I hesitate to write about this (for reasons that will become clear), and it may disappear in a day or two if I change my mind. But I need to acknowledge the problem "out loud" so that I can hold myself accountable to the fixing of said problem. So here it is: I have been extremely unfocused at work for the past few months. I'm getting my work done, but way slower than previously, and its getting done in short quick bursts, with many hours of unproductive time in between. I feel like I'm doing 100% of my work in about 70% of my time...which is a lot of time to go wasted, and a lot of productivity unmet.
My work days are so fragmented. Some of it is the nature of the beast---I am responsible for several different projects, clinical and research-related. I am still working with my former mentor, I have new mentors, I have a technician. I have clinic and faculty meetings, and lab meetings, and phone calls. But who doesn't? I can't eliminate that from my day, those are essential.
Like my 4 year old, I've found that I don't handle transitions well (though I am happy to report I haven't had a screaming fit or thrown anything). Instead of jumping back into it after being interrupted, I putter around for a while. Every time I finish a task, in fact, I waste some time before I start the next one. I think short breaks are actually good for productivity but the key to that is short. I've tried various things: Pomodoro technique, leechblock software, accountability partners at work...but everything has been short lived. I keep getting pulled into the same spiral of time wasting, then shame, then more time wasting, more shame...
I was baffled by my behavior for a while---I've always been extremely internally motivated at work (if not in the rest of life) and slacking off just wasn't something that I did. I kept blaming it on sleep-deprivation, or stress at home, or being sick. Yes, all of those probably didn't help. But I now realize that the underlying reason for my lack of drive is that I don't love what I'm doing these days.
I love the science behind it, but I haven't even been doing science. I've been dealing with administrative B.S., IRBs and budgets and monitoring boards and deciding which of 50 different blood collections tubes I need to buy and so on. I like the medicine involved in my new clinical program, but not the enormous amount of behind-the-scenes work and sweet-talking I have to do to set up the clinic space, and the computer system, and make sure the schedulers understand my plan, and get all my collaborators on board. The countless meetings and more emails and more phone calls. Its not easy to get caught up in the flow of this kind of work, the same way I can with writing grants or analyzing data. Yet getting this done will get me the data to analyze that will lead to writing of grants and papers. I need to get it moving and quickly!
Every job has unpleasant aspects, but if I want to really be driven, there also have to be some pleasant and rewarding aspects. I'm not sure how to handle this---I've got more IRB addendums to execute, lots and lots of meetings and ordering decisions and budget negotiations to get through before I can even begin recruiting for my studies.
I've thought of three paltry strategies that may help:
1) Planning my time better so that I have a set list of tasks to execute each day. This involves really thinking through how long something will take so that I have sufficient (but not overwhelming) incentive to keep going to get through my list. I especially need to do this on Fridays. Monday mornings are often the worst---I have great intentions, but without a clear place to begin, I flounder.
2) Make sure that plan includes at least SOME amount of actual "science" each week---data analysis, hands on bench work, reviewing new literature, thinking through experiments, discussing results/experiments with colleagues. Something that will inspire me to want to keep doing what I'm doing.
3) Use planning to minimize transitions as much as possible. Schedule meetings back to back. Set specific times of day for phone calls and emails.
I'll report on my progress as part of my resolutions every 2 weeks.