I completely underestimated this whole zero inbox thing. I was promised great things but I admit I was a bit skeptical. I’d been slowly chipping away at my inbox for months. You know you have a number of emails pending that you get comfortable with, that you feel like you are in reasonable control of it all. It used to be 100 for me. And then I managed to get it down to 50. Lately it’s been between 20 and 40. But this last week, I’d been hovering at around 8. I was listening to one of the David Allen CDs yesterday and he said something about coaching an exec who had got theirs down to 5 and was getting ready to leave for the day. David encouraged him to go all the way to “see what it would feel like”. And as I stared at my final 5 emails late yesterday, I thought, “hey, let’s just see what it feels like.”
And what did it feel like? I’d been feeling bad all day that I hadn’t really done “enough” work for the day. I’d been doing small tasks and more backlog type things. And then at about 6pm, after I reached zero inbox, I suddenly found myself at my desk, typing solidly for a full hour, working on my PhD Candidacy application (it’s the first step you need to do as a phd student and basically outlines in 10 pages your thesis), I wrote 2700 words into what had previously been a blank, named document. I outlined the basic methodology and objectives, some of the background, some issues that I think need investigating to nail other bits down, even referred to material I’d been reading as part of my lit review. I wrote 7 pages. They aren’t great. But it’s a 10 page document. It’s too big a project for a PhD. Which is a great start – I have a lot of material to pare down. Lots of opened loops to go off and investigate to nail this down. I have a way forward. In one hour. I haven’t felt so clear headed in a very long time. Didn’t even know I could still think that clearly.
It was amazing.
That’s the promise of this whole management system – that by setting it up and maintaining it properly, you free your head from the day to day minutia, from thinking the same thoughts more than once, from being stressed about things you need to remember or need to do and you can move on to being creative. This was the first glimpse of this for me. And I’m addicted!
, phd life
Despite having a bad night again last night, I think I’m progressively starting to feel a bit more like me. Ish. I still have a battery of tests to do, running here there and everywhere for time sensitive stuff, but they’ve started giving me drugs to treat symptoms. And it’s amazing how you realise just how bad you felt when you start to feel not bad and also just how easy it is to forget what feeling human feels like. One of the most important leaps forward was having my Vitamin D trebled by a doc this week. I feel instantly better. I’m sleeping great and I have my energy back. OMG not having energy is like some kind of horrible torture for me.
I’m also my own worst enemy, as my mother loves to say.
The worse I feel, the less likely I am to take action to make myself feel better. Dehydrated? Unlikely to start drinking more water. If I’m lucky, I’ll up the caffeine intake. Have a headache? Why pop a pill when I can just blame the self infliction and thus point to the self deservingness of said pain? Lack in energy and general blahness? Why consume more fruit and veggies and take a vitamin when I could loll listlessly about, nosh nutritionally devoid junk and just groan?
So my gradual improvement this week has also improved my outlook on life (yay) and I’ve started to eat better and take my meds and gotten into the upwards spiral I so often avoid.
And got myself to uni yesterday for the first time. (I mentioned I have an office at home so I don’t really need to be on campus all that much?) I had the energy and mindset to be able to cope with parking (luckily I had already set the parking app up on my phone so I just had to learn to use it) and I found the Humanities building and the postgrad lounge where the workshop I had RSVPed for was held. I’m not convinced I needed the workshop, I couldn’t tell you what I got out of it and to be honest, I find most other people’s thesis topics kinda boring (except for Helen’s other student who was there, obvs, since his is SF creative writing), which is more likely due to my lack of arts qualifications than anything. Also, I’m mostly not here to hang out and waste time. I can see that it’s a really fun campus and there are so many cool things on and even just that I could get involved in in my own dept but at the same time, I have a lot going on in my life right now, I took a big salary hit to be here, and I feel too old for the uni experience this time round. I’ve been there and done that and know how easy it is to lose 6 months or a year of productive study to being a student. And so on the one hand I’m making myself go to all these workshops on how to do a phd, which I didn’t take the last time through, but on the other hand … I mostly know all this stuff – I know that my thesis topic will change over the next four years. I know that at the moment I want to solve the world but most of that will fall away because the point is that you need to focus on one specialised idea and contribute that to your field etc.
Probably the one thing I took away from yesterday is the way a creative production phd is a dance between the creative work and the exegesis, that the two form one thesis together and that you need to work on them simultaneously so that one informs the other. And that that’s pretty cool as a thought exercise. And that it’s really really cool that I get to spend the next three years, like, thinking. I still can’t believe I’m allowed to have fun enjoying my day job. So weird.
, phd life