A Manifesto For Graduate School, Year Three

Given the fact that as I publish this Tuesday morning I'm likely sitting in my first class session of the semester, I thought I'd share a few thoughts about where I'm at with my PhD degree. 

I earned my Master's degree in Positive Developmental Psychology in May and am now working on my PhD in Positive Organizational Psychology. I have a full load of classes this fall and then I've completed all my course requirements. After that I'll have a bunch of other requirements including a variety of small projects, a thesis, an oral exam, and then finally a dissertation. 

So far I've loved my grad school experience and I'm more than excited to see what else is in my future. 

Last year I drafted up a manifesto of sorts to remind me of how I want to work and act as a graduate student. Now is as good a time as any to share it again because it's all still relevant to who I am and what I'm trying to do. Graduate school is my main "gig" right now.

Have you tried writing a manifesto for whatever you do? How do you approach your job? Your family life? Your personal development? Sitting down and writing a document like the one below is a great exercise in mindful self-improvement.

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Last night I felt inspired to write some thoughts about the upcoming school year. I’ve been a student or a teacher for basically my entire life, so I’ve got some experience under my belt. This list of ideas is serving as both a reminder of what I know to be true about myself, the way I work, and what it takes for me to be happy, while also “pumping me up” for what’s ahead. With some slight editing, this is directly from my digital journal:

  • Wake at 6:30 everyday (including weekends as much as possible).
  • Do a “shutdown” sequence everyday before I finish working. This sequence will consist of reviewing the upcoming day and making a plan of attack for the following day. After the shutdown sequence is completed, I will do everything I can to not check email or do work. Shutdown should happen sometime between 5:30 and 7:00 each day.
  • Make as much of my food as possible, including a light breakfast, a lunch I bring to school with me, a snack for on campus, and a good dinner. I will prepare as much food as I can ahead of time so I can minimize the amount of time I spend on this task.
  • One day each weekend must be completely devoid of work. Ideally, I won’t even turn on my computer. The other day should consist of my Weekly Review and preparation for the upcoming week — but nothing too strenuous. The week is for work, the weekend is for rejuvenation.
  • Weekends should be filled with reading (for pleasure), hiking trips, obscure coffee shop visits, cultural activities (when are you going to go to a museum, you lazy-ass?), board games with friends, movies, etc. Doing something other than sitting on my ass in front of my computer like I do 90% of the time during the week (although the occasional video game on the weekend is alright).
  • Go to the gym 3-4 times a week and complete a pre-planned workout. This is your one time in the middle of the day when I can step away from my work and push myself in a physical, instead of intellectual, way. On days I don’t workout, a run (or at least a walk) are mandatory.
  • In the mornings, before I leave for campus, I will meditate for at least 15 minutes. I know myself well enough to know I rarely meditate if I don’t do it in the morning.
  • A lot of these statements have to do with *not* doing work. Obviously, when I’m working during the day I have to make sure I’m working with the greatest amount of clarity and focus I can muster.
  • My “sticky points” for getting back into work is any time I’m coming back to it after doing some non-work related activity. For example, getting going on work after lunch is hard. Getting back into work after a workout can be hard. Hell, even the first time I open my computer when I sit down to work in the morning can be hard. I will need to pay extra attention to these times and develop a way to jump right into my work without killing the requisite 15-20 minutes on email, Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit. 
  • I am going to set aside one hour per week to go somewhere quiet, by myself, with a pen and paper, and just think about hard problems. Once I transition into the PhD program (hopefully) [note: this has happened] it’s going to essentially be my job to develop good questions and figure out novel ways to answer them. Most of us never take the time to truly get away from distractions and just *think*. I need to be able to think effectively. I need to set aside time to practice this.
  • I will continue to monitor RescueTime to see whether I’m truly using my time the way I want to be.
  • I will try to cluster phone calls and client meetings into the same days as much as possible. A meeting in the middle of the day can ruin large swaths of potentially productive time. Along the same lines, I will never schedule work or group meetings, if possible, on the weekend.
  • All notifications on my phone and computer will remain off. No piece of technology (other than phone calls, I suppose) should have the power to interrupt my train of thought with some bit of inane information. I will check text messages, emails, IM’s and the like on my own time and under my own volition. While working I will turn off my phone.
  • When stuck during the day or feeling some kind of emotional or intellectual discord, I will use DayOne and type out my thoughts. I like using this as a hybrid journal/log. Sometimes I will go days where the only entries in here are the minutiae of the work I’m currently doing. Other times I’ll write more introspective or reflective pieces. The important thing is to use this as much as possible. 
  • I’m working hard to develop a reputation of action, focus, and results among my classmates and professors. To that end, I can only do that if my energy level is high and I remain healthy. I must take care of my body as well as I can by not succumbing to the allure or excuses of convenient food. I will eat whole food. I will remain a vegetarian. I will drink water and tea and coffee with the occasional juice or calorie-free soda as a treat. I will take vitamins and supplements that help me operate at my highest natural ability. 
  • Creative insights to intellectual problems are not borne of utter disregard for the world around me. I need to continue reading non-fiction books outside the realm of psychology. I need to begin reading more high-quality fiction books to help broaden my perspective and help in my ability to empathize. I must not forget that I’m a person with hobbies and interests that lie outside of school and academic psychology.
  • At the same time, I must work hard to develop the basic skills that a research psychologist, coach, and writer needs to truly excel. Not understanding statistics doesn’t cut it. I don’t have to be an expert on all levels of stats, but I must understand the techniques I need for my specific project(s). If I can’t figure it out on my own, I must ask for help. As for writing, I must continue to write as much as possible everyday. Not everything I write needs to be for one of my websites or school. In fact, I’d say the majority of my writing should be for my eyes only. I should be pushing my boundaries in terms of my style, vocabulary, and simplicity. As for coaching, I must continue to ask questions of those who have been doing it longer than me and I must continue to educate myself using the resources available in the world. 
  • Much of what all of this comes down to is, “That which I feel like I most do not want to do is that which I must do.” If I’m tired, lethargic, and pressed for time I must be sure to meditate and workout. If I feel stupid with some kind of intellectual problem I *must* make the necessary effort to understand the answer. If I’m feeling buried under the work I must continue to rely and trust my GTD system. 
  • Instead of letting the beginning and end of my days leak into my workday by getting up earlier and/or staying up later, my first course of action if I’m feeling overwhelmed should be to tighten up the current 8-10 hours I have scheduled for school commitments. If and only if I do everything I can to optimize my usage of those daily 8-10 hours (9-5/7) should I consider staying up late, pulling an all-nighter, or getting up absurdly early. Grad school is hard but it isn’t any harder than a demanding job. Get over yourself. Focus, do your work, recharge, get back to it.