visited several museums, joined a hackerspace and played ping-pong at a hip-hop bar.
  • Manchester is also pretty good for participating in sports. For example, I have participated in several 10K races, joined a weekday running and socializing club, joined a run-commute club at work, joined a gym just near my house, can attend free lunch-time sport events through my workplace, and have tried out at least two of the parkruns that are within easy reach by public transport.
  • Manchester has a terrible dearth of green spaces in the city centre and has a serious problem with traffic control, but is generally very walkable (somewhat less run-able) and has great canal tow paths from the edges of the city outward.
  • This job is a shambles. No one knows what is happening and they are all desperately trying to pretend like they do know what they are doing and that it is definitely very important.
  • I had to put lots of things on the back burner during the international move, the house hunt, the processes of getting used to a new job and new city. However, I am starting to get a good routine going and can organize my life a bit better. Part of that will be writing this blog on a more regular basis again (but don’t hold your breath).

I also have several things that I want to write about in the near future. Topics include:

  • Weight lifting and strength training
  • Running shorter distances faster and how to change my training mindset
  • Eating enough damn protein in a damn day
  • Using a fitness tracker
  • Why men’s jeans are so much better than women’s jeans
  • Setting new personal goals and revisiting old ones

What you do is what you get

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So, god intentions aside, I have not been as dedicated as I could be in pursuit of my fitness goals recently.

Do not get me wrong. I have done stuff.
I signed up for a 10K race in late May.
I ran (actually jogged and walked) about 7K on Sunday.
I went for a jog/walk yesterday evening when I REALLY wanted to stay in and loaf on the sofa.

But, I have not been putting on my sports kit every day. I have not been pushing myself to work a variety of muscle groups, to gain flexibility, to improve strength.

I also have not been reigning myself in in relation to food, so my increased activity has been (over-)compensated by eating.

But, there is no point in crying over spilled lactose-free milk substitute. I have my sports kit on now and will do a home exercise/bodyweight video.
As soon as this show is done.e

Alternatives

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I chose that title for a few reasons.

  • I have an alternative relationship, which the UK immigration has refused to recognize. That is to say, my visa was refused.
  • I will have to pursue an alternative immigration pathway. I have spoken to HR services at the university in the UK and they are confident that this alternative can be pursued but think that I may need a later start date.
  • Rather than deal with the disappointment by drinking myself into a stupor or dwelling in a pit of despair, I chose an alternative – I went for a run.

Two steps forward, one step nowhere

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I have been running. Well, jogging, really, but I am counting it as running. And I have gone for a run twice in the last week. Before too long I will be up to three times a week and then I will be able to start and follow a running plan to get on with marathon training.

I have fallen back on my old chestnut tactic of running for two songs and walking for one. This lets me catch my breath and move up through the gears slowly.  I know that this is not a particularly professional strategy, but it keeps me motivated without being too routine or boring. Eventually, I will switch up to running for three songs and then walking for on. By the time that feels easy I am usually in a place to train like a professional.

On another note, I am still waiting for a decision on the visa application. Tired of waiting, and feeling quite anxious. It is unnerving to have your whole life and near-term future in someone else’s hands. But this is what I have, so I will have to wait. I shall just have to do more house cleaning in the meantime to work on those nerves.

Thoughts and snow

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Things are going reasonably well, I believe. I have been able to put on my sports kit and do 10 minutes or more of sporting every day. Most of those days have been easy-going yoga, but I have also done a workout video, gone for a walk and gone for a walk/jog. Overall, I am feeling very optimistic.

I am also keeping up with tracking my food intake. So everything is ticking over just fine for now. Let us hope it keeps on in the same way.

On a more optimistic note, I was looking at races in October. I would still like to do a marathon, but maybe a half marathon is more reasonable. I could try to do 2 in quick succession. I will have to check out training schedules to see what is reasonable.

And on an unrelated note, I have been cleaning like a mad person while going mad waiting to hear on the immigration status. When was the last time you scrubbed out the drawers in your kitchen? Cleaned underneath your sink? Removed all the gunk and horror from the top of the extractor hood?

 

 

Another day, another challenge.

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We meet again, Mr. Reader.

Or Mrs. Reader. Or Ms., Dr., Miss, Rev. Capt., whatever. I have several things to update you on.

First, I received permission to reside and work in the country I currently reside and work in. Hooray! Ring the bells! This means that I will not be kicked out any time soon (not within the next 5 years anyway) and can remove that particular worry from my mind. Now I just have to sort out paperwork to reside and work in another country, one that is not this one. The hassle never ends, eh?

Second, I took some time off after the half marathon to be a slob and feel sorry for myself, but that time is done. I have set up a new running schedule and should be back on my feet three times a week. I had trouble with my hacked smartphone-as-running-tracker, but I think I have that sorted out too. As always, you can snoop on me if you so choose.

Third, I have a temp job trying to help a local tech start up company hire some new engineers. If you are an R&D engineer with knowledge of printers, get in touch.

Fourth, I am participating in a citizen science effort to discover how effective duct tape is against warts/verrucas. They are just called warts where I come from, but the association with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory means that I find ‘verrucas’ much more charming than ‘warts’. Anyway, I have had one on my foot for years, which means it is not likely to go away on its own. It doesn’t usually bother me at all, but it does get a bit sore sometimes. So I decided to see if I can show it the door while also contributing to SCIENCE! I will be duct taping (or McGyver-taping, as my family calls it) my foot for 6 days out of 7 for the next several weeks. I shall keep you informed.

For your entertainment, here is my foot before and after taping.

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And finally, now that you are grossed out by my warty foot, food! With a lot of attention and effort, we have got our food bill down to about 50 euros per week on average, not including splurging extras that are obviously unnecessary. We have been trying out inexpensive new recipes, mostly vegetarian ones, and have some definite new favourites. Of course, there are always old favourites, like pancakes. I ate a lot of pancakes growing up and didn’t realise that they were not a luxury until I saw the House of Yes. I hope that I will get around to sharing some of favourites in another blog post soon.

Long time, no writesy!

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It has been too long, old friend. So here’s the haps.

  1. My half marathon went reasonably well. I finished in 2 hours, 11 minutes and ten seconds. I could have finished faster, but I wanted to really enjoy it more than I wanted a fast time. I did enjoy it too. My music player crapped out right at the start so I spend almost the whole way round doing my running meditation breathing exercise, which felt really good.
    Only irritation was the super loud (wheezy breathing, jangly pockets) guy that seemed determined to get ahead of me and then slow down between 9 and 16 kilometres. I kept passing him (breathing slow, steady) which seemed to work his nerves. Whatever. I didn’t end up running or doing most of my training in my vibrams. I bought cheap-o replacement asics instead. C’est le shoe.
  2. I have continued to make thesis progress. I should be resubmitting it to the committee within a couple of weeks. Hopefully it won’t get knocked back this time. I don’t know what I will do if it does. Cry? Fight someone? Pack a bag and go wander along the camino de santiago for a month? I have already told my supervisors that I will NOT be rewriting it a third time and that if this all goes tits up that will be the end of it for me.
  3. It has been almost two years since I drew a regular wage because of all of the thesis complications and assholery, so I am living pretty much on the poverty line. This brings back very painful memories from my childhood, and is putting me right back in the dark mental places I used to be in. I broke one of my teeth from stress-grinding at night and I have been having nightmares and panic attacks. However, you can better believe that I can make a meal out 4 euros. Last night was `vaguely Mexican’, so I hand made 8 tortillas, a veggie and bean chilli business, and a bunch of brown rice. All very filling, with enough for leftovers and it only needed flour, oil, carrots, half a courgette (zucchini), an onion, brown beans (from dried instead of a tin), brown rice, and tomato paste, plus odds and ends of spices and seasoning. I might cost it all out to see exactly how much money that ends up being per meal… I will probably also be checking out Jack Monroe’s blog because she has a lot of good ideas and is obviously interested in helping people eat as well as they can with limited resources.
  4.  Immigration woes are still hanging over my head. I have until the end of the month to see if I have permission to stay in this country, but then the process to see if I can get permission to move to the UK begins. There is no real reason to believe that I won’t be granted permission to stay here, but the UK is far less certain. Also, I have no idea on how long either will take. Hopefully I will not be an illegal resident (again) and that permission to stay will be granted by the time the thesis business has wrapped up so that I can get a job and start bringing in the cash money.

Most of this sounds quite grim, and it is. I am not doing well. I write this blog to as an outlet. Let’s hope it helps.

The end of this and the beginning of that…

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So, I think I am done with my purging exercise. I don’t know if I did exactly as many as I had planned, but I don’t much care. I have other things to be doing. Here is my final round up.

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A collection of all the crud leftover after I cleaned through my hobby stuff. This went into the (recycling) bin.

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This is one of the hobby items that got cleared out. This was a bag of  beads and beading supplies that I got given as a birthday gift.
Beads are not my bag, baby. It goes to a charity shop.

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This is a selection of random crap that was in my bedside table. Failed projects, IKEA tools, and a weird mint. To the trash with you!

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A smartphone stylus/pen that I got in South Korea. The pen stopped working and I am not that fussed about using a stylus. In the bin.

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More crap! A wad of bubbly wrapping paper stuff and an old calendar book. In the trash/recycling bin.

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And finally, a sheet that had a big tear in it and some bags of sweets. I meant to use the sheet material to make a summer skirt, but my sewing machine is non-functional, my time is short, and the material is quite old anyway so would probably not have stood up to much use. In the bin.
The sweets are not my kind of sweets. I put them out at work with an “Eat Me!” sign.

And on to the new! I signed up for a half marathon in June, which is not far away. There are several consequences of this:

  1. I have a healthy distraction from the trauma of my PhD.
  2. I have a goal to work toward which should help me to improve my life choices/habits/etc.
  3. I will be training for my first race in my vibram 5 finger shoes. This is because my normal shoes are fading and give me an ache along one leg, which is no bueno.
  4. I have a reason to use my old smartphone again! I am rooting it, removing all the bloatware, installing runkeeper and downloading some music to turn it into my new fitness tracker. I have high hopes.