Presenting With Confidence

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The ability to deliver a presentation with confidence is an important skill for students and academic staff, yet presenting is an activity that many people dread. Since much of the anxiety surrounding presenting is future-oriented, overcoming presentation anxiety will involve taking steps at several stages. In this post I’ll outline a number of tips for alleviating anxiety at each stage.

 The Weeks Leading Up to Your Presentation…

Tackling anxiety surrounding an upcoming presentation will start with taking steps in the weeks preceding the presentation. There are many things you can do to get yourself prepared for the big day and alleviate some of your fears in the process.

  • Make a schedule for preparing | break down the tasks that need to be done so that they are more manageable. For instance, this could involve researching your topic, writing out a script, preparing handouts or power point slides etc.
  • Find ways to get excited about your topic. Excitement is a major antidote to the fear surrounding your presentation
  • Use visual aids (graphs, power point, or a handout) as a way to keep eyes off of you, particularly if you are nervous about being the center of attention.
  • Have a look at the venue and room in advance
  • Arrange for a few friends to attend the presentation if it would make you feel more comfortable to have familiar faces in the audience
  • When you find yourself worrying about the presentation, remember that it’s not happening today

 

The Day Before Your Presentation…

It’s natural to be consumed by thoughts of your impending presentation as the big day draws nearer. The eve of a presentation can be particularly challenging for people, so give the following steps a try.

  • Prepare up to a certain point and then take the rest of the evening off
  • Spend time selecting an outfit that makes you feel your best
  • Do something physical (like going to the gym) to get any nervous energy out of your system
  • See a film to occupy your mind and distract you
  • Remember the presentation is not happening right now – whenever you find yourself worrying, try and replace the worry with an image of yourself feeling comfortable and confident as you present

 

Immediately Before Your Presentation….

On the morning of your presentation, it will be important to spend some time preparing yourself physically and mentally for the day ahead. The action steps below will help keep you calm and centred. 

  • Have a nourishing breakfast and avoid stimulants
  • Get to the venue early, leaving yourself plenty of time
  • Find a quiet space before | focus on your breathing and grounding exercises
  • Listen to inspiring, upbeat music
  • Spend a few minutes shaking nervous energy out of you and doing stretching exercises
  • Keep taking slow, deep breaths to counter any fight or flight symptoms you may experience

 

During Your Presentation…

The action steps you take during your presentation will involve tapping into your excitement for your topic, paying attention to your posture, breathing and consciously slowing down. There are also tips and tricks you can draw upon to break the ice and develop more of a connection to your audience.

  • Recall your excitement for the topic before you begin
  • Stand tall and pay attention to your posture throughout the presentation
  • Keep a bottle of water nearby
  • Connect to your audience (try starting with a question as a way to connect with the audience and feel more at ease)
  • Hold an object (pen or power point clicker) to keep your hands busy
  • Find ways to slow down | take pauses for emphasis | ask rhetorical questions | sip water
  • Consider playing a brief youtube clip to give yourself a break from speaking
  • Take deep breaths throughout to slow down your heart rate.

 

After Your Presentation…

Because negative experiences can breed further anxiety, it is important to continue taking action steps even after your presentation.

  • Challenge yourself to reflect on all of the things that went well
  • Write down a list to build positive momentum
  • Ask yourself in what ways this experience was positive for you? What do you think you did particularly well?
  • Remind yourself that presenting is a skill that can be improved over time. If you find yourself being self-critical, reframe the criticism by writing down anything you’ve learned from the experience and how you might improve during your next presentation

I hope you’ve found these tips helpful. To further build confidence for future presentations, consider enrolling in your local chapter of Toastmasters International.

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What’s hiding behind your procrastination?

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When we think of someone who is procrastinating, it immediately conjures up images of that person being lazy and doing anything to avoid work. But when we look beneath the surface, there may actually be another cause behind the behaviour that is masquerading as procrastination. In this post, I’d like to explore three potential causes of procrastination:

Loss of enthusiasmIn order to dedicate ourselves to research and writing, we need a level of commitment and enthusiasm that can be difficult to sustain over long periods of time. Without that passion and sense of connection, it can feel like there is little incentive to show up at our desks each day and work.

OverwhelmWhen it comes to longer-term projects, it may seem like there is an endless amount of work to do. We don’t always know where to start and so we become stuck. In this case it is a feeling of overwhelm that lies beneath our procrastination.

PerfectionismMany of us carry a deep-seated fear that our work won’t be good enough, or indeed, that we might not be good enough. This causes us to worry about how we might be judged to the point that we become paralyzed unless we can create something perfect. So here we have perfectionism lurking behind the behaviour of procrastination.

What should be noted immediately is that none of the above are mutually exclusive. We can transition between a paralyzing perfectionism, feelings of overwhelm and a loss of enthusiasm. In fact, it’s very common to experience all of them simultaneously. But how do we overcome them?

The first antidote to procrastination is to reconnect with your enthusiasm for the project you are working on. When it comes to longer term projects, it’s completely natural to lose sight of the passion and excitement that once drew you to it in the first place. When this occurs, it can feel difficult and downright impossible to motivate ourselves. This may require taking a self-imposed break, or doing something to distract ourselves from the project in order to get a bit of distance from it. Next, it can be useful to jog our memories and try to reconnect with the initial feeling you had when you began. As I explored in my previous post, ask yourself why you wanted to do this project? What excited you the most about it? Write down your answers and try to build some momentum from there.

Another technique, which can be particularly useful if your procrastination is resulting from feeling overwhelmed, is to break your seemingly unmanageable and never-ending project into something more manageable. Every single task or project can be broken down into smaller steps. After all, no one writes an entire thesis in one sitting. Larger projects are always the end product of several smaller steps. So, sit down with a blank sheet of paper and write down everything that needs to be done in much smaller, digestible steps. Breaking your tasks down can instantly relieve the feelings of overwhelm that often lead to procrastination.

A final approach that can be used to alleviate the perfectionism that often lurks behind procrastination is to title whatever you are working on as a ‘sketch.’ The term ‘sketching’ immediately takes the pressure off and frees us from the expectation that whatever we create has to be perfect. This initial sketch is simply the foundation for what will follow and can therefore be tweaked over time. Although it may sound like something very minor – this subtle shift in language can dramatically help to silence our inner critic, alter our expectations and allow us to get started, which is so often the hardest part!

The next time you find yourself procrastinating, ask yourself whether any of the common causes of procrastination apply to you (loss of enthusiasm, overwhelm or perfectionism) and hopefully some of the strategies above will help you to move through it more quickly.

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Staying Motivated Throughout Your PhD

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With PhD projects averaging around 4 or more years to complete, it can be difficult to sustain the motivation that first inspired you to start the project in the first place.

A lack of motivation can show up in many different ways. Whether it’s procrastination, feeling low, getting distracted by other tasks, feeling incapacitated and unable to move forward – it’s often a vicious cycle. When we don’t feel motivated, we end up accomplishing very little and this results in us feeling even less motivated than before! And so, the cycle continues.

Whenever you find your motivation waning, it’s important to be gentle with yourself as you work through this and to know there are steps you can take to move forward.

When it comes to addressing this issue, there are two distinct, yet related levels of motivation: (1) Underlying motivation and (2) day-to-day motivation.

The first level, underlying motivation, is about reconnecting with your passion and excitement – the thing that inspired you to pursue a PhD in the first instance. The second level, day-to-day motivation, concerns the more immediate task of maintaining momentum on a daily basis.

While these two levels of motivation can be viewed as mutually reinforcing, the steps I would recommend for addressing each are slightly different. Moreover, while both levels are equally important, I would suggest concentrating on underlying motivation first. This is because even if we arm ourselves with the best tips relating to daily motivation, these tips can only be a temporary fix if we’ve lost our deeper motivation and can no longer identify why we are doing something.

So how can we begin to reconnect with our underlying motivation? Let’s try the following exercise.

Exercise: Finding Your ‘Why’

Find a quiet space where you can sit comfortably without distractions. Gently take a few deep breaths in and out.  When you are ready, start to write down all of the things that are worrying you about your PhD on a few sheets of paper. It could be things like: ‘I’m not working fast enough,’ ‘I’ll never get this done,’ ‘my work isn’t good enough,’ ‘what if I can’t find a job when I finish?’. All of the things that are worrying you about the PhD, just write them down.

Now, I’d like you to roll up each scrap of paper into a ball and throw them into a bin, one by one. Imagine yourself feeling lighter and lighter as you throw each piece of paper away. By going through this process, you are opening up space and quieting that critical voice in your head. If you find that more worried or anxious thoughts are coming to you, continue to repeat this part of the exercise.

Next, when you are ready, I want you to begin to ask yourself the following questions and be as honest with yourself as possible: why do I want to do this? What first inspired me to pursue a PhD? Was it a person I met, a place I visited or a book I read? And why did I choose this particular topic? What excited me about this field and this research topic? What can I do with the PhD that I couldn’t do without it? What doors will the PhD open up for me?

Take a few minutes to reflect on your answers. What has come up for you? Was there anything unexpected or surprising in your answers? Many of the students that have gone through this process are able to find their ‘why’ – that kernel of inspiration or passion that first inspired them to pursue a PhD. The thing that so often gets in our way and blocks us from connecting to that passion are our own thoughts, anxieties and worries. But what if you were able to sit in the place of inspiration more regularly? How would it feel to work on your research more regularly from this place of excitement?

As you go forward, can you identify whether there are things that remind you of your ‘Why’? Something that you can glance at that will automatically enable you to reconnect to why you are doing this. It could be a photo of someone, a book, a painting, an image on your desktop or some other object that that reminds you of your why. If you are able to identify something, perhaps you can keep this item in your work space as a way to tap into your underlying motivation more frequently.

Now that we’ve discussed how to reconnect to your underlying motivation Sign up for your free guide ‘8 Steps for Sustaining Motivation During Your PhD’where I address how to sustain day-to-day motivation.

 

Navigating Job Applications

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Applying for jobs in the midst of completing your PhD can feel very overwhelming. Students are frequently told how competitive the job market is. As early as the first year of a PhD, I often hear students starting to worry: ‘what if I don’t find a job?’ When left unchecked, this fear can become all-consuming and start to impede progress on the PhD itself.

My advice to students is to set aside one hour per week and go to a space where they don’t do their regular PhD work, such as a cafe in their neighbourhood. I ask them to bring along a notebook or journal specifically devoted to their job search. During that time and that time alone, they do a broad search of jobs they come across, note them down in the book and keep track of when the application is due. After the hour, I ask them to close their job search journal and leave that space.

Having this time carved out, and conducting their search in a separate space to their normal working environment helps to set some important boundaries. It also allows them to get excited about the prospect of finding a job without inhibiting their work and limits the amount of worried energy that gets expended on this task.

If you are starting to think about applying for jobs, try this technique for the next few weeks and see if it helps make the job search feel more manageable.

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Once you’ve narrowed down a few prospective jobs to apply for, here are a few additional tips to keep in mind.

  • When you find a position that you’d like to apply for, try not to become overly attached to it. The best way to do this is to zoom out and allow yourself to see that there are other possibilities beyond that one job. If you think you need something in order to be happy, it’s a sign you are overly attached to it.

 

  • Give up the mentality of lack and scarcity – the idea that there aren’t enough jobs, publication opportunities or funding to go around. While this mindset is very common in academia, it breeds a lot of anxiety and puts unnecessary pressure on you.

 

  • When you apply for something give it your best shot but remember that you only control 50% of the process. The other 50% is beyond your control, as there may be factors behind the scenes that you aren’t even aware of. All you can do is work on your half of the equation and let go of trying to control the other half.

 

  • Despite the image that most people project of themselves, it takes time to land the ideal job. Even the strongest candidates will encounter their fair share of rejection letters over time. Instead of setting unrealistic expectations for yourself and comparing yourself to others, remind yourself that patience is a virtue when it comes to navigating job applications.

 

  • Getting to the interview stage is a success in its own right and should be celebrated. If you ever feel like you screwed up an interview or an application, remember that this is a learning process. Interview skills are something you can improve, so try and treat it as a learning experience.

 

  • Whatever setbacks you encounter in applying for jobs, these do not need to define you unless you allow them to. If things don’t work out as you hoped in relation to a specific job, remember that there could be something better out there for you.

 

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Defending Your Work

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I’ve often found the terminology that we use for examining PhD theses slightly misleading. At most universities, the examination is referred to as a viva, drawn from the latin ‘viva voce’ meaning oral examination. Yet, most students and staff refer to the examination as a ‘defence’.

While there is some truth to this description insofar as the viva is an opportunity to defend your project – there is also something profoundly unhelpful and counterproductive about this language. It sets people up to go into their viva voce in a defensive mode. The insinuation of this description is that the examiners will be aggressive and on the offensive. They will attack your work and the best way to prepare yourself is to put on your armour and get ready to fight back.

Approaching the viva as a defence of your work not only puts you into fight or flight mode as you prepare, the feeling of being under attack may also inhibit your performance on the day.

Subtle shifts can make a world of difference. Instead of approaching your viva in a fear-based way, my advice is to reframe it as more of a conversation about your project. This will help release some of the pressure surrounding the viva and allow you to tap into what first inspired you about your research area. A conversation does not have to be unpleasant or uncomfortable, and in fact, it can even be enjoyable.

Reframing the viva as a conversation will allow you to show up differently on the day. It will influence how you carry yourself, how you respond to questions and ultimately, how much you are able to get out of the experience. Considering how hard you’ve worked and how many years you’ve put into this, you owe that to yourself.

So drop the shield and the sword. Leave the fear behind and get ready for a fruitful and productive conversation about your work. Here are a few other things to keep in mind as you start to prepare for your viva:

Get Excited

Don’t lose sight of what you find exciting and enjoyable about the project. Given that you dedicated so much of your time to working on your PhD, the opportunity to have colleagues engage with your work is actually something to look forward to and be excited about. Tapping into your excitement is one of the best antidotes to fear and anxiety.

Failure is Unlikely

The prospect of failure may be your greatest fear – yet statistics reveal that this fear is often overblown in our minds. Very few students actually fail the viva and so it’s very unlikely you will be confronted with this result. The truth is, you wouldn’t have made it this far and your supervisor is unlikely to have let you reach this stage if a fail was likely. Remember, their reputation is on the line as much as yours is and in that sense your fear of failure is likely unfounded.

Your Thesis Isn’t Going to Be Perfect – And it Doesn’t Need to Be

For many, the weight surrounding the viva has a lot to do with the expectation that their thesis must be perfect. After all, this is the culmination of years of research and endless hours of work. Nevertheless, it’s important to remember that the PhD isn’t going to be perfect. Now the good news is that it doesn’t need to be. PhD theses are rarely published as is and the majority will require some form of revision or updating before publication. This is your first major piece of research and not your life’s work. So, try approaching the viva as an opportunity to get helpful feedback on the project and let go of the expectation that it must be perfect.

It’s just the beginning

A lot of the pressure associated with completing the thesis comes from viewing it as the end of a journey. In actuality, this is just the beginning. If you decide to stay in academia, it’ll be the first of many research projects. Likewise, if you decide to go on and do something different, it’ll be the first step on a new path. Even if you end up going into a completely different field, you will have learned a valuable set of life skills that you can draw upon as you go forward. So, however you look at it, it’s certainly not the end

Keep Fight vs Flight Symptoms in Check

While it’s understandable that you may be nervous, remember to pay attention to how that stress shows up in your body. To help keep fight/flight symptoms at bay, take long deep breaths whenever you need to. Have water on hand and drink it regularly. It can also be useful to bring in a notebook with you in order to make a note of key points/questions. Taking notes will enable you to gather your thoughts before responding to questions. This can be a particularly useful technique if you don’t enjoy being put on the spot!

Dress for the Occasion

Rather than picking something standard from your wardrobe for the day, spend some time selecting an outfit. Not only will dressing for the occasion help you exude confidence, it will convey a sense of professionalism to your examiners. If it isn’t feasible for you to buy a new outfit, remember that little flourishes can also go a long way towards boosting your confidence.

As you go into your viva, keep these factors in mind. This will hopefully alleviate the enormity and overwhelm surrounding the task and allow your fears about the viva to dissipate.

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Integrating Wellbeing in University Rankings

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Each year the Times Higher Education Magazine (THE) publishes the results of its World University Rankings. According to the results of the 2019 Rankings, the top 3 performing institutions are the University of Oxford, the University of Cambridge and Stanford University.

The Times Higher Education World University Ranking, which began in 2004, is widely recognized as the most comprehensive and efficient system for assessing university performance across 1250 higher education institutions. Among the THE’s claim to fame is its’ comprehensive methodology.

THE uses 13 performance indicators to compare institutions, each of which are grouped into five core areas: teaching, research, international outlook, knowledge transfer, and research influence. Apart from providing a sophisticated assessment of performance across a broad range of metrics, the results are audited by Price Waterhouse Coopers, which make the THE Rankings the only global university rankings subjected to full, independent scrutiny.

Despite the continuing commitment to improving and updating the robust methodology of the ranking scheme, there remains one criterion that has been consistently overlooked in the 15 years that the survey has been running and that is a commitment to wellbeing. To date, there is no metric for considering or assessing the extent to which a higher education institution prioritizes the wellbeing of its’ students.

With stress rates soaring across universities, and an increasing number of students and staff reporting mental health challenges, it is more crucial than ever that higher education institutions start to invest in this area. By neglecting to include any metric for wellbeing in the ranking scheme, these surveys perpetuate the perception of wellbeing as something supplemental to the university experience rather than an integral part of it. Having wellbeing included as part of the university ranking matrix would not only help to counter this perception, it would also provide a strong incentivize for universities to further invest in student and staff wellbeing.

We’ve seen evidence of how specific metrics in the ranking schemes have facilitated shifts within the higher education sector – this is particularly the case in the realm of research impact, where the emphasis on transferable knowledge has led to greater collaboration between industry and academia. In this sense, the rankings community has a real opportunity to catalyse a much-needed shift in how wellbeing is approached in academia.

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Track Your Progress and Not Your Word Count

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One of the most challenging aspects of completing a PhD is the difficulty of knowing whether you are on track. When you are pursuing a degree that lasts for several years, how do you really know if you are moving forward, particularly when you are working independently? For most students, the default mode for measuring progress is to either compare yourself to others or to add up the number of words you have written.

Although your word count may seem like the most obvious and reliable way to measure progress, there is so much more that goes into completing a thesis than simply producing a set number of words. There are days when you might not write very much, or anything at all, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t making progress.

The setbacks, challenges, and frustrating days when you feel like you are going in circles are, to a certain extent, inevitable and something that every student will experience. In order to keep yourself moving forward, it’s important to allow for the fact that this is all part of the process. Even when you feel like you aren’t progressing, chances are you probably are.

So rather than tracking your progress on the basis of the words you write and how much closer you are to reaching your final word limit, try alternative strategies for tracking progress – like journaling or a time-management tool called the Pomodoro Technique. Another option to track your progress is to find an accountability partner– someone you can regularly check in with as you work towards your goals.

Alternative techniques such as these not only help you to acknowledge the progress you have made, they also serve as an important reminder that the PhD journey does not always follow a straight path.

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Beware of the Urge to Compare

compare-643305_1280How often do you compare yourself to those around you? In many ways, the competitive nature of academia encourages us to compare ourselves to others. With our work being constantly assessed and evaluated, measuring our progress in relation to others may start to feel very natural.

While the comparison game may seem to be a useful way for determining how well we are doing, there is also something deeply counterproductive about measuring ourselves in relation to others. This became particularly evident to me when I was completing my PhD.

During the PhD, there was no obvious basis for comparison between me and the students in my cohort. Although we had course work during our first year and yearly upgrade panels, these were not graded. We were all pursuing our own independent research projects over a four-year period, wherein the only requirement was to submit a 100 000 word thesis.

As our main task was to write, the default mode of comparison became how many chapters each of us had produced. I recall being asked several times throughout my PhD by other classmates: ‘how many chapters have you written?’ and feeling bad that it wasn’t enough in comparison to what some of the other students had managed to produce. It started to feed into the feeling that I was constantly behind and not performing as well as my colleagues.

Of course, this chapter counting took no notice of how unique each PhD project was, not to mention the different working patterns of each student, differences in methodology, and the resulting differences in terms of the timescales for completion. Given all of this, counting chapters – and draft chapters in particular – as a measure for comparison was pretty meaningless.

The futility of this metric became even more apparent as the time for submitting the thesis drew nearer. Interestingly, and to my surprise, those who had written the most in the initial stages of the PhD were by no means the first to submit. This really brought home to me how ridiculous the ‘chapter counting’ comparison was.

But my realization also applies to the more general comparisons we tend to draw between ourselves and others. Whether we are using academic benchmarks or another metric for comparison, we will always find people who seem to be doing better than us as well as people who may not be – it all depends on where we focus our attention.

Either way, we’d be much better off not to make the success or failure, progress or lack of progress of others, mean something about ourselves. As you go forward, try and beware of your own urge to compare and ask yourself whether the comparison is actually serving you.

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Sweet Dreams: Strategies for Cultivating a More Restful Sleep

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How much sleep do you tend to get throughout the night? Do you wake up feeling rested? According to the National Sleep Council, nearly 74% of those surveyed are not getting enough sleep. The top two reasons cited for this were worry and stress.

While most of us recognise the importance of getting a good night’s sleep and understand the toll that sleep deprivation can take on our physical and mental health, poor sleep is something that too many of us have come to accept as a fact of our busy lives.

In honour of World Sleep Day on March 15th, this post will be devoted to some of my favourite tips for cultivating a more restful sleep.

TIPS FOR FALLING ASLEEP

  • Wake up at the same time every day – even on weekends!
  • Get more natural light throughout the day
  • Exercise for at least 30 minutes a day
  • If you tend to nap during the day, between 20-30 minutes is ideal according to National Sleep Foundation
  • Avoid eating dinner too late
  • Avoid caffeine and other stimulants late in the day
  • Figure out your optimal sleep time by calculating it at sleepyti.me
  • Adopt a daily wind-down routine – think of the nighttime routines that parents have created for their children, which is something we lose as adults
  • Switch off devices a few hours before bed (including TV, tablets, laptops, IPhones), as blue light will disturb melatonin balance
  • Try and minimize the amount of work you do in the evening
  • Ensure your bedroom is a space for rest and relaxation
  • Take a warm bath or shower before bed to help regulate your body temperature
  • Have herbal teas (chamomile with honey, valerian and lemon balm are all good options)
  • Activate your right-brained creativity before bed (try an adult coloring book, drawing, reading something light or journaling)
  • Burn lavender oil in a diffuser to help stimulate relaxation
  • Listen to calming music like the National Sleep Council’s Nodcasts
  • Practice meditationbefore bed or Yoga Nidra
  • Beware of what Kenneth Lichstein has termed ‘Insomnia Identity’, which in itself can be a powerful inhibitor to sleep
  • Let go of the struggle and effort surrounding sleep – remember that sleep is something that should come naturally to us and sometimes the harder we try to force it, the more elusive it will be

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Having outlined some of my favourite tips for staying asleep, the following set of tips have been associated with helping insomnia sufferers to stay asleep.

  • If you are finding it difficult to sleep throughout the night, experiment with avoiding alcohol before bed
  • Minimize EMF exposure by removing electronic devices from the room
  • Regulate room temperature and lighting to further assist your body clock
  • If noise is an issue, try ear plugs or a white noise machine/app
  • Try and refrain from checking email before bed (this includes personal as well as work emails)
  • If you wake up in the middle of the night, resist the urge to check your clock – if it’s too close to your waking time you may talk yourself out of going back to sleep. Likewise, if you discover it’s early on in the night, you may start to worry about whether you will be able to get back to sleep
  • If you wake up with a particular worry, make a note of it and set a time for you to deal with it the following day
  • Start a practice of journaling before bed. This will give you a space to make note of any thoughts or anxieties
  • Consult with your health care provider about a magnesium supplement or a topical magnesium oil
  • If you have difficulty getting back to sleep, try going into another room and doing something else. For inspiration, have a look at Roger Ekirch’s fascinating study on how our pre-industrial ancestors experienced something he called ‘segmented sleep’
  • To further investigate your sleeping patterns and to help get to the bottom of what may be disrupting your sleep, try monitoring your sleep with a recommended app

Remember that the key to getting a restful sleep has a lot to do with how we approach stress during our waking hours. For further advice tailored to your specific sleep challenges, visit the Sleep Council UK sleepcouncil.org.uk/perfect-sleep-environment/

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A More Flexible Approach to Planning

calendar-660670_1280Before I used to start any task, whether it was completing a batch of marking, writing an article, or preparing for a lecture, I always spent some time in advance planning how long the task would take and how much time I would need to devote to it each day.

For instance, if I was aiming to complete an article within two weeks, I might set a goal of writing 750 words per day, or if my marking deadline was in 10 days and I had 70 scripts, I’d aim to complete 7 exams per day. This is the approach I had consistently taken over the years and at first glance, it does seem like a reasonable approach to planning.

There was, however, something very crucial that I had been overlooking in my planning process, or to be more specific, an incorrect assumption that I was making. I assumed not only that every day that I worked on that task would be the same, but also that it should be the same. After years and years of doing this, I can attest to the fact that this could not be further from the truth. What I encountered in reality was a much greater degree of variance between each day that I spent working on a task.

There were days when things just flowed and I ended up exceeding what I had hope to accomplish in that day. Then there were the days that I struggled to make any progress whatsoever. Sometimes the progress I made during the exceptionally good days would even out my lack of progress on the ‘off days’, and I would still hit my targeted deadline. Other times I was forced to go back to my initial schedule and amend my completion date. This never felt particularly good!

Despite knowing that my instinctual approach to planning doesn’t work, I still sometimes feel drawn to plan in this way. What this demonstrates is a reluctance to acknowledge that ‘off days’ are inevitable. Acknowledging this would not only lead to a messier schedule, it would also feel like I was somehow inviting more of those days in, which I definitely did not want.

After a lot of reflection, I’ve come to realize the value in taking a more flexible approach to planning by building in time for less productive days and unexpected delays. Now, on the days when I accomplish less than I would have hoped, I try not to make it a big deal. I can see that what I used to perceive as a ‘bad day’ was not really a bad day at all – it was simply an outcome of the fact that no two days will be exactly the same.

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