About every 6 months, I have what my wife calls a nervous breakdown. I don’t think it’s quite that serious, but it is something that seems to affect every area of my life. It’s that time when all of the chemistry seems to be going wrong, I’ve got too many presentations scheduled, the boss has been in a bad mood for weeks, etc., and I just can’t seem to get purchase on any of it.
Well, I have recently discovered (with the help of my wife’s super-skills in logic and reason) that this stems largely from my tendency to make a wreck of any ordered space including my desk, bench, and mind. Now, I believe that a small degree of “mess” is actually beneficial to some of us, particularly synthetic chemists. But when I get going in too many directions and lose focus, everything falls apart. I start making bad decisions, I miss getting a spectrum for an intermediate, I give frazzled project reports, and on and on.
So, the one simple thing that keeps me on track in the mire? LISTS. It’s what my wife does all the time (ALL the time!) She’s got lists for To Do’s, shopping, Thank You cards, purchases, gifts, you name it. And somehow it never occured to me that this might help me organize my day, too, until she suggested to me from the depths of my semi-annual despair that I plot out the next day. Here’s what mine looks like:
I like to break my day up into 15 minute chunks. This gives me a real, tangible amount of time to determine if I’m on track to be completed for the next activity. The large blocks are reactions that really only need tending at the beginning and end, so I highlight those times, and know that I can work on something else in the middle.
I throw in keeping up on literature as lower priority, though it’s certainly not!! Just that it can be done whenever I find myself with a little free time. Then it’s checked off the list and room is made for ordering chemicals or whatever other thing has come up unexpectedly. Finally, speaking of changes, as I work during the day, things don’t alway go as planned (in fact, rarely do they go as planned . . . this is chemistry). I don’t think I’ve ever completed a list exactly as it started the night before. But it’s okay to let it morph as needed, and usually some things get pushed back to tomorrow. There’s always room for more in the “Tomorrow” column! This way, I find that I’m able to stay on task, and have an idea how I am advancing towards my project goals.
So, todays little tidbit of wisdom is . . .
Organized thoughts + organized work=Efficient Chemistry. So keep your eye on the prize!!