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. 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

So how am I doing...

Did I say I would update on my resolutions in 2 weeks? Has it been more than 2 weeks since I said that? Yes and yes. We have been completely out of our routine with sick days (B had strep...again...and it was a terrible 72-96 hours of fevers 104+ and all day/night crying) and snow days (we've already had 3.5 days this winter!), and some kind of low-grade lingering illness that G and I both have that has left us utterly too exhausted to do anything but the absolute necessities.

Anyways, here I am on another call weekend, sneaking 20 minutes to myself before I head home. Yes HOME! As compared to November's 8+ hours of rounding, we finished today in TWO HOURS. And then I went to my office and quickly finished all my notes.

So here are some updates and insights on my progress in my 3 "foundation" categories:

We have been sticking to our once a week "couple time", though Friday has never worked out. This weekend may be a wash, though, with sick and call. But we can try.
I have not said "nothing" when asked what was wrong. We did have one fight, last Tuesday as we were walking to work and we continued it after getting home because I was still upset. I think we resolved it maturely, instead of me saying "nothing", I was clear that I was upset and we sat down to discuss it after the kids went to bed.
I am doing the hugging more often than not.
I have not rolled my eyes (at G...I still roll my eyes about stuff)
Obviously no date night.

In the heat of our terrible fight on New Years Day, G spit out "you're not perfect, you know!", and I replied "of course I know that! I'm working on lots of things"...but in really being honest with myself, I did somewhat believe that I was, if not perfect, better than him in terms of behavior in our relationship. I admit I was a bit smug, thinking I was so self-aware and self-improving just because I was actively trying to change some of my patterns, but it didn't occur to me that maybe the things I was trying to change weren't the most important ones to him. Not fun to realize your own faults, but  an essential part of growing up.
Oh this one is a fail. I'm still yelling, I have been doing more school pick up. I ditched all the parent-board stuff due to work and sickness. We are planning soccer for B in the spring. I've read nothing and the thought of "special breakfasts" is making me laugh in a "what the hell was I thinking" kind of way. 

I am doing the weekly planning. Time tracking was not helpful, but more "qualitative evaluation" was invaluable. I have a slew of insights about my unproductivity but will save that for another post, since...
I'm going to meet my boys at the dinosaur museum now!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

2014 Fun List

I talked about bringing more fun into my life, and the more I think on it, the more I feel that its not a frivolous goal. Filling my life with the things that bring me joy are essential for sustaining the energy I need to work on the things that really matter. So I've made a list of some of the things I want to do this year---just for fun.

  • Go hear live music (not counting the 2 kiddie concerts we are going to)
  • See a non-music performance---play, dance, comedy routine
  • See an exhibit at a non-child-friendly museum
  • Add myself to carshare account and use it
  • Learn to make a nice cocktail for myself
  • Go to the beach
  • Go see fireworks
  • A trip for just the 4 of us---anything from a weekend to a week in length
  • Date night picnic in the park
  • Drive out at night to see the stars
  • Regular (i.e once every couple of months) lunches with my work friends
  • Regular brunches with my brunch friends
  • Go to friend's bridal shower
  • Find new music to listen to---goal of 5 new artists/bands*
  • Figure out something to do with my hair*

Obviously I don't think I'll get ALL of them done in one year, but its something to work towards! 

*suggestions welcome

Monday, January 13, 2014


A Series of Unrelated Paragraphs and Lists

We had B's "friend" birthday party this weekend; it was dinosaur themed. We had a dinosaur cake (gorgeously decorated yet somewhat strange-tasting, from Whole Foods), a dinosaur piƱata, and a "feed the dinosaur" game. We also had a "pass the parcel" game, which the kids totally didn't get. Also some kids didn't want to feed pizza to the dinosaur. Also B was upset because he wanted to get more turns at everything, and he didn't like the cake, and he wanted more presents. But "can I have another party tomorrow mommy?" Our fridge and freezer is FULL of leftover cake and pizza (we did not plan well).

My parents were here last week, which meant no taking kids to daycare, no making lunches, and lots of help on the parenting, cooking, and cleaning front (my mom is amazing). My sister and her family came up Friday afternoon and stayed for the party. I was really sad Sunday after we dropped my mom and dad off at the airport. That letdown that comes after something you've been excited about is over and its back to real life. It was hard to rally my energy to do our Sunday chores, but we did it.

I have been mild-moderately sick since New Years day, thus its been over 2 weeks since I've worked out. I had a quick run Sunday morning and it felt amazing (but hard!). I really need to exercise regularly for stress-relief if nothing else.

I had lunch with a fellow blogger last week. This was the first time I've crossed URL and IRL worlds and I was a little nervous going into it, though it was quite fun. It was weird knowing so much about each other before having met, but also somewhat of a relief not to have to do the usual small talk. Now I want to meet all of you!

I was woken up at 4:45 this AM by the dog very noisily shifting her bed around and couldn't get back to sleep. So I wound up reading Sarah's post about "bits of joy" and stayed in bed long enough to come up with my own list of fun things to do with 5-20 minutes of down time:

  • play with the dog
  • read movie reviews to find additions to my "to watch" list
  • update my Goodreads profile (I haven't done it in 10 months and my sister and friend are bugging me)
  • call someone (my mom, long-distance friends)
  • text my sister
  • listen to music
  • read magazine article
  • flip through Boden or J Crew catalogs I've saved (I just love looking)
  • write an entry in my 5-year journal
  • organize a small area (this sounds lame, but it makes me happy to see a clear surface or easily accessible drawer)
  • make and drink a cup of tea or some other "fun but healthy" beverage
I still need to post my 2014 Fun List. I also need to do an update on my resolutions at the end of this week. But now I think I hear L stirring. I might end up going back into bed with him to get both of us a little more rest. I love waking up with him, I showed him how to "stretch" when getting up and its the absolute cutest. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014


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.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Setting the Foundation

First: thank you all so much. The advice, empathy, and conversation on my last post was invaluable. It felt like a group of friends sitting around a table with drinks in hand, telling our stories, commiserating, and helping each other out.

So I've been thinking about resolutions for 2014. I've considering doing monthly ones, Happiness Project-style. Or doing multiple "Intentions" in parallel like I tried in 2012. Instead I've decided to layer my resolutions for this year. I'm starting by building the foundation.

Last time, I identified 6 areas of life I wanted to focus on, but this time I'm sticking to just 3. The three things that form the absolute core of my life, which also happen to be the areas I really think I can do better: marriage, parenting, and career. If these things aren't going well, there is no point trying to add more to my life. So I want to spend the first few months of the year really trying to form (and break) some key habits that should make those parts of life work more smoothly. Once I achieve that, I'll move on to the next (yet to be determined) steps.

I am aware that I didn't include "health" or "personal time" this year. Because the habits I set on those 2 years ago have stuck around and I don't currently feel the need to reinvent the wheel. I'm exercising 3-4 times a week, both running and strength training. I plan to run the 10-miler again this spring. I eat fairly well and have completely stopped snacking. I'm drinking my 2 liters of water every work day. I'm getting as much sleep as I can given inevitable interruptions like hacking coughs, insomnia, and 2-year olds. I think I read 30 books last year, and I've already read 1.5 this year. I'm blogging. I go to most book club meetings. I occasionally have outings with friends. I might add more specific goals about those areas in the future, but now is the time to work on the foundation.

These are the specific steps I've decided to take:


  • Weekly night (we picked Friday) to talk and hang out (no TV or movies). If something comes up on Friday, we need to immediately pick another day and put it on the calendar. 
  • Make a list of movies to watch and watch one with G twice a month
  • Once a month date night out. 4 times a year to do something other than eat/drink (i.e. orchestra, museum, play, concert)
  • *Do not say "nothing" when asked what's wrong. If I'm not ready to talk about it, just say that. 
  • Real hug every morning and night (better than the perfunctory peck on the lips we generally do)
  • *Do not roll eyes at G (I got this from "Happier at Home" that I'm in the middle of right now. Apparently very alienating and clearly very infuriating to be the recipient) 
*specific to Ana

  • Do not yell
  • Special breakfasts (also from "Happier at Home") for holidays
  • Pick up kids twice a week from school 
  • Continue participation in daycare Parents' Board (my kids spend a combined 80+ hours in that school...I want some say in how things are run!)
  • Start one class for B in addition to swimming (gymnastics, soccer?) this year
  • Read/learn about 4-year old development 
Career (more general things I need to do, not specific career goals, which I'm working on as well)
  • Make plans for each week BEFORE Monday AM (use paper and pen as on-line systems have been failing me lately)
  • Re-initiate regular meetings with research mentors
  • Set specific times of day for checking email and EMR/patient messages
  • Identify and employ strategies for limiting time-wasting on the internet (blocking software, accountability partner?)
  • Track time at work (5 days) every 8 weeks to note progress (must be HONEST in tracking)

I'll start with these steps, and will update every 2 weeks into how I'm doing on each of them to hold myself accountable. As always, any advice is welcome (what planner should I get? Any good books on 4-year olds?), since I assume some of you have conquered many of these yourself.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Start as you mean to go on?

Mom-101 had an intriguing post about the false hopes of new years resolutions. While I agree that there isn't anything magical about the calendar turning over that will suddenly transform you into a new person, I do find merit in the ritual of taking stock and making plans on a regular basis. I've tried doing resolutions on my birthday, or at the start of the academic year, but it just seems easiest to go with the crowd and do this in late December.

I think the problem people have with "resolutions" is that the word itself indicates an absolute commitment. And when that commitment isn't met, there is a sense of failure and then giving up. This tends to happen early on, because new habits are not formed instantaneously at 12:01 on January 1st. They form in fits and starts, with stumbling and getting back up again, and maybe maybe they will stick by March, or June, or October.

I'm thinking about this because, despite my resolve to "lighten up" and nurture my marriage, and be open to new things, this New Year's Eve and day were the worst I can remember in my life. And the reasons boil down to the same old same old issues I have with unspoken expectations, lack of communication, and a whole lot of inertia.

I thought we'd have a nice romantic date night in on NYE. Some wine, some food, some time to discuss our plans for the New Year and simply connect. But of course I never mentioned that to G. He wanted to watch a movie. I thought we could watch a shorter TV show and then talk. Instead we ended up watching 3 episodes of the show and neither of us got what we wanted. I went to bed at 11 because I was tired, and he stayed down to finally watch his movie. But when I got up to bed, I couldn't sleep. I was lonely and disappointed. I started reading a book, but what with weeks of suppressed emotion and the bringing to the surface of said emotions by reading a skillfully written story on the wonder of first  love, I was sobbing. Then L started getting up and wailing every 10 minutes and I finally brought him into bed and we fell asleep before G ever came up.

New years day was...OK. I had wanted us to plan something big for the kids, like the children's museum, or a new park, but G said he was tired and coming down with something, and wanted to get stuff done in the house. We all got up a bit late (for us, 7:30), got ready, and went to the parade our city does on NY day. The kids lasted about 30 minutes, so back home we went. We played for a while, I put away all the Christmas stuff, we had lunch and I took L up to nap on me (the only way he'll nap anymore) while I finished my book. After a short nap, I brought him back downstairs and basically took over kid duty while G worked on patching dry wall in our bathroom for 5 hours.

I was bored, annoyed, and incredibly inpatient. After vowing 3 weeks ago not to yell at the kids anymore (because I feel like an ass and it simply doesn't work), I was shrieking like a banshee at both my little boys because the incessant "mommy mommy mommy" and tugging at me were driving me insane. Eventually we got the kids to bed and G and I planned to enjoy some wine and fancy cheeses he had picked up.  I thought we could finally talk now.

Well this was doomed from the start. When we went to get the cheese, that G had set out on the table to warm up a bit, one was gone. The dog (who has NEVER taken food from the table before) had gnawed through the wrapper and consumed most of it. G was pissed, and then he mentioned he was exhausted and feeling sick and just wanted to relax. So we stuffed our faces with cheese and gulped wine while watching a show. I asked him to come upstairs and come to bed after that because he'd been up so late last night and because I was tired of going to bed alone. Miraculously, he didn't argue or roll his eyes, but said "OK" and came up.

And then, seemingly out of nowhere, we proceeded to have the ugliest, nastiest fight I have ever had in my life. I won't go into the details, it was the same old issues as always, but there was yelling and name-calling, and door slamming of the sort that had never been seen in our home. At the end we were both broken down and finally finally finally able to be honest with each other. We both feel lonely, neither of us are good at communicating emotions, but in completely different ways, we both take the easy and selfish path of ignoring the issues and going our own way. We love each other and care about our relationship, but at the end of the day there is often nothing left to give. So we get the worst of each other. The dregs that are left after work, and kids, and friends, and every single other thing in life take all our energy and patience and creativity and kindness. We talked about all this, and we vowed to do better, to try to put each other higher on our list of priorities, to compromise more (maybe I can watch a movie with him once in a while; maybe he can come up to bed with me more often so we can chat) and to be more open.

I'd like to think things will change but also feel that its incredible naive to expect that when we have no concrete plans for how to implement change. I know there are a few things I need to do myself, and while I've made and broken these promises too many times to count, I am realizing that I am running out of time to "fix it later". There isn't always a later. January 2nd is a good time to start.