Over-Planning

Last night, for the first time probably in the last year, I found myself up working past 11pm. And ever since I finished my original 100 days of blogging challenge, I have always given myself the rule that if I’m working past 11pm then I’m not going to try blogging at that point.

I easily could’ve had time last night, but I think the hardest thing for me with going into lockdown and then transitioning back to school has been trying to get used to all the changes to my daily routine.

When we went into lockdown, at first there was basically nothing productive that needed to be done. As long as it could be done in my apartment, I could do whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. I could decide to stay in bed all day. I could decide in the middle of the afternoon to play flute for several hours. I could transition between random activities without worrying about not completing the previous project.

Now with school back in session, my environment is the same and, therefore, my external circumstances feel the same, so I have the desire to stay in bed, spend multiple hours on a hobby, and transition between activities whenever I’m urged to. However, I can’t really do any of these things now because I have actual deadlines again. Certain things have to be done at certain times and they have to be completed before I move on. So when I decide to spend two hours in the middle of the day playing the flute, it has the consequence of me then having to work past 11pm…

This has been a hard adjustment, especially since so little of the rest of my circumstances have changed. (As in I’m basically still in lockdown with everything being closed and me staying inside, it’s just that school started and there are conversations about things re-opening.) From the beginning, I decided to try to keep to what would’ve been my school schedule even though most of my classes are now pre-recorded so I could technically have any schedule I’d like. I thought this might help give me some consistency which would help make sure I actually watch the videos.

But then I have days like yesterday where my schedule gets all sorts of messed up because I was invited to a different virtual meeting that overlapped with a class, so I re-arranged my schedule because it was an opportunity I couldn’t say no to. While I believe I made the right decision, and honestly it made me appreciate the flexibility of online-learning where I could prioritize a work opportunity over attending class live (this class was actually one of my 2 classes hosted on Zoom, but the video is posted later in the day so I was able to still watch the entire lecture), the decision definitely contributed to me getting all out of wack with getting work done yesterday. 

So today I decided to bring back an old habit of mine to help with prioritizing tasks; I’ve taken a homemade whiteboard (printer paper in a sheet protector) and listed out all of the things I need to get done in the next two weeks in the order I think I should do them and what day I should work on what. Perhaps this is over planning, but I think that maybe a little over-planning will help me re-adjust to the fact that I do now need to get back in the mindset of planning ahead.

If you’re also struggling with prioritizing work during quarantine, perhaps over planning and scheduling could help you too.

Research Papers

I’ve been working on this same research paper for over a year now. Our Engineers Without Borders team has been interested in the use of design thinking in the global WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) sector so we decided to do a literature review on the subject. Last spring we curated resources to review. Then over the summer, we reviewed those resources sorting by what seemed most relevant. Then in the fall, we got together our first full draft of the analysis work. We had experts give us feedback over the winter break, and now this spring we have been working on revisions. This process has taken a lot longer than we thought, but no one on our team has really done anything like this before so there has been a large learning curve. We are hoping to finally publish in the next few months or so even if it has to be an informal white-page kind of publication at first, (We’ve been working on getting funds to actually publish to an academic journal, but at this point, we believe it’s more important to just get the information out there than to wait to have the fundings for a more formal publish),  though I feel like I’ve been saying this for the past 6 months…

To be honest, I’m very ready to be done with this paper. It’s gotten to the point where I sometimes feel like I’ve re-read the same thing far too many times and just can’t think about it anymore, but I suppose that’s what the writing process is all about: writing and re-writing. Though the other thing that really bothers me every time I go to work on this project is just the general formatting of research papers.

From my perspective, there is a very small part of our population that really reads formal research reports, and it’s mostly just people actively in academia. Yet, most research studies have information that would be interesting and perhaps even beneficial for a much larger audience to be aware of, but these papers just aren’t in a very user-friendly medium. Research papers are long, use technical language to the point that almost feels like overkill, and are typically formatted in a way that’s uninviting to read (small, close together font with multiple columns all in black and white). When I have to look at research papers for school, I know that I never really want to read them – no matter how interesting the title makes the study sound – because they just look so intimidating. So every time I work on our paper I can’t help but wonder, “Is anyone really going to read this…?”

I just wonder if rather than writing a traditional research paper, if our work would be better received if we considered different modes of sharing our results. And I wonder this for all research. While it’s good to have documentation of the technical aspects of research papers, should a greater amount of time be spent on thinking about how to make that research more accessible rather than more “technically sound”?

Lockdown Passion Project

Happy International Dance Day! Can’t think of a better way to celebrate than with the official release of my passion project from the last four weeks of lockdown!

Typically at this time of year, our team gymnast would just be finishing up their season and as a part of our end of year showcase, I always choreograph fun group routines for all of the girls to perform. This year was already going to be tricky with me being in New Zealand, but I had choreographed the entire routine, written out everything so the coaches back in Atlanta could teach the choreography, plus recorded videos of myself doing some of the harder to explain parts. But of course right after I figured everything out is when the pandemic came into play, so who knows if that routine will ever get performed…

But I still wanted to try and do an end of year group routine even if it had to be virtual. So I choreographed this routine and taught it to the gymnast via pre-recorded videos and Zoom calls and then had to up my iMovie skills to figure out how to mash it all together! It was a fun process, so much so that I’m trying to make another one to be released next month, and this time with more gymnastics and sign language!

Now here is the full video of JSG Virtual Group Routine: “Dancing With Myself.”

 

The Things That Never Change

I realized today I’m kind of grateful that New Zealand went into lockdown. Obviously, going into lockdown mode has had tremendous success health-wise, but also it’s made doing online learning much easier.

Sitting in front of a computer listening to pre-recorded video lectures all day would be a lot more annoying if I knew there were other things I could be doing like visiting museums, traveling to different parts of the country, even just going out to eat. But since I’m stuck inside anyway, there’s only so many options for what else to do, so I might as well be doing school work.

Today was only day 2 of online learning but it was a long day. We decide to set up individual family meetings with our team gymnast and their parents so that everyone can get a chance to ask 1:1 questions to coaches. The first round of these meetings started today, so that’s how I spent the first three hours of my day (in addition to our Zoom class). Then after lunch, I spent the next 6 hours doing school work. It’s very odd to in someways feel like it’s only the second day of school, but at the same time have the workload of actually being a month into school.

My first real assignment of the year is due tomorrow. (I say “real assignment” because I’ve submitted a few practice multiple choice test, but we get to take those as many times as we like and it’s just multiple choice so there isn’t really much thought work involved.) I’m a little stressed about this essay though. Maybe it’s because this is my first semester of traditional school since this time last year, or maybe it’s because I’m curious as to what to expect from New Zealand grading vs US, or maybe it’s just because we’ve been out of school for a month and I haven’t even had this class since being back and yet we already have an assignment due.

The topic is about how COVID-19 is affecting international business, and it feels like one of those topics that almost has too much information to discuss and the challenging part is trying to limit what you talk about. Plus we only have 1000 words to use, and I learned earlier today that our reference list is included in this word count, which I found kind of crazy because it’s the only class I’ve had where we’re being told to not use lots of citations.

After finding this out I had to do a lot of last-minute editing today, so thank goodness I have great friends who are willing to stay up past midnight to help me edit down my essay. Ever since high school, there has been a group of us – as one teacher put it, “The Brain Trust” – that has always helped out when it comes to giving feedback on each other’s work. No matter the time, topic, or apparently the state of the world, I somehow am lucky enough to still be able to count on these friends for some last-minute help.

This was a great reminder today, that some things never change, even in the midst of a pandemic.

 

 

(Extra tangent: I have to say our feedback process is actually very amusing. As stressful as it can be, it’s also kind of one of my favorite things to just be rapidly co-editing a document with someone in The Brain Trust. Typically we are on a Google Doc leaving feedback as comments and suggestions so the other person can see the changes we’re making before approving or not approving them. Even I, as the writer on this occasion, made my new changes first as suggestions so someone else could also see the changes I was thinking about. We also tend to not necessarily move in a logical order. We move throughout the essay repeatedly, sometimes all looking at the same section and sometimes working on multiple sections at once making notes when we see them, and also replying to each other’s comments. Often the rapid co-editing is due to needing word count help, but it isn’t always, sometimes we just want general feedback on the content and the writer is also making changes in real-time so we give continuous feedback for a given period of time until everyone thinks it looks good. My favorite part though is we don’t just make comments about things that should change; it’s more like annotating a book where sometimes we’re just commenting about the writing itself and start a whole sidebar conversation and that’s what’s so amusing to me. It’s proof that giving and receiving feedback really is a gift and it can be a fun process if everyone is open and accepting of the feedback – which doesn’t mean always implementing the feedback, it just means being willing to consider the feedback.)

Brain Training

Today was a busy day. I taught my weekly dance class (with a dance that was way too ambitious…), had a virtual coaches meeting, recorded 5 different videos of choreography stuff, compiled all the pictures I could find of my family in a tree, and finally started editing an essay I’ve been procrastinating working on.

Today was probably one of the most productive days I’ve had since being in lockdown mode. It feels pretty good to have gotten so much done, but now I feel like my mind is totally checked out. I suppose people can only be so productive in one day and then eventually your brain just needs time to not think. I also think like most muscles, with practice the brain can be trained to handle longer periods of strain before needing rest.

These past few weeks I haven’t really been training my brain much and I’m noticing now the evidence of this lack of brainpower practice at least in terms of stamina. I’ve still been doing some brain work over the break, even if it wasn’t school-related, but I definitely feel like I’ve gone a lot of days doing less mentally stimulating work than I normally would be even over the summer.

I’m curious how this will translate into starting classes again next week. I was telling a friend today that it’s kind of nerve-racking the closer we get to school starting again. The break was so long it almost feels like we were in summer vacation, and yet we’re going back with the expectation that we still know everything we learned a month ago and that we are ready to start turning in assignments in the first week. It’s like we’re going from driving 0 -100 mph at the drop of a hat.

I hope it won’t feel that way once we get started, and I know professors are in the same boat of feeling this weirdness of having such a long break then coming back to school. It’s just very uncharted territory and I’m curious how our heads are going to deal with it all. Hopefully, I’ve kept my brain in-shape enough to get by because I’m not exactly imagining a smooth transition.

A Grocery Adventure

Today I went outside for the first time in three and a half weeks. I finished all of my snacks and fruits/veggies, plus I’ve been really wanting to make cookies but haven’t had flour, so I figured it was time I finally went to the grocery store.

Really it was a very productive day overall. I woke up early and taught a dance class, took the garbage out for the first time since lockdown, sent some important emails in regards to my hopeful second semester abroad, attended a virtual info session with the Boston Consulting Group, then began my three and a half hour grocery run. It took so long because I had to go to two stores and one of them is 30 minutes away from my flat, and once I was there I had to wait in line outside of the store so they can make sure as few people as possible are inside at once. I kind of anticipated grocery shopping being a big endeavor which is partly why I’ve been putting it off all this time, and today proved me right.

But the wait time was worth it because tonight I made an amazing dinner! I made Hungarian chicken paprika with homemade pasta, and for dessert, I’m finally getting to make cookies!!

And now I’m officially exhausted but also so deeply satisfied from really doing something with my day. I kind of forgot how tiring it can be to actually go do something during the day. I’ve been keeping myself amused while indoors, but I think real adventures require leaving the house. It’s just a totally different experience when you have to make the decision to go out and you never know what twists and turns the rest of the world might throw at you.

Nothing particularly amazing happened today. I saw people not through a screen which was nice. I gave someone directions which made me feel like it’s almost setting in that I’m living here not just on vacation. I got to brainstorm some new recipes I want to try out. And I listened to more of an audio-book I had been listening to daily on my walks to school before lockdown. But sometimes the best part of an adventure is just knowing that you’re going out on a journey and enjoying that process.

Indoors is safe and can even be fun, but I can’t wait to get back into the world and have real adventure again.

Repeat

As week three of isolation comes to a close, I’ve started to find things to be very repetitive. It’s like someone turned a song on loop with how every day I do the same basic routine:

Wake up.

Eat breakfast.

Have a meeting with people in the States. (Today’s meeting was for Wish For WASH.)

Do some work based on that meeting. (Draft an email to our potential new partner.)

Lunch.

Video chat friends.

Passion project work. (This week focused on editing gymnastics music. Sometimes playing the flute or editing my old blog posts. )

Blog.

Dinner. (Maybe get fancy cooking something different.)

Watch Netflix.

Go to bed.

Repeat.

This repetitiveness is starting to make things feel quite tedious at times. Today I honestly really didn’t want to get out of bed for my meeting – in fact I skipped a general community meeting for educators I was going to attend and instead just went to my Wish For WASH meeting. Now it didn’t help that I couldn’t get to sleep until late and then was woken up early by mom calling because she needed something from me, so I was a bit extra tired, but also motivation can be hard to find when everything’s more or less the same every day.

I enjoy the ways I’ve been spending my days, but at the same time, I’m getting to the point where I really miss the spontaneity of life that comes from being around other people. Video chatting just really isn’t the same as being around people since in order to video chat both parties have to plan and agree to meet at a specific time – nothing spontaneous or adventurous about it. I miss just bumping into people or even seeing them because you both partake in the same activities and have to be around each other or having friends randomly show up to kidnap you for an adventure.

It’s hard to be excited by repetition. It’s also hard to find things to blog about when every day seems kind of the same as the one before.

 

Craftsmanship Upgrade

I remember there came a time during Innovation Diploma where we had to all have a conversation about how our level of craftsmanship needed to raise. Our skills had further developed and we had gained more tools since the beginning of the program, so it was time to acknowledge that even “quick prototypes” now needed to have a higher standard of quality.

I was reminded of this conversation today when brainstorming gymnastics music for next year. I have been brainstorming and keeping lists of potential songs and imagining how I might edit the music and choreograph the routines. But then I realized, it’s been at least five years now since I started editing music (probably closer to seven even, but I’m not fully sure when I started), so it’s probably about time I step up my level of craftsmanship.

In the past, because editing music can take a decent bit of time, I usually waited to edit songs until after I got confirmation from others that the song might fit one of our gymnasts. However, I’m realizing now, I’ve gotten a lot better at editing music, so it doesn’t take as long to complete anymore; therefore, I should just go ahead and edit songs I think have potential because even if they don’t get used immediately, then we will have a larger database of future songs.

That’s the approach I decided to take today, so rather than continuing to brainstorm lists, I went ahead and started editing some songs. I finished two songs in one hour and I felt pretty good about that progress. This proved I was right in thinking that my skills have improved to the point where it’s time for a craftsmanship upgrade. So now instead of my “prototype” of new music ideas just consisting of a list of full-length songs I found, I can now provide lists of already edited music which will make it easier to visualize music-to-gymnast fit.

And as we also discussed in ID, once we become more proficient with one tool, it’s time to move on to learning new tools.

Therefore, the next step in my music editing development is gaining knowledge on additional music editing tools available to me. In the past 5-7 years, while I’ve gotten much more efficient at what I do, I believe there are a lot of features I’ve not yet discovered or attempted to utilize. For example, I know several kids would love to do a mash-up routine of several songs. I  typically deny these requests because I have a bias against gymnastics routines that are mash-ups since they often don’t have a logical story-telling flow to them. However, I also deny these requests because I don’t know enough about actually creating my own digital music to be able to make smooth transitions between different songs. So one of my new goals for the year is to learn more about creating my own digital music in order to experiment with creating a mash-up song that I actually would consider giving to one of our gymnasts.

Staying Mentally Active

My Engineers Without Borders team had our first virtual meeting today. Despite the wasted time spent figuring out technology and the sadness around how many of our projects are now delayed with the new circumstances, I felt like it was a rather productive meeting.

Maybe that’s just because I realized how much I’ve missed having meetings. I miss collaborating with people on new ideas and trying to make stuff happen. Sure it can be fun to have time to do stuff on my own like messing around with my flute or categorizing old blog posts, but to me, nothing beats a good brainstorming session with teammates.

I’m fortunate that my sub-teams work isn’t too affected by the pandemic since we’ve just been working on a research paper about the role of DT in the sanitation sector, so our work has always been online. However, one of the events our team puts on each semester did have to be canceled – our semesterly “Design Jam” where we host a design thinking workshop around WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) issues for the GT community.

Sometimes though, constraints can lead to great creativity, so now we are playing with a new idea: what would it look like to host a virtual design challenge? We think it’s possible, so we are going to run with it a bit and see what we can come up with. Today it was merely a thought, but next week we plan to flesh this thought out a little more to get a better sense of all the pieces involved in doing something like this. I’m really excited to see where this goes, especially since I’ve not heard of many if any virtual design thinking workshops, so it would be cool at a minimum just to see if it’s possible and how that could grow into so many new opportunities.

I’m glad that this week is starting to bring more structure to my time social-distancing, between my EWB meeting and more gymnastics video chats starting to become regular. I think this structure and more consistent interaction with people around new ideas is going to be helpful for keeping me mentally active and engaged because you can only challenge yourself so much – the best challenges for yourself are typically the ones you can’t think of on your own.

The Debate of Purpose

I have decided to use this newfound free time to finally go through my old uncategorized blog posts and sort them with tags and categories. (I had originally written them before I knew about these features…)

While reading my old posts it’s become painstakingly clear how many of my posts are really not noteworthy. It’s made me wonder about the essential struggle I’ve always had with my blog:

Is it better to prioritize the habit of consistent reflecting/writing or should I prioritize only blogging when I feel as if I have something of quality to say?

I frequently debate this because it’s a question of purpose and if this blog is designed based on me or my potential readers, and I spent about an hour earlier today going back and forth with one of my friends about the topic.

I know the habit of reflecting is immensely valuable to me as an individual. Though I also know that it can be annoying to have frequent notifications when something isn’t really worth the time. As much as I try to make all of my posts have some sort of point or message to them, I am very aware that they aren’t all profound or inspiring, and sometimes I struggle to be able to write anything at all.

The thing is, once I decide that I’m only going to blog when I think I find something really valuable to write about, all of a sudden nothing ends up being good enough. That’s how I end up in the habit of not blogging at all besides when I go to the occasional event.

I don’t know what life will look life after social-distancing or if I will continue to blog as frequently as I’m trying to right now, but I do know that I believe the purpose of this blog remains the same as it was in 2014 when I started it: it’s a place for me to reflect and learn more about myself by trying to find something interesting I observed about every day. If people want to read my posts, then that’s just an added bonus that helps keep me committed to doing the task and gives them a look into my learning process which I know at least some people value being able to see.

So I’m sorry if you’re one of those people who feels some of my more random posts are just cluttering you notifications. But then again, maybe this isn’t the blog for you to be following then, because I plan to continue seeing this blog as a place focused on my learning and growth which for now means writing even if I don’t have anything particularly meaningful to say.

I suppose this may even be one of those posts, but this is a debate I frequently have and needed to work through and writing helps me do that, so here we are.