Better Grad Student

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Posts Tagged ‘productivity

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 14

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Photo by suchitra prints

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

Reading for Fun

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Hopefully not something Fyodor Dostoyevsky...Reading a great book is one of my top ten experiences in life. When you’re fully engaged in a book, it completely draws you in and it almost feels like you’re a part of a movie rather than reading words on a page. A great story allows your mind to escape from the normalcy of everyday life and imagine things of which you’ve never dreamed. Embarking on a literary adventure has many important benefits and I recommend it to almost anyone. But why am I talking about reading books for fun on a blog about how to be a better grad student?

If you’ve read almost any of my previous posts, you’ll know that I’m a big proponent of reading as much scientific literature as you can. You can’t possibly expect to succeed in your field if you don’t know what’s been done in the past, or what’s coming up in the near future. Especially in the early days of grad school, the majority of your time will probably be spent reading research articles. However, in addition to being committed to reading scientific literature, I believe you should also be committed to spending some time reading something you really enjoy.

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Written by Taylor M.

March 7, 2011 at 2:30 pm

Why I Stopped Checking Email So Much

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Communication is key in this digital age. We are able to stay in touch with everyone we meet through email, phones, twitter, and facebook. We constantly know when someone is trying to get a hold of us and our attention. This sounds like a great thing, until you put it into practice. What really ends up happening is that you get a bunch of spam you don’t want, voicemails that pile up, six million tweets a second and you now know way too much about your friends. All of these ways to interact with other people are available for the very high price of your time and attention.

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Written by Taylor M.

February 1, 2011 at 11:44 am

Regain Your Freedom

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Distractions! It’s what the internet was practically built upon and it’s what keeps you from being productive during the day. I know from personal experience how a simple visit to Wikipedia can turn into 20 minutes of your day lost. The habits that have formed from years of internet use are practically ingrained in my hands. In my quest to be a better grad student, I finally came upon a solution to beat the distractions of the internet and actually get some work done. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Taylor M.

January 28, 2011 at 6:00 pm

How to Be Productive Even When You’re Stuck at Home

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So you’re stuck at home. Maybe it’s because of the weather, or maybe your car died, or maybe a loved one needs you to stay home and be there for them while they’re sick. Whatever the reason, you’re not going into work today. Don’t get too excited just yet! Your advisor probably wouldn’t look too kindly on you not working even if there is 6 feet of snow outside. You need to do something productive today while you’re trapped inside. But you may cry, “I can’t be productive today! All my stuff is at school! I can’t do anything from home!” Au contraire! You are a better grad student than most and you can be productive from home! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Taylor M.

January 21, 2011 at 11:45 am