Time is running out. Time keeps flowing like a river. It’s just a question of time. A query of iTunes reports that I have 42 songs with the word “time” in the title. I have it on good authority that it would be possible to write a few lines of code to figure out how many times the word “time” appears in lyrics from the 18.6 days of music and audiobooks in my iTunes, given the appropriate skill set, files of all the song lyrics, and enough time.
However, time being limited and deadlines looming, this experiment remains hypothetical because I simply don’t have the time to spend on it. Earlier this year, I bookmarked and clipped articles on time from Grad Hacker (February’s “Setting time boundaries”) and Hack Library School (“It’s OK to not have time,” also from February), thinking I would read them as soon as I had time. Fast-forward four months and here I am, finally reading posts on time, trying to find some solution to my situation of feeling over-extended, overwhelmed with work, and wondering how much more I could get done or how much better I’d be faring if I only had more time.
As previously discussed on this blog, I keep statistics for our library, in an effort to quantify what we accomplish and what we produce. X number of publications catalogued, y number of reference queries of z duration. However, I could not use this same tool to effectively estimate how much time I spent on a given subject or activity. Following a recommendation, I created an account with Toggl.com and started using the Toggl app for iPhone to try to answer a very important question: where does the time go?
My distractions at this moment:
- Cars passing and the fact that, though the streets are dry, it sounds like the roads are wet
- Someone playing video games in the other room
- The cats, one trying to sleep on my lap between me and the laptop perched at my knees, the other staring at me from the floor by my feet
- The plethora of other things I’m supposed to accomplish today
- The Internet
The cat in my lap has now moved to sleep on my wrists. Obviously, she doesn’t see this as a distraction; in her mind, it’s the computer and whatever I’m typing that must be distracting me from what I should be doing, namely, paying attention to her. When she gets really irritated, she puts her paws across my hand and flexes her claws, then turns to stare at my over her shoulder with that look that cats have perfected, a cross between boredom, disdain, and eye-rolling irritation. This post, ladies and gentlemen, is apparently less important than this furball.
In the book The Secret Miracle: The Novelist’s Handbook, on the topic of distractions and handling them, the responses from two different authors express very well the delicate balance in dealing with distractions.
‘Twas the last Friday before the holidays
and silence reigned in the stacks.
There were no patrons nor queries,
not a call, e-mail nor fax.
The books were all shelved
in their places with care
in hopes that, undisturbed,
they would stay there…
(with apologies to Clement C. Moore)
For some libraries, the holiday season means a massive rush to the finish, followed be peace and calm and an opportunity for inventory, staff training, and wearing jeans to work. In the last week before the holiday break, there were some important lessons learned which I thought might bear sharing as they apply for librarians and library patrons, beyond this stressful period and into the rest of the year.
As I work through a pile of data – interviews, documents, and yes, even some quantitative – it is slowly occurring to me that this is a lot to work through. During the collection phase, you fret and think about what happens if a participant drops out, or if they are not forthcoming with information, or if they do not complete your post-test. Upon completion, you sigh a big sigh of relief, and then start chugging away at what you have amassed. As I sat with my advisor today trying to sift through mountains of qualitative data, I started to feel overwhelmed at even the shortened profiles of participants that I created. There is a lot of information in each, and on top of that, I am looking to make connections to quantitative data in a way that shows a meaningful picture. And that’s where the white board came in…
Although the desktop on my laptop sometimes resembles a crazy quilt, most of the time articles and files are clearly labeled, dated, and neatly filed into folders. I’ve learned the hard way that the extra few minutes spent in organization pays off in efficiency down the road as the folders fill, especially with research articles for the dissertation literature review. Making the switch from printing, highlighting, and annotating hard copies has come slowly; however, creating a digital version of “file cards” (the “making sense” part of the literature review) has been much easier.
There’s a lot of information to extract and record in any comprehensive research review: for instance, the citation, type of study, subjects, sample and population, instruments, results, and the reviewers’ own notes as well as salient quotes. Categories can vary, of course, depending upon the needs of each dissertation writer.
The New Year is significant in many cultures. When I lived in Colombia a whole set of rituals accompanied “El Año Nuevo”, including wearing yellow underwear for good luck and walking your suitcase around the block on New Year’s Eve to ensure travel opportunities in the coming year.
Here in North America, the new year is the turn of the calendar year, a time when we traditionally make (and shortly thereafter break) resolutions. In China, the New Year occurs in late January/early February and traditionally marks a time of celebration, reconciliation, and hope. Perhaps because I have spent most of my life in schools, first as a student and then as an educator, my “new year” really begins in September.
I’m not one for resolutions really. But there’s something about September that invites introspection. What do I want to accomplish this school year? That one’s easy – finish the dissertation. With the cooler weather, it will soon be time to store the bike and kayak. How will my fitness goals change? How about work/life balance? There’s one that eluded me for most of my working life.
Rick El-Darwish is the blogger behind FAIL Tale. A computer scientist, systems and networks administrator, and computer forensics and security specialist, Rick is also the Chief Technical Officer of St. Noble, a company that handles the IT and computer security needs of non-governmental organizations.
In early August, Rick went to Las Vegas to attend Defcon, a large annual hacker convention that has been running since 1993. Rick has attended since 2008, joining a group of several thousand computer security professionals, employees of various government agencies, hackers, crackers, and security researchers. The convention takes place over several days and includes presentations, workshops, competitions and games, and social events. Following the conference, we interviewed Rick about his experience and his advice for getting the most out of attending a conference.
KRED: Do you have a strategy when you go to a conference like Defcon and is this strategy different than one you’d use at a smaller conference?
Rick: I think my approach is pretty much the same for any conference, large or small: it truly is what you make of it.