Monday, 27 August 2012

How to feel productive

--> Since I had my son, there have been entire days that pass by without a single noteworthy task being completed. Instead of wallowing in self-pity for my newfound lack of time to do things, here are some ways to increase the perception of productivity, which theoretically will lead eventually to actual productivity, or at least increased happiness.

I’m generally not very good with lists, namely because I typically make them either (a) on a scrap of paper with is swiftly lost or (b) in a notebook which is never subsequently opened for list perusal. But really—what is more satisfying than crossing everything off of your list and then throwing it away?

1. Make copious, short lists filled with easy tasks. Obvious examples: wake up, get dressed, eat breakfast. Check, check, check! Feeling of satisfaction. Less obvious ideas: drive to work without getting in accident; find person picking nose in public during commute; drink 2 cups of coffee before 10 am. Really, the possibilities are endless!
Pretty colors, and bite-sized chunks of samples, make science fun.

2. If you must make a list filled with actual work-related tasks, be sure to include abundant sub-tasks, so that you can check them off frequently and not feel like things are dragging on forever. For example:

Bad list
  • Finish Spanish mackerel project
  • Finish beluga whale project

Better list

Spanish mackerel
  •   Plan fieldwork:
    •      Book flights 
    •      Book accommodation
    •      Buy WD40 and duct tape
  • Do fieldwork
  • Return to lab
  • Put samples in freezer
  • Spend several days catching up on sleep and recovering from bug bites
  • etc…you get the point.

3. Catch the fat rabbits first. I can’t take credit for this phrase, which I learned at a workshop, but it’s a useful visual to remember, and attempt to actually do.

First, identify what your fat rabbit is: this is the main project on your list, which stresses you out every time you think about how you’ve been avoiding it. Next, start each day by chipping away at that project.

I know that (a) it’s way easier to start the day by checking and responding to emails, and (b) you are just waiting until you have a clear week to really dig into and nail that project.

But: (a) checking emails leads to adding things to your list, pushing the fat rabbit farther away, (b) you are never ever going to have a clear week and (c) if you can possibly learn to switch on and off intense, actual work (quickly) you will be much more productive once you have children, or otherwise defined working hours.
Increase your computer power, and you might work exponentially faster!

4. Say no once in a while. I find this incredibly difficult; especially because I am lacking the ability to estimate the actual time it takes to do things. For example—and this has not been repeated—one Christmas day we had breakfast, lunch, and dinner with different sets of family members in different cities. This felt productive, but really it was just insane and rushed.

I’ve seen a lot of articles lately about how multitasking, though seemingly efficient, is actually bad for productivity because it decreases focus (for instance here and here). But of course, that's because other people are doing it wrong. To follow proper Jessica Multitasking Protocol, use time spent doing something repetitive or otherwise non-brain-intensive (formatting your journal article, let’s say) to simultaneously do something enjoyable like listening to a podcast. Or, go for a walk while reading articles. Because you'll be doing something enjoyable while doing something perhaps a bit on the dull side (sorry, science, but you are often rather dry), you may find your attention lasts longer and you feel like you haven’t wasted your day sitting on my ass/wearing down your pointer finger on the computer trackpad. 
How's that for effective multitasking?

Be realistic
This is something I’m currently struggling with: setting goals that are feasible so I don’t just collapse in a heap of stress, unable to accomplish anything. I’m slowly coming to grips with the surprising fact that I can’t work 10 hours a day, spend time with my son, keep up some resemblance of a social life, and also sleep—and therefore I won’t be able to produce quite the same amount of science that once came from long days and often nights and weekends spent working. And really, that’s (eventually going to be) Ok with me.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Cook adventurously

--> When I met my husband, the only thing I could cook was pasta (perfectly) and overcooked vegetables with tofu (burned to a crisp). Even rice eluded my culinary abilities. It’s too bad I only just found this amazing blog. Not to blame my ever-loving parents, but the term “gourmet” did not play a large role in my upbringing. Since then, I’ve come to appreciate and even sometimes cook good food. Here are some tips I’ve learned along the way:

1. Combine unexpected ingredients. This is, at least from my surveys of fine restaurants, the sign of real haute dining. Does the combination of sautĂ©ed strawberries and fried fish sound tasty to you? If not, you clearly do not have a refined palate—something I am also apparently lacking, since I found this dish disgusting, yet paid $20 to choke it down.

2. Don’t serve a boring, tried-and-true dish to dinner guests—try something new! This is really the best way to try new recipes. Your guests will feel too rude not to eat the food you prepared, so you won’t have to eat your own terrible leftovers. Plus, you’ll never be asked to cook again!

When you make something tasty, be sure to catalog it with photographic evidence.

3. Don’t measure anything. From my observations, this is the sign of a good cook. Of course, it might help that said people have a working knowledge of approximately how much of a certain substance to add to a dish (i.e. a pinch of salt vs. a handful), but I think that extra-delicious taste, which not measuring imparts, is known as flair.

4. Always substitute at least one ingredient because you forgot to bring the recipe with you to the store, and/or you hate lists. This is much more fun than just following along with the instructions in a lackluster fashion. Try to see how many ingredients you can substitute and still produce something edible!
Making your food look ugly/gross is one technique for increasing the chances you will get the eat the entire batch.

5. Don’t read a recipe’s instructions before you embark upon following it. This is an especially fun challenge when you realize you don’t have the proper equipment, and you get to do a fun scavenger hunt around the house for an alternative tool. Alternatively, you might realize you were supposed to flambĂ© the pineapple before adding it to the cake…but that’s just too much work, anyway.

6. Mix and Match recipes! It’s great when you use the ingredients from one recipe with the instructions from another—or even better; use half of the ingredients from each of two different recipes! This will lead to exciting combinations you can try out on your friends. 
You can always rely on wine and packaged cookies to save an otherwise disastrous meal.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

How to wrangle your 9-month old on the road

We’ve been traveling a lot lately, with limited space for the various accoutrements that the modern baby seems to demand. Here are some ideas for making do with what’s around to maximize baby happiness while minimizing luggage.

On the plane
If you’ve got the babe in a lap belt facing forward, looking at (and/or destroying) the in-flight magazine may last for takeoff.
If the babe is supposed to be held in burping position, good luck with that…trading smiles with the people in the row behind is likely to be a winner in that situation.

In flight
Never underestimate the power of flight attendants. They have abundant baby-on-plane experience and know how to delight them. Pushing buttons on the intercom system? Peek-a-boo with the first-class curtain? Yes, please!
Also never underestimate the ability of other passengers to enjoy and amuse your child. On one recent flight, a flotilla of sisters spent an entire hour playing with our baby, while we parents had a blissful time reliving our pre-baby days of reading actual books on the plane.
Walking the aisle is a lifesaver. Our baby loves to smile at strangers, and planes are full of strangers, many of which are willing to obligingly smile back and make funny faces to stave off boredom and melt-down-ville.

This is when ear-popping skills come most in handy, which babies tend not to have. Best to nurse, bottle-feed, or encourage pacifier use during this time, though apparently crying loudly also helps pop eardrums (possibly other people’s). Good to save a special toy for entertainment, since by now your child may have tired of everything else.
Conferences are boring.
Toys and entertainment
Aside from the plane, you probably won’t need or have time for a great number of toys, but a little creativity can turn everyday items into toys when needed. Safety disclaimer: check to be sure baby can’t choke or otherwise hurt themselves on any parts of these items. Our babe has had lots of fun playing with the following:

Empty gallon-sized milk jug
Various kitchen implements (obviously nothing sharp and pointy)
Metal bowls – great slammed into tile floor for maximum loudness
Interesting drawer-pulls
Pillow mountains
Remote control (minus batteries)
Wine cork (according to the baby, this is great for teething. Make sure it’s not disintegrating, and possibly wash it off…unless baby is lucky enough to find it on the floor during a wedding)
Sticks (perhaps not sharp and/or poisonous ones)
Tourist brochures
Zippers and decorations on other people’s luggage

Of course, the best entertainment is found in exploring new environments (and finding all dangerous items available) and meeting new people. Take full advantage of these natural diversions!
Waterfalls are also boring.

Meal time
Taking care not to offer your babe foods likely to cause intestinal distress/parasites, the new range of tastes and textures available on your travels can delight your babe.

You can use a baby carrier strapped to a chair to create a makeshift, not very secure highchair. Just be prepared to then wear all of the smeared-on food later when you use the carrier for its intended purpose.

If you are somewhere warm with a body of water nearby, strip them down, let your baby cover themselves in food while trying to eat ripe berries and then take them for a dip to rinse off!

Ha. If you figure this out, let me know.

"Yes! That's what I'm talking about, mom. Coral rubble is delicious. After much sampling, I've decided Acropora branches are superior for teething."