There are only 24 hours in a day and apparently, no one is going to be adding anymore. I sleep for around 7-8 hours each day, leaving me with just enough time to run around like a maniac, do some work, think I make a difference, work out for an hour, and spend a few hours in the evening rotting like a good vegetable. On weekends, I’ve disciplined myself to NOT work (yes, NOT work) and do other things like blog, bake, sew, hike, work out, socialize, and sleep an extra hour without feeling guilty. For these things I will not apologize. My circadian clock is forever set on ‘teacher time’ meaning I do my best work in the morning and by around 3 p.m. I’m about as useless as a screen door on a submarine mentally. My brain says, “peace out sucka” and heads for the hills. I have tried numerous strategies to get more from my brain but this fall I threw in the mental towel and am learning to embrace the fact that that’s the time my body and my brain are telling me it’s time to move on.
Of course I feel a little guilt. I know I should be working still but I just can’t. The Wall Street Journal got me thinking and helped rationalize my former thoughts about my own circadian clock and how my brain and body function. I felt guilty about shutting down mentally when I would see my colleagues plugging away, I felt guilt that I didn’t work that much at night unless there was a looming deadline, I felt guilt when I would have to take a full day off during the weekend in order to maintain normal life with tasks like laundry, groceries, paying bills, etc…Only in the last few months have I realized and learned to accept the way my brain and body work. I still work hard but I’m no longer killing myself and beating myself up over a few lost hours of productivity. My boss actually helped me out quite a bit without even knowing it. He revealed to me that he often goes home around 4 p.m. to put on his parenting hat and takes a 20 minute nap. What a revelation! He said the 20 min. resets his brain and helps him get through the rest of the day as a parent. He said he was a better parent because of the 20 min., a better husband, and a nicer human to be around. I grew up with parents who napped. A few minutes after breakfast, a long nap on a rainy day when there was no fieldwork at the farm, and other stolen moments with eyes closed. Why was I having such a hard time coming to terms with the fact that I felt guilt about shutting down the engines?
It’s comforting to know I’m not alone. Get a Life, PhD shared her strategies for learning how to work with her circadian clock and fit in family time while looking for balance. I think as human beings we struggle with technology because it’s always there and in turn, we feel like we always have to be ‘there’ too, where ever that is. I’m also learning to accept the fact that there will be days that I don’t feel like I get much done on paper. I may have taken care of 100 other things such as numerous student meetings, article reviews, conference submissions, and other house keeping details, but hard reading/writing/research will not happen every day. It’s taken me four years to come to that realization so I hope if you’re reading this as a grad student or new faculty, step back and accept yourself for your brain right now.
I take the afternoons to take care of tasks or check list items, go on site and school visits, work out, make a real meal, converse with the people in my life, and not reply to emails. I don’t have a hard set rule, but I certainly don’t answer them because I’m not as clear and quite frankly, I need the boundary. When I’m in schools every afternoon, I take the mornings to get work done, work out, and mostly stay home without interruptions. The joy of technology and telecommuting means I can work almost anywhere at anytime, which is a blessing and a curse.
I do keep a running to do list in Evernote. This way when I have a thought, remember something, or forget it, I can type it out and it syncs with my phone, laptop(s), and desktop machines and it’s waiting for me the next day when I begin my day, not the other way around. I’ve taken to exercising almost every day even if it’s just free weights or a leisurely walk. The hour helps me clear my head and I usually do some of my best thinking during these times. I do work out for the ‘burn’ as well for the same benefits but also for health reasons as well.
Knowing when to stop might be more important than knowing where to start each morning. As a new faculty, it can be tough to prioritize your busy life, make time for things that are actually more important than work, and work with the internal schedule that dictates your every move moreso than your calendar and your students. Learning to embrace it early will set you up for later success. I no longer feel guilty about working out before going into work if I know I’ll be at school sites until the evening news. I no longer feel guilty if at 3:30 my brain has melted and I’m online shoe shopping. It’s only a problem when it happens every day for weeks, then I know it’s time to refocus again and remove distractions.
How does your circadian clock make you tick? What tips and tricks do you rely on (besides looming deadlines) to help get you through times when you have to produce?