Things I’ve learnt this year

About myself

– I like drinking tea. Sipping the (overpriced) 普洱 that we bought in Yunnan this year. I’ve also realized that I like drinking Teh See.

– I work in bursts and to get me into the burst mode, I either need “inspiration” or looming deadlines (like now).

– Somewhere sometime ago, I read that everybody procrastinates to some extent. It usually hits when a big task is beckoning. The effect is that not only does the big task gets put off being tackled, the other smaller, less urgent tasks around also get put off. The trick to procrastinating productively, if there is such a thing, is to recognize that it is the task that is daunting because it is big. So two options while procrastinating: (1) do, at leisure, the small, less urgent stuff (that way you’re still getting things done, boosting your morale and avoiding those meltdown scenarios where both big and small deadlines come crashing together), and (2) break the big tasks into small, achievable bits. If it helps, write outlines and set targets (even though these are usually a waste of time, but hey, they’re more fun), sit back and admire your useless work. Then get cracking.

– Another effective tip from somewhere was to spend 10 min in a clutter-clearing ritual before beginning work. Helps to warm up for work and keeps the visual field focused.

– I write small <1,000 word stuff better than I write long stuff. It’s easier for me when I don’t have to reference every freaking thing.

– So I should keep my blog posts short.

– I like blogging because I like writing. But I should remember to write short posts.

About my work

– File organization is very important. When Bill Laurance in his semniars on how to be a prolific scientist talks about making a folder for every paper he’s working on, it was actually really good advice, just that now everything is digitally processed, so these folders are electronic. So I should make a folder for every project, for every set of analyses, and for every paper, including the versions that were rejected. And these should be named properly.

– The practice of creating a folder called “R” for analyses is a good thing.

– The idea of file organization can be summed up as: the whole set of folders should be always maintained in a condition that is suitable to be sent to funders, collaborators, reviewers, or people that will take over the work. Same for the R code and the organisation of data in the data files. It should be understandable/navigable with minimum explanation.

– Obsessive-compulsive disorder can be a strength. When mild.

– I now use .csv files for loading data, because they can be edited in spreadsheet format, saved, and immediately the analysis can be re-run. Earlier I only used .csv files as outputs of tables from R.

– Outside the R folder, I should keep a workbook with worksheets of the raw data, and the tables of results that are going to go into the paper.

– I should write every day. I’ve got lots of stuff I owe other people, anyway.

– Early mornings are indeed the best times to write. I am now a lark, not an owl. Anyway, I sleep damn early now.

– Fieldwork at least once a week is necessary to keep my natural history from going rusty.

– I used to say that I enjoy data analysis but I hate collecting data, including field data. Now, I’ve changed my mind: I like fieldwork, and I still like data analysis. Also, I’ve grown to enjoy tackling experimental design and writing papers. In short, I’m glad I walked this path, even if the price (literally) was steep.

About IT

– Yet another somewhere says email is the great enemy of productivity. I agree. Checking email every 5 min or whenever a notification comes in even when you don’t expect anything is a sign of either narcissism (you’re the most important person in the electronic world) or boredom (which is a symptom of procrastination).  I’m trying to cut down to three or four times a day. Same with Facebook. I strongly believe that there is such a thing as being addicted to your devices. I was showing early symptoms.

– The best thing about macbooks is the touchpad, and the multi-touch functions.

– The worst thing about macs is that the file system is incompatible with harddisks that are formated the IBM way. And that’s a default. And I’m beginning to work out of portable harddisks nowadays.

– Desktop computers are still the best — but two monitors are needed.

About my health

– A change in my diet and food preferences was long overdue.

– Regular exercise (defined as sweating for 40 min or more) keeps my immune system less hyperactive.

– “Heatiness” is a state where the body is oversensitive to stimulating/allergic substances, causing inflammatory responses (e.g. mucus flow, swelling, itchiness) when there is nothing serious to defend against. As a result, bacteria breed in the mucous membranes, sinuses are stuck, lymph nodes and gums swell, the tonsils and the throat are lacerated, the head and muscles ache, and I feel lousy.

– Cooling drinks and medicine suppress the excessive inflammatory responses.

– It seems that people with strong constitutions fall sick less from heatiness, but they get ulcers in the mouth. Similarly, if I suppress heatiness with herbal tea and medicine, it manifests as ulcers.

– Spicy, oily, fried and sweet food are “heaty” because they stimulate the mucous membranes. Dammit.

– 咕咾肉 is a deceptively heaty dish.

– If not for all the measures I’ve been taking, this year I would have been falling sick at an average rate of about once every one and a half weeks.

– Stress puts the body on alert. Prolonged stress promotes a “heaty” constitution.

– Having a calm temper keeps the heatiness down. Meditation doesn’t always lead to calm moods, but it leads to awareness of anger within.

About the Buddhadharma

– It’s part of my life. Thankful for that. I must have done something right in one of those past lives.

– As my energy and health fades with each passing day, it dawns bit by bit that life is indeed deceptively beautiful in youth.



  1. 6 November 2012 at 02:47

    Nice reflections! I especially recognize the working in bursts part…. Which is the reason why I always set myself deadlines…

  2. 2 August 2015 at 11:58

    […] of procrastinate ebbs and flows; I just need to learn to work around the ebb and flow. I’ve reflected before on how to-do lists help to do […]

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