What’s working for my brain (summer 2019)

August 2019: Rosburg, WA

August 2019: Rosburg, WA

Way back in April 2019 (which feels like ages ago), I wrote a post about the things that were working (and not working) for my brain.

I thought I’d do an update to that post about what worked for my brain during the summer months.

Summer has such a different feel to it, that it really seems like there’s an adjustment period once it’s in full swing (which is July for me). Which might be why, during August, I felt the need to adjust some things in my/our daily routine.

This summer, my days were spent working on a few papers and a systematic review, course prep, 4th year tenure review prep, and building a relationship with a new collaborator. In non-tenure track related life I was working on the blog, plan(it)*, helping out someone in the personal finance realm with her online community, spending time with Mike and Ellie, and also trying to take it easy (ha!).

I hadn’t really planned on the summer being filled to the brim... I just kept adding things on and here I am (I’m noticing a pattern 😒).

Despite being packed, it was fun! Here’s what’s worked, along with where I’ve struggled.  

What’s working

Starting the day with the easiest task on the project I have the most resistance to/that feels the hardest

I have the most energy in the morning, which is helpful for engaging in projects I’m just not feeling. Usually these things tend to be papers. Even though I’m starting off with an “undesirable task,” I don’t just jump right in to the hardest thing on my list for that project, instead I pick the easiest task on the list. That little bit of momentum and confidence that, yes, I can do this, usually gets me going enough to tackle the things that feel the most difficult. 

Giving myself less time

Going along with the previous point, I experimented with spending less time on my tasks, especially the things that I was feeling resistance to. On one paper, I’ve been capping my time at 30 minutes per day (I’m working on editing), and that feels like plenty of time. In general, I’ve been trying to give myself less time to work on everything... because perfectionism will run your life if you let it, and the truth is, I don’t often need all the time I give myself to work on something. I’m finding that by giving myself less time to do things (and lengthening my breaks), I’m actually getting more done and feeling more refreshed at the end of the day.

End my “work day” (which for the summer meant both tenure track work and blog/plan(it)* related work) with something I really enjoy. 

The excitement about ending with the thing I’d been wanting to work on all day gave me a boost of energy for finishing up.

Setting aside specific times each day to search for whatever random things pop into my head (or Ellie’s)

I mentioned this in my post about cleaning up our daily routine. The internet is a wonderful thing, and it’s also super easy to get sucked into a black hole of searching for answers to the most random questions that pop into your head throughout the day. This is especially true with a young kid, who constantly asks questions that neither Mike nor I know the answer to. So... I’ve started to set boundaries around when I search for things on the internet (during lunch and during our evening routine). I put a cap on the amount of time I spend too, because at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter if I know whether or not starfish make noise or how foam is made (two of Ellie’s recent questions).

10 minute meditations

When I set my goals for the year I had wanted to work up to 30 minutes of meditation per day. I’ve been trying to do this since Ellie was born and it’s just not meshing with my life right now. So... I’m putting that dream aside for later, lowering my expectations, and going with something I know that I can consistently do. For me, that’s 10 minutes of meditation a day. While I do feel like 10 minutes is short, I’ve followed through on it for the past ~45 days. I’d rather build this into a super solid habit that I don’t have to think about before trying to get fancy and add more time! Every morning, I wake up, I open up insight timer, and meditate for 10 minutes.  

Paying attention to my thoughts

As the end of the summer approached I noticed that I was having a lot of thoughts about going back to work full time... and they weren’t positive 😂. I’ve really been trying to notice these thoughts and adjust my mindset a bit. I’m not talking about huge shifts like, this is going to be the best year ever! More like... I can do this... it might be stressful at first and that’s okay... this is just a normal part of getting back into the swing of things. I’ve been doing some reflection/journaling before bed to explore all the things that are coming up and that seems to be easing the tension. 

A summer away message

This is the first year I’ve put up an away message over the summer (why have I never done this before?!). I felt way less guilty about not checking my email frequently and the people sending me emails weren’t expecting me to respond in a timely manner. 

Brown noise

Like white noise, but easier on the ears. I put this on when I’m working and concentration comes so much more easily. Just search brown noise on youtube and you’ll find plenty of options. Here’s the one that I’ve been using.

What’s not working

Not having everything I need when I start working

This summer I found myself sitting down to work at my computer, thinking I was ready to go and then realizing... oh, I need a pen, or I need my charger, or my mouse, or a glass of water, or a snack, or whatever. I would then proceed to spend another 15 minutes gathering supplies. I’m thinking I might need to make a checklist!

Working from home when everyone is around

This one is getting better (with brown noise and firmer boundaries)... but Ellie is getting to an age where a closed door doesn’t deter her. Her 3 year old brain thinks, I want to tell mama something and I want to tell her right now, so off she goes. Or if she and Mike have been out and about, whenever she gets home she announces herself and yells, “MAMA! Where are you?!” Our office/guest room is right by the front door, so I can always hear it! If I’m working from home and Mike and Ellie are out and about, I try to schedule my breaks around when I know they’ll be getting back.

Back pain

My back is a constant reminder that you can’t separate your health from all the other aspects of your life. It’s all interconnected. It’s hard to find a comfortable position other than laying flat on my back, which isn’t really a great way to work at a computer. The pain can be quite distracting… although if you were interacting with me, you probably wouldn’t know it. I do have some answers as to why my back is hurting (2 ruptured discs), but I’m waiting to get into a specialist to see what next steps might be.