Day 12 – Taking stock

Has it really been 6 days since I last posted? Nearly half way through the experiment of changing my working habits to take more ownership of my research project (see 1st post). I’ve had to change my rules a bit – While it was very useful in the beginning to blog morning and afternoon about my progress, this doesn’t always make sense – the important thing is that I take time each morning to reflect on and plan which chunks of elephant I choose to eat that day (i.e. tasks which are big and important, but not urgent yet should be eaten in bitesize pieces so you can take power over them), and which ants I need to kill (small tasks which you can group together and thereby solve quickly with little mental effort – instead of postponing them, or letting them drip into every part of the day.)

In the afternoon this should be followed up with a brief reflection on what’s been achieved and a personal pad on the back for progress made. I have had this reflection time in the days where I haven’t posted here, although admittedly it wasn’t quite as systematic when the big presentation came closer.

I presented Friday, and partly due to my new work habits, I was ready for it, and for the first time I was completely calm when I presented. An unexpected side effect of my new work habits was that I was satisfied with my prep, even though my presentation was far from Perfect. This was because I had broken the prep into little chunks, which I had worked with as much as I could in the time available – this gave me confidence that I couldn’t have done any more.

And in fact it went really well – lot’s of praise for my data analysis which I’ve fretted so much about! So, less than half way through this experiment, I seem to be coming out of The Valley of Shit – I couldn’t have hoped for a better success criteria at this point in time.

Day 6 – The day that really puts the experiment to the test

It’s now 11.10, and I’ve been procrastinating for about 1½ hours, focusing on things entirely unrelated to my presentation on Friday – I really need to focus on selecting quotes for the presentation, so I can get the slides done tomorrow! But I also really need to forgive myself for slipping up, and get back on track. This process starts with this blog post – I commit myself to my set agenda for the rest of the day, and will report back on my progress at the end of the day.

Day 5 – afternoon reflections

Brilliant day today.

I exceeded my own expectations and wrote an outline of my whole presentation Friday.

The course I attended this morning reminded me of my need to be more proactive (i.e. the opposite of re-active) in my relation with my supervisor, and to follow this up, I’ve set an agenda and mailed it to him, to get things back on track.

Also, I’ve taken action on the leads I’ve got in terms of new case participants, and have been setting up initial meetings next week – entirely contrary to my preference, but entirely in line with the ‘kill ants’ principle/taking control and ownership of my PhD project.

Tomorrow, I need to work effectively to find case quotes to use in my presentation on Friday – Listening through interviews quickly and systematically to get only the stuff I need for the presentation – This will also help me get an overview before meeting with my supervisor, and help me start eating the elephant of data analysis.

Well done, Nils!

Day 5 – PhD Project management experiment

So, never did get back to write that blog post yesterday afternoon – had crammed in too many things. BUT I did work hard, because of the plan I had lain in the morning, so the experiment was still a success. And walking home in the afternoon, I did go over the stuff consciously in my mind.

It was the lunch with a collegue, discussing his and my project which sparked so many thoughts and ideas, and a growing awareness of my own position as a researcher, that I had to spend some time sorting out my thoughts – and moved a mile on the major elephants of both my presentation Friday and my project at large.

Today is going to be taken up mostly by a course I’m taking on your relation with your supervisor, followed by a number of ants, which must be killed quickly and efficiently (minor tasks – most exiting are the numerous mails from people wishing to participate in my project – strong need to remain proactive on this issue). ‘

Then I’ll start finding case quotes for my presentation Friday – got so many specific ideas for this after my work yesterday. So that will be today’s chunk of elephant. 

Moving forward fast, and proud of myself!


Monday – Day 4 of new work life

Kind of unfair to call this day 4, as it is really only work day number 2, but the techniques were loosely applied to my home life too this weekend – bloody hard to keep in control when you have a wife and two boys, but applying the mindset of ants and elephants did help me to feel I was more in control, and made me more resilient to changes in the plan.

Now it’s Monday morning, and this weeks elephant is my department presentation on Friday. The first chunk of that elephant will be eaten first thing today: Transscription of interview, then I’ll kill ants (=mails: hopefully there’s lots of news on the ships I sent sailing Friday to get more case sites – need to keep being proactive on this). I’ll need to address the lack of cleaning in my office too, and top up the mobile.

Then it’s lunch with a PhD collegue at 1 pm, and then elephsant eating again: Lots of thoughts about the presentation Friday, which I should sort out and make a couple of slides on – this will also help me define my overall purpose in this project; my elevator speech, which I will need to get more cases interested in the project.

Brilliant – off to work. Will report back at the end of the day.

Day 1 at the end – didn’t swallow the elephant

End of day one of this habbit changing experiment. This is day 1, so I must excuse myself for not completely living up to my challenge: today I didn’t eat the elephant bit of transcribing and interview. Instead I (probably) spent too much time stamping on ants (emailing possible case study participants).

BUT approaching case study participants has been one of the important tasks I’ve been avoiding, at getting it done means that these ants, at least, won’t be cluttering my conscience next Monday.

Further successes: I do feel more satisfied today than I have in a long time. I’ve left what in the construction industry is known as a ‘straight edge’ – en even layer of bricks neatly finished and ready to work start work on on Monday, rather than 10 new stacks of bricks half laid which leave a mess Monday morning.

Have a GREAT weekend

The view from the helicopter

So how am I going to change things? I used to think that changing my mentality was the key issue – if I could only start controlling the throughts in my head through yoga and meditation, it would change my attitude towards my project – this has, at best, been a partial success, helping me to cope when I’m not at work, but still feeling trampled by elephants (presentations, supervisor ‘suggestions’ for ‘opportunities’ (=increased workload) appearing out of the underbrush that I was cutting through (see previous post.), and attacked by vicous ants crawling all over my precous time (little things cluttering my mind, all the emails nagging at your attention.) Changing your state of mind doesn’t seem to be enough – it has to be followed up by action.

Now, I’m going to introduce two very old (Pakistani, I think) project management tools: ‘How to eat an elephant’ and ‘How to kill ants’. How: I need to learn to spend time chucking the elephant into little pieces, so I can eat one piece at a time, and put the rest in the fridge, so when the deadline comes, the elephant is gone. Ants a killed by crowding them together and giving them a good hard kick with your boot (get the little things out of the way, and out of mind, in one alloted time slot, and never think about them again!

It allegedly takes 30 consecutive days to make or break a habbit, so over the next 30 days, towards 7 December, I’ll blog each day about the elephant chuncks I need to eat, and report my progress and experience with this new habbit – and give myself a huge pat on the back for my willingness to take action! 

This afternoon’s chunk of elephant is transcription of one of my interviews – goal: data analysis (Importnat, non-urgent), presentation next week (Important-Urgent – this particular elephant will have to be eaten rather quickly).

Ants to be killed: emails to case study participants – to build future data-collection. I’ll stamp this out first thing!

A new beginning – the PhD life chopper

Today is a new beginning for my life as a postgraduate student – despite having completed my first year. Being a postgraduate student is like traversing a landscape that no one has traversed before. I’ve been chopping my way through the underbrush for a year now, carving out a territory, but now my field data suggests that the territory I’ve spent so much time on has to be redone – or I need to redo the field work which I have spent so much time on. I suppose I’ve been naive in thinking it wouldn’t be like this, but there you go.

So for the past two months, I’ve been in what the Thesis Whisperer has aptly described as  The Valley of Shit – the feeling where you’re project doesn’t seem to make sense, and you’re not moving forward. But starting today, I’ll replace my metaphor of chopping through the underbrush to taking a chopper up above the landscape to get a helicopter perspective – I am going to choose to be in control of my project. More on this later.