Achievement? How long’s a piece of string?

I didn’t blog last week for no reason other than it slipped my mind. My teaching prep felt impossible and took me way longer than it should have which meant that I was then rushing to get in all of the reading I had planned for this conference paper. I’m actually really enjoying being really busy – it helps keep me focussed, it’s cut down on my procrastination and subsequent sense of under-achievement. But for weeks like last week and the week before, it feels like I’m running to keep up. Which leads me nicely on to the fact that I’ve taken up running (again).

I mentioned in my previous post that exercise is helping me remember that my body is more than a vehicle for my brain and a handy prop with which to hold books. But in taking up running, or jogging really…probably somewhat closer to a moderately paced lumber, I’ve realised again how taking up a new exercise is like doing the PhD. Especially if you work in fits and starts like I do. I mentioned this in my PhD Plank Challenge post back in March – but what do you know, nothing has changed and I keep on making the same discoveries. Essentially it’s about working your way up slowly from complete incompetence to a sustained and regular achievement. I seem to get stuck about half way every time I try. I like the initial sense of accomplishment – whether that’s completing a certain amount of time spent running, or writing 500 words every day. The bit where I struggle is when the initial high has worn off, but you still haven’t quite built up that sense of take-it-for-granted-habit. You sink back into the mentality of ‘well, I was really good yesterday, so it doesn’t really matter if I have a little break today, I totally deserve it’, which is fine, until the next day where you think ‘I’m still kind of recovering from doing so well the day before yesterday, and it’s ok because I’ll do brilliantly tomorrow when I’m really well rested’. Newsflash. It isn’t going to happen. You’ll wait until something comes up and makes you get your arse in gear, whether thats a deadline or the fact that your jeans don’t fit.

The other thing that hinders this development of a constant sense of achievement is the fact that in the PhD accomplishment is pretty hard to measure. It would be easy to say ‘do 500 words a day or you’ve failed’ – but then what about days where you’re reading texts – should you have to finish a whole book or you’ve failed? Or maybe half a book? But what if the book is really complex and each page takes ages to pick apart? Well, in which case, surely you can measure it by hours worked? 9-5, right? Like a job. But realistically, are you actually properly working for those hours? Or are you making yourself feel like you’re working simply because you’re at your desk and there’s a book somewhere in the vicinity? This is, again, where I think pomodoro is handy – you can keep track of exactly the amount of time you’ve been properly working. Saying that, I can’t remember the last time I actually used pomodoro.

Something that I’m finding really handy is having an external source of accountability – in my case it’s working in the living room with my new housemates, both of whom are also PhD candidates. We tell each other off for procrastinating and help each other brain storm. This is something I would have found massively helpful when I started and I’m so grateful to have it now. I can’t express enough how important it is to have a sense of community during the PhD – whether that’s having other PhD mates, or working up at uni in a post-grad suite, or keeping in contact with other PhD victims online via hashtags like #phdchat #phdlife #acwri etc.

This week I’m teaching my students about career prospects, which is hilarious seeing as my current life plan is to stay in education for as long as possible and then hope that it sorts itself out.

Feminism and Shoulder Stands

This week’s teaching went much better I think. They seem to be more productive when I ask them to work in pairs than in groups. I think it’s because they each get more of a chance to talk about their ideas, rather than leaving it to the more verbose members of the class. I’ll definitely be bearing that in mind for future lesson planning. I’m not doing any teaching this week as they have a library workshop, but I’ll be offering the spare hours towards tutorials closer to the essay deadline.

Productivity-wise I haven’t been great this week. My lesson planning took longer than I thought it would and I gave myself a day off on Friday that seemed to extend through the whole of the weekend except for a couple of hours of reading on Sunday. I really need to crack on with a conference paper that I’m presenting at the end of the month. I wrote and submitted the abstract in ten minutes and honestly didn’t think I’d get chosen to speak. That showed me. The conference is on feminist research methodologies and I’m going to present on transfeminism. I think my plan is to give a bit of an overview, as most people outside of my research area won’t know much about it. I’ll probably talk about previous interactions with mainstream feminism and the future possibilities of the two working more closely together. I haven’t done a terrific amount of work on transfeminism, so I’m mostly doing lots of reading at the moment, which is nice. Just got my fingers crossed that I can get it done in time…I don’t have much choice really.

I saw my supervisor this week to talk about my first chapter. She seemed pretty pleased with my progress. We’ve agreed that I’ll get the draft to her and my director of studies by the end of November and have a big meeting in the last week of term to discuss it. This means that November is going to be pretty manic as I’ll be working on the conference paper until the end of this month probably.

In other news, my yoga classes are progressing. We started on shoulder stands on Friday, which I just couldn’t for the life of me do. I’ve been practicing every day and I think I’m vaguely getting there. I’m probably doing it wrong, but I’m still counting it as a personal win. When doing the PhD you tend to forget that your body isn’t just a handy piece of transport apparatus for your brain. Having something like yoga and morning gym sessions with my housemate is helping me remember that it’s all connected. My brain actually works better when my body is working too. Not that it makes getting up at 6:30 any easier.

A Realm Beyond Procrastination

Throughout the week I make a note of what I’ve achieved, partially to help motivate me and partially so I remember what to write about on here. This is what I have for this week:

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It's going well… #phd #thesis

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Since writing my last post and until yesterday morning, I did nothing. I have no conception of where that time went. I didn’t chain-watch TV programmes, which is something I sometimes loose a week to; I didn’t read a new novel, I didn’t get on a train and visit friends. I have no idea what happened. I’m going to assume it involved twitter and staring moodily at the Judith Butler book I needed to read.

What I did do, once, however, was go to the gym. Like I said I would in my last post. There was a small incident in which I went blind for about five minutes and had to sit on the floor. I didn’t think much of it, I assumed it was my asthma or my blood pressure or something playing up and made my way home. It turns out, if you tell your parents on the phone later that night that you went blind, and ha ha, how embarrassing, they’ll freak out and demand that you go to the doctor. It turns out, if you rock up to the doctor the next day and tell him what happened he’ll stare at you wide-eyed and ask why you didn’t go immediately to A&E. Then he’ll check you for a stroke and heart defects and ultimately decide that it was probably your blood pressure or a migraine. It’s fine. I’ll know better next time.

As I was up so disgustingly early see the doctor yesterday I managed to get quite a lot of reading done. I blasted through half of Butler’s Undoing Gender (bearing in mind it once took me a week to read the intro) and typed up the most pertinent quotes. I got up at the same time this morning, went for a lovely walk in the sun, THE SUN, and now I’m on the last couple of chapters. I haven’t written anything though. I need to bash out some words over the next few days and send them to my supervisors on Thursday.

Something else I discovered yesterday was another handy little app (I mentioned a couple that I use in one of my previous posts). It’s called ‘Pomodrone’, which is a timer for the ‘pomodoro technique‘ in which you work solidly and without distraction for 25 minutes and then have a 5 minute break to rabidly check your social media, if you’re anything like me. The app keeps track of how many ‘pomodori’ you’ve done so you can tell how long you’ve actually been properly working that day. It’s helped keep me focussed and also to realise how easily distracted I am: ‘oh, I’ll just quickly respond to this text’, ‘I’ll just check facebook/twitter/tumblr/instagram’, ‘I wonder how much that book is on amazon?’, ‘I should look up some motivational pins on pinterest to help get me in the studying mood’. I didn’t realise how much time these things actually take up during my working hours. So, yes, pomodoro – very effective. Now I just need to take the appropriate 5 minute breaks between sessions rather than the twenty minutes I’m actually taking.

This week’s word count: 0
Gym sessions: one half.