Time, On Not Managing It

It’s been an odd, disjointed jump into expat life for me. In November I had two weeks in the states, post-job, to pack up and sell things. Then I was in Ukraine with Alex… for a little over three weeks. Then back to the states for three weeks over the December-January holidays, ostensibly to visit our friends and family and work on my dissertation, but in actuality lots more packing, sorting, filing, and doing logistical crud that we didn’t have time for before I moved. A couple more weeks of dissertation-ing (still from a hotel, so everything was in luggage)… and then it was time for our long-planned trip to Thailand and Cambodia. Only there was a twist–a week of business for Alex in India before the vacay, and a few days more of it on the way back.

Then, in February, we fiiiinally moved into our apartment (quote Monty Python and the Holy Grail with me now: “And there was much rejoicing“). Since then, there’s been a weekend trip to Venice and another quick jaunt to India on business. In between, I’ve been trying to dissertation-ify… and also set up the apartment, and blog regularly, and home-cook all our meals (yes, even breakfast), and workout with Alex regularly, and sort through all our travel photos, and write a middle-grade novel, and read SO MANY BOOKS, and somehow stay connected to friends and family despite distance and an 8-hour time-difference, and oh maybe learn Russian so that I can grocery shop without an escort and maybe say more than, “Hello, young girl. Good, thank you. Elephant.” And find time to think through a little of this emotional impact, moving to another country for multiple years.

As most people who know me (or my framily-ex-roomie Claire) can imagine, this resulted in a massive meltdown of ALL THE THINGS! But it’s manifested itself in particularly sneaky ways. Instead of crying or yelling or consuming massive amounts of chocolate as is my usual MO (well, there has been chocolate consumed, but not massive amounts), I’ve indulged in the lovely self-sabotage of time mis-management. I write out to-do lists and daily schedules and promptly ignore them in favor of ridiculous, non-productive distractions. I spend more time agonizing over my dissertation than writing it. I then spend more time mentally berating myself for these activities, instead of Picking Up With Life and Moving The Crap On, as I should.


Alex caught on to this when I had my single crying meltdown, because I wasn’t learning any Russian… partly because I felt like I didn’t have time to learn it AND dissertation AND cook and and and (repeat until you dissolve into a puddle of frustration and tears). He promptly contacted the gal we’d talked to about tutoring, and now we’re scheduled to meet with her twice a week, for an hour and a half each time. We met this morning for this first time, and I learned that not even native Russian-speakers pronounce all the consonants in здравствуйте (transliterated, it’s zdravstvooeetyeh… I know, right? that many letters from the end of the alphabet should not be allowed in a single word). And yes, that means there are two mornings a week that we learn Russian instead of workout, and that’s okay. More importantly, my brain now knows that’s okay. Oy, vey!

I’m also learning how to pace myself. I don’t have to actively write on my dissertation for 8 hours a day, every day, in order to make progress. In fact, I’ll make better progress if I sit down and fully focus for a couple of hours, then go do the laundry or check Twitter or email my mom. And then come back, and start again.

This crippling avoidance non-strategy of “ALL THE THINGS” has caused me to slack off on figuring a Skype schedule to talk to anyone, on writing all those articles I planned to write in addition to the dissertation (now mentally shelved for post-dissertation brain-time), and on several librarian-related activities. My sincerest, most sheepish apologies to everyone for not skyping/emailing and participating on projects as much as I anticipated. I’m frustrated with myself because I know I’m susceptible to this: I counted on this being a problem, planned to avoid it, and I’m still struggling daily. It’s a common PhD-student problem, especially when you’re not working a fulltime job, and it’s more of a danger when you’re not grounded in a social support network and schedule (aka: my life in the US).

PhD Life

So. I’m picking myself up for the umpteenth time, and I’m finishing that wretched paragraph in my literature review chapter, and I will finish this draft and send it to my advisor this week, or I will not be allowed to eat any more chocolate, my word to Batgirl. I know I’ll slide back, but I’ve got to bust out of this perfectionist-as-procrastinator mindset and move on when that happens.

Emotional Roulette

In order to bust out a completed draft of my dissertation proposal in the next two weeks, I might be a little less active here. I’ll try to pop into twitter and facebook and instagram/flickr a bit, but to tone down my distractions overall. I’ll see y’all on the flip side… with a dissertation proposal ready to DEFEND to my committee!


8 thoughts on “Time, On Not Managing It

  1. Jeffrey Levy says:

    Starr, if it’s any help, I’ve noted, during those few occasions when anyone wants me to write something, that I can be either the editor or the report writer, but not BOTH in the same sitting. If I don’t feel like writing a single word, I’m probably thinking more like an editor, so I do editorial tasks — arranging and rearranging, correcting typos, typing up the cover page, double checking dates and citations, tracking down email addresses of intended recipients, etc. Later I may be more in a brainstorming mood, so I can resume writing and organizing the report, typos be damned. Then I’ll correct ’em later. I find that, whatever phase my brain is in, I can do SOMETHING towards completing the report. The mechanics take up just as much time as the writing. There’s also phone calls and emails that have to be made, shuffling pages of notes, and other tasks that don’t require creative work, but still need to be done. I like the idea of having a tutor to learn the language. Books and tapes can take you only so far. I just remember the Monty Python skit about the Hungarian Phrase Book (“Your Hovercraft is full of eels!”). Good luck with your dissertation.

    • Starr Hoffman says:

      thanks, Jeffrey! i think the hardest part is overcoming the brain block to actually WRITE on it. i keep sidetracking myself with additional research and/or online reading… when it’s not really that hard to write, it just seems hard. silly me!

  2. Chris says:

    *Hugs, hugs, and MOAR hugs!* I know it’s hard and emotional and ridiculous and ALL THE THINGS. However, you are amazing, and have figured out a better pace, and your bestest bud has figured out how to help. You will be FANTABULOUS! Also, give yourself a little room. It has been a huge fantastical change. You’re allowed a few meltdowns. I love you guys! Now, GO WRITE, EDIT, and BE THE AMAZING STARRY I know you are! ❤

    • Starr Hoffman says:

      awwww, HUGS back! thanks, sweetie.

      i debated a lot about writing up my true emotional experience here… i want to be honest about the experience, especially for others considering PhDs and/or expat life, but i don’t want to just vent/complain ad infinitum, either. truth and balance… hard things to figure out in a blog. 😉

      i appreciate the positive reinforcements!!

  3. Tatyana Remayeva says:

    Starr, I do recognize myself it your words and feeling about the dissertation.
    What I started doing with it – is working on it for 3 to 5 hours a day with random weekends. It makes me feel easier than sitting in front of it for the whole day)

    Also training help me to keep my body and mood in a good state while living in one place.

    And some brain trainings such as learning something new is a good too. For example I’m taking Stanford courses and brainstorming new projects I can grow myself!
    You’re doing all right. Try to add more colors in your life!

    Be happy waking up everyday and laugh a lot!

    • Starr Hoffman says:

      thanks, Tanya! yes, pacing it is already helping. i don’t know why i expected to be able to sit in front of a computer and only work on my dissertation, 8 hours a day, every weekday!

      having a bookcase in our apartment, thus places to put my books and thus having desk space is helping, too. and guess what… it’s already turning warm and SPRING here! i’m going to get outside more, which will help. 🙂

      by the way, i LOVE your profile photo–it makes me smile every time i see it, because it is so YOU, laughing and full of life. 😀

  4. dawn1952 says:

    Hang in there kid !!! You are doing good withall the changes! Besides we girls were made to cry! We probably do mot do it enough! Love ya much Momo

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