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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.

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Written by Taylor M.

March 31, 2011 at 3:48 pm