Surviving my first year as a new professor: Tools of the trade

Regular readers of this blog may have noticed that I’ve been writing a lot less frequently since last August. Between teaching, setting up my lab, training students, applying for grants, and getting some papers finished for publication, I’ve had very little time to write more than about 1 post a month. (I’m hoping to publish a bit more frequently in the near future, as I have some exciting things to write about. Fortunately, Colin has had a bunch of interesting experiences with the ConspiraSea cruise recently, and a lot more free time than I do, so I hope that’s helped to fill in the gaps a bit. Thank you, Colin!).

I’ve been reading a lot of other blogs about new faculty experiences (The New PI Sets Up A Lab is one of my favorites) and I’ve found them to be tremendously helpful in both advice and in assuring me that I’m not alone in feeling pretty constantly overwhelmed. And while this blog’s focus is not going to change to be a “new professor blog”–our scope is broader than that–I do want to write an occasional post about my current experiences that I hope might be useful (?) someday to any aspiring new PI. This will be one of those posts, and its emphasis will be on some of the tools I rely on consistently for managing my life.*

(If you’re here mostly for the vaccine talk or general science stuff, there are some new posts on these subjects in the queue for VM in the next two weeks).

  1. Staying organized

One of the biggest challenges of my new job is having so many different obligations throughout the day. It’s not just that I have a lot of things to do–it’s that I have many, many different types of things to do. I’m constantly having to switch roles: lecturer (and entertainer) one hour, collaborator on a grant in progress the next, writer the next, advisor to a student the following hour, reviewer of a manuscript immediately after. Having to switch my brain rapidly from task to task, keeping just enough focus for each so I can get them done quickly and move on to the next without wasting time is really difficult for me. My time is valuable in a way that it’s never been before, a fact which is really sobering and a tiny bit scary.

On top of that, I’m incredibly distractable, so trying to figure out how to manage that while still being productive has been a challenge. I talked to my dear friend Lyn Christian, who’s a business/productivity coach, and she told me to quit beating myself up for letting myself get distracted and accept that it’s part of being human. Instead, she urged me to work around the inevitability of interruptions by quitting multitasking, scheduling out larger blocks of time for each task than I think I’ll need, schedule in “play time” on the internet, and ruthlessly prioritizing tasks. (Maybe these are things that people already know, but in my case her advice really helped). I started using her productivity app (Today and Not Today) and it has seriously made a difference. These days I use it together with my google calendar; I figure out what’s absolutely critical in a given day, schedule a block of time for it on my calendar, and then let my apple watch remind me when it’s time to switch tasks. Technology!

2. Staying positive

I’ve often finished the day feeling like I haven’t gotten anything meaningful done, even when I know that I’ve worked a solid 9 hours. I read some piece of advice somewhere that one should track one’s tasks throughout the day, both because it makes faculty evaluations a little easier, but also because it gives a solid metric for how the day was spent. So I’ve been doing that this year, and it does indeed help me appreciate just how many different things I do in a day (see #1 above). I’ve been using “Day One” as a journal, and I have it set to remind myself to start an entry in the mid-afternoon. I’m *mostly* good about doing this on weekdays.

3. Outsourcing everything

My partner travels A LOT for work, and so most weeks I’m juggling work and household without any extra help. I really just can’t do it all by myself, so I’ve accepted that I have to outsource as much of the non-essential stuff as possible, even if it seems a little extravagant. I’m still figuring out how much of this is reasonable, but for now I’m using a cleaning service every couple of weeks (I think I need this more often, to be honest), and delivery services for as much as I possibly can. I really like cooking and I find it relaxing, but I hate taking the time to plan meals and shop for ingredients, so I use Blue Apron every week. Although it’s probably interchangeable with any other similar service, I really love it. I also use Stitchfix for clothes, although that one can be REALLY hit or miss.  And for regular household stuff, I’m using Amazon delivery services a lot more than I probably should. But they’re incredibly convenient, and that makes a huge difference to my sanity. I would totally use Task Rabbit as well, if it was available in my area.

 

So I’m curious what tools other folks use. If you have a recommendation for either a tool or a good new professor/new PI blog, please drop a link in the comments!

 

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*I want to note that although I get offers for sponsored posts all the time, I uniformly reject them all–I don’t want this to become that kind of blog. I haven’t been paid to mention anything on here, and the only thing that I received for free was the Today/Not Today app.

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2 thoughts on “Surviving my first year as a new professor: Tools of the trade

  1. Chris April 2, 2016 / 11:00 am

    “My partner travels A LOT for work, …”

    That is putting it mildly. Checking on his twitter feed it looks like a different country every week or so. He must be affected by jet lag.

    We lost a car due to jet lag. About twenty years ago dear hubby was spending lots of times traveling to a Europe to work with a vendor of equipment for a specific project (he got a project coffee cup, and I cannot understand the electrical engineeringese which is in both German and English). They were working long hours, and then he had to fly back for a meeting here.

    Let’s see: jet lag, long hours, and early meeting after a several hour flight. Yeah, he did not make it to the meeting. He was driving behind a truck and saw something fly off (it looked like concrete), over compensated and ended playing bumper car with the Jersey barriers. Fortunately the bus behind him stopped, kept other cars from running into him and called police. Hubby was fine, car was a bit bent and totaled.

    The debris that flew off the truck was a chuck of Styrofoam. Later that year there was a more serious road debris accident (a cabinet went through the windshield of a car, severely injuring the driver). That is why all loads need to be covered.

    I hope he uses a shuttle service between your home and the airport.

    I can’t give any good advice on time savers. Except that if I want to watch a movie that people are talking about I check the DVD out from the library, and then use software that plays it a bit faster. I sometimes find that it can improve the pace of a slow movie.

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