Graduate School

productivity & its relationship to place

Sometimes the best academic discourse entails a few sarcastic lines in an email shared between a few folks. I’m not sure why I’m starting off with that, but for today, it works.

Okay listen, I’m sitting in this super posh resort hotel room in Destin for the day. There’s a Harry Potter marathon on ABC-Family, and I have a balcony overlooking the ocean. In other words, I’m set. I wish this could be the setting for all of my weekend work-days. Although I’m planning to run down to one of the resort restaurants to find sustenance, the majority of my day will be spent sitting here on the balcony with the ocean as my soundtrack – grading and writing, grading and writing (okay so there may be a bottle of merlot involved at some point soon).

I have found lately that I need to change my work location quite frequently in order to stay productive. At one point this past week during a marathon three days without sleep, I chose to sit at a friends’ kitchen table for eight hours while everyone in the house slept. It may have been the most productive eight hours of the semester, and I think it was simply due to the venue change. This is why I’m hopeful for the productivity that will ensue out of my current location. I think it’s also because the hotel room is not full of “things.” It’s not cluttered with junk, household things, dogs, dog fur, or piles of books and responsibilities. In other words, it is lovely.


So with that rant, I think sitting in a hotel room a couple times per semester on weekends just to get work done may become a personal ritual.

one week left

Landis Green is located in the center of the m...

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…of freedom. I’m looking forward to itchy eyes from staring at a screen/book for 20+ hrs per day, sleepless nights, grading undergraduate work, that moment when my dogs recognize the mailman better than me, long rehearsals, and procrastinating by looking through PhD comics archives. Wait a sec. Actually, I am looking forward to it (except missing my dogs).  What could this mean?!

I have to admit it: I like graduate school. I thrive under pressure. I think we all do, or we wouldn’t be here. Otherwise it’s akin to a medieval torture device. I love what I do and I’m still so grateful for the opportunity. I know I’ve written about this before, but I have one of those mothers who constantly bombards me with, “When are you going to get out of school and get a real job?” Well mom, actually,  I can’t imagine a better one!  She works an 8-5 and hates every moment of it. I love my work. I love the tasks, my colleagues, and even the little irritables in the list above. I’ve had four months to think hard about my trajectory and I’m sure I am where I’m supposed to be.

There are some things I’ll be doing different this year:

  • I’m going to avoid sitting on the couch in the TA office. It’s like a black hole of deep sleep. Every time I sit on it, I’m out.
  • I will spend more time working at home, which means my home office will stay clean and conducive as a work environment.
  • I will carry a water bottle. I know, this seems like an obvious “duh”, but I always forget and then I get tired from dehydration, which means I end up drinking soda or juice (bad idea!) 
  • I will bring my own lunches more often than not.  Last fall I was great about this, and this past spring I don’t think I brought my lunch more than 4-5 times. Lunch outings are one of the great social things about grad school, but they take up too much time, and burn a hole in my already-thin wallet. 
  • I will stop doing work in bed. When I do this, my bed becomes an office instead of a space for sleep… and then I have trouble sleeping.
  • I will do my best not to procrastinate about “the small things”. There’s too much at stake this year.
  • I will go back to making to-do lists and planning my work-days out. Again, I did this last fall, but gave it up when people gave me funny looks about having my days planned to twenty-minute intervals. I’m going to find a happy medium, but it’s what works for me. 
  • I won’t sacrifice my health for academics. I gained a bunch of weight this past year after having lost quite a bit during my previous Master’s degree… As a result, I feel horrible. I’m going to schedule gym time, running time, swimming time, and kayaking time… and make them as important as my study slots (this last part is key). 
  • I’m going to take more opportunities. I think we’re apt to let opportunities slide when we’re new to a place. As we settle in and become more comfortable, it’s easier to take advantage of things. This school and the surrounding area has some amazing opportunities, academic and otherwise. Time to find them before I lose my chance. 
  • Finding the Middle Way. I have this tendency to take things to the extreme – work myself to death for three weeks followed by a week of socializing where I end up falling behind. I will be more conscious and try to get ahead of things during my “less stressful” weeks. 
  • I’ve lost myself as a musician – time to find “me” again. I miss performing. I miss conducting. Again with the opportunity finding. 
  • Lastly, I will buy stock in Starbucks. Our department alone will make me rich.

at risk of full disclosure

It’s rare that I get personal, specifically on here. There’s a fear that links vulnerability and inhibition, and the divide between personal and professional – an anxiety that occurs when we let people see too much of ourselves. At the risk of full disclosure, I’m about to get a bit personal, not not too much.

Unless you know me – really know me, I generally come across as a “full speed ahead” kind of person. I’ve always tried to fit a lot in to my schedule.  One of the great things about certain types of anxiety is that in order to process, negotiate, and handle it, you use every technique in the book to avoid the symptoms – which means you keep yourself busy, every moment of every day. I’m really, really, really, really, really good at that.  I’m positive that many of our world’s greatest accomplishments have resulted from similar circumstances. Consequently, once in a while you seemingly hit a wall and can go no further.

No, I’m not at that point, though when I do get there, my walls tend to be fairly thin. That is, it doesn’t take long for me to bounce back.  It happens maybe every other year, and lasts 2-3 weeks or so. I am, however, veering toward a need to tap on the breaks a bit – perhaps to paint the wall a different color or add some texture. I’m acknowledging the potential for that wall to get thicker.

It’s early Wednesday afternoon, and I’m sitting in my home office. I can hear hawks outside my window, which is open. Breeze is flowing in, which is good.  My beautiful dogs are laying at my feet. Above them on my desk, there are stacks of around 400 papers and quizzes to grade, not including those submitted online which adds another couple hundred. My teuxdeux list is racking up bullets. Each day the overflow seems to add 10-15 new items, so today my list is at about 60 items, which of course are mostly big items with several steps that are only noted on my list as “do such and such.”

I’m approximately two weeks behind in a very important class – which means about 400 pages of reading there plus a few assignments. In the others, I’m staying afloat by gliding into each session having just finished the work for the day. However I’m also behind in readings for those, too.  This isn’t how I normally do things. Prior to recent weeks, I generally had things done 2-3 weeks ahead of time. Grading typically takes a few days.  I like to work ahead.  Not anymore.  Not to mention, I have two large exams looming: both tomorrow and Friday.

Let’s dig a bit deeper – not too much. I’ve been feeling symptoms akin to a resurgence of mono. I had it last year for a few months, and this week feels very much like that. I’m waiting on blood test results to see if I’m having metabolic, insulin, or others issues concerning my physical anxiety: I’ve been shaking quite a bit. I’ll leave it at that.  Both of my long-term relationships are on the verge of nonexistence, which of course is effecting everything in the sentences above. One of them already seems to be in disrepair (and yes, for the sake of disclosure again, they’re both very much aware of each other and quite close themselves) and I’m avoiding, at all costs, the mere thought of that for the moment.  Additionally, I keep seeing metaphorical shadows of my ex as I glimpse around unexpected corners. Those are whole other posts, which I’ll spare you. My house smells like a dead cow (which will be explained in a later post), financial stress continues to increase, and anxiety seems to be taking over for logic in a very big way.

Spring break is just around the corner, but I’ll be in New Orleans – for Mardi Gras – not exactly relaxing. Not to mention, it’s fieldwork. Yes, Mardi Gras as fieldwork.  A good thing, however I’ll be so drained by the time I get there, I’m anticipating being a bit irked. It also means that instead of relaxing, I need to stay quite focused.  I’m very irritable lately, which is also unlike me. I typically just take each day as it comes. I never “anticipate” a bad day coming up – normally according to my logic, that would just be unproductive and silly. If I expect it to be that way, it will be. Yet, this is happening more and more.

So – that’s where I stand. Now that I’ve written this down, I’m heading off to the land of paper grading. I have four specific posts on my teuxdeux that I want to add here. I’ll get to them soon. They aren’t a way for me to procrastinate. Quite contrarily, they’re a way for me to intersperse my productivity in various segments and media. That’s all for now –

Finals are to Curry Powder as Winter Break is to ____.

Curry in the spice-bazaar (egypitan) in Istanbul

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The end of the semester is so close I can smell it. In case you were wondering, it smells like hot madras curry powder.

Today’s the Sunday that leads us into the dreaded Finals Week. I’m currently at my desk sipping on pumpkin ale while I commit my schedule for the week to paper. Vacation is right over the horizon, yet here’s what I have left:

  • I have a prospectus due tomorrow on Sissy Bounce. It’s about 80% complete and I’ll finish it tonight.
  • I have 60 pages worth of lecture notes and a teaching philosophy due in the morning. It’s finished, but since I have ’til the morning I’m going to do a few last minute edits tonight which will take an hour or two,  including the addition of some potential audio/youtube clip links.
  • I have two exams this week. 1. bibliography – I have most of the week to prepare for this.  2. a global listening exam. While it doesn’t hold much weight, I’ll spend most of the week prepping for this.
  • A stack of 300+ papers to grade ranging from 2-12 pgs each.
  • 1 exam to proctor

This list is so much smaller than it was just a few days ago and that makes me a very happy grad student. My house looks like a tornado swept through it, I’ve been eating junk for a month, and my sleep patterns are ridiculously erratic. I’m ready for a break.

Of course, being the perpetual self-reflector that I am, I am already thinking of ways I can take things up a notch next semester. My biggest obstacle is time management, although I’m excellent at it when I’m under pressure. It’s not that I under-manage my time. I tend hyper-manage it. During the first half of this semester, I actually charted out each day by half hour segments. I was incredibly productive, but by October I had to tear myself out of the box and I haven’t been quite as productive since. It was a strangling experience. I need to find a balance.

In the spring there is a built-in time management system for my mornings in place as I’ll be TA’ing pop music courses at 8am five days a week.  I’m also taking on a wee bit more with the addition of two more ensembles, a Buddhist-text study group, and (if I get the okay) sitting in on two undergrad courses: Tibetan Historiography, and Ancient Tibetan Religions.  I also wanted to sit in on a Bollywood course being offered because I think it would integrate well with the Music of India course I’m registered for, but I have to draw the line somewhere.

I feel like I should personify my blog and thank it for being here for me to vent all semester. One almost down, a hell of a lot more to go –