Productive Scheduling

Last week was a good one for my dissertation.  I finally figured out how to maneuver around that guy who’s working on a very similar subject (at least I think I found a way), which is a relief.  I conceptualized and started a very thorough outline for an important chapter, and for me, outlining is a very big deal.  And I spoke with an editor of a journal who would like to publish something from me–probably that chapter that I’ve outlined (and which I’ll be presenting at a conference at the end of the month).   So a pretty great week.

Some of that was luck, of course.  But I’ve got to give credit to my redoubled efforts to stick to a schedule, and my different approach to it.  In the past, I’ve set up a schedule and told myself to “stick to it.”  In practice, that meant doing things in the scheduled order, not necessarily at the time that I had scheduled it.  So if I had scheduled blog writing from 8:30-9am, but I didn’t get to my computer until 9:15am, I would still do the blog writing, instead of doing what I scheduled for the 9am block.  Last week, I started doing whatever I had scheduled for that particular time block.  So if 9am rolled around and I hadn’t done any blog writing, tough shit–no blog writing.  There have been two benefits from this.  The first is that I’ve done a better job of actually sticking to the schedule; instead of saying “well, I’ll just do that blog writing now, and push the other stuff back,” I’ve pushed myself to get started on the task when I’m supposed to be.  The second is that the rhythm of the schedule has increased my productivity.  My brain is apparently so regimented that if I do the thing at 9am one day that I did at 9am the day before, it’s easier to pick back up from where I left off.  Or at least that’s my working hypothesis right now.  And since it’s 8:57am, I should be going.

On The Beauty of a 1929 Underwood No. 5 Typewriter

For Christmas, my spouse’s grandmother gave me her 1929 Underwood No. 5 Typewriter.  She had kept it under a plastic cover for decades, and while it’s not in pristine condition, it is still a thing of simplistic, utilitarian beauty.  What I love most about this typewriter is that there is nothing superfluous about it.  Every key, every lever, every piece of metal has a purpose.  No bells and whistles, except, of course, for the bell that alerts you that you’re close to the margin.  There is no key for the number “1”, and why should there be; use a lower-case “L” instead.  Need an exclamation mark?  Are you sure?  Well, then, you’ll have to use an apostrophe (that’s Shift-8), then backspace, then use a period.  You really have to work for it, as though Underwood doubted whether anyone really should be using exclamation marks.  The same thing for the shift lock; you have to apply a remarkable degree of force to lock into full-capitalization mode, which might make you think twice about doing so.  If only bloggers and undergraduates were subject to such rigors.  I also love the economy of this typewriter: there are keys for 1/4, 1/2, and 3/4 and cents.  It says something, perhaps, about the time of this typewriter’s manufacture: when exclamation marks and capital letters were less important than keeping track of 3/4 of a cent.  I’m not sure if the Underwood company built this particular No. 5 before or after October 29, 1929, but for me it symbolizes the austerity of the days and months and years that followed Black Tuesday–a little piece of the Great Depression sitting on my desk, reminding me that I really am a lazy cuss.

Weeds, The Wire, and Wasted Time

I’ve been sick most of the week (recovered now, thank you) and on the couch yesterday because of oral surgery (it went fine, thank you again).  On top of that, my spouse and I watched three straight hours of The Wire the other night; this, after having spent the better part of the previous week watching the entire fifth season of Weeds.   And it occurs to me: I am a worthless sack of shit.

I usually get this way during periods of down-time (vacations, especially): I bemoan the wide gap between what I want to get done and what I’ve actually accomplished.  My solution often is a new schedule: figuring out my goals and how much time I should set aside to meet them.  I’ll be doing that again, of course.  But I think it’s time for a new approach.  I need to excise the time I waste doing things that are pretty much worthless.

Television, naturally, is the most obvious culprit.  I’m pretty deliberate about what I watch: X-Files, The Wire, Weeds, Community, Parks & Rec, The Office, 30 Rock. But I’m still burning up a lot of time for a few laughs and a little drama, but not much in the way of intellectual or emotional development, lasting memories, or even relaxation–I just feel lazy.  I’ve noticed this especially with The Wire and Weeds.  I mean, I enjoy those shows, but for only a fleeting moment; it’s not like they somehow make me a better person.  More and more, I’m angry at how much time I spend with so little pay-off.  There are other things, too, I’m sure–the Internet is an awesome time-suck.

In the past, I’ve chalked these sorts of activities up to, “Well, I need to give my brain a rest so I can be more productive.”  Bullshit.  Time for a perspective change.  Time to ask whether whatever I am about to do will actively contribute to my levels of pride, happiness, or excitement.  If it can’t meet one of those three criteria (which I think encompass both professional and personal satisfaction), then I can’t see the use of it.

And now: back to watching the first round of March Madness.  You just be quiet.

Coffee and Dissertation Jitters

I keep meaning to establish a regular practice of writing for this blog every day, but I find myself stymied by a deep belief that, unless I have something interesting and important to say, I should keep my mouth shut.  I’m going to act against that belief in this post and attempt to write something trivial and banal, in the vain hope that doing so will jump-start the writing process.  My apologies to you, dear reader, for having to bear the load of this exercise.

Item One: I’ve been off coffee for the past four days, as I am going under the dentist’s knife tomorrow.  The gap in my smile will in four month’s time be filled by a $3,000 dental implant (don’t ask me where the money’s coming from, because I haven’t figured that out yet).  First they put a screw in, and since I can’t drink anything the morning of the surgery, I thought I’d get off coffee so I don’t end up with a withdrawal headache to add to the post-surgery pain.  But I went out to breakfast today and had some coffee, and I’ve got some crazy jitters right now.  Maybe it’s all in my head, but I feel like I could shake a tree out of the ground if I just held on tight enough.

Item Two: I presented at a conference last Friday–it was “received well,” as they say–but now that it’s over, I have to return my focus to the dissertation itself, which is a much bigger and nastier beast than the 10-page conference paper.  I spent yesterday’s working hours taking stock of the project: what I have done (not much), what I have yet to do (a lot), and what I hope to achieve in the end (nirvana?).  Turns out there’s a whole shit-load of research material sitting on my hard drive that I haven’t touched–literally hundreds of pages of scanned documents that I have stored but have been too scared to actually read and take notes on.  But the time for delay is (and has been for a long time) over.  And so I leave you to dive into primary sources.