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Posted on Mar 24, 2015 in How to simplify, My Journey

Let it Be



Maybe it was a different era, or maybe my family was really different.

Wait, both of those are definitely true.

Growing up, it seemed that everything had a value attached to it.

Nothing happened that did not get a “good” or “bad” label. Every event, every report card, every choice had to be categorized.

This week, I have a cold.  And a we are having yet another winter storm.

This gave me an opportunity to read a book (more on that topic later) over an enforced three-day weekend. This wasn’t even the topic of the book, but it crystallized one very important thing that I am working on simplifying in my life.

Most things don’t need to be labelled.

That is one huge thing off my to do list every day.

Good thing for the cold and the storm.


Wait, what?







photo credits: Richard WestAriel Grimm


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Posted on Dec 11, 2014 in How to simplify, My Journey

Lunch Hour


I discovered something this week:

Lunch Hour


My job is not the classic 9-5/5 days a week.  I have a lot of flexibility in my schedule, and spend well over 40 hours working most weeks.

Normally when I’m in, I leave my office door open in case someone in my group needs help or has some progress to share.  This means, I am often interrupted.  Even when I’m eating lunch. Lately, when I need to concentrate on a task, I close my door with instructions outside about when I will be available, or how to contact me in an emergency.  I have made a point to be available when I’m not actively working, though.

Fortunately, I can schedule grocery shopping, dentist appointments, vet visits and haircuts before or after work hours.  I’m lucky most offices accommodate my work habits.

This week, I had to make an appointment during the regular work day.  I made the 10 minute appointment for noon, and did several personal errands on my way back to work.  I even stopped for a quick lunch.


The world did not stop, and no one at work even noticed.  I could easily have been in a meeting anyway.

But, I worked efficiently all morning to make sure I was on time, and I got back to my desk with more energy than usual after lunch.  Maybe it was the bit of physical activity, or maybe the sense of accomplishment of getting to the post office and library without having to wait in long lines.

But, it feels more like relaxation.  Could it be that a break in the work day is a good thing?  I got just as much work done, and felt better at the end of the day.

I have to try this again.


Photo credit: photophilde


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Posted on Dec 9, 2014 in My Journey

Anyone still out there?


Anyone still listening?

I guess I learned a lesson about simplifying the last few months, that sometimes you have to give up something you like for another thing more important.  In this case, it was a promotion at work.

Well, I’m back!  I hope someone is still there.  I have many drafts of posts to polish up and send off, and I hope I can get back into the swing of things. I have been reading posts to keep up with you, but now it’s time to start writing again.

What’s new with all of you?

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Posted on Jan 31, 2014 in How to simplify, My Journey

Curiosity Saved the Dog


I want to live a simple, happy life.  I guess you could say I’m moving towards minimalism.  What’s the word for this?  Simpleton? Simplist?  I kind of like the term simplicity, but “simplism?”

My dog, although a true simplist in his life and habits, is not interested in having fewer possessions.  He loves to make piles of pillows and blankets to sleep in, and piles of toys to play with.  He brings his favorite soft toys to bed with him as the honored pillow for his head.

We are having an unusually cold winter here.  This is a problem for my greyhound, who can’t tolerate cold very well.  Our long walks have become shorter, and I am always looking for indoor activities that he can enjoy to get some exercise and stimulation.

This weekend, despite the snow, wind and cold,  we bundled up and went to an event to get the word out about greyhound rescue. First, we greeted the other dogs.  Somehow, we always choose the opposite end of the dog to greet, so this works out pretty well.  We spoke with the other greyhound adopters, and chased a ball around for a while.  When came time to go back home, it was a sad moment for both of us.

I decided to get my dog a new toy to keep him entertained as the temperatures drop again this week.  It is bouncy like a ball, but it is caved in and has holes in it to get treats in and out.  I gave it to him with a couple of pieces of kibble, expecting him to get the food out, and come back over to play.  But he didn’t. He rolled it, pawed at it, picked it up and bounced it, chewed it.  It gave up a few pieces, but kept most of them.  He didn’t give up, but brought it with him to lay down.  He studied it a long time, occasionally licking it and turning it over with his nose. Then he was inspired to get up and drop it down the back stairs.  As it bounced its way down, it lost the remaining food, allowing him to run along behind and collect them.  Last night, the new toy was his constant companion. He brought only this toy to bed.

Just now, as I was sweeping up the downstairs entryway, a slow rain of toys came bouncing down the stairs, followed by a curious pup, looking for treats.  I think we have a new game that will keep us both busy until things thaw out–Simplicity and minimalism can wait for a thaw.



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Posted on Jan 15, 2014 in How to simplify, My Journey

3 Reasons To Put On Your Oxygen Mask Before Helping Others


Now that the holidays are over, I’m back in grant-writing mode at work. As usual, I’m trying to balance the regular workflow of the lab and regular meetings with the extra workload of coordinating and writing a fundable grant (well, four of them in the next few weeks).  In the past, this would have me in a panic, and staying up all night trying to get just the right combination of clarity and convincing in a too-small page limit.

Over these many years, though I discovered that the grant does not benefit from exhaustion and vending machine food.  To get the work done, I have to cut back on time usually spent on other tasks.  Since I am also less willing to sacrifice my personal time, this means I have to find time during the workday.  So, I took a close look at where I spend my time.  I mean with a timer.  What I found was truly surprising.  I am not very good at predicting how long things take.

Here is why:

1. If your door is open, you are going to be interrupted.

Interruptions come in many forms.  One is the actual door being open.  My students, employees and colleagues all feel free to stop in with a question, a request for a favor, or just a visit.  But the open door can be the ping of a new email or the phone ringing, too.

2. When things are boring or frustrating, you look for distractions.

This can be a peek at Twitter or a game of Candy Crush, but it can also be another task.  I find myself picking up simple tasks to do when I am stuck on a decision or problem. I really like this strategy, and often use it to let problems percolate through my brain, or let the frustration subside so I can start again from another perspective.  But when you are under a deadline, choosing to focus on tangents can really reduce productivity. Somehow, having the timer made this dilemma better. If I knew that I had only another 15 minutes before I had to move on to another task, I could hang on to a problem instead of letting my mind wander. I also had the strong motivation to finish up what I was doing before I stopped working, so I would not have to face the same problem again when I started.

3. When you allow yourself to be distracted, you are working for someone else.

The hard truth is that if you answer every email immediately, stop what you are doing every time someone has a question, and “just taking a quick look and giving some feedback on my paper”, you are not focused on your own agenda or priorities,  but working under someone else’s.  If your priority is to get a big project done, you have to focus more on that than other things.

How can you realistically manage this, when you are responsible for other people as well?

Here’s what I did:

1.  Close my door.

I have some Post-it notes on the inside of my door.  They have description on them of what I am doing, and how best to contact me, ranging from “please knock if you need me” to “send me an email if you need me”.  I might have my email off, though.  The people in my group have access to my calendar, and they know what an emergency is. They will knock if something is on fire.  This is not a metaphor.  Things sometimes catch fire.

2. Focus on the task.

This could be going to the library or a coffee house to work, or putting on some music.  Somehow, this cues me that I have separating myself from the rest of the world. I’m not sure if this is just a way to provide white noise to block out the discussion outside my door, but it works. This also means letting some things slide, like non-urgent meetings and packing elaborate lunches.

3. Engage more in the lab’s activities.

Normally, I have my schedule of meetings and work in my office or the lab.  I let my group members do the same for themselves for the most part. When I am busy, I make sure I know what is happening every day so I can be available when I might be needed, and I work out details with my group members before they get started on an experiment. Then I can close the door and not worry about those details, and there is less need for my real-time availability. I also let the group know what I am working on so that they can cooperate with my modified workplan.

I’m not sure if I can keep this up for the 6 weeks or so that I am busy with these proposals. Keeping balance over long periods of time is difficult. Or, maybe this will be a more permanent plan.


How do you find time for special projects?


 Photo credit:  Debbie Ramone
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Posted on Jan 10, 2014 in How to simplify, My Journey

Things I am Throwing Away This Month


As usual, when I re-read what I wrote in this blog, I have to laugh at myself.

Recently, I wrote a post 2014 Things to do in 2014.

The last thing on the list was

“Let one person per day make a mistake on the road for free (you might try two per day next week!)” -Myself

Today, as I was driving to work, a woman wandered into my lane.  Yes, she was driving very slowly down the middle of the white line with giant mittens on both hands. Somehow, she was talking on the phone at the same time. While I have to admire the challenge she made for herself on her morning commute, I was equally surprised at how several blocks later I was thinking about all the things she was doing that she should not do.

You know, for traffic safety.  Not for my personal benefit.

I wondered how I could remove this problem from my day, when my brain sent me a message.

You could just stop worrying about other people’s responsibilities!

So, I will take that challenge.  Here is what I can give up responsibility for:

  • People who are rude because they are not paying attention
  • People who are rude for any other reason
  • People who have hurt me in the past
  • People who don’t do their job, and make mine harder
  • People who are chronically late or unprepared

This should simplify my life and give me more time and energy to focus on my own responsibilities.  I’m sure that woman in the car this morning will be sorry not to have my list of errors available for review, but she will just have to take care of them herself.


Photo credits:  Donald Lee PardueShawn DeWolfe

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