Occam’s Typewriter has seemed like a home to me since I started this gig about a year ago. Always controversial, always avant-garde, always energizing. And it still is. But lately I’ve found that my energies for putting a tolerable piece together seem to have been dwindling. Why? It’s the pressure right now at work.
Surprisingly, it’s not a lack of time; not being one to spend too long hours with my eyes closed, and since I am usually unable to write much in the way of science-based grants and papers after a certain hour in the evening/night, there is still plenty of time to write. But I don’t want to write blogs under pressure. That’s the whole point.
Why so much pressure? Well, although for those of you on the other side of the pond the funding agencies differ, it’s the same old story. We’re all on a rickety boat. Up the creek. Without a paddle. At least that’s how it feels.
I find myself having returned from vacation with no fewer than 7 proposals that need to leave the confines of the lab-office by the end of this month. One of them, a biggie that I’m organizing involving 4 other investigators from different institutes. Not just organizing, but herding. Add some grant reviewing of my own, reviewing manuscripts for journals and serving as monitoring editor to handle an array of manuscripts. And did I mention that our little group now numbers 11 people? Each with her/his own project, results, requirements and troubleshooting. Sometimes I feel as though I need to clone myself.
But I’m NOT complaining. I chose this path, and wouldn’t give it up for anything. Okay, maybe if one of my novels became a best seller. But that’s as likely as winning the lottery. And I haven’t bought a ticket.
So what can a researcher do to decrease pressure? Everyone has her/his own style, but here are a few of my own guidelines:
1) Don’t change your daily routine. I exercise every morning, but if I give that up to “get more work done,” it will backfire. Because my exercise makes me feel good, and I am more creative and efficient at work. Even if I am physically working fewer hours. The same goes for sleep—all-nighters are seldom worthwhile.
2) Seek solutions for removing extra burdens. In this case, I’ve stopped accepting manuscripts to review or handle as academic editor this month. If people are unhappy, let them be.
3) Focus on one task at a time for several hours. It’s important to be able to juggle, to work simultaneously on different projects. However, the “orientation time” that it takes to get up to speed and working on a specific project makes it inefficient to jump back and forth too frequently
4) Delegate responsibility. Have senior students, post-docs or others in the lab take care of whatever they can on their own so that minor issues do not take up your valuable time.
5) If all else fails, think outside the box about how to find extra time. In my case, I simply decided to cancel my participation in a meeting on the west coast towards the end of this month. Just the decision brought me a sudden flood of relief. I should have made the decision earlier.
6) Continue to do non-science things that you enjoy! Reading brings to me a great relief from stress. And so…
In that vein, I would like to mention and leave a small sample of some work by a phenomenal author, poet and friend, Robin Stratton. She has a number of great books and poetry chapbooks on sale at Amazon, and on this website from Big Table Publishing Company, and for anyone who is really interested in beautifully written prose and poetry that deal with the most personal and candid relationships between the sexes, you are in for a treat! Better yet, some of her poems (and upcoming novels) are “LabLit.” I will leave you with two poems from Robin’s outstanding Chapbook “Dealing with Men” (now available on Kindle for an absurd $1.99).
Haiku for 4.5 Million Americans
You left home last night
big hurry, no shoes, no coat
What were you thinking?
You slipped out the door
must have been just before dawn
Haiku for Rudy
decodes the dark enemy
A fierce opponent
but government funding goes
to another war