This week I decided to quit the home internet. Experiment 1 of 2017.
Why would I do this?!
I don’t want to work 24/7. After many years of being in school and working and spending WAY too much time sitting on my butt on a computer, I want to have more of a life. More non-work time obviously means I need to spend LESS time doing work. Not having the internet at home means that I have to be more focused and more intentional with my internet use. I have made a list of “Internet Things to Do” and plan ahead. I can still read and write – distraction-free – at home if I need to.
I am addicted to Facebook and looking up random articles on my phone. I realized that the first thing I did in the morning and the last thing I did at night was look at my phone. Check Facebook. Read the news. Check the weather. Check Facebook….all while trying to get a baby velociraptor (who may actually be my preschool-age son) and a kitten to stop vying for my attention by sitting on top of me. Without the internet, I am not distracted by my phone so I no longer get sneak-attacked by these crazy animals. Don’t get me wrong, I do spend time off my phone too but it was getting to be a huge distraction.
Money. Internet is expensive in NB. $100 a month = $1200 a year and there are lots of other things that I value more than home internet. Maybe it’s just a case of “the Januarys” but I am trying to be more mindful of my spending this year and pay off some debts. When I sat down to think about it, my list of things that I value more than home internet was quite long! Camping, rain gutters on my house, solar panels, a BBQ, new winter boots, etc.
There was life before the internet and it was AWESOME! I feel lucky that my childhood was internet-free. We played outside, read books, played sports, etc. There is SO much to do and really, life is too short to do it all – why waste time?
I’m excited and slightly overwhelmed by all of the planning currently going on in my life. I have been invited to present at two awesome conferences this summer and am preparing to move to a new city to start my first tenure-track job. Very exciting, but also extremely stressful because I am in charge of organizing everything and I am also getting ready to defend my dissertation at the end of the month (also amazing but stressful).
Regarding conference planning, the biggest stressor for me is figuring out the best plan for my child while I’m away. Sometimes it makes sense to bring him along but that requires an additional responsible adult to come with me so that I can actually present and attend some of the conference. It’s obviously more expensive to do that but it can also be more fun in the end, even if it requires more coordination to plan.
When it doesn’t make sense for him to come, I have the glorious fun time of organizing child care for him. I am fortunate to have lots of social support – in London. Now that I am moving to a new city it’s going to be a little trickier to navigate all this. I am closer to family but they are busy with their own lives and I feel guilty asking for help. I feel ALL the mom guilt – guilt for spending time alone/with other grown-ups. Guilt for having a career that is important to me. Guilt for not making my child the centre of my universe at all times. Guilt for not having a significant other. Guilt for not enjoying my time away as much as I could because I feel guilty about all these other things. Enough with the guilt already, right!
For better or worse, research dissemination and staying current is part of my job. It’s not like you finish your PhD and that’s the end of learning and scholarly work. I feel very fortunate that travel is part of my job but it’s not like it’s an all-expenses paid free-for-all! Unless you are a well-funded researcher (which is the exception rather than the rule), there is little funding to assist with the expenses of conferences. It also takes a tremendous amount of time and energy to prepare an abstract and a good presentation, a fact that often goes unacknowledged.
Sure, you could go to one conference a year but that might be a career-limiting move because fewer people will see your work. It also limits your exposure to interesting research across disciplines which may provide valuable insights and generate new ideas. I value the professional memberships that I have in nursing and management and conferences are an important part of these organizations. Increasingly, there are more and more conferences to go to as well! For example, APA puts on an excellent Work and Stress conference where every presentation is something I am interested in. Obviously you can’t go to everything, but it is not easy to choose or to say no.
So I’m left asking myself the question: “what’s a sane number of conferences to attend each year?”
Not sure that I have an answer yet but I will figure it out 🙂
So apparently, sitting is the new smoking…and therefore, I am probably going to die. Not really (I hope), but there has been a whole lot of attention to the “sitting epidemic” recently, highlighting how much time most of us spend sitting during a regular work day. (Clearly, they have not spent any time with a staff nurse lately!). The solution? A standing desk, of course. Or a treadmill desk. Or taking frequent breaks. Making sure that you have an ergonomically designed work station….
On perhaps, we need to start asking different questions about how our work is designed. For example, in academe, we do spend a lot of time sitting at our computer working on all kinds of things from research grants to articles, powerpoints, data analysis, etc. Some of this work is unavoidable I think but I also wonder if some of this time could be used more effectively. For example, do we really need to write 20 research articles using one dataset? Do we really need another book chapter on such and such that a handful of people will read? What if we publish one really strong paper and then talk to people about our ideas instead? How much more fun (and time effective) is it to interview people, record a podcast, or share a conference presentation on YouTube? Obviously, none of these things completely eliminates computer time but I am guessing that the impact of one really great Ted Talk is much broader and valuable than a research article buried in an academic journal that mostly only other researchers are going to read. Unless of course, more research articles = more tenure points.
Sometimes collecting tenure points feels a bit like being Mario trying to get all the gold coins within reach (and apparently research activities that require copious sitting are as likely to kill you as sitting on your butt playing too many video games).
So let’s assume that you just have to accept that your job requires some sitting. What can you do to make it less bad?
Take care of your body. Exercise. Eat nutrition food. Go easy-ish on the coffee (mostly). Get enough sleep.
Plan ahead for the ebbs and flows of the school year. Midterms? Exam period? Research grant deadlines? These are busy times, but they are not unexpected! Get a calendar and plan ahead. I like to make extra healthy meals and stick them in the freezer to reduce cooking time. Having some exercise equipment in the basement is also really awesome for saving time when I am busy. There have also been times when I have had to hire my babysitter to give me an extra morning or afternoon to do work on the weekend. (Fingers crossed that being a professor is more awesome than being a grad student working full time!). Do I always get to do a full workout? No. But sometimes 10 minutes of exercise is better than nothing 😉
Be super organized. You can waste a lot of time trying to simply locate documents, references, and sort through different versions of things. Having a logical way to organize files and name documents will save you a ton of time. I even get my students to name their documents in specific ways so that I don’t end up with 25 versions of “Assignment 1”. Using a reference management software program is also a really great way to save time with citing and reference lists, especially when you need to use different referencing styles for different journals. No more wasted time seeking and downloading the same reference articles over and over! Lastly, using tags and folders in your email inbox is another strategy that saves oodles of time. If you can use the same main categories as your main files on your computer, that is even better! I like to use gmail and get all of my other emails forwarded to that one account.
Be reasonable. Sometimes I struggle with this. (e.g. “Of course I can have a baby and do my PhD and publish and compete in powerlifting and work at the hospital and teach, etc. at the same time…). I like to set big goals and have a tendency to say yes to everything but I have learned that this usually leads to burnout. A better strategy is to take on a few things that you can really focus on. Reading (and re-reading) the Power of Less is a helpful place to start. Academia seems to reward people who work hard and do a lot but I think another point to consider is that learning and teaching is exciting! Research and teaching are (should be) both about learning new things and understanding more about the world around us, as well as sharing that knowledge and excitement about learning. It is hard to say no when you are excited about learning and sharing ideas! Is it reasonable to spend 20 hours a week preparing for a class you are teaching for the first time? Maybe not if you are teaching 3 courses and have other things on your plate.
Aim for excellence, rather than perfection. I don’t think there is such a thing as “perfect”. The pareto principle, or 80:20 rule comes in handy here too. It states that 80% of your outcomes/effects will come from 20% of your work. Do you really need to make 50 slides for a 10 minute presentation? Or, would 10-12 slides, well-designed, be more captivating and effective in getting your point across? How much time are you spending sitting, working on things that have little to no impact? After all, sitting is the new smoking….
The short answer is that there is no best time and that really, anytime is the best time. Nothing can ever prepare you for the challenges and joys of parenting – regardless of whether or not you are a grad student, a practising nurse, or a stay-at-home mom.
That being said, it helps if you have a committed partner and some sort of plan. Personally, I did not have that experience. Let’s just say that the pill is not 100% effective. I stuck with my life plan (sort of) and worked at the hospital as an RN until September and started my PhD 9 months pregnant (against all good sense I think) and took one week off from classes (because my supervisor made me). The “birth plan” involved my wonderful friend driving me and my roommate to the hospital where we streamed episodes of New Girl while I waited for my son to decide to make his grand entrance. My sister and her boyfriend flew in and met us there (he stayed outside).
Lucky for me, in Canada we get a year of paid maternity leave and you can be in school during that time – I didn’t plan this out at all but it definitely made life a lot less stressful. For the first semester we didn’t have a car so we got up early to catch the bus so I could take him to the wonderful home daycare we found, then back on the bus to school. After school I would go back on the bus to get him, and again on the bus to go home or sometimes to the Y and then home. It was exhausting! On the plus side, it really made me appreciate the amount of time and energy it takes to coordinate life when you don’t have a car. Before my son was born I rode my bike a lot and it was hard to not be able to do that anymore.
One of the best things about being a single parent and a nurse was how much support I received from others. The nurses at work threw me a baby shower, offered support and advice, and even offered me lifts to and from work when they could. My former roommate lived with us for a year until she finished her nursing degree (God bless her) and friends have helped take care of my son so that I could go to work, school, and conferences (one even road-tripped with us to Indianapolis!). Their love and support made me realize how important relationships are in life and sparked my interest in workplace social capital (my dissertation topic). In many ways, our lives have been richer because it was obvious to others that we needed them. I’m not sure that it is always the same when people are married and it is assumed that they have all the support and help they need (I’m sure that it is different for everyone).
I think you can balance a demanding PhD program with being a parent but it requires focus, discipline, and support. The balance is always changing too! The time you get to do homework when you have a baby who sleeps a lot is different from the time you get when you have a busy 3 year old who wants to play all the time. You have to learn to be more flexible and adapt to what your child (or children) need as they grow up. My son has helped me slow down and reminds me daily to play and enjoy life. Not that I didn’t before but children have such an awesome way of looking at the world.
At times I have had to make tough choices about work because of being the only parent – for example, this past fall I chose a day job as a research coordinator (which I find rather stressful) because it had regular hours – but because of that I had to give up my part-time staff nurse position at the hospital (which I love) and go casual. It’s straight-up difficult to find daycare for shift work – especially when you are part-time and don’t have a consistent schedule. I miss seeing my co-workers and my patients. Research is rewarding and I have learned a lot this year but it’s different.
Ultimately, I think being a parent has made me a better person and has made me more efficient with my time. When I am home, I don’t want to be thinking about work so I work hard at work to be organized and focus on things that are important. I have one dedicated day a week to work on my thesis and try to keep it contained in that time frame. I think one of the big problems with academic culture is this idea that working longer hours makes you a better, more productive member of the academy. Numerous studies show that overworking people actually makes people less effective, less happy, and has very damaging effects on their health. That, however, is a topic for another post I think…
Some of advice I ever got about Grad School was from a former professor who told me how batch-cooking and freezing meals helped her complete her dissertation. This simple strategy makes a huge difference in terms of productivity and eating healthy (if you choose recipes carefully). For most of us our leisure time is limited (and sacred), especially if you are balancing family life and a demanding career. Who doesn’t want to spend less time in the kitchen and more time playing, connecting with others, being active, and having a life!
Batch cooking may just be your ticket! The basic idea is that you cook multiple meals on one day and freeze most of them so that you have less prep down the road. I’ve been doing this on a weekly basis for a while now but recently I felt like I was in the kitchen all the time so I started looking for new ways to do this.
After scouring the web I found several menu subscription services but nothing that offered many choices – most had 1 menu a month, take it or leave it. So of course I decided to do it on my own but I got quickly frustrated because there are too many recipes to choose from on the internet and I couldn’t decide which ones I wanted to make. It was taking up a lot of my time and the whole point was to save time and make life easier – not spend hours trying to decide what I wanted to have for dinner!
Finally, I found Once a Month Meals – a group of moms who offer several types of menus (e.g. traditional, vegetarian, paleo, etc.) to choose from and make it easy for you to cook meals for an entire month. For each menu you get the recipes, an organized shopping list, prep day instructions (chopping, etc.), cooking day instructions, thaw list (to help you plan when to take things out of the freezer so you can eat them), serving day instructions (some recipes have add-ons or need cooking), and labels. Obviously it would take a few hours to do all this on your own!
You can also swap meals to make your own custom menu if there is something that you don’t like. Just enough choice to be flexible without being overwhelming. The other great thing about Once a Month Meals is that they provide very helpful tips and resources to help you every step of the way and save you a lot of headaches. For example, starting with a mini menu rather than a full menu was a really good idea.
I signed up immediately and yesterday I did my first mini menu. It was a huge success! Take a look at how my day went:
Before the big day:
Pick your menu. I chose to do a mini-menu because I only had 1 day free to do everything (shop, prep, and cook).
Decide how many people you are cooking for. Even though there’s just me and my son I chose to cook for 4 people so that I would get more meals for basically the same amount of work. (Tricky, I know lol) The recipes and shopping list automatically update to correspond to the number of meals you select. Thank you Once a Month Meals! This is super helpful.
Check supplies and ingredients in your kitchen. Do you really have 4 apples in the fridge for that recipe? Do you have a slow-cooker if you need one? Cross-check the shopping list with your inventory and makes notes so you won’t forget.
Add other things you want to buy for the week to your list. The menus don’t cover all of your meals and snacks so add in whatever else you need for the week. For us that’s stuff like milk, yogurt, salad greens for lunches, coffee, etc.
Bring a pen so you can check off everything as you put it in your cart.
Be prepared to spend more than your typical shopping trip. You are cooking more than you usually would so obviously it will cost more money. However, it also will save money because you will waste less food and make fewer last-minute trips to the grocery store or fast food joints. (If you have time and energy for price-matching and/or coupon clipping this can help you save money too).
Don’t go shopping when it is busy. Not something that I enjoy anyway but if you are trying to buy a lot of food it can be overwhelming to deal with a ton of people at the same time.
Prepping and Cooking:
I decided to prep and cook each recipe 1 at a time. The fine folks at Once a Month Meals recommend doing prep the night before your cooking day and I think that would be faster, especially if you are cooking a full menu. For example, I ended up chopping garlic 3 or 4 separate times for different recipes instead of doing all the garlic at once. Research shows that switching between tasks takes more time than doing one at a time. Another benefit is that you lower the chance of cross-contamination (meats and veggies) and use fewer cutting boards 🙂
Clean your kitchen before you start.
Prepare slow-cooker dishes first. Set em’ and forget em’ while you work on other recipes 🙂
Wash dishes as you go. This reduced the number of dishes that I used and the cleanup I had at the end.
What I made:
1. Paleo meatloaf:
2. Crockpot sweet potato chili
3. Garlic herb Crusted Pork Roast (sub for pork tenderloin)
4. Almond butter chicken
5. Jalapeno Chicken Burgers
6. Pumpkin walnut protein muffins (my recipe that I added on)
Grocery shopping took me an hour and a half and cooking took me 4 hours (10am-2pm). We had chili for supper (it was awesome!) and now I have a freezer full of yummy meals to help me through this busy month of marking and writing publications 🙂 You can have better work life balance and Once a Month Meals can help. Check it out!