Archive for the ‘productivity’ Tag

Happiness snapshot

I’m going to come out and say it: I love commuting. There, you weren’t expecting that, were you? And no more was I. Last November and December, when I knew that in the new year I’d be working in Norwich and living in Cambridge, trickles of apprehension would regularly visit my spine at the thought of spending three hours a day on a train.

And now I struggle to remember why I was afraid. The sense of public exposure? Fellow-commuters’ pinstriped elbows and noisy music? Eating my season ticket in a moment of stress? In fact I suspect it was chiefly timetable fear: the anxiety of being bound by public transport, of living under the rule of Greater Anglia. The soggy dread of missing the school bus.

Yet here I am: sitting with my feet up (shoes off, of course) in a moving picture of fenland greys and greens. I have a table and a double seat all to myself. I can read, doze, watch for wildlife. Some mornings there are attention-seeking, tiger-striped sunrises; on other days the black groundrow of the trees has a gentler, dove-coloured backcloth. Branches are ornamented with cutouts of sleeping birds. Occasionally I astonish myself and do some work, in my special train notebook – but that’s a bonus, not a base-line.

Working to a timetable, bowing to someone else’s routine, is surprisingly pleasant: it relieves you of having to make timekeeping decisions yourself. It reminds me of the time I got stuck in the Tower lift at the UL. Lifts have always scared me, and being caught in a broken-down one was a favourite nightmare – so the first few minutes were spent warding off a panic attack and wondering when the emergency system would stop talking at me in a repetitive metallic voice and finally connect me with a human. After that, though, I felt a totally unexpected sensation of peace. I sat cross-legged on the lift floor, trying to remember all the verses of The Lady of Shalott, and occasionally being cheered by colleagues shouting reassurance and updates down the lift shaft. I felt vacant, relieved of all responsibilities. Nobody could blame me for not doing something, because there was literally nothing I could do: I was outside time, poised between floors, all agency suspended. And it felt wonderful.

Commuting, for me, brings the same sensations: a feeling of being still while the world outside moves; the space regained in the joints that comes when you stand up after a yoga session. Nothing is expected; it’s the fallow season. Which is precisely what’s needed in order to be productive.

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Things I have learned from my commute:

Getting up at 6 a.m. is nothing that espresso can’t fix.

Every Fen dawn is beautiful, even the misty ones. (Maybe especially the misty ones.).

And no-one ever gets on or off at Spooner Row.

Fen Sunrise by meg_nicol

Image: 'Fen sunrise' by meg_nicol, flickr.com, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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How I work (what, me?)

dance_vramak_CCBY20

So there’s a Lifehacker thing going the rounds where “productivity heroes” share their habits and in turn invite others to do so. I don’t know where I stand on the productivity scale, but I do know I’m one of the most disorganised researchers I’ve personally ever come across. This is great for teaching – it means I can be a sort of living Awful Warning to my research skills students – but whether it makes me a good candidate for productivity hero is definitely questionable.

But how could I resist Andy Priestner’s invitation – nay, command?

So here we go …

Location: Cambridge University Library

Current gig: Research Skills and Development Librarian

Current mobile device: elderly iPad (no camera!)

Current computer: Toshiba laptop with a missing plus key. (It got stuck on endless repeat and I eventually got fed up, prised it out of the keyboard and chucked it across the room.)

One word that best describes how you work: Chaotically.

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?: Spider Solitaire. In times of stress I play it obsessively.

What’s your workspace like? I should do some shredding. And some filing. And some general desk entropy measures. I’m sure I had a chair once.

What’s your best time-saving trick?: I have no time-saving tricks at all. I drafted a ton of self-deprecating reasons as to why not before I realised that this is not an embarrassing omission or a character flaw: it’s a deliberate policy. I don’t want to save time. I want to spend it – wisely, profitably, joyously, frivolously. I want to seize opportunities, take on new projects, meet and create ideas with people, walk all 186 miles of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path. I could save time easily by doing none of these things. But what would I do instead?

What’s your favourite to-do list manager?: The stash of scrap paper that I cut down to A5 and hold together with a bulldog clip.

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without? My Moleskine 18-month weekly notebook diary.

What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else?: Well, I’m pretty shit-hot at Spider Solitaire.

What are you currently reading?

  • The Oxford Book of English Poetry
  • The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
  • Surfeit of Lampreys by Ngaio Marsh
  • The Beckett Trilogy: Molloy – Malone Dies – The Unnamable (that’s been ongoing for a while now)
  • Murder on the Flying Scotsman by Carola Dunn (with rising irritation)

I guess another time-saving strategy (see above) could be just reading one book at a time, but why would I want to do that?

What do you listen to while you work?: The general conversation in our open plan office – by turns funny, informative, supportive and just plain bonkers. It’s the best office environment I’ve ever worked in.

Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert?: A very highly-functioning closet introvert.

What’s your sleep routine like?: Erratic.

Fill in the blank: I’d love to see Helen Webster answer these same questions.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?: “People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.”(Full disclosure: Thich Nhat Hanh didn’t actually say this to me personally.)

Is there anything else you’d like to add?: Metaphors around ‘being productive’ are often based on motion: spinning all the plates, juggling all the things, dashing around getting things done. In contrast, every research skills session I give is based on stopping and being still for a little while. They’re an invitation to pause and take stock, to look unjudgementally at how you do what you do.  Paradoxically, the best way to be productive as a researcher may be to periodically stop doing and allow yourself to reflect on where you are:

“Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.”

(T.S. Eliot)

 

Image by Rama V, flickr.com, CC BY 2.0