I recently reviewed for an NIH study section, providing the feedback that will help decide whether people and institutions get millions of dollars to do good work. It is kicking my a$$. There is nothing else that I have done that requires this much intense focus and holding multiple components in my mind simultaneously (scientific to budget), while also creating balanced judgements that are strategic, thoughtful, fair, and follow set criteria. I wonder if this is so challenging to me because it is largely receptive – taking in someone else’s work and their written presentation of it, instead of being an outflowing of my mind (creative), where I engage my own inner process to write a paper or grant. At any rate, the work is reminding me of the importance of managing my mental state. I have needed to not only clear the external distractions, but more importantly, the inner ones. I cannot be thinking of the weird encounter with a friend, the needs of my children or dogs, the needs of my ongoing funded projects which need to show productivity. I cannot be too hot or too cold, too hungry or too full, or too tired. I’m aware of the influence of time of day on my productivity.
Of course, all of these influences matter to my productivity all of the time. I am just especially aware of them right now that I am challenged and on deadline.
The number 1 lesson has been that the time I spend first optimizing my state is absolutely required to do this work. I’ve tried simply forcing myself into my office in the evening. I find myself reading and meandering and reading (and facebooking) and . . . .The actual progress per clock minute is pathetic. But if I invest the time in preparing my mind, my productivity is rock solid. For me, this could involve 15 minutes of yoga followed by 10 minutes of meditating. At other times of day it involves match tea and a short walk. After this, I can knock out some integrated perspective on these applications that I can be proud of.
You don’t need to follow my strategies. But find your own. Most importantly, be aware of your state of mind, and invest the time to optimize it.