The quest for inbox zero and the weight of the PhD

by Anna Blanch on March 28, 2012

I’ve spent hours this week getting caught up on long put off administration, on answering or dealing with the work that results from over 600 emails sitting forlornly in my inbox. Some of it I needed to say “No” – to say with the delete key or a longer email responding that it wasn’t for me to do. Others simply required an entry into my calendar or to-do list. Others still needed to be done – to be acted upon. Many of them would take less than 2 minutes to sort out (2 minutes is the GTD golden rule), but they were still kind of painful or irritating to me. Yet, this is one of many times where I had to suck it up and just get it done. the last 20 were probably the hardest. I tried to be strict with myself and go from oldest to newest, so these last twenty were all from the last two weeks. The last 9 were like the juggling balls thrown in by someone else, just when I thought i was almost done more would get thrown into the mix. In fact those last nine are still sitting there.

Many of these hours were spent on continuing projects – juggling balls that are important to me. Even as I reassessed the importance of each, I realised that these things matter to me. They are worth my time.

When I’m working, and it was many hours of hard work in just getting back to even, If i’m not working on my thesis I feel guilty. Even when it’s important, like a job application or a freelance committment or even finalising a conference paper or journal article, there’s a part of me that can’t let go that the thesis should be front and centre and any work on anything else is mere distraction or procrastination. From one angle, this may be true, I do struggle to write my thesis when I have so much other stuff hanging over me. Ignoring it wasn’t very effective – making my email manual was a good move, however. Now it doesn’t interrupt me. It’s much like switching off your phone. I get to choose when to deal with it. I highly recommend it.

Anyway, part to my irrational feelings of overwhelming guilt. I sort of thought I was done with this, remember. We’ve kind of already had this particular conversation. But, it appears that until I submit this will not be done.

Part of the problem is that my work is my life.

That’s also part of the reason why I’m happy doing what I’m doing. I’m so grateful that I am passionate about my chosen work. Passionate enough to put myself through this special rite of passage that is the phd. I’m not doing it for kicks.

But when work and life collide so much it does make me a little boring to talk to sometime.

It’s helpful to have friends who get you to talk about other things, like culture, and politics, and world events, and hope, and faith, and good books. It’s helpful to get outside and go for a run and sweat a lot. I should tell you about my exercise philosophy sometime. It doesn’t involve much smiling or talking, and that’s the way I like it.

This entire post makes me seem intense. Actually, it doesn’t make me seem anything. I am kind of intense.

Hence, the PhD.

So, for tonight, I’ve been glad to have put some exercise and a little reading before my quest for inbox zero and i’ve been reassured that there is light at the end of the PhD tunnel. See, there might be some hope for me yet..



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