grad school · mental health · new year new plan · productivity · spirit animal

New Leaf September

I’m not one for giving advice, not really–not when it comes to time management, at least. My cobloggers have already offered some excellent pointers regarding how to whip ourselves into shape for the new school year. How to manage life as a flexible academic, how to squeeze in daily writing time, how to adjust to a new program as a newbie graduate student, figuring out our responsibility to new students as contract professors, and, most recently, training ourselves to pay attention and structure our own time in the absence of externally enforced structure.

But I repeat. I am not one for giving advice–at least not in bullet points, at least not at this stage in my career. I work very hard, to be sure, but I do it in very nonconventional, nonstructured ways. I have always been an avid daydreamer with an overly active imagination (oh hey, I’m writing a dissertation on dream visions! Work and life FTW). Sometimes my head rests so far in the midst of the clouds that, for example, the other day I got on the wrong train, then got off on the wrong stop of the wrong train, and then found myself wandering through some random midtown street, so enthralled in the music I was listening to that I actually had to remind myself to keep my eyes open. (I. Know.)  I sometimes forget to eat, I often wake up at 9 or 10 am, I often stay up working until 2 or 3, I have a very bad habit of hanging out in the Dark Playground.

(“The Dark Playground is a place every procrastinator knows well. It’s a place where leisure activities happen at times when leisure activities are not supposed to be happening. The fun you have in the Dark Playground isn’t actually fun because it’s completely unearned and the air is filled with guilt, anxiety, self-hatred, and dread.”)

Perhaps we all feel this way, all us bloggers, and I always admire our collective ability to admit we’ve failed, we continue to fail, we will inevitably fail more in the future. But readers, please–be gracious to yourselves. Accept that the goals we set are often unreasonable, worsened by a metrics-based system of output that demands that we make the maximum use of our time and work. So I think the best advice I can give, from my very humble and relatively privileged position as a funded graduate student with very few daily administrative or professional duties, is to be fair to yourself, and fair to your own natural rhythms when sussing out a work regime. Are you a night owl, like me? Respect that about yourself–don’t be night-shamed by those eager beaver morning risers! If you have the luxury of not having to be somewhere at 9 am every day, or not having to drop your kid off at daycare, embrace your night-owl-ness, while being sure to allot yourself a few hours each day for self-care and/or mental rest, be it alone or with a few close supportive friends. I cherish those quiet hours after midnight. While I’m at it, I just want to call upon an essay by Anne Fadiman for a moment:

Something amazing happens when the rest of the world is sleeping. I am glued to my chair. I forget that I ever wanted to do anything but write. The crowded city, the crowded apartment, and the crowded calendar suddenly seem spacious. Three or four hours pass in a moment; I have no idea what time it is, because I never check the clock. If I chose to listen, I could hear the swish of taxis bound for downtown bars or the soft saxophone rifts that drift from a neighbor’s window, but nothing gets through. I am suspended in a sensory deprivation tank, and the very lack of sensation is delicious. (“Night Owl,” The Norton Reader 67)

[^Ok, this doesn’t always happen to me, but sometimes. It’s a beautiful thing.]

Currently, I’m returning to the classroom after an 8-month break (thanks, SSHRC!), so am trying to reinstall structure and focus into my previously seamless schedule.  At the risk of sounding contradictory, but responding to Erin’s call for focusing techniques from yesterday, I do have a few personal strategies and goals that I’ve set for myself this month, and maybe my experience will give you some good ideas as well. Maybe not. Either way, I’m using this blog as a means of keeping myself accountable to my goals during this self-proclaimed, momentous “New Leaf September.”

1. I’ve temporarily deactivated my Facebook account.
It was hard, guys. I think I’ve deactivated it once in the 8 years since I’ve joined, and that lasted about, maybe, a day. I’m slightly addicted to social interaction and the digital community that Facebook establishes just has not been helping with that lately. Now, instead of scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed and wondering why this or that person hasn’t liked my latest photo or responded to my fb chat, blah blah blah, stupid social media anxiety, I’m relying on Twitter to supply me with news and ideas and an electronic friend circle, and I’m trying to redirect my mental energy into other, more creative things. I even finished a book today! I’m on Day 2. We’ll see how this goes (it’s possible that by the time you’re reading this, I’ve reactivated; don’t judge.).

2. I’m slotting my various responsibilities into various spaces around the city. 
Teaching stuff? Either campus or my office at home. Dissertation stuff? Coffee shops or libraries. I have been fortunate enough to become a member of the Wertheim Study program at NYPL, which means I have access to a scholars-only room with designated shelf space and other important-looking studious scholars who make me feel like I need to be important-looking and studious too. When I’m there, I have to be working on my dissertation: I’m not allowed to grade or respond to student emails or text my friends (*cough*). Trying to maintain designated spaces for different tasks will help me feel like I’m off-duty when I head home every day.

3. I keep a daily research journal where I sketch out my accomplishments and note what needs to be done next. Not only does this help me celebrate what I’ve done, but it helps me pick back up again whenever I sit down to my dissertation, minimizing the paralysis that sometimes occurs when transitioning between very different tasks. I keep this journal specific and realistic and allow myself to freak out in it a little bit too, screaming silently when things go wrong or when I haven’t met my goals. Freak out in your research journals, people.

While I know I’ll fail as I turn over a new leaf this year, I want to be gracious to my own strengths and weaknesses as a person, and allow myself micro-celebrations when things go right. I guess that’s what this entire blog is about, in a way. I’m barreling into this new year after a summer that, well, wasn’t the best from a feminist perspective, feeling strong and energized, ready to “put words out into the world that do something,” as Erin so eloquently reminded us to do last week. 

In a sense, I want to barrel into the new academic year like this amazing dog named Walter who dashes into the Ionian sea with a camera strapped to his back.

Or maybe I just wanted an excuse to share that video.

6 thoughts on “New Leaf September

  1. DAILY RESEARCH JOURNAL?!?!? What an amazing idea! I'm going to try that. I am excellent at freaking out and look forward to freaking out in my research journal.

    Seriously, Boyda, thank you. This was an excellent post. I found myself nodding along and giggling. Out loud.

    Like

  2. I LOVE this post. Amazing insights, wisdom and lifehack-esque tools shared. It makes my mind start thinking about where I should make changes for the better in my life…and how I need to have more grace for myself when I fail. Write on. (Sorry, had to include that or I was going to burst. Fist pump! Such a great post)

    Like

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