The Reset Button

The Christmas break is a pause for work, hopefully. And then there is the New Year, and along with that comes the language of change and resolutions. Instead of just pressing a pause button for work, we need to press a reset button as well – on our practices.

I’m thinking about this a lot. I’ve mentioned before that I like to experiment with my productivity, and I can see that some habits and processes have had a benefit to me:

  • altering email client software to check less and less frequently;
  • starting the day with the same playlist to cue me in to creative work;
  • switching to decaff after 2:30pm.

I can see a danger though (for myself at least) in constantly searching for that trick, that thing which will help you work more productively. Research, skills training and creative work in general are taxing: they demand a lot. I know a couple of my goals for next year, but I have no resolutions as such, save for hitting the reset button: I’m going to stop and review, what I do now and what I used to do. I’m going to see if I can observe a real difference in my work patterns – otherwise I’d best do something else!

What about you? Over the break are you hitting pause, reset or both?

This is the last regular post until January 5th 2015 – I currently plan to do an end of year post on December 31st and a look ahead post on January 1st, but I’m not guaranteeing either!

Thanks for reading, and Merry Christmas!

Nathan (@DrRyder and @VivaSurvivors)


Holiday Info-Diet

It’s all very well and good to do a bit of work to wind down correctly, and to have something in place for your first day back at your PhD, but what about the world unfolding around you? Surely there are things that are happening all of the time while you are having a break, eating mince pies, watching the Queen’s Speech and wondering whether or not the Doctor Who Christmas Special is going to be better than most of the recent series.

(it has to be…it just…has to be!) (please Santa, I’ve been good this year)

Checking and rechecking Twitter and relevant newsfeeds, bookmarking things and reading on the sly and so on – they will interfere with your break. And chances are, if you even remotely suspect that you need a break then you really do. Reducing the value of that break is only going to be harmful in the long run. But what can you do to keep tabs on articles and so on? How can you avoid missing them?

Fortunately, with a couple of bits of internet wonderfulness, you can have simple archives created over the Christmas break, and then review it in your first week back. No distractions, no constant disappearing down a rabbit hole. In the same way that you will not check your inbox until at least January 2nd – promise me you won’t! – create a news inbox to review later.


Four Steps to Winding Down Work

Yesterday I wrote a little about my pre-Christmas and post-Christmas experiences at the start of my PhD – they were the best of times, they were the worst of times – and also shared the kernels of a few ideas for ways to make your pre-break shutdown and New Year restart the best they can be. In today’s post I’ll go into those four points in more detail. Ready?



Winding Down

Christmas is coming! We love Christmas in the Ryder house, and while I still have work to do this week, we’re definitely slowing our pace at home (except for increasing pace when it comes to wrapping presents, preparing edible gifts and so on). I don’t have to go and deliver any workshops until January, so there’s definitely time for longer lunches and little breaks for Christmas movies.

Ten Years Ago

During my PhD, especially in my first and second years, at Christmas I was just bouncing off the walls excited. A legitimate break! No guilt for two, or possibly three weeks! No work! Woooooooot!

Perhaps I had the wrong attitude?

In our department we downed tools and just turned up to chat and go for lunch, to swap presents, watch movies in now-empty lecture rooms and just have fun. It wasn’t wrong, and isn’t wrong, to think about and feel excited by a break. The thing that WAS wrong for me was to think only about the break and forget that there is a day coming, possibly a Monday, when I would have to come back to the office or the lab or the library, sit down and get back to work.

And that day SUCKED. Not because I was no longer on break, not because Christmas was another 352 days away, but because all of my projects and work were in complete disarray.

But that first day back does not have to suck. It could have been fine – and your first day back to your PhD after Christmas could be just fine – if you leave your work and projects in a good state before you go.