Thursday, September 15, 2016

PhD Hacks

Anytime you start something new, it's overwhelming, but you end up learning the ins and outs with the help of short cuts and best practices. A few PhD hacks have saved the day in the past few weeks.

My amazing husband didn't hesitate in buying
me a laptop. He told me what a few offered and
suggested which were best for what I needed and
left me to get whatever I wanted. 
1. Get your own laptop. The convenience of leaving my accounts logged in at all times and bookmarking every other site I'm on makes up for every dime spent on a new laptop (which wasn't much - bought a cheap HP with word processing and decent storage and RAM). Especially when I discovered starting this new program meant opening new accounts for software, journals, associations, and search sites weekly. My iPad works for many things, but limits word processing options, among other important items. Although I'm the only one who really uses the desktop at home, my family and their friends can also use it, so I don't want to leave accounts logged in. Also, on the laptop I know the only things on it are my things and it stands little chance of someone messing with them deliberately or accidentally - it is the PhD laptop. Plus, the desktop doesn't help much with PhD hack #2.

Kent's University library - although it is far away,
so I'm only there to pick up books after class.
To work, I head to YSU or a public library, all
close to home.
2. Leave your house. Yes, I need to work, work, work, but it has to be away from my house. No matter how much I tell my kids the next couple hours are work-time, they inevitably have a question, need a fight settled, or wonder in to talk because I'm mom and that's what I'm here for, right? It's really hard to tell them to leave because I don't want them to feel ignored or have hurt feelings. But, if I leave the house for my work hours, I get work done and they don't feel I've pushed them away, I was simply not home. Purchasing my own laptop gives me the freedom to take ALL of my work with me too - again paying for the convenience totally worth it.

3. Have a go-to reply. At first I tended to answer the question "How's school?" by going on about my new laptop and project and people I've met, but soon realized the person asking had kinda stopped listening, was distracted doing something else, or changed the subject as soon as I answered. I know people have good intentions for asking, being courteous, but they don't usually seem ready for the long answer I give. So I've decided on a simple answer for the question "How's school?" For this semester it's along the lines of, "One class isn't too bad and the other is tough." Nothing near what I'd really want to say to answer that question, but people are happy with it, and if they don't ask any further questions, it's all good.

The other side of this is there isn't always much you can say that people understand. I've worked so hard for this experience and not even I knew what was coming exactly - I feel like I'm in the middle of a ton of things I have no clue about right now! The first couple weeks I was excited or worried about simpler things, like getting a new laptop, being on campus, spending the day at the library, getting to know professors, etc. Those are easy to share my excitement about to those interested, but it's already changing speed and I need a reply without all the extra detail. Also, when school is taking over my life, I imagine there will be times I won't want to discuss it and I think having a go-to reply will help then too.

I admit, I love calendars and lists and organizational tools.
4. Designate and ask for help. Since I am the organizer and scheduler for my household (details and organization are a gifting of mine), a friend told me that assigning certain things to my family and asking for help as needed would save me so much stress. Hmm...I'm not good at this. I like things concerning my house and belongings done my way, with my supervision, but I needed to work on my control issues anyway, so now is as good a time as any. I bought a day planner for my kitchen. Everything that needs done around the house is assigned to family members able to complete the task on the day it needs done. For example, the kids are assigned dog duty by the week, feeding and taking them out. Everyone brings their dirty laundry to the basement on Tuesday night and picks up their clean laundry on Thursday night. (Laundry being the one thing I won't give up control over! And with my new huge washer and dryer, I only do four loads a week anyway.) The kids are not allowed to go anywhere or do anything fun until homework and assigned calendar items are complete and my husband can see where I might need him to do something that I would usually take care of. This past week for example, my husband did the meal planning and grocery shopping while I worked at home. Also, a purpose of the family day planner is to handle lists. If there are items other than the usual that need done, they are assigned a day and person so I have them written down and off of my mind. Anything left undone is moved to the next week. My friend also said to hire a cleaning lady in at least once a month, which I could totally go for, but we'll see how the family assigned cleaning goes first.

Sometimes, sitting in the sun for a few
minutes with my fur babies is a
perfectly fine break.
5. Plan time for fun. It's true that the majority of my usual "free" time in the past three weeks has been spent on school work, but I've found that I can't just work every free moment, even if I have enough work to justify that. My brain and emotions will fry. I've noticed that when my mind is constantly on a daunting assignment or the amount of work in general, it actually paralyzes me. I feel unable to work because the scope of the project is looming in my mind. So breaks are a must, but it's also a must to plan them out. If I have break time planned, I have something to look forward too and I'm not going to overwork, crash, and need an emergency break at a time when I can't afford it. Over the four day Labor Day weekend we had a cookout with a few friends at the new house. Knowing I had extra days off work, I knew I could spare one evening. Last Saturday I spent most of the day at the library researching for my writing assignment, so I planned for our friend to come over that evening to watch through an old season of Survivor we'd started two weeks ago. I think it will work well and I'm hoping I find opportunities to connect with people during these breaks - finally having this new house but limited time to gather friends here is driving me crazy.

So those are the secrets and short cuts I've found working best for me on this journey so far. I'm enjoying the process and journaling of my schooling more than anything right now because at this point I've learned every part of life's journey is designed to make you better if you'll let it. I'm determined to look back at all I learned and became and see how I'm better for it.


  1. There are some great life hacks. I just started Uni again, and I recognise pretty much every situation you've mentioned here, except that I don't have any kids. Even though my family is totally supportive and even when I'm home alone, I still can't get any work done in the comfort of my own home. Being on campus gives mobilises me so that I can study.

    1. So true. Being home is distracting...I'd rather do most anything than homework!

  2. I love this post!
    I can see you have so much to handle at the moment.
    I also work and study a degree, but my life is easier since I don't have a family to take care of (nor do I have dogs!!). Anyway, you'll have some stressfull weeks, but you'll survive and enjoy the free time more.
    Right now I'm waiting for my exams results at the beach, haha, spending a holidays week by my own in a flat my parents have on the coast, and I tell you I haven't felt that good in a long time, away from law text books! ;)

    1. Yes, every week that goes by I tell myself I made it. Lol, enjoy your break Isi! You deserve it!