So here I was, sitting in the PhD office space, 9pm on a Sunday, working on some minor work in preparation for the coming week. Yeah, the usual "I have no life", "weekends are meant to be for fun", and all the other excuses or reasons or judgments or opinions or whatever. Fact was, I was enjoying being there. I did not feel stressed or pressured to have completed work. I was there by my own choice. But still, at the back of my mind, the things I wanted to do, which were non-work, were still nagging me. Things like reading the last book in The Three Body Problem trilogy. Or watching films by a director called Pedro Almodóvar. Or playing Don't Starve. Or learning Haskell. And every time I have these thoughts, I always justify them saying the work I'm doing now is more important. I'll do them later when I'm a little more free. And now I've realised that I keep saying this over and over and over again.
It's not like I do not have 'fun'. I like my work. I'm excited about it. I work with vigour and passion. So I'm not in an escapist situation where the moment I start doing work, all I'm thinking about is when I'm going to finish it and how I'll relax later on or what I'm going to do this weekend. But this tendency to be a workaholic has made me not indulge into other things I like to do.
I watch a film now and then. I read immensely. Sometimes as much as finishing a book a week. There are good metrics - both quantitatively and qualitatively. But I still want more. And this wanting more cannot come unless I reduce work to make time for doing this stuff. So here I am in a dilemma, thinking whether I should cut down on work or whether I should carry on working.
There's no clear answer, and anything you have got in your head right is your opinion. What I did was to ask myself what I wanted to achieve 1 month later, or 1 year later. Is that 1 hour I put in everyday, or the work that I do every weekend going to matter in the long run? Am I spending 20% extra time for 2% gains? Is that rational? It is nearly impossible to quantify these things like this. But it at least got me thinking on something more important.
At the end of the year, what do I want to have done. Like a list of achievements I can look at and say, yes, I wanted to do this, and I have done it. This is what I had started Life Experiments for. But I stopped them. So here I am wondering the same things again and again in life. I'm sure this is a pattern as well.
So here's the conclusion I came to - work smarter and indulge in other things. The PhD work should not be the only skill I have at the end of four years. That's practical advice. If I'm spending 10 hours working, I'm actually only working for 4 hours. Maybe 5 if I'm being generous about myself. The rest of the time, I'm doing - * wondering what to do next * spending way more time on trivial 1% stuff * bored and working more slowly * going on a tangent to non-related stuff * finding something that feels more exciting at the moment and working on that
All this makes me wonder if I'm just wasting time. Do I ever finish what I started? Or do I keep going off on tangents for so long that I'm never finished? Is that why I work so much? Because I keep finding something new to chase around? Am I an academic puppy?
I want to be a smart worker. So I'm going to plan for the foreseeable future, and stick to it in terms of achievements. I've got a nice quote on a note on my desk -
If you're not finishing, you're just busy, not productive.
Make a list, breakdown stuff, and plan the crap out of it. But don't plan too close to the edges. Just know the next steps. And then do them for the day. When you're finished, or even if you're not, drop them. Move on to the next one. Or to the hobbies thing you wanted to do. I think this way, it makes working more intense because you're literally yearning (PhD life!) to go back to work. At the same time, it scratches the itch of having done your hobbies things too.