For the last several years I’d been in a pretty high stress situation. I don’t think you can find a grad student who isn’t stressed to some degree.
When you’re an inefficient person facing demands and are under stress, I feel that there is one option: stick to what ever your inefficient system is, accept it, and push through. I would spend a lot of mental effort stressing about how much I procrastinated, or how much I beat myself up. Eventually Occasionally it would culminate to the point where I’d try and make serious change, but it would crumble the moment any complication, or new hurdle came.
So here’s my hind-sight hypothesis:
To try and change your system, what ever it may be, while under stress, will put you at a disadvantage. It is in times that your system is not needed, that you should build and mature it.
When I say system, I mean: How do you get work done? How do you achieve things? In the past – my system could be summed up as “by the seat of my pants”. I’ve now got a much more refined system for improvement and achievement that I’ve detailed HERE.
Think of your system as a sea wall. During a storm, if you don’t fully trust it – you might just have to cross your fingers and brace. Going out to fix your wall with waves beating down on you might just endanger you more. BUT. If you wait for a period of calm waters, it’s the perfect time to go out and start bracing and reinforcing things. Improve your wall when it’s needed the least.
Now I’m not fully saying you shouldn’t improve while under stress, but more advocating for using periods of rest for improvement.
This last year was special for me. It was my first summer as an Assistant Teaching Professor – and that meant time off – finally a break. I spent a lot of that time defining and tweaking my own system to operate more efficiently, despite the fact that I didn’t have anything extremely pressing to work towards. And then after the summer, I cruised right into the next semester with that system handy, and I can honestly say I felt it’s benefit immensely. I was reminded of this as we approach the end of they year when I noticed my total count of Pomodoros for the year just surpassed 1000. That’s 1000 25 minute segments where I was completely focused on the task at hand. I wonder how many Pomodoros I’ll check off next year?