Tag Archives: Motivation

General

Difference...

Since moving into academia three years ago, I don't think that a week goes by when one of my students doesn't humble me or make me appreciate just how lucky I am.  A few of my students recently have commented that I treat them as equals and peers and they like this.  But in all honesty I don't think I make a conscious effort to, I just enjoy working with people who are enthusiastic about my subjects, regardless of if they're a student, engineer, lecturer, layman, or even a professor.... well maybe not a professor, everyone has limits.  I just enjoy working with people who are prepared to step through the gate and share with me...
221:365 - Plas Newydd...
Last week a student asked me to proof read their personal statement for a PhD application and the words they'd written about the support I'd given them and how much of a difference it made to their outlook on education stopped me dead in my tracks.  I'm rarely lost for words, but it took me a minute or two to compose myself, even though I know the student is grateful for all the help they receive, seeing it in writing was humbling and almost gave me a bit of a wobble.  What I didn't realise is that two years ago they'd have happily walked away from their degree if they'd been offered a job, but with a little support and the right topic for their dissertation, they now enjoy their subject enough to want to take on a PhD in the same area.

This week we've had one of our current students talk to 40 prospective students about how his level of maths skills upon leaving school meant that they couldn't understand simple fractions, but through the support of the foundation degree and the additional Math-Scope sessions we run they now regularly score in the 80's and 90's in maths phase tests at degree level.  They were brimming with praise and pride about what they have achieved, and quite rightly so.  One of the mum's even offered to adopt him she thought he was so inspirational...

And that's before all of the trials and tribulations that some of the students face to simply allow them to attend the course, fund the course, keep up to speed with the work.  Personally I don't think I'd have the resolve to deal with some of the issues that these students take on at my age, let alone in my early twenties.  I am in awe at their get up and go attitude and it's the perfect tonic for when I need to give myself the 'man up princess' pep talk.

For all the crap that comes with life as an academic, it's these special people and moments that make it all totally worthwhile, it's this that keeps me teaching in all honesty and it's the pride I feel for my students that has stopped me jumping back to industry on several occasions.  Because the secret is; the lecturers probably learn just as much from the students as they do from us.

If you're thinking of becoming an academic, brace yourself to be humbled regularly and get used to the odd damp eye.  There are a lot of very special and amazing students out there, all you have to do is remember that they're people too.

General

Time...

Now that I'm through the massive pile of end of term marking and I'm starting to think about getting some research done through the summer, this goes hand in hand with time management skills.  I spend a great deal of my time in unstructured activities supporting students during term time, so during semester 3 I become quite hard nosed about the time slots with students.   Once I've made my list of things that I've got to do, then I'll typically I'll go for a quick win and tick off some of the easier things to give myself a sense of initial progress. With the remaining tasks then I create a Gantt chart to programme out the works through the summer period to see if I'm being overly ambitious with my intentions.

Screen Shot 2012-06-30 at 08.04.36

Once I've protected my time and planned out my summer work, then the next step is simply doing it...

I have to confess to being one of the great procrastinators and I have a couple of techniques that work well in getting me up and started on tasks and I encourage my students to make use of these techniques to help them keep on top of their dissertation writing, the two techniques I use are: the pomodoro technique & breaking the chain.

The pomodoro technique makes strategic use of an egg timer when working on tasks.  The notion is that you set the timer for an initial 25 minutes and then work single mindedly on your selected task for those 25 minutes, nothing else is allowed to distract you from that single task, no telephone calls, facebook, twitter, house fires (well maybe house fires)... but on the whole you just work on that one single task until you hear your bell ring.  Once the bell has rung then you can give yourself a five minute break, make a brew, make a quick phone call, whatever you need to do... but then you set the timer again for 25 minutes and crack on with the next step of your task, or the next task and repeat this process 4 times.

Once you've completed 4 sessions, give yourself a longer break, half an hour, an hour... that part's up to you, but what you're likely to find is that you've been super productive for the two hours that you've running the pomodoro technique and actually taking an hour off at this point might be needed to let your brain cool down... it just depends how hardcore the tasks are that you've been doing.  One tip here though is to set a timer for your breaks, otherwise they will over run.

I use a mixture of timers when working with the pomodoro technique, either a cheap mechanical timer from Sainsbury's which cost £3, a pomodoro mac app that puts completed pomodoros into iCal that I can't link too here as it's no longer available in the UK for some reason, or pomodroido on my phone.  If you're the sharing type, you're likely to want to broadcast your pomodoro sessions over Twitter or your social media network of choice... please be aware though, this is really annoying for those of us not working on your tasks so please exercise some discretion.

125:365 - Pomodoro...

The next technique I use is called 'break the chain' essentially this is about doing a little and often and requires you to have a big wall planner or calendar on your wall to be the most effective.  Say there are long term goals that would benefit from doing a little work on them, but regularly.  If your task would benefit from doing a little and often, and you can slowly work your way through to completing the whole task in this fashion, then the break the chain technique is perfect.  I first heard about this from a LifeHacker article I read which attributes this technique to Jerry Seinfeld.  Basically if you want a tidy house, to progress your PhD thesis, and get fit each of these tasks require constant effort to achieve.  You can't necessarily do them in monthly spurts, your house would become messy between bursts of effort, your thesis would become disjointed and rushed, and you're likely to have a heart attack when attempting your monthly marathon.  However, if you were to break these down into smaller tasks, you'd be amazed at the results that you could develop.

013:365 - Calendar...

Firstly let's say that every day you spend a minimum of 10 minutes cleaning, 30 minutes writing, and 20 minutes doing exercise... that's an hour you need to squeeze in every day.  But when you do these three tasks you are allowed to put a big fat black cross on your calendar, preferably in a fat marker pen to be highly visible.  Every day you do these tasks, you earn a big fat black cross on your calendar... the key is to make the longest chain of crosses possible...  Try and keep your daily tasks below 60 minutes to allow them to be achievable, but simply do them... 10 minutes of tidying every day will strangely make a large difference to the tidiness of your house and 30 minutes of writing, whilst in itself isn't a lot... but it helps to keep your hand in on writing and stops you going a whole week without having done any!  ( A common curse for PhD students).  20 minutes of exercise every day could be something as simple as heading out for a walk that day, you can vary the level of intensity to suit.

I'm not pretending that this would be all you'd need to do to keep the writing up, but by doing 30 minutes every day that's 3.5 hours of writing per week, that could be a few thousand words you never would have had being there in your thesis ready to edit and sculpt into some sort of tangible form when you've time to edit.  You're still going to need to make writing a priority during your working week, but at least your brain and fingers will be well trained in making a start after your core sessions each day.

I'm hoping this helps someone a little out there, either through sharing the apps that I use, or giving some food for thought on how a little and often can be a real boost to your productivity.  If you've found anything helpful, please drop me a line or leave me a comment.. if you've another technique that works for you or have an immunisation for procrastination I'd REALLY like to hear from you...