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Archive for the ‘Productivity’ Category

40 Days of Tips, Tricks, and Links: Day 21

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Efficiency in anything you do is a very logical goal. Who wants to spend more time than necessary accomplishing some task? Being efficient in grad school gives you more time to experience life outside of school. Imagine being able to gain over 40 hours a week to do what you please! With this extra time, you can choose to reinvest it in your work, or you can choose to learn something new. Perhaps your piles of money need counting, or maybe you want to take your Maserati to get polished again. Whatever the goal, having extra time can be a massive boon to your success in life.

The least efficient action you take right now is sleeping. Most everybody you know keeps a monophasic sleep cycle: sleep in one big chunk during the day and stay awake for about 16 hours. But if we want to make sleep more efficient, then monophasic isn’t going to cut it. Polyphasic is the way to go. Polyphasic sleep allows you to sleep for only 2 hours total in the day and gives you a massive 22 hours to do with what you please. The key to polyphasic sleep is entering the REM cycle of your sleep quickly. If you can learn to do this, then you can be in peak performance with just 2 hours of sleep per day. This 2 hours is broken up over the entire day in 20 minute naps every for hours. Once you train your body to immediately enter REM sleep upon falling asleep, the total time you need to sleep will be decreased and you will feel amazingly rested after each nap.

If you really want to be truly successful in graduate school and in your future career, you need to be more competitive and accomplish more than your peers. With polyphasic sleep you can claim that you have more hours in your day than anybody else. Nobody would be able to compete with you because every day you’d be able accomplish more than double the work they could possibly hope to do. You would truly be an unstoppable grad student machine and you would finally discover the meaning of life. Polyphasic sleep is the way to go for everyone in academia. And if you’re still reading this and aren’t convinced, well, then happy April Fool’s Day! Here are some of my favorite pranks from today. Enjoy!

Please tell me what you think in the comments! Also, if you like what you’ve been reading here, sign up at the top of the page to receive emails every time I make a new post. Thank you for reading!


Written by Taylor M.

April 1, 2011 at 5:30 pm

40 Days of Tips, Tricks, and Links: Day 20

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Productivity in graduate school can be a difficult parameter to measure. Inevitably we all look to some external gauge to tell us that we’ve been productive and haven’t been wasting our time. Most often, this gauge winds up being the other grad students and post-docs in your lab or department. Comparing yourself to other students isn’t always a good thing though, as it can set you up to be disappointed and frustrated more often than not.

Imagine you just joined a lab and one of the students in this lab seems to be the most uber-productive person you’ve ever met. They get to work early, stay late, and are always busy doing something. Every time you walk past their desk you glance at their screen and see them working on something important looking. Whenever you overhear a conversation between that student and the PI, it always seems like they’re on the verge of making some earth-shattering discovery right there in the hallway. You then start comparing yourself to this student and forming all these very negative ideas about your own productivity and self-worth. This leads to a form of mini-depression and you wind up fulfilling your own prophecy and wasting half the day. This person has done nothing intentional to affect your progress or productivity, and yet the simple act of comparing yourself to them has caused you to move further away from your goal of ‘being productive’. So how do you get away from this behavior?

The first step is to stop comparing yourself to other people. Just stop. This ‘the grass is greener on the other side’ mentality is dragging you down. Realize that you are your own individual person with their own set of metrics to measure success in life. The problem with comparing yuorself to other people is that you don’t get the whole story. When you look at another person’s life, you only see the parts that occur in your presence. Maybe when they’re around people they do a ton of work to make themselves look really busy. Perhaps that snippet of conversation that you just heard was only a very small part of a larger exchange covering everything from the latest standings in the March Madness brackets to the existence of fungus-infected zombie ants. You mainly see only the ‘bright spots’ of a persons activities and you don’t get the full picture. You do, however, get the full picture of your life. You know when you’ve taken a break or slacked off, and when you take the full view of your life and compare it to a partial view of someone else’s, then you’re bound to fall short.

Realize that nobody is perfect, no matter how much it might seem like they are. Take the time to recognize the positives in other people’s lives and try to incorporate them into your own life, if that’s something you desire. Otherwise, focus on your own productivity and success and don’t worry so much about what other people are doing. You’ll stay happier and saner in the long run.

Please tell me what you think in the comments! Also, if you like what you’ve been reading here, sign up at the top of the page to receive emails every time I make a new post. Thank you for reading!

Written by Taylor M.

March 31, 2011 at 3:48 pm

40 Days of Tips, Tricks, and Links: Day 17

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When you first start learning about a new topic, and particularly when you’re learning about your research field, you should spending a large portion of your time reading. The challenge with reading several scientific papers in a row is that it can become monotonous. At some point, you may find yourself reading the words on the page, but not comprehending the meaning. This isn’t an unexpected phenomenon, but if you don’t adjust your behavior when you recognize this happening, then you’re doing yourself a disservice by wasting time and energy attempting to read something from which you will gain nothing.

One cool trick I found to make reading a bit more interesting is to read the article backwards. By backwards I don’t mean read sentences and words in the reverse order. Instead, I mean that you should switch up the flow of the paper. Most journal articles are written in several sections: Introduction, Materials and Methods, Results, and Discussion/Conclusion. Starting from the beginning every time can be a slow going because of the necessary review of the topic that every paper does. In some cases, it might be more interesting to start with the discussion, the go back to the results to see how they got there. If something piques your curiosity about how they obtained a set of data, then go check it out in the methods. Then, if the paper has given you some really good ideas to think about, it’s probably worth it to read the intro. This active form of reading will encourage you to be more engaged in the manuscript and it will definitely keep your interest longer than just reading straight through from the beginning to the end. Give this method a shot and if you notice a difference, let me know about it in the comments.

Please tell me what you think in the comments! Also, if you like what you’ve been reading here, sign up at the top of the page to receive emails every time I make a new post. Thank you for reading!

Written by Taylor M.

March 28, 2011 at 9:28 pm

40 Days of Tips, Tricks, and Links: Days 15 & 16

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Once again, you get twice the goodness in a single post. So, hold onto your top hats and get ready because it’s going to be awesome!

Today’s double-post is about ergonomics. In this computerized world, a majority of the work-force sits in front of a computer for many hours a day, grad students included. This fact brings about its own set of hazards that  can cause serious health problems. Long days of data analysis / internet surfing can have your back and neck killing you. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be like this as long as you take a couple of simple steps to help yourself. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Taylor M.

March 26, 2011 at 5:54 pm

40 Days of Tips, Tricks, and Links: Day 14

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Today, for me, has been one of those days that dragged. Motivation was through the floor, the yawns kept coming, and I just couldn’t find the energy to do a ton of work. To be sure, I did accomplish several things today, but my heart just wasn’t in it and I wasn’t as energetic as I normally am. On the bright side, however, I can pinpoint exactly why I’ve been feeling this way and I know how to counteract it in the future.

The cause of my laziness today really stems from the very first choice I made this m0rning: I decided to go back to sleep for a few minutes after my alarm went off. I got to bed a little late and I was feeling particularly tired, but I decided to close my eyes and drift off again for a few minutes. Whenever I do this, inevitably I feel like crap throughout the rest of the day. I’ve actually done some self-experimentation with this and proved to myself that this really is the cause. Days when I wake up as soon as my alarm goes off, and then actually stay awake, I feel 100x better! Even when I didn’t get enough sleep during the night, if I manage to stay awake after my alarm goes off then I feel more energetic and motivated throughout the day. The momentary pain of staying awake in the morning is outweighed by the positives that I experience because of this choice.

If you’ve been having trouble feeling motivated during the day or you just have general feelings of being tired, then do this little experiment: alternate days of sleeping in and getting up immediately and record how you feel during the day. Are you more tired or alert? Did you feel motivated or lackadaisical? Jot down a couple of notes a day and see if you notice a difference. Chances are that you will, and if you take steps to make it a habit of getting up when the alarm goes off, then you’re well on your way to feeling great the majority of your time!

Please tell me what you think in the comments! Also, if you like what you’ve been reading here, sign up at the top of the page to receive emails every time I make a new post. Thank you for reading!

Written by Taylor M.

March 24, 2011 at 7:42 pm

40 Days of Tips, Tricks, and Links: Day 12 & 13

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WordPress was misbehaving yesterday so I was unable to make an update. Worry not though, today’s post has literally twice as many tips as the last post. So brace yourselves!

I wanted to share with you two separate tools that I use very frequently to help with productivity. Productivity, and specifically productivity on the computer, can be a nebulous goal. How do you decide that you’ve been productive? You really can’t without gathering some sort of data on the issue. This is where RescueTime comes in. This small app, once it’s installed on your computer, will keep track of how much time you spend doing different tasks on your computer. At the end of the week, it will tell you how you’ve spent your time and whether or not this falls into the productive or distracting categories.


Red vs. Blue


The above picture is my efficiency summary for the previous week. I’m not 100% sure how it calculates the final value (maybe it’s just an average) but this basically says that, overall, I did more productive activities than distracting ones. They’re also kind enough to break it down by day:


Blue won this time... but barely.


Tuesday, I didn’t work at my desk much, and this is reflected in the low amount of time in both the productive or distracting category. You can also set up the time frame that RescueTime records; I have mine set to 8AM to 6 PM Monday through Friday. This way, I’m not recording what I’m doing at home to relax, and I can get a better picture of what I’m actually doing at school. There are several more settings that you can tweak and optimize, but I’ll let you explore those if you decide. Overall, RescueTime has allowed me to see just how much time I spend on distracting sites and helps me to budget my time more wisely.

Part two of today’s post is about a little program I love called Evernote. Evernote recently became quite popular when it was released on the Mac App Store, but it’s been around since 2008. The basic premise behind this program is to capture the information that you want to store, in the format of your choosing. As its name implies, Evernote allows you to keep your notes forever and it allows you to do this on pretty much any format: Windows, Mac OS X, iOS, Android, and WebOS.


Elephants... memory... get it??


A note can be any information that you want to store for later: webpages, pictures, videos, internet links, etc. All of these become searchable within the program for easy access. Personally, I use it to capture ideas and information for both research and this blog that I want to use later. It syncs up seamlessly between my phone and computer and has really enhanced my ability to keep track of ideas and to recall information for later use. If you’ve ever been in the situation of forgetting something that you really wanted to remember, which, let’s be honest, is everyone, then I highly recommend this program.

P.S. Both of these are free!

Please tell me what you think in the comments! Also, if you like what you’ve been reading here, sign up at the top of the page to receive emails every time I make a new post. Thank you for reading!

Written by Taylor M.

March 23, 2011 at 5:36 pm

40 Days of Tips, Tricks, and Links: Day 11

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Photo by tiffa130

Blindly stumbling through your work is not the preferred method of operation. Knowing where you’re going and what you have to do will mean the difference between success and a whole bunch of wasted time. Today’s tip is about one simple thing that you should do prior to starting anything: ask yourself ‘What is my goal?’ If you can’t clearly answer this, then it you should take some time to evaluate what you’re doing to make sure it’s what you need to be doing.

Determining your goal for any activity should help you to clarify your purpose and get you to think about your actions. Decide what your goal is before you send an email and you’ll write a shorter, more focused message that your recipient will respond to quicker. Make sure you know what your goal is before you conduct an experiment, otherwise there really is no point to do the experiment. If you find yourself wasting time, it may help to ask yourself whether or not this is helping you achieve your goal (whatever that may be). If it’s not, then reshift your focus onto something more important and worthy of your time. Everyone’s time is precious, and taking a short moment to clarify your focus will help you waste less of yours, and others, time.

Please tell me what you think in the comments! Also, if you like what you’ve been reading here, sign up at the top of the page to receive emails every time I make a new post. Thank you for reading!

Written by Taylor M.

March 21, 2011 at 5:41 pm

Posted in Productivity, The Basics

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