Thursday, January 30, 2014

Qualitative Research

I'm starting to come back to life after almost a month of sick, snow, sick, snow, call, more sick, more snow. I woke up early, did my first work out in many weeks, and am actually feeling pulled to write here again.

I mentioned in my last post that I had some insights re: focus at work. I tried time-tracking, but jotting down what project I was working on when didn't actually tell me how focused and productive I was during that time. So I switched the quantitative for the qualitative style of research. At the end of the day I just took a moment to think about how I felt about the day, and then thought about what else was going on that may have been related. I came up with a few observations. Interestingly, many of the things that zap my focus at work also make me less likely to be nice to my husband and kids.

  • Physical discomfort: Obviously, sleep deprivation is huge here, but given all the sick this month I realized how hard it was to concentrate at work with shards of glass seemingly in my throat, or pressure mounting in my sinuses. Minor things like having to constantly tug at my clothes, or having gross wet socks also prohibited laser-beam concentration. Oh, and hunger. If I feel the need for a snack, it made more sense to take the time to procure and eat the snack rather than daydream about said snack for the whole afternoon.
  • Emotional discomfort: The day G and I had a huge fight on the way to work was not a banner day for me. Similarly, it takes me a while to get back on track after a really tough morning with the boys. It seems obvious also, that being anxious or sad about something may inhibit productivity, but I never really put two and two together. No wonder I was so unfocused when G and I were fighting more frequently, or when B was having horrible crying fits about the thought of going to school every morning. On the morning fight day, I should've taken a few minutes to write G and email or at the least, send a "sorry" text so that I could move on. 
  • Long barren stretches of time: I did this to myself. I thought distractions were keeping me from working, so I tried to lump meetings together and keep whole days free to work on major projects. Unfortunately, I tend to work better under a modest amount of time pressure---like having to turn something in between meetings, or when I need to leave early to get the kids. Sitting down at 8:30 AM and knowing I have until 5 PM to complete something just leads to....wasting time and doing the work between 3-5 PM anyways. 
  • Lack of incentive and accountability: I admit it. The internal motivation that has always fueled me seems to have...left. I need either the promise of something pleasant when I deliver, or the threat of something unpleasant when I don't. I know I've busted my ass for a (rare in my world) opportunity that offered extra $. I also make sure I deliver---usually early---when someone else is counting on me, whether its a patient, a trainee, or a colleague.  My day-to-day work environment, though, is completely devoid of such carrots and sticks. I'm not going to get more money, or time off, or even praise for moving forward. And I'm not going to disappoint anyone but  myself for an off week or month, as long as it all adds up over the course of a year/years. I'm trying to figure out how to work this one out. Can I give myself little rewards for meeting or exceeding goals? I do want to find an accountability partner, so we can hold each other to our weekly goals. 
  • Thinking too small: I did mention that I missed doing the fun parts of my I started spending more time on the science and realized that...I'm bored with the science I'm doing. I've been working on the same project for over a year, bashing away, making small tweaks and repeating. I need to think bigger---explore new techniques, even if I don't know how to do them (and thus! at least at first). I need to start something small and new just because it seems interesting. I need to move out of my comfort zone and stretch myself. Nothing like a challenge to get me motivated.
Overall I've actually been doing pretty good this month, considering how much time I've taken off for various reasons, and how sick I've been even when I've come into work. When you're in this kind of survival mode, though, there really isn't room for mucking around, so I've prioritized ruthlessly and gotten all the essentials done. Now that things are back to normal, though, we'll see how it goes. 


  1. I LIKE these insights! They make excellent sense, and I admire that you have some solutions for things that I would have thought didn't have solutions (like being cross with the spouse--I'd think of it as something that would have to wait, but of course one can fix it at least a little in the moment!)

  2. Great insights here- I think there are lots of us who can relate. I tend to accomplish things reactively rather than proactively- I'm a people pleaser through and through. And thinking small is the bane of my existence- I fear change, and I really fear failure. Not sure how to change that... Maybe I'll have to follow your lead! Keep us posted!

  3. YES. Especially the emotional discomfort one. When we are fighting, I can't focus on stuff very well. Same is true for hunger. It's very cool that you are observing these things.