Sanity, Grad School, And Doing Cool Stuff

For better or for worse, I've developed a reputation of somebody who takes on a lot of work and (generally) does it well. To some, I appear hyper-productive whereas most of the time I feel anything but. Granted, I'm only three days into the second year of graduate school, but I feel a little bit different about this year than I have in the past. I'm working on more interesting thingshave greater responsibilities, my classes are harder, and yet, I'm actually working less than I used to.

I've committed myself to clearly delineating when my day ends and when my relaxation and rejuvenation begins. Sometime between 5 and 7 every day I review what I've completed for the day, make a rough plan for tomorrow, and then turn off my computer. From then on I don't check my email, do any kind of school work (including reading for class), or any kind of extracurricular work. 7 until 11 is reserved for me to make dinner, unwind, and read somethign for fun.

When I wrote my Back to School Manifesto a week ago, I was a little bit worried that I was being too ambitious. I knew I had a huge plate of work ahead of me this year and saying that I wasn't going to stay up late to do work or read felt a little bit risky. I thought that this commitment to a more sane work style would result in less output and I'd just have to live with it. I was prepared to do just that but my experience over the past week has actually been the complete opposite.

By committing myself to a fixed work schedule I've actually accomplished more work in less time than I ever have before.


Giving an end to my day other than no longer being able to keep my eyes open gives me something to shoot for. You don't sprint a marathon -- that's just stupid. You can't see the finish when you're standing on the starting line so you have to pace yourself. Likewise, when I'm starting my day without clearly defining when I've finished the race I'm setting myself up for a long slog of average output. I'd much, much rather focus my energy into a shorter but more powerful burst. Sitting down to my work in the morning and looking ahead I know that for better or worse I'm calling it quits at 7 PM. If I don't want to put myself into a massive hole then I need to keep myself in line for those 9-10 hours and get as much done as I possibly can. Setting a finish line I can actually see added some urgency back into my day.


Second, clearly dividing the time I'm working from the time I'm not-working lets me use the entirety of my mental faculty on both. I am not a genius. When it comes to my cohort here at grad school, I'd place myself as decidedly average in most facets of being a student. Therefore, I need to make sure I'm bringing 100% of my focus and ability on each school or work activity I'm doing. If I can't do that then I can't keep up. In order to bring  my A-game every time I sit down to work, I have to make sure I've rested and rejuvenated well. For many students it's a perverse badge of honor to treat yourself like garbage. Late nights at the library, sleep deprivation -- sometimes it seems like a competition to see who can be the most miserable. I opted out of that mindset as quickly as possible. I'm asleep by 11 o'clock most nights, I read books for fun, and my weekends are work-free except for a 2-3 hour block where I do my Weekly Review. All of this allows me to bring the entirety of my mental faculty during the week.


One of the most common complaints I hear is that there "aren't enough hours in the day." I used to say it all the time. And then I took a look at how I was actually spending the hours I was given. It's kind of sickening how bad I am/was at using my time well. I vowed to never use that complaint again unless I was using my productive hours to 100% capacity and still felt the same way. By the same token, I told myself that stayig up late or working long hours on the weekends are signs that I've failed during the week. There's no reason for my work to spill over into those time blocks if I'm using my time well. If I get to the position where I'm using my work hours to 100% peak capacity and still have too much to do, then maybe I'll rethink my position on this (but really, that's just a sign that I've taken on way too much).

Maybe we all have enough time but are just really, really bad at using it well? I challenge you to not say you don't have enough time to do what you want until you take a super close look at how you're using the time you already have.