02 April 2013

Why I hate working in my office.

I rolled out of bed early this morning and popped open my laptop to check how the intertubes had managed without me overnight. I played around on twitter, facebook and other usual sites, then looked at my agenda for the day. I started a new script running on the server after finding my previous job had successfully completed, and then finished writing a research proposal.

Then I looked at the clock. Yowza! I was going to be late to work! Wait a minute...I was working, quite efficiently, and I didn't really have a time I was supposed to be at work. I narrowed my eyes at my brain, suspicious of its instincts. As a NESCent postdoc, all of my work is computational. That means I'm very mobile and can work anywhere. Despite that fact, I'm compelled to be in my office as much as possible, in order to interact with other scientists and be part of the NESCent community. Sounds great in principle, especially since I have a nice big monitor on my desk that makes figure revisions and other tasks so much easier. In practice, however, I find spending time in my office to be increasingly difficult.

First, I spend lots of time across campus because of teaching responsibilities. Shuttling back and forth between offices takes lots of time, and sometimes that time is better spent actually getting formal science deliverables accomplished, even if it means being away from NESCent. A side note to this point is that I expend lots of social energy interacting with and motivating students. As an introvert, exhausting this energy inhibits my ability to effectively manage my shared office.

Second, long stretches of time in my office end up being quite uncomfortable. In addition migraines, which I've already discussed here, I've been dealing this semester with some other health issues that make it difficult to work for long periods of time. I need to take frequent breaks. I want to nap. Both of those things are easier to do at home. To top it all off, there's construction behind our building right now. I'm becoming increasingly convinced that being forced to listen to the automated beeping of a truck backing up should be officially classified as a form of torture.

What's the point of me writing this, except to complain? I acknowledge that I have it easy compared to many other people. My schedule is flexible, and I won't be fired because I don't spend enough time at the office. I'm still productive, and I'm still happy with my work. I may want to be a more active member of the NESCent community, but I also acknowledge that it's a goal which requires a delicate balancing act at times. Most importantly, I've made the decision to take care of myself. I've spent six hours sitting at my desk today. I consider it a major accomplishment that I do not have a full-blown migraine.

How did I do it? I've learned to set a timer for 30-45 minutes, and to force myself to take a break when the timer goes off. I keep knitting at my desk, and I'll bring in a novel for leisure reading later this week. These are management strategies, not procrastination strategies. I wish I could work for hours at a time, uninterrupted, like I could ten or even five years ago. I worry that my peers think I'm lazy. I feel lazy in comparison to my old work habits, especially when I saunter into work at 10:30 am because I was working so well at home.

I remember peers in grad school who left a laptop open and a labcoat hung on their chair when they went home, so it looked like they were still working somewhere else in the building. I suppose the moral of the story is that, in science, you can never do "enough" work. There's always another manuscript/grant to write or experiment to run. I could destroy my mind and body by trying to maximize time spent working, or I could maximize my effectiveness at work. The latter strategy means fewer hours spent, but more product per unit time. As a bonus, I save my sanity. I think I'll stick with it.

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