This single Graham’s post explains more about productivity than most entire blogs on the topic out there. It was a revelation to me. Any day that has more than two non-clustered events becomes wasteful automatically. It’s like your mind can anticipate the futility of trying to get in the zone only to get kicked out of it by a meeting. This also explains why the typical ‘maker’ (a postdoc, or grad student working close to the data) tends to gravitate towards late nights work stunts, whereas professors rarely do. In fact, one big difference between professors and grad students is the number of meetings they have to endure… Can you be a maker and a professor? If so how do you do it?
Archive for category: Grad Student direction
Just a quick one to highlight The False Prophet. S/he presents a list of reasons why things don’t get done, together with Preventive measures and solutions.
This is quite a finding. Example:
4. Distraction (…)
When you commit to a project, set a daily/weekly schedule. Consistent time-structure is what gets projects done that last longer than the excitement of inspiration. Working on the project first thing in the morning is one way to head off distraction.
Set up your own status meetings, just as with “dependency”, since, in a way, you are depending on yourself to deliver. Having a regular status meeting with a friend (say, in a phone call) can keep you on track.
See “attention overload”, below.
Solutions (to be used after you’ve gotten distracted)
The 5M method. Note the time. Think of a tiny task that you think you can complete in five minutes. Give yourself an hour to do it. You can do the task right now, and then slack off. You can wait until five minutes are left in the hour and then rush. Odds are, once you do this tiny task, you’ll feel different. You’ll have some momentum. Your brain will now be returning to the work you want to do instead of the distraction. Or perhaps not. You can still slack off the rest of the hour if you prefer. A deal’s a deal.
He also has an interesting post on ‘how to fix grad school’. I like the way he presents arguments, and then tries to shut them down.
This comes at a time when I’m very concerned about what people can do under pressure and how much they are willing to sacrifice for their careers. A friend in the tenure track (or the equivalent in the country she lives in) has lost two babies (natural abortion), probably due to stress. There are entire sections in the Chronicle sections describing the super-human efforts people make to achieve a small increase in academic performance. Having a decent social or family life seems like a luxury for more and more academics. Most people invest money and time in this endeavor in ways that are difficult to justify rationally (and we are talking about arguably the smartest sector of the population!).
Would you risk your health as well? Are you prepared to take mind-altering drugs?
Nature has an article on cognitive doping (here’s the direct link if you don’t want to jump through hoops to get it from your library). The topics has been covered in the blogosphere in different places: Shelley Batts, from the point of view of a grad student, says that taking cognitive-enhancing drugs is a no brainer.
Having recently completed a PhD, I will share with you three indispensable nuggets of advice for how to get the monster vanquished: use hard deadlines, soft deadlines, and the Martini Method. With a small amount of imagination these can be applied to any large project.
I have recently found that Calvin has moved his email newsletter into a new blog format. Calving is an accomplished MIT student who has published two books (!) on productivity for students: How to Become a Straight-A Student and How to Win at College. His blog has categories such as Student Productivity and Study Tips with good advice for undergrads and grad students, although honestly, I think even higher-ups in the academic food chain could benefit from these tips.
Dangerous Ideas: Sorry Paul Graham, I Think it Does Matter Where You Went to College (Watch out for his “dangerous ideas series”! He is trying to be provocative, and doing it well!)
A highlight of this blog is the educated comments it gets:
There is a world of difference between the questions that are thought out by someone else (the teacher), for the purpose of measuring someone other’s (the student’s) understading of a subject, and the questions that someone (the enterpreneur) has to first figure out are meaningful and then answer him/herself.
We haven’t talked about productivityhacks before because it was more oriented to undergrads, but this is not a good enough reason to deprive ap.com readers from excellent content. I think the actual social divide in the academic world is more like those who worry about getting grades, and those who don’t. This make a huge difference in how your life is organized. Grade-seeking people have their schedule done for them (they know for sure when they’ll need to study like crazy and when they can relax). They normally have lots of social support, since classmates have exactly the same schedule -and they are a legion-! The other side of the divide is for people who people who have to make their own schedule (sometimes, imposing it on others), and can suffer social isolation since their peers do not have the same time constraints, and there are few of them.