A Day in the Life

After some Twitter discussion the last few days over some less-than-glamorous aspects of life as a newish PI, The New PI suggested blogging about a day in the life. I’m at the start of year 4 and feel like I’m hitting my stride for the most part, though it’s taken a very long time to get to that point. I still have days (sometimes most days) that are nothing but what I call busy work – paperwork, red tape, meetings, struggle. Today wasn’t like that and it was nice!

So, although I forgot about it until reminded this evening, here’s a shot at my day.

6:00 – Alarm goes off. I prefer to start the day with a quiet cup of coffee before everyone wakes up, but today it was not to be. Hit snooze repeatedly.

6:30ish – Alarm still buzzing every few minutes, still happy snoozing. Until I hear the toddler’s doorknob. So much for quiet coffee. Get up and get toddler, head downstairs. Toddler wants to read a book so we do – three times (awesome book, btw). Then she’s ready for breakfast (“Igut? Igut? – yogurt) and I can make coffee.

7:15ish – 8:00 – Husband is up and showered, so I can do the same. Get myself ready, chase toddler around the house trying to get her ready. Go outside to look at rainbow. Go back inside to pour travel mug of coffee, grab toddler backpack, work bag, and jackets, and rush out the door.

We’re at daycare by 8:10 or so and getting the toddler into the classroom is a process. It goes well, but takes a long time.

8:20something – In the office, working through emails & morning news stuff. Put off working on IRB revisions as long as possible.

(sorry, you’re going to get lots of -somethings and -ishes since I didn’t actually keep track of time intervals today, what with forgetting about the blogging thing)

9:00ish – 10:20 – Finally dealt with IRB revisions. This involved mostly tweaking language to be exactly what they wanted (aka, hoop-jumping) and trying to reduce the reading level of the consent form. Also had to write an assent script for children too young to give written assent. Emailed off to the IRB and on to the next thing. Somewhere in here I also briefly chatted with a TA about grading stuff.

10:20 – 11:45 – Final touch-ups on a manuscript, which mostly include going back through reviewer comments from the last rejection (sadly, there have been a couple for this one) and making sure they’ve all been addressed well. Spent quite a lot of time looking for a journal to submit to, since it’s one of those papers that doesn’t obviously fit anywhere. During that stretch I was interrupted by a colleague who wanted to talk research design. A good 15 minutes or so of refreshing change. Finished up the revisions, picked a journal, and emailed the manuscript to coauthors.

11:45 – 1:30 – A rare break! Grabbed lunch, got a haircut, visited the husband at work, saw world’s cutest cross country ski boots and brought them home for toddler.

1:30 – 2:55 – Time split between a brief lit review for an upcoming proposal (for which I have a conference call tomorrow) and organizing myself for the week’s lab meeting.

3:00-4:15 – lab meeting. Discussed updates on current projects, upcoming conferences and seminars, and thesis ideas. Spent the second half of the meeting fleshing out details for one thesis with the whole group.

4:15 – 5:00 – A new results section landed in my inbox! Spent the rest of the day commenting on that and jotting down points for the discussion section.

5:00 – now (8:15) – Daycare pick up, played at the playground, home for dinner, played with and read to toddler, bedtime. Texted with collaborator over IRB  & data-sharing details – for a different project.

Usually this would be the end of my day. I don’t have much energy or desire to work in the evenings most days. But, I’m feeling underprepared for that conference call tomorrow morning, and it’s an early call, so I’ve got to spend some more time on that this evening.

A day like today, when big things get crossed off my to do list, feels really productive. It feels great to get a manuscript – especially that one – off my desk, even though the bulk of the work happened some time ago. Most days aren’t so writing-heavy, though I probably should make that happen more often. If I’d written this tomorrow instead the whole day would have been something like: meeting, teach, meeting, meeting, teach, meeting, crash.

So with that, I’m out. To get ready for the meetings and teaching to come tomorrow.

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Year 4

Well hello, readers. Are any of you left?

Here we are in week 2 of my fourth year on the tenure track. If I had to sum up year 3 in one phrase, it would be “barely afloat.” Looking back on how hectic last year was, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I could do things better this time around. PsycGrrl recently posted two excellent pieces on her semester plan. I’m not sure I’m quite ready for that yet, but her posts did get me thinking about how I can approach this year differently than before. I’ll discuss the first of them here:

To Do Lists

Really, I’ve never been a list keeper. I used to joke to my students that there were two ways to know I was feeling overwhelmed. The first was a messy desk, and the second an actual, written to do list. The last time I said that my second-year grad student chuckled and said “your desk is always a mess.”

He just hadn’t spied the lists.

The truth is, overwhelmed seems to be a permanent state these days. Maybe it’s because I didn’t allow myself to adjust to parenting and the tenure track separately, jumping into both at the same time instead. Maybe it’s just faculty life, or life in general.

To do lists have always worked well for me at work (when I’ve used them), but I never really use them at home. Unfortunately, this overwhelmed state isn’t isolated to work anymore – it extends to home now, too. Parenting is exhausting. Sometimes after dealing with people at work all day (hello, teaching) it’s very hard for me to summon the energy to be a good parent in the evening. That leaves me exhausted by bedtime. Not my bedtime, the toddler’s bedtime. The last thing I want to do is the dishes, or the laundry, or vacuum, or pay bills, or….you get the idea. All I really want to do at 8 PM is get in bed. Every single night.

So, on Labor Day, I sat in my office trying to get things in order. The toddler has been sick for a week, which means my spouse and I both needed to find a way to spend a few days at home. I had actually planned to take Labor Day off but wound up working so I could take part of the day on Tuesday, instead. Taking a break from grant writing, I sat at my desk looking at the post-it notes with a million tasks, the pile of mail that needed to be opened, and the jeans I forgot my toddler had smeared yogurt on. What I really need/want, I decided, is a personal assistant. Since my budget isn’t likely to allow that…ever…I hit the internet to find an app that would do it for me.

I settled on Remember the Milk. One account is accessible from all of my devices, and will allow me to take advantage of those times when my brain is firing off random tasks without having to carry around a notepad. That means no more lists on my desk, my nightstand, my kitchen table, in my car, or wherever else. At least now they’re all in one place. Step 1 complete.

“Life” Tasks

Those home- and life-related tasks that I’ve had so much trouble motivating myself to do are popping up on my RTM lists, too. The app contains built-in categories for personal, study, and work tasks, and the ability to tag tasks for further organization. I set up a few recurring things – like opening mail and paying bills on Fridays – so that they can pop up on that day and I can focus on other things during the rest of the week. At home, I can let myself look at the personal category and ignore the rest.

At least now the dread associated with opening yet another medical bill can be isolated to one day a week.

Laundry, grocery shopping, and other tasks I tend to put off in favor of sleeping aren’t on there yet, but may make it eventually. For now I’ll stick to the essentials and see how it goes.

Staying Sane

A related thing I’m hoping RTM will help with is getting my brain off work things when I’m not at work. Hopefully, getting tasks written down in such an organized and accessible way will help me do that. Step 2, I discovered, is not allowing myself to look at the work category when I’m not actually working (unless it’s to record a task that just popped into my head).

Initial Thoughts

Yesterday (Tuesday) was my first day of actually managing my daily task list this way. I had only a half day at the office and a lot of stuff to get done in that time – much of which, like recommendation letters, I might have put off to another day. Having the list organized in this way, and watching the tasks disappear from the list when I marked them complete, did help the volume seem less overwhelming.

It remains to be seen whether this method will be better than my previously-preferred paper method, or better than the reminders app on my iPhone. So far it seems more functional than Reminders and, obviously, infinitely more functional than paper.

There is a full version of RTM for $25/year. I haven’t signed up for that yet, but might if I find that the free version has significantly improved my life and think the paid version would be worth the cash. I’ll report back (and set a reminder to do it!) with more thoughts as the semester goes on.