20 October 2007

How much sleep do I need?

I realized that I have never tried to figure out how much sleep I need. From reading a few articles on the web (wikihow and WebMD), it seems like I should first need to normalize my sleep schedule (go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day for 1-2 weeks). Then I should sleep in on a weekend and see how long I naturally sleep. If it's longer than my regular sleep schedule, then I know I need to sleep longer. If it's shorter, than I know I'm getting too much sleep.

I don't know when I'll be able to do my sleep experiment. But the sooner I figure it out, the better.

19 October 2007

Link of the day: Graduate student work day

Since I'm on the topic of time management, here's a sample schedule of a graduate student I found via Cal Newport.

Unschedule estimate

I've been reading the Now Habit and it discusses something called the Unschedule. You should figure out all the non-work activities you have on your plate, put them in a schedule, and then fit your work around them. That idea works pretty well for graduate studies who have a lot of unstructured time. I've started something like that before in this post.

It's been a while so I should count hours again. Here's my estimate of non-work activities during a typical week:

Meeting with advisor - 1 hour
Group meeting - 2 hours

Study hall - 4 hours
Class - 3 hours
CMT seminar - 1 hour
Physics colloquium - 1 hour

Medical appointment - 1 hour (I actually go once a month, so this is an average which includes the hassle of commuting to the doctor's office)
Sleep - 56 hours
Meals - 21 hours

Hockey - 4 hours
Gym - 8 hours (I don't actually go 8 hours yet, but I'd like to ... )

Cleaning/computer maintenance - 2 hours
Commute - 6 hours (hard to believe that just walking around campus takes up that much time)
Post office/grocery shopping/random errands - 1 hour
RSS reading - 7 hours

That leaves 50 hours a week to do work (defined as reading for class, problem sets, and research). And it's not possible to work that whole time because you need to take breaks, so maybe at my best, I could do 40 hours of quality work a week?

I'm going to keep a time log of my activities over the next week to get a sense of whether this estimate is correct.

12 October 2007

Bedtime routine

I complained in a previous post that I still don't have a bedtime routine after all these years.

I'm going to try to sketch a rough draft (qmechanic bedtime routine v1.0 if you wish). I will fill out my daily checklist, floss and brush my teeth, set my alarm clock, and read some printed articles. I have read in multiple places that lit screens (e.g. computer monitors and TVs) artificially stimulate your brain when you should be winding down. So I will (sadly) have to shut down my computer.

Admin day experiment

So I tried an all-administration day like I discussed in a previous post. In short, it didn't work. I'm not a professor so I don't have enough administration to fill up a day. I ended up doing some stuff for half the day and then sitting around my room goofing off the rest of the day.

The problem is that I chose Thursday which is my least busy weekday. What I should have done is piled all the administration on Wednesday when I have two classes and am pretty tired by the end of the day. But Wednesday is not so busy that I don't have time to do administration at all. So I think the key is to pick a day that is busy but not too packed.

Link of the day: Think inside the box

Lots of people probably know this, but sometimes you should think inside the box rather than thinking outside the box. A brief article explains this concept.

The problem with just thinking outside the box is that there are too many possibilities and people generally find that overwhelming. What you should do instead is to find a different box and think there. Physicists do this all the time. They get out of their lab and go hiking and suddenly come up with a brilliant idea.

So get out of your room/office or wherever you are and try some different boxes.

11 October 2007

Quality of joy

People often seem to think that I'm a workaholic and overly serious. I consider hockey to be my fun away from work and even then, I'm constantly reading up on techniques and working on ways to improve my skills. My teammates think I'm a little nuts. This season, I've decided that my focus will be skating, so I'm trying hit the rink twice a week for one hour skating sessions. GTD and lifehacking also can seem that way. People spend all this time to develop their productivity systems, boost their efficiency, etc and it's as if they're giving themselves more work (well, except when you have too much fun developing your system :) )

The best justification I can come up with, for the perhaps non-mainstream way I live my life, is that I believe in quality over quantity. I like to work 90% of the time to get that 10% of euphoric joy when I truly understand a physics concept, when I cap off a research project by writing a beautiful paper or give a lucid talk, when I rip a slapshot off.

Similarly, David Allen has said that he developed his GTD system so that he would have time to do what he really loves like bonsai gardening.

People often say that their greatest joy in life is their children and maybe what they really mean is that yes, it takes a ton of work to raise a child, but the joy they get from doing it is off the charts.

As a footnote, I should add that I personally find it aggravating to be bad at something so I also have a negative motivation for working hard! Both physics and hockey are difficult to learn and it's just no fun to do either if you haven't mastered the fundamentals. Of course, once you master the fundamentals of one stage, you move on to the next stage and sit around being frustrated with feeling stupid, work hard to learn enough to get past that stage and so on.

06 October 2007

Internet lockdown

There are times when I just can't seem to stop surfing the web. I've finally figured out a way that I can still be connected to the internet and not waste time zoning out on the web.

My approach is two-pronged. First, I use a program called Temptation Blocker to turn off access to Internet Explorer, Opera, Netscape, and all other browsers except for Firefox. Now the only browser I can use is Firefox. (If I'm really desperate, I can turn off Temptation Blocker, but I have to enter a 32 character string.) For Firefox, I have installed an add-on called Leech Block. The user can enter the domain names of websites into Leech Blocker's options. These websites will be blocked. Examples of websites I have blocked are hockey sites, news sites like the New York Times, and Facebook.

Naturally, I could just turn off all this software. But it provides enough of a deterrent to work. If I regress to doing something I'm not supposed to, the software slows me down long enough for my discipline (what little I have) to kick in.

All-administration day

Over at Academic Productivity, Cal Newport reports that the best professors carve out at least one day for only research and many also devote one day to just administration. The first idea is pretty obvious. It's hard to think deep thoughts if you're constantly interrupted. The second idea is an application of batching.

Cal suggests that graduate students do something similar. Spend one day on administration, one day on big ideas, and three days on normal research activities. (Cal, you don't work on weekends?!)

I'm still trying to figure out what the heck is going on, so I'll pass on the day devoted to big ideas. However, I think I can certainly incorporate an administration day into my week. Hockey practice last Wednesday really exhausted me because of both the physical exertion and the fact that it stretched my waking period so long (I wake up at 5-6 am and hockey practice ends at 11 pm). I realized that I should expect to be exhausted on Thursday (the day after), so Thursdays make ideal all-administration days. Some things that I can do on administration days: write blog entries, post photos on Flickr, pay credit card bills, look over my finances in Quicken, save .pdfs of papers and input their BibTeX info into Jabref, grocery shopping, etc. I'm even going to try moving my weekly review to Thursdays (formerly on Saturdays).

I've also thought of a way to make the batching process earlier. Anytime I have a task I want to do later, I can send myself an email to my gmail account. For example, if I want to save a copy of the article arXiv:0705.1002, I can write an email with subject title: "save pdf" and the URL inside the email body, then send the email to username+p@gmail.com. The postive sign and letters after it will be ignored and the email will just go to username@gmail.com, but I can use username+p@gmail.com to filter the email into a special label called "process." Then on my administrative day, I can simply go through that folder. I got this idea from an article about "generate unlimited email addresses" on digital alchemy.

Link of the day: Incoherently Scattered Ponderings

I found another blog written by a condensed matter physicist at Incoherently Scattered Ponderings. This blog consists of the random thoughts of a junior faculty member at a top research university. Most posts seem to be about the politics of university life with some writing about recent physics research. The author also seems to enjoy lifehacking. Yay, for another condensed matter physics blog!

03 October 2007

Link of the Day: Study Hacks

I stumbled across a blog by Cal Newport, who is a computer science graduate student at MIT. His blog focuses on productivity advice for students. He espouses some interesting ideas like the Straight-A Gospels.

Here are some of the posts that caught my eye:
  • "Never be hungry" - I have learned the hard way about skipping meals. JUST DON'T DO IT. Cal also suggests that you should drink three glasses of water and eat one healthy snack per caffeinated beverage.
  • "Studying is a technical skill" and "Pseudo-work does not equal work" are posts about you can train yourself to be ultra-efficient with your studying. This is related to the old adage of "work smarter not harder."
  • "What makes an interesting life interesting?" - I like idea #4 of having one secret project. Feynman used to work on multiple secret projects at the same time. At any one time, one of them would be successful, so it made him look like a genius (not that anyone thought he was dumb).
  • "Paying your dues" - I agree with Cal that the baby boomer generation is really harsh on us twenty-year olds. We should all send this blog post to our parents to make them realize that no, we are not a bunch of spoiled brats. To me, the idea of paying your dues is just a vicious cycle of abuse. Your boss: My parents/elders/bosses made me suffer, so you should suffer, too.
  • "The graph as a question" - I like to structure papers and presentations around figures, but I've never thought of figure-based learning.

02 October 2007

Quote of the day: The right (kind of) stuff

I enjoyed this short motivational paragraph from Eugene Wallingford.
You seek to cultivate...

... the kind of laziness that makes you want to minimize future effort but investing effort today, to maximize your productivity and performance over the long haul, not the kind that leads you to avoid essential work or makes you want to cut corners.

... the kind of impatience that encourages you to work harder, not the kind of impatience that steals your spirit when you hit a wall or makes you want to cut corners.

... the kind of hubris that makes you think that you can do it, to trust yourself, not the kind of hubris that makes you think you don't have to listen to the problem, your code, or other people -- or the kind that makes you want to cut corners.