I borrowed the title of the hilarious family comedy, Life in Pieces, for this blog post, as I feel our lives are lived out in pieces or ‘chunks’ of time – these pieces being hours, days, weeks, months, years, or even decades.
In progressing my doctorate, I find it necessary to adopt a structured approach to each and every day. I’ve been reading a fascinating book called Identity Leadership, by Stedman Graham (husband of Oprah Winfrey), bought for me by one of my sisters, and one I highly recommend. The book is written in a really accessible way and nicely structured – the type of book you can just dip in and out of. In one chapter, Graham talks about how Identity Leaders plan and organise their lives around what’s important to them, suggesting we should all make the most of our twenty-four hours, as successful people do. This, he says, not only helps you focus on your own development and goals, but also helps balance the priorities in your life.
I am a huge fan of this mantra! And use it when finding ways to fit everything into my life. I believe that there is no such thing as “not enough time”, although we are all guilty of uttering those words from time to time. It is easy to dismiss a lack of progress by saying “I haven’t had time” but, the truth is, you can make time for whatever you want to do in life, if you plan carefully enough.
When I started my doctorate in April 2017, my only hesitation in doing so was the amount of time it would take up and whether I was willing to sacrifice other things in my life for however long the doctorate would take me, as it would inevitably take over my life for at least the next 4 years (it is a part-time doctorate). I was 42 years old, with an already busy work life – did I really need to put extra pressure on myself? Almost 3 years on, I am very glad I ignored those doubts and decided to go ahead…
…My decision to embark on this research project was mainly based on my fairly unique position of being an Architect working in an innovation centre within a College of Engineering at a University. This was an opportunity to collate and connect my different areas of work, capturing the breadth of my experience first as an Architect in practice and more latterly in my role at SPECIFIC and the Active Building Centre, where I am tasked with finding ways to enable the UK construction industry to adopt innovative technologies and concepts to create more environmentally responsible buildings; a chance to consider how my current role draws on my architectural skills, knowledge and experience to help achieve the goals of the innovation centre, to design and deliver more Active Buildings across the UK, that are more energy efficient and utilise renewable energy sources – hence helping to mitigate climate change.
So back to my life in pieces, how do I manage to carry out my research project without compromising too much on other aspects of my life? Well, I must admit, it does help that my research project is directly aligned to my job, so that with a bit of careful planning, I have been able to steer my project and my day job in the same direction, so that what I do within my project can be used to aid my job and vice versa, my day-to-day job work can feed my research.
But, dividing my days into sections also helps and is necessary to achieve the balance I want. So, I haven’t had to give up too much. I still fit in walks with my sister or husband; shopping with my mum; family excursions; spending quality time with my husband and family; cooking healthy meals; attending pilates classes; reading; holidays; etc, etc [insert here all the things you love doing!] – you get the picture – all of the things that enrich my life. I also find that the recreational activities help me focus when I do settle down to my work and help reduce my stress levels. As, Graham says, to succeed, it is important to make the most of every minute of every day. During the week, I work hard all day (trying to fit in a lunchtime walk whenever I can), usually fit in some exercise after work, and then work some more in the evening, always aiming to finish by 9pm for some unwinding time before bed. Weekends are split into similar chunks of time; and being organised about planning your time really does mean you can fit more into every day. Of course, I don’t always follow this structured way and I don’t worry about any lapses – we all need a break, rest, or to deal with unplanned events. But, it’s a good strategy to at least try to follow.
I am also an advocate of “To Do” lists and make these all the time. Even if I don’t always follow them to the letter (or get to the bottom of them!), writing down all the things I hope to achieve in a day or week, helps me feel calmer – I’ve recently discovered the merits of writing these lists in a planner, so that the lists relate to targeted dates when things have to be achieved by.
This to me describes life in pieces – a combination of dividing time into manageable chunks and setting realistic goals to achieve in those chunks of time. To anyone thinking of embarking on a doctorate, or any other challenge, I would say, just give it a go. You may be surprised by what you can cram into a day.