The feeling of stupidity in science

 Science is intrinsically hard and confronts us with our absolute stupidity on a daily basis. This poses a high mental pressure especially on younger researchers. It just underlines the importance of being able to deal with stress and other mental issues. But it is also important to keep in mind that questions we are trying to answer are the kind of questions no one can answer yet. This is what research is about. Asking new questions and finding new answers. So this is also a call to everyone: Let us all be open about the things we do not know. Not knowing in our profession does not mean we are not as smart as others, but that we are asking questions no one was able to answer yet.

A very interesting article on this topic can be found here

Bullet Journal

One source of stress can be that we loose track of all the things we need to do. This feeling that you forgot to do something important. I found that keeping a bullet journal helps a lot with keeping track of all my tasks and deadlines. It also helps me to eliminate tasks that are not important (see also my earlier post on The importance vs urgency matrix).

If you search on the internet for ‘bullet journal’ you will find people spending endless amounts of time drawing and painting in their bullet journals. If this gives you joy, then certainly go for it. However, the essence of a bullet journal is much simpler and very well summarised here:

You can also use it to keep track of new habits that you want to introduce to improve your mental health. 

Be the best version of yourself!

I have a personal note I want to share. While growing up and going through my studies I heard many people say that “One day (…when you are grown up/finished with your studies/etc….) you will be like {insert famous name here}” Where famous name is often some female physicist (one example was Angela Merkel, former German federal chancellor,  who has a PhD in physics).

Yesterday, I was listening to an audiobook on my commute and I heard something that really resonated with me:

“Be the best version of yourself!”

While I think role models are very powerful one should not make the mistake and try to exactly copy other people. This is not a way to success. One should rather work hard everyday to be the best version of oneself given ones own values, ambitions, believes, abilities, capabilities, etc.

In case you are interested: The book is ‘How to stop worrying & start living’ by Dale Carnegie. While I do not agree with everything in the book I still think it is a good read.

Turn off work thoughts during your free time

I find it very important to keep a separate space for quality family time and relaxing. And it is equally important that if I think about work problems I do it is a productive way. Brainstorming about science topics if fun! Ruminating about work issues is not productive and can be very harmful!

I found the following TED talk a very good reminder of this issue and how to overcome it: How to turn off work thoughts during your free time? Feeling burned out? You may be spending too much time ruminating about your job, says psychologist Guy Winch. Learn how to stop worrying about tomorrow’s tasks or stewing over office tensions with three simple techniques aimed at helping you truly relax and recharge after work.[…]utm_medium=social&

The importance vs urgency matrix

I have again something for you to think about. I am currently reading “The 7 habits of highly effective people” by Stephen Covey. In my opinion a very good book. He presented this matrix of importance vs urgency that I wanted to share with you.

The idea is that one should spend as much time as possible on tasks in the 2. Quadrant (important but not urgent) as these are the things that really matter in improving yourself on all levels (work and private life).

I think we tend to spend a lot of time in Quadrant 1 (urgent and important) for example preparing applications the day before the deadline. I know from experience that this just happens, but we all know it is better to avoid. Spending time in Quadrant 2 will also help you to be better prepared as you are doing things while they are not urgent and so these tasks will never move into Quadrant 1.

Then there is Quadrant 3 (urgent but not important) and the idea is to delegate as many tasks from this quadrant as possible.
Finally, Quadrant 4 (not urgent and not important) is a place that one should totally avoid. And I think this is very hard. These activities tend to be very pleasant, but when we are honest they are just wasting our time.

A way to motivate yourself to improve here is to take some time and think about quadrant 2 activities (maybe one work related and one private to start with). So something that you think is really important to do, but it is not urgent. One should visualise/write down exactly what you would do if you had a lot of time to spend on this activity. Then one should also visualise/write down what the outcome would be and what impact this will have on your life. And then take a week and act accordingly. Spend as much time as possible in quadrant 2. If you eliminate as many Q3 and 4 tasks as possible this will already give you some time that you can spend in Q2 and this in the long run will also eliminate Q1 tasks.

So here is one of my projects: I want to improve on relationship building, mindfulness and stress prevention. So I am for example regularly posting about these things here.  

Inbox Zero

I have a stress relief strategy I would like to share with you. I had a time where I felt quite overwhelmed by all the tasks I had to do and of course sometimes something slipped my mind and I did not do something in time which really bothered me. Also I was constantly working with the feeling that there is something I might have forgotten. Some email I have not yet replied to that was washed away in the constant stream of new messages. So I started my version of “Inbox zero”.
You can google this and there are many different flavors and workflows, but here is the essence:

Keep your inbox clean.

My Email Workflow

It might sound crazy, but for me it works. So here is how I work with my emails:

  • Information that is not important -> delete
  • Something that should be stored for later reference -> archive it
  • Something that requires you to do something
    • simple task (calendar item, forwarding to others, etc) -> do it,
    • complicated task -> schedule a time or put on to do list (what ever your workflow is)
  • once you are done with the task -> archive the message or delete it (depending on content)
  • if it is something you have not done yet/a conversation that is still ongoing and you are waiting for an answer -> keep the message as a reminder, but keep as little messages as possible directly in your inbox and keep reviewing them to make them go to the archive as quickly as possible.

I archive everything into one gigantic archive folder. Anything more complicated makes me fail keeping my inbox clean. My workflow has to be as simple as possible and the search function mostly works fine if I really need to find that information. If it is really important information for a project, then I store that separately in a note to that project

So usually I end up with the new messages plus maybe 5 messages that I have still as reminders/ongoing conversations in my inbox. To me it feels very nice and I don’t get the impression that things are getting out of control.  What do you think?

How to Get Started

To start with I had a gigantic pile of messages in my inbox. I went through the past 2 or 3 weeks to double check and then archived the rest without touching it again.

Good Habit about Mails

Of course do not check your mails every 5 minutes and turn off the notifications This was such a boost to my productivity!