As a tech nerd and productivity nut, I’ve spent many hours and days thinking about how I can be more productive, more efficient, less stressed, less time poor. But for where I am right now, the second year of my PhD and early in my career, I am beginning to understand the value of just showing up.
In the first year of my PhD, I was so eager to make sure I was going about my work in a way that wasted as little time and effort as possible. I wanted to spend my office hours doing work and only work. Back in 2010, having just come back from a glorious 10-month overseas trip, my 22-year-old self was none too pleased about the prospect of the standard working week. I wasn’t enamoured with the idea of 40 hour weeks (or 50, or 60…), chained to my desk like a slave, especially after having successfully worked from home through most of my Honours year. And so it was that I introduced “Flexible Fridays”, wherein I gave myself free rein to choose to come into the office and get “bonus work” done, or take a three-day weekend instead (no prizes for guessing which option won out more often than not!).
In the chaotic haze of preparing for confirmation in September 2011, my work/life balance (or more accurately, office/home balance) shifted dramatically. I had to drop my baggage about efficiency, and realise that I’m not yet good enough at what I do to be efficient at it! I gritted my teeth, put in the grunt work, and got things done – slowly and deliberately.
Since 2011, I have basically maintained the Monday to Friday schedule (albeit with very different start and finish times day-to-day and week-to-week), and I am surprisingly very happy working this way. What is most interesting to me is that I am satisfied with M-F and the regular two-day weekend, but my beliefs have not changed. I remain a strong advocate of the four-day work week and the power of putting limits on office time. I believe in calling it a day and leaving work at work. But the last 12 months of my PhD have taught me that there is something to be gained from being present.
In the six years I’ve been hanging around Deakin, I have never felt as professionally-satisfied, intellectually-stimulated, and socially-engaged as I do right now. That’s not to say that I haven’t enjoyed what has gone before; heck, I just keep coming back to this place – from undergraduate, to Honours, and now for my PhD – so I haven’t had a rough trot at all. But I think the key to my current contentedness is that I’ve been physically present at uni more often than ever before. I’ve been present for the casual conversations in the staff kitchen that morph into career development opportunities. I’ve been present for those chance meetings between strangers that morph into job prospects. I’ve been present to demonstrate my work to those who might one day be interviewing me for a position.
I’ve never been so fortunate to have such quantity and quality of opportunities, knocking at my door on a regular basis. And I’ve never felt more engaged with fellow students, supervisors, and colleagues from within my research group and beyond. Consider it a lesson learned: the value of just showing up.