7 Feb

I guess you know the situation. Sometimes there is just too much work for not enough time. A grant proposal is due. A paper needs to be revised. Collaborators want to discuss new ideas. And there is a talk to prepare. You think you’ll drown.

So this actually happened to me last week. As I realized how bad the situation was (some time last weekend) and realized that the stress was probably going to last for at least 10 days (until the grant proposal deadline), I tried to remember everything I had read about stress-management in the last years and I decided to
1. try and keep healthy habits, 2. actively postpone things and 3. get help.

I’ll tell you a bit more.

1. To me, keeping healthy habits means, for example, eating proper food, getting enough sleep and having lunch with my colleagues. These habits are important because they help me to work most efficiently in my working hours and stay sane during a stressful week.

2. Next, I identified a few things that could be postponed, and I postponed them. Most importantly, I sent emails to my collaborators or others involved to let them know that I was postponing things. I find that telling people that I will not be working on our shared project this week, is key to actually freeing my mind from thinking about that project.

Ask for help

3. Maybe most importantly, I decided to ask for help. I found two to-do items that I could ask others to do for me.

One of the to-do items was to run simulations. I needed to run simulations with code that I hadn’t used for a long time. It would certainly take me a few hours to remember how the code worked and to get the results I needed. However, I knew that a graduate student in the office next to mine was working on a related project and he had recently been running simulations that were very similar to what I needed. So I asked him if he were willing to run the simulations for me and he was 🙂
In fact, my request led to a few interesting discussions and who knows, maybe it will lead to a fun collaboration.

The other thing I asked someone else to do, was to edit my paper. I had a paper that was almost accepted, except that the editors wanted me to make a few changes to the text. Because of all the other things on my plate, editing the paper seemed like a huge task. I decided to ask a friend who sometimes works as an editor to help out. I knew that she could do a better job than me in less time. And she’d be happy to do it, because I’d be paying for it. It cost me 100 dollars, but it saved me at least two hours of work and a lot of stress.

Plan B

Now that I have written this post, I realize that there is one more thing that helps me deal with stress: making a plan B.

Last week, the stress was mainly due to a grant proposal I had to write. So what I needed to do is determine what would happen if I didn’t manage to write a good proposal. I needed to answer the question: “What’s the worst that can happen if I don’t make the deadline and how will I deal with that?” By knowing how I will deal with failure, I feel much more at ease, which helps me to sleep well, which helps me to work efficiently, which helps me not to fail.

In the end, it turned out that my grant proposal was not due until May 7th (now I know that the NIH has separate deadlines for AIDS-related proposals!), so my week ended with less stress than expected.

I’d love to hear how you deal with stress!

4 Responses to “Help!”

  1. Anna February 10, 2013 at 1:13 am #

    Thanks Pleuni for this post! i totally agree that prioritizing tasks and delegate part of the work help a lot. I also think that one real break with outdoor activities (just to make sure to be disconnected from the internet) may help to decrease the stress.


    • pleunipennings February 10, 2013 at 8:38 am #

      Thanks Anna! I agree: getting away from the Internet helps relax.


  1. Final update 4.5 hour workday experiment | Being A Better Scientist - March 26, 2013

    […] only work only if we give ourselves enough time for our tasks. If I am working against a deadline (as I was a few weeks ago), I may have no choice but to work as many hours as I can in order to finish the task in time. So, […]

  2. Science online, definitive gripes edition | Jeremy Yoder - July 1, 2014

    […] “Active postponing” for the win. Time management tips for the busy biologist. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: