The start of a new year finds me in reflective mood, I am not a fan of new years resolutions but I do believe that the new year represents an opportunity to reassess and reenergise. This year I am determined to make some real changes.
Top of my list of goals for the year is to complete UVC and move on to level 2. I have needed to be honest with myself about what is preventing me from progressing faster, look at my current ways of working and come up with new strategies to move forward. I am really enjoying the course but knowing when to stop researching is a real issue. I need to set some tight timescales on how long I spend on projects, reading and note taking as I simply cannot continue devoting as much time as I am. Worrying about the quality of my work is also a major issue and has resulted in more than one bump up until now. I need to recognise that I am not going to be able to fully master all of the concepts that the course introduces. Likewise, I am going to struggle to articulate myself sometimes – the point however is to get on and do the work, commit my thoughts in to words and use the exercises as a way of exploring ideas. I am too conscious of who my audience is and I need to forget about this and simply do the work.
Time – know doubt about it, I AM BUSY! I have a demanding job and a young family and the reality is that this takes priority – and rightly so. Despite this, studying, personal development and eventually gaining a degree are extremely important to me personally and for me to achieve the goals I have set myself I need to recognise the things that impact on my study progression. Firstly, it is really difficult to do any work when my family are around. The readings for UVC require concentration and the combination of fevered activity around me and guilt that I should not be so selfish as to be concentrating on my own interests are quite powerful at preventing my ability to concentrate. My day off through the week is key as I usually have a few hours by myself and can make some good, solid progress. At the beginning of UVC I made the strong promise to myself that this time would be mine and I would be selfish with it, dedicate it to myself and not worry about everything else around me like the housework or the book or film I want to look at or making the family meal for that evening. The theory behind this is great but does have the pitfall of being a little idealistic – it is difficult to concentrate when all I can see is what needs doing around me and easy to find distractions when understanding from whatever reading I am undertaking appears to be elusive. Sometimes I am also physically and mentally drained by the time my day off comes round and the thought of slogging the whole day through a bunch of impenetrable readings seems impossible to cope with.
Do I have a silver bullet for this? No, but I do have some strategies that may help that I intend to employ like working little and often as detailed below.
Concentration – If you are not feeling 100%, are a little muggy headed or just generally not very sharp then UVC is a struggle! I suffer frequent headaches and can feel these exacerbated by the reading. Not sure there is a way around this one except maybe to mix up what I am doing, for example, taking notes about different concepts is less taxing than trying to gain understanding from the texts set out in the projects.
Understanding – I will finally admit it….I am not sure I get everything that I need to. Sometimes I have no idea what the questions in each of the projects are looking for (although I suspect this is deliberate!) I put off in the hope that I will suddenly gain some sort of insight via osmosis but this rarely happens. The barrier here is actually admitting this…not only here but to myself. I no longer have the luxury to wait for inspiration, if I do not understand I simply need to move on.
Avoidance – I simply have too many interests and often feel a sense of guilt doing one thing and worrying about what I am not doing. In ‘Essentialism’, Greg McKeown talks about how more can be achieved by doing less – that is by focussing attention on what really matters rather than trying to do everything.1 If I am serious about gaining a degree I need to put this at the absolute top of my personal priority list and not worry about all the other things I would like to do.
Perfectionism – talking about being a perfectionist seems arrogant, it is not that I see myself and my work as perfect, far from it, it is the lack of perfection that causes me problems. Understanding how much of an impact this is on me is the first step in being able to put my fear of not being good enough to the back of my mind.
Set deadlines – I did a great job of putting together a work schedule when I first started UVC, so great I didn’t hit one of my self imposed deadlines. At the time I was philosophical as I knew I was working hard and needed to come up with an effective workflow for note taking and writing up the exercises. Now however the end of my allowed time to complete the course is looming and I need to do some strict planning in order to complete in the six months I have remaining.
Work little and often – As mentioned above, trying to fit coursework into extended study sessions is not ideal for me in many ways. Apart from anything else, if my whole study regime rests on working solidly on a particular day and something happens to prevent that then I have potentially lost a whole week. Momentum is really important in my belief and once it is lost study becomes even more difficult. I am asking the commitment to do something course related each day for a minimum of half an hour. Opportunities to complete work early in the morning appear promising – I am getting up earlier than the rest of the household or before work and doing an hour or so each morning which is proving extremely productive as distractions are minimal. Likewise, at night rather than looking through social media or watching TV I am doing some reading before bed. Already I am finding my concerns about my progress reducing because I know I am making moving forward.
System and routine – As I have mentioned, I have been able to more or less establish when work and study is possible, the real trick however to turning this from grand ideas into a way of life is to eliminate the things that I know stop me from working as well as making study as easy as possible. For example, I need to make sure all my household chores are complete before my day off so they do not provide a distraction, have my notes accessible and so I understand exactly where I am at and can pick them up at a moments notice, if I am struggling with something just move on and do not use this as an excuse to become blocked.
Develop a support network – A small group of fellow students and myself have been in contact via email recently and we have a hangout organised in the next few weeks. I simply do not interact as much as I should via the forums and need to make an effort to use this resource more.
Have fun! – It should be rewarding and not a slog! I need to remember that and not take things so seriously all of the time.
Know when to stop – For some of the topics for the course I feel I have only (barely) scratched the surface, but I need to be realistic and understand that I cannot go on reading forever…especially of that involves being taken down a cul-de-sac that bears little resemblance to what should be originally considered.
It seems counter intuitive to lambast myself for not progressing and then spend time on a post like this which concentrates on all the ways I am going wrong. The point here is to face up to how I am feeling and by putting this down in a tangible way (and put it out there for others to see) makes it more real and will hopefully help put into practice the solutions I have outlined. Now back to work…!!!
1 McKeown, G (2014) Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. Virgin Books.