Incremental Progress and Organizing

Another short post today, just to start getting myself into the habit of writing again. My leave is all official and taken care of now, I’ve turned in my grades for the term, and now I’m not going to have obligations to my university for awhile.

Of course, I’ve been working on research related things everyday. I’m organizing my notes, I’m going to send my advisor another draft of this massive tome in the next couple of weeks, and I’ve got a stack of papers a mile high that I’m working through.

My biggest problem seems to be making sure that I don’t push myself too hard. I have to keep reminding myself that the reason why I’m going on leave is that my mental illness has been bad enough that I need time to rest and heal and just let myself be crazy in that way that is a short term hardship, but a long term good. It’s like resetting a bone. It hurts more and feels worse at first but eventually means the healing can be done.

I’ve started using effort estimates in org-mode to plan my day. It was a little shocking when I tried to schedule out this week and discovered that I was planning out 10-12 hour work days every day. That’s probably not a great plan if I’m supposed to rest, so I’m trying to instead plan for maybe 6-7 hour days at least in the first few weeks of my break.

I tend to get this panic where I need to do All The Things as fast as possible because I get convinced that I’m running out of time on some fundamental level. I’m in my early 30s now and I had expected that I’d be able to be done with a PhD years ago. I didn’t expect that I’d have to get started on this as late as I did and that mental disability would make everything take so much effort. It may sound silly, but in undergrad I always heard variants “no mathematician is worth their salt over 25” or that if you hadn’t done important work by 30 then you never would etc. and those ideas really wormed into my head. I don’t really believe any of that, at least not when it comes to anyone else, but I look at myself being 32 and 5 years into a PhD and I think “wow, I must be a total loser”.

The problem, though, is that pushing myself to work as fast as possible doesn’t actually get anything quickly. It just burns me out faster. On the other hand, in this past year I’ve started making incremental progress on a number of things and it’s actually starting to build up. I have a number of research projects that are starting to get mature enough to share with others, I’m working towards a draft of my thesis proposal, I’ve written up significant notes and learning materials for the theory course I teach, I’ve even managed to write more for this blog than I’ve ever written for any other attempt at a technical blog over the years. I’ve written almost 150k words since March of this year, not all of it towards my doctorate, but it’s still an order of magnitude more than what I’ve managed to produce any other year.

I’m trying to convince myself that incremental progress is going to add up if I can keep my notes going and keep continuity of my ideas and to that end I know I need to not burn myself out.

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