Monday, April 21, 2008

My Day On Campus

I work from home a lot. In fact, before today, the last time I was on campus was April 9 for about an hour. Before that, I think April 4 for a half day. As I've disengaged from projects here - started to write and analyze without any real thought toward collecting more data or initiating new projects - there's nothing overly exciting to do at work. So though I love my desk and all my pretty stuff, I also like being able to watch TV while in pajamas and take naps whenever I feel sleepy.

You might think this would get me in some trouble. Is nobody upset that I'm not here? Well, no. Not really. I'm brilliantly productive on paper - far more than any of the other post-docs in my cohort - and can offer a list of things that I've been working on even if the past four days were spent online and plotting the murder of those spikey weeds in my back yard. So nobody's ever said or hinted that it might be good to put in more time. Well, except Friend. But she works 10 hour days! So she's obviously jealous of my flexible (read: nonexistent) schedule. And it's not as if I never do work - I write and analyze and edit and read. Sometimes I do those things a whole lot. But while others might debate about teaching and service, I think more about which novel to read or when good TV starts again. And in all that time that my brain rests and swims through its sea of thoughts, some good ideas occur to me and I come up with new paper topics. So it all works out - my luxurious, little life here.

"You even have stuff to do today!" Friend coaxed as I drove, face firmly set in a pout, toward her house. I glanced down, spared a thought that I did like my pretty white skirt with the clusters of blue flowers and then frowned again. "Files to check and a boss to bother!"

"I could do that tomorrow," I sighed. "Or next week - whatever. I'm tired! I want to sleep more. And I can't get those files until 2 and we'll get there," I glanced at the clock on the dash and calculated time spent petting cats and having Prettiest Cat take a pill, "around 11. I don't have enough work to do for 3 hours!" But pet cats we did, all six of us (me, Friend, Prettiest Cat, Largest Cat, Cat Who Loves Too Much and Suspicious Cat) finally flopping on Friend's soft bed. I snuggled a pillow under my cheek and smoothed the coat of whoever was closest while drifting pleasantly, eyes closed.

Things were not so good once I arrived at work. I found a spot to park, enjoyed the way my skirt flounced around my knees when I pranced to catch the bus, then emptied my bag of various files once I arrived at my desk. I tapped my fingers and made a thoughtful face when everything was nice and clean. Email went into the folders I keep on Belle's (the iMac) hard drive. Papers went into drawers and cabinets organized to hold them. And it was 11:02.

I wandered down the hall, flip flops flip-flopping, and crouched to check my mailbox. I had journals and a seminar notice and glanced at them both before tossing them away. Then I sent another email to the publisher asking that they cease with the monthly mailings. I don't like or want them.

It was 11:05.

I walked to our new secretary's office and got a travel form for my upcoming trip. While I was slowly and carefully entering my personal information on the proper lines, I decided I might as well start printing receipts for registration and flights. I returned a paper-clipped packet to her at 11:07. Then I spent another minute glaring at list of things to do I keep on iGoogle. I moved Firefox aside and clicked on the appropriate icon to open a folder for a long-neglected project. Then blinked at the names that appeared in the window. I had absolutely no clue as to what this crap was, I realized. So I looked in my online lab notebook and couldn't find it there either. Muttering about how lab notebooks aren't useful if one doesn't create entries, I started to search old email to clues. A fresh note to a collaborator and subsequent hints later, I began to process data in Matlab, concurrently noting the appropriate steps on the blog I keep for that purpose.

Once I started feeling productive, it got easier. I wrote a note to DayByDay, asking after her wee one. I got to see more pictures, which made me happy. The wee one is ever so gorgeous. I finished an email to Steve, my industry contact. I wrote a few sentences that were beautiful - both in the way they were constructed and the message they conveyed. Pleased, I sent it off and am waiting to hear back. I made plans to meet OldestStudent at the upcoming conference to talk her through post-doc application materials and listen while she debates options (Advisor isn't so good about making people comfortable in such meetings) and decided on a day next week for lunch with another collaborator.

Marlie arrived, back from a meeting, and we chatted for a few minutes before she set to work. Ken arrived and mentioned there was food in the lunch room so I walked down the hall to steal a sandwich and some tiny desserts. Pleased that it was just after 1PM, I nibbled on chicken salad with pepperjack cheese and decided between the fudgy cookie with the pie crust and the coconut/chocolate chip bite of goodness. I went to wash my hands (and make sure I hadn't gotten crumbs on my shirt - I do that) and returned to find a small bag on my desk.

"I got you a present," Marlie explained and I gasped with delight.

"A gift? For me? Thank you!" I breathed, eagerly peeking inside. I withdrew a metal panda and puzzled over its purpose for a second. Something to do with keys, I decided and thanked her profusely while she blushed and smiled. After she left to check on her mice, I read the small cardboard attachment and obediently clipped it to my keyring. Then I took out the bag I brought to work and hung the device on the edge - panda outside, keys inside. Then I beamed at the delightful invention. How fantastic is that?! No searching for keys and I get to look at a panda?! Utterly wonderful. I'll have to search hard for a suitable gift when I'm away in a few weeks.

As Matlab worked in the background, I winced when email from Carrie arrived. She's been in a spot of a bother lately and noted that she might not be in the best frame of mind to review my latest draft. But she attached her comments anyway and I felt relieved that I could avoid looking at them while I headed across campus. I grabbed my bag, made sure the panda was facing out so everyone could enjoy him, and walked out into the sunshine. I chatted with another secretary while she unlocked an office for me. Then I busily corrected dates on the spreadsheet I'd printed while I organized files and withdrew extraneous information. I poked my head in her office to thank her again on the way out and returned to my desk to pack up to leave.

Friend asked via email if I would check on her later and I paused before tucking my soda into my bag. I looked at the small request in the corner of my screen and placed the bottle back atop my desk and wrote that I could hang around and have dinner when she was done. If she didn't want to be alone, I'd take her home with me and she could sleep across the hall. I'd be there if she wanted to talk, though she hasn't lately. And I could worry while glancing over at her rather than fretting while she's across town.

So rather than heading home and flipping through channels in pajamas, I typed in my spreadsheet corrections. Answered more email and made my way through Carrie's rather encouraging comments and changes and sent the paper off to another co-author for further refinement. I made a hair appointment for tomorrow and told Cousin I was free anytime this week or weekend to come to her house of happiness. I filed more papers and altered my to-do list. I started more analyses running and backed up some data. I'm finishing my my long-neglected project now and will know what to do next by tomorrow. I talked to Boss - about my paper that he's still working through and about the desk that holds stuff from a person who hasn't been here in six months. We discussed job prospects and how he's looking to replace me at the annual meeting while I'm looking to find a place to go.

My point - aside from sharing mundane details of my day - is that while I'm good enough at home, I'm stunningly productive while at work. I get bored and instead of reading or watching television, I solve problems. I look for something to do. I talk to people. It's almost like boredom works to motivate me to tackle projects I'd rather not do just so I can avoid staring at the postcards and pictures I have on my bulletin board. It's rather delightful!

And I got a panda. What more could one want? (And why do I dread the fact that since I left my car on campus and Friend drove to dinner then to my house, I have to go again tomorrow? One day was great, yes, but perhaps it was enough.)


Unbalanced Reaction said...

I wish I could follow your productivity protocol. :)

CAE said...

I'm not sure I understand the panda concept. Photos please!

Amanda said...

Sigh. If only I was as productive! :-)

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