Over the last fortnight, I’ve posted about tools I use for organization and time management – some that I’ve used since my undergrad, some that are new for my PhD. This week I’m going to mention some of the “others” – the other various things I use to help me keep going with my research. Let’s go!

Tool 1 – Microsoft Word

This is one that my supervisor and I disagree on. He wants me to write everything ever using a LaTeX editor. I have downloaded one, and made templates – but I can’t stand it. I don’t see the sense in writing templates in code when Word makes documents look mega-professional with a few button clicks. Also, the templates provided by the organization I’m targeting for publication (IEEE) provide templates in Word anyway. This might not be true of all publication organizations, but I’d be willing to bet that it’s true of most.

Aside from the professional documents, Word is just so easy to use for developing planners, making checklists, and so forth. I mentioned last week that I use Evernote for a lot of my organization and for random thought jotting, but I use exclusively Word for my planners. It’s much easier to set up tables exactly how you want them in Word, and there’s an infinite number of ways to colour code or otherwise highlight different things in your week. I also use Word for my VICs – Very Important Checklists for similar reasons. Colour coding is my best friend.

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Tool 2 – Spotify

I don’t know how I would survive endless hours of staring at papers or writing my own without Spotify. I have several playlists of my own creation – some for reading, some for writing. Spotify themselves also have several playlists for “Focus” – some are instrumental, some are vocal-free electronic, some are acoustic… there’s something for everyone. I usually use instrumental music when I’m reading (though sometimes I throw in some electronic when I’m feeling tired… deadmau5’s album while(1<2) is my guilty pleasure). When I’m writing, I usually opt for some up-beat music with lyrics and all, because I don’t find lyrics distracting when I’m writing and it’s good to listen to my favourite music occasionally during my day.

I have a premium account because I found the ads distracting, but there is always the option of the free version if you don’t mind an ad here and there. So there’s an option for everyone. Alternatively, YouTube always has pretty awesome music playlists that you can set up and forget about.

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Tool 3 – Hobbies

I would probably go crazy if I didn’t do something little for myself every day. You just can’t work 12 hour days every day, it’s not healthy. I have a few little hobbies that I find help me unwind. I’ve always loved Italy and their culture, so I’ve been teaching myself Italian through Duolingo for about 3 years. I still try to practice every day. I love reading, so I try to read every day; at the moment, my boyfriend and I are reading a book together. It’s great, because sometimes I don’t feel like I’m in the mood to read – but I always enjoy it and feel better afterwards if I do it, and him wanting to hear the next chapter is a good way to force myself to start. I also enjoy baking, which is probably pretty obvious from the theme of this blog, drawing, and social sports (at the moment beach volleyball)  – but these are more “once in a while” activities, not every day. So yeah, do something for you – don’t make your whole life about work.

I have also recently been using Headspace for meditation. Meditation is not something I’ve ever really found to work for me before, but this app seems to be helping me a fair bit. It does make me feel clearer and more focused, and I’m only using the 10 free sessions (the price of full access is a bit steep for me). There’s also a lot of guided sessions by HiveBrain and narrated by Andrew Johnson that I find pretty good – I’ve always found his Relax (free and paid versions) and Deep Sleep ones actually work for me, and I’ve been using both for over a year. I’m yet to try his other ones, but there’s quite a few there that I think I eventually will use.

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Tool 4 – An Achievement List

I keep a list of my achievements. So when I finish writing a section of my dissertation, it gets written down somewhere. For me this is a good way to reflect and go “wow, I actually have done a fair bit” on those days when I feel like I’m not getting anywhere and everything is too hard. Writing something down on the list also reminds me to celebrate that success a little bit, whether that’s just a simple glass of wine with my boyfriend or a night off to go the movies.

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Tool 5 – Mugs & Water Bottles

I’ve got a few favourite mugs – a Caffeine molecule mug, a Toothless (from How To Train Your Dragon) mug, a Star Wars mug, and a Marauder’s Map heat changing mug. Basically, a nerdy collection with actual function. I use these for a maxmium of 2 cups of coffee a day (but real coffee from an espresso machine), and the rest of the time I try to drink herbal tea to keep my fluid levels up and my jitter levels low.

I also keep a water bottle next to my computer. Keeping hydrated is so important for keeping focused and for staying healthy – I know this from personal experience after having a fainting spell mid-thesis because I wasn’t drinking enough during my focused days of reading and writing. So the water bottle noas a permanent location beside my computer. When the bottle is empty, I take an immediate break to fill it up and then it returns to it’s spot.

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Tool 6 – A Good Night’s Sleep

On a normal day, I’m asleep by 10. If it ever gets to midnight, I stop and go to bed. I set an alarm for 7 every day to keep a regular sleep schedule, but if I wake up earlier naturally then I get up (within reason, I won’t get up before 5am). I know this tip is one that a lot of people get and not a lot of people follow, but I’ll give you an example of it at work.

I did a group assignment two years ago, and half of my group members liked to work late (like, 2am late) because then they would get “lots” of work done. Myself and one other member preferred to get some sleep and start early, so that’s what we did. And we were relentlessly bugged for not “putting in the effort” and staying up late. BUT, one night the late-nighter half of my group stayed at uni until 4am trying to get a part of the assignment to work, and still couldn’t. I got up at 6, went into uni at 8:30, and had that part up and running by 10. And it was not because I was better at it, more experienced with it, or smarter than anyone in the group. It was 100% because I was sleeping properly and I could tackle problems with a clear head and not a sleep-fogged brain.

If you “haven’t done enough work” but it’s getting late, then you have done enough work. Stop, go to bed. It doesn’t hurt to leave something unfinished, because then you have something to work on in the morning – helping you to have the motivation to keep going.

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Make like a koala

That’s it. That’s all the “other” things I do to stay sane and maintain a work-life balance (sort of). Hopefully some of these will help you to. I’d love to hear about any other things you do to keep yourself going, and any hobbies you might have – so drop me a message in the comments! 🙂

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