Notes from Endurance PhD Intensive Workshop


The details

  • Date: January 11 through January 13
  • Speaker: Leslie Blood
  • Title: Endurance PhD Intensive
  • Host: CU Boulder Graduate School Professional Development

The notes

This workshop is a condensed version of the weekly productivity seminars I have been attending over the last semester. Each day of the workshop has a different theme, but all of the ideas will tie together. If you are a grad student at CU Boulder, consider signing up for the seminars here! I have found them to be very motivating.

Day 1: The Four Tendencies

  • The theory of four Tendencies is from Gretchen Rubin (take the quiz here).
  • Your tendency describes how you respond to external and internal expectations.
    • For example, I am a questioner, which means I have no problem working to meet inner expectations, but I resist outer expectations unless I understand why it is important. That means I need to understand why I am doing something; saying “because I said so” is not motivating in the slightest.
    • One of the difficulties questioners face is that they can talk themselves into and out of anything. If I don’t feel like doing reading for research one day, I can make up a bunch of excuses like “the internet is bad today” or “it’s more urgent that the laundry gets folded”. Leslie calls this action “spotting loopholes”. This is dangerous because you can talk yourself out of doing anything if you are not in the mood. Additionally, this burns a lot of mental energy while you are figuring out what to do that day. You can’t depend on willpower to last forever!
    • Some of the most helpful strategies for questioners: develop clarity of purpose, be mindful of spotting loopholes, monitor trends in productivity, and be able to distinguish why one behavior is better than another so you feel justified in continuing the behavior.
  • Why are looking at tendencies helpful?
    • Understanding your motivation helps develop resilience and lowers barriers to getting things done. You can set up systems that let you make less decisions about what to do.
    • Predictability increases happiness because it decreases stress
  • If you have an addictive personality, you need to abstain from the things that are bad for you. For example, if you can’t just have 2 Oreos, then probably stay away from Oreos altogether. While I have been fortunate to not suffer from substance addiction, I do think I have an addictive personality. I can’t do something halfway, whether that is reading books about running, trying out a new productivity system, or meal planning. This tends to lead to burnout and frustration. I can make rules to moderate, but find they feel too restrictive, or I can always rationalize why I don’t need to follow the rule this time. To avoid this, I should identify behaviors that are harmful (at the moment I’m mostly thinking of sugar) and make a plan to avoid them.
  • We will engage in behaviors that are more convenient and avoid behaviors that are inconvenient. Will come back to this more when we talk about forming habits!
  • You don’t have separate personal and professional personalities. If you are a questioner, then that tendency applies to both work and home.
  • One possible way to motivate change is a “lightening bolt”. As a questioner, you need to keep in mind the reason this motivated you in order to keep up momentum. For me, this usually happens when I read an especially good book or when I get so sick of my bad habits that I want to jump start a new system of habits.
  • What happens when inner expectations are in conflict with outer expectations? Go back to make sure your values are being reflected in your decisions. Will come back to this more when we talk about values.
  • Habits are important so you don’t spend all your energy making decisions. You need to trust your plan more than your feelings in the moment.
  • Short term vs. long term goals are a constant struggle of urgent vs. important tasks (see Eisenhower Matrix)
    • To prioritize important things, need to create space to do it every day to remove resistance (even if it is only 15 minutes at first). The important work will get prioritized in productivity blocks, while urgent things can happen during other times of the day.
    • You also need to accept that things aren’t going to be perfect the first time. You can’t improve on it until it is outside of your brain!
  • What if you really hate doing the thing? You need to think about how the task is getting you to your big-picture goal. Also the thing is piling up while you are procrastinating!
  • How do advocate for your productivity needs when you are not in a position of power?
    • I have definitely struggled with this as a graduate student. Some areas where this may come up is expectations about responding to emails and scheduling meetings at all times throughout the week, even though you have peak productivity hours at certain times of day.
    • Hopefully your advisor or supervisor is open to hearing your thoughts on this, since it benefits them for you to be more productive!
    • If they won’t budge, then keep in mind that this position is only temporary.

Day 2: Habits and Automation

  • What are we going to automate?
    • This determines what we need to spend mental energy on.
    • For example, you can eliminate choices like what to eat, what to wear, when to get up
    • Questioners can really benefit from automated habits because it reduces decision making fatigue
  • Anchor habits are non-negotiable things that happen every day
    • For example, this could be having a cup of coffee or brushing your teeth
    • Transitions are important for differentiating between parts of the day. When working from home, you are missing the classical commute, so you will need to be more creative about making a difference between work time and personal time. For example, get a curtain to separate work desk and sleeping area of your room.
  • What is a good habit? A sticky habit
    • Sticky habits have strong triggers. Most people react well to visual triggers, like setting out your medication by the coffee maker for the next morning.
    • Sticky habits also have easy wins without many barriers. This means you can get a quick victory to feel good, and it is not difficult to accomplish.
    • Regularly winning at easy habits allows you to rebuild confidence in your ability to accomplish things
    • Need to pace yourself when making new habits. You need to work up to manageable behaviors. Building momentum is more important than the initial small results.
  • When taking out a bad habit, it often helps to add in a better substitute. For example, substituting popcorn as a crunchy snack instead of potato chips.
  • How to deal with resistance to habits
    • Be careful about “moral licensing” which can give you an out if you aren’t feeling like doing it
    • Think about the reasons behind your resistance and remember your reasons for starting the habit
    • Work on new habits when you have energy during the day. Don’t try to do new things when your energy budget is drained!
    • Try habit pairing. Take something you like (tea) and pair it with a new habit that isn’t as fun (writing a paper)
  • Building systems: cue-behavior-reward
    • Cue: something that reminds you to do the action. Cues can be location based (kitchen, bathroom), time based (after waking up), visual based (setting out vitamins to refill).
    • Behavior: the action you want to do as a result of the cue
    • Reward: something to make you feel good for doing the behavior so you want to do it again. For some people, this can just be the satisfaction of checking it off of a list. For others, this could be through habit pairing with a treat or fun activity. For me, I’m not good at moderating so the treat option doesn’t really make sense. I also don’t like spending money as a reward, and am trying to not associate food with rewards. Thankfully I do enjoy checking things off!
    • You can also reward yourself with time off. If you reserve your nights and weekends, then it can be motivating to get your work done during the day so you can feel no guilt about not doing work.

Day 3: Values and Energy Budget

  • To start off take this test to see what your top values are. Don’t select things you wish were your values or things you admire in other people. Your values don’t have to be sexy or exciting, but they will help you pick goals that are motivating.
  • You will have to train yourself to do a lot of things you don’t want to do, especially during grad school. You need to remember what your reasons are for being here to get your degree!
  • Starting new habits
    • You need to have clarity on why you are doing the thing and your goals. You need to write down these goals and schedule the plan, such as a planner or notebook.
    • Frequency: first step in developing a habit. Work on doing the habit every day, even if it is 5 minutes. If your goal is writing, even opening a word document on the weekends and writing 2 sentences helps with frequency. The purpose of this step is to remove resistance to doing the action.
    • Duration: once you have lowered resistance to doing the habit every day, then focus on doing the behavior for longer. Once you are writing every day, work on writing for longer periods of time.
    • Intensity: once you are getting the time in, work on tweaking your habit and environment to get the most done in the amount of time you have. This strongly depends on the energy budget. For example, with COVID and working from home, intensity is the first thing to go since our typical triggers and habits have changed.
  • Setting goals
    • Leslie does not recommend setting task-oriented goals. For example, long term goal is “write chapter 2 by end of the semester” and short term goal is “write introduction today”. The problem with these goals is that there are so many things outside of your control, like if the server crashes or your collaborator won’t respond to you.
    • Instead, consider setting goals that are time-oriented. We can control how we spend our 4-hour time blocks, regardless of how much gets done during that time.
    • Finding the right planner can be super helpful. Some recommendations are Productivity Planner, Self Planner for questioners, and Clever Fox planner for obligers.
  • Lost some steam taking notes on this today, but see my notes about my personal values. I am going to make a point of doing some goal setting and planning with my roommate who also went through the intensive this week!