Here I am calculating the current of the Colorado River before kayaking.

Here I am calculating the current of the Colorado River before kayaking.

Since 2011 I made it a tradition to put together a “Book of the year” of pictures in iPhoto and have it printed as a family present. As I sat before Christmas selecting this year’s pictures it was obvious that they only showed a minor part of 2014: pictures of travels and visits, moving, the new cat…all nice and colorful, but the crazy grind of work and conferences and trips was missing. Which is a good thing. 2014 was a good year, but it was also an overwhelming, saturated, super busy year.

Some time in October I had an epiphany (mind you, this is not the first time). I realized  that I had neglected once more the “important” stuff such as my own research and writing in order to support a number of cool and potentially exciting initiatives. The majority of those plans fizzled, and there I was again, looking at unfulfilled timelines and datasets waiting to be tackled. Not to mention two interesting MOOCs I was taking, a business trip to Europe, and being thrown in two academic committees.  I was overloaded with meetings and conference calls. It was too much.

Fast forward to today, January 1st 2015. While craziness will resume next Monday, I have already set up the two online courses I will be teaching next, got started working on the February AAAS poster, have advanced on my manuscript, caught up with correspondence, and have finally found myself in that state of mind where most of the mental clutter has been cleared out so I am getting creative thoughts. Such a joy!

The secret was 1) having a deadline, 2) task lists, and 3) always completing something, even if a small chunk. I knew I had to be done with a number of things before Christmas because we were leaving town to go camping (= no internet, no work possibility). I made lists and I forced myself to work on those lists day after day, evening after evening. Chunking helped both in the practical and emotional sense. “Working on the AAAS poster” sounds intimidating. Looking up the instructions, deciding on a template, putting in the title and authors’ names, adding a background and saving it as a draft is necessary, took me less than one hour, and gave me a sense of fulfillment. Just like the days when I was writing my Ph.D. thesis, there were days to write the Discussion, and days to write Materials and Methods, but one had to write every day.

paddling the river

The current was strong, and it was also windy. I had to paddle steadily until I got to move upstream. Pretty much like work…

I got lots done before leaving for a short trip to the Colorado River for camping and kayaking. It was great and exhilarating, and it wiped out most of my work-related thoughts. Home again, as I return slowly to my list, it is my intention to keep the same discipline, and get things done slowly and steadily, one item at a time. Maybe 2015 will be less stressful…fingers crossed!