Carman Neustaedter on research identity, work tracking surprises, and taking perspective

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Carman Neustaedter is an Associate Professor in the School of Interactive Arts and Technology at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada and is also Director of the Connections Lab (cLab) research group. He talks about the importance for him of taking time to reconnect with his identity and values, and building in regular time for reflection, both on the bigger issues of where he is going and also on day to day work like writing challenges. He also discusses feeling overwhelmed and deciding to track his work time over a whole year, which led to surprising findings about how he actually spent his time and how he worked fewer hours than he thought he did. He also touches on issues around handling reviewer critique, managing his email inbox and how he structures time and prioritises family. A thread through a couple of stories is also the importance of being able to take on the perspective of others, whether these are the critical reviewers or colleagues.

“It’s really hard to figure out who you are because you’re often so focused…, you don’t stop to step back and say who am I and what is my path. But it’s so valuable to do.”

“It’s easy to slip into the habit of doing work at all sorts of hours. … It’s about choice and recognizing ahead of time what my priority is and making sure that priority is my family in the evening and at the weekend.”

“When I’m working, I’m really on and working really hard but then I purposely stop and say you know what it’s family time now, they deserve my time.”

“It’s really valuable for all walks of life just to empathise and understand others.”

He talks about (times approximate) …

2:09 Start

2:39 Current position, PhD from Calgary, experience working in Kodak Research Labs for three years before moving back to academia; how he got to the industry position as a post doc; finding it routine, and the decision to come back to academia and loving it.

5:02 Trigger for coming into academia – working with students, the agency and flexibility. Considered thinking to come back. Lucky to land something back in Canada, close to family. Obvious move back. Now in academia 8 years.

6:19 Experience of shifting back into academia – a struggle, paid far less, working way harder, so many things coming at him, hard to transition back into. Having the break allowed him to understand the situation a lot more, more reflection on own lifestyle and work-life balance. At Kodak, emails stopped coming in at 5pm on Fri and not much at weekend and as an academic getting emails from students at all hours. Had to adjust to it.

8:04 Other challenges in trying to set up as a new prof – establishing his identity and setting up a research group, what to focus on and how to present it to the world; critical to have a web page early; trying to establish identity and use that as framing for everything else he was trying to do. Finding the focus tricky but the job hunt helped as had to figure out ‘who are you, what’s your vision for the next few years’. “It’s an especially challenging task… it’s really hard to figure out who you are because you’re often so focused with your head down on your work, you don’t stop to step back and say who am I and what is my path. But it’s so valuable to do.”

9:54 How to do that practically? “It’s time. I can work on another paper or spend a half day thinking about what my identity is and how I want to project myself… it’s important to reassess that identity.” Example of using a hike or run on sabbatical last year to do this figuring out. Answer was realizing he had actually accomplished a lot and pretty proud of it and to continue on the same track, with tweaks. “Being happy with what I accomplished was really key.”; talking of being, purpose; “About what’s important and that thread weaves through the work we do, what we choose to do for [service, teaching, research] and weaves through how we balance work and family life and the personal endeavours we want.

12:09 Values as a researcher – being real, true to yourself and what you do. Talks about example of writing papers in a certain way, telling people what you did and why and not being afraid of the scrutiny. A tough profession when we have so many people critiquing us but it’s ok to show you and what you’re doing and stand up for it.

13:29 Handling the critiques – a long process but now tries to empathise with the reviewer and think about where they are coming from. Trying to connect with the reviewer, sees it as a conversation, understanding their perspective. More often than not getting critiqued rather than praised about the work we do. Probably not a lot of professions that get critiqued that much.

15:59 Other ways for helping handle this? Likes to go running, several times a week early morning, time to get out there and gives chance for reflection on what I’m doing, think up new ideas, and reconnect with myself”.

16:54 Other routines? Particular about when he works, tries hard not to work on evenings or weekends. Family and evening routines makes it easier to achieve. Weekends are family time with wife and kids. “When I’m working I’m really on and working really hard but then I purposely stop and say you know what it’s family time now, they deserve my time and so I’ll spend it with them.” Not like that before he had family. Notices he works more when he is away at conferences. “It’s easy to slip into the habit of doing work at all sorts of hours.”  “It’s about choice and recognizing ahead of time what my priority is and making sure that priority is my family in the evening and at the weekend.”

18:59 Hard when requests for stuff keep coming in.  Gives example of email on weekend with a request. Has a habit of inbox at zero 80% of the time. So if something comes in at the weekend it bothers him. Needs to handle it by getting it out of his inbox and onto a to-do then he can leave it for Monday. But if it sits in email he will think about it. Didn’t always do this but helps to keep his weekend to himself. Other email strategies – touching email only once;

21:49 Talks about tracking his work for a year. 2014, approaching tenure time, felt he was working tons of hours, feeling overwhelmed. Decided to figure out where he spent his time. Used a spreadsheet and recorded in 15 min time blocks. Tracked tasks, time of day, weekend. Tracked for a year. What time of day, who it was spent on, and how the numbers came out.

23:19 How tracking for a year was a pain but why he kept doing and the slivers of insight he got on the way.

26:00 Results surprising. Thought he did way more service and teaching than research but not the case. Research time was actually 67% over the year. Teaching was only 15% and only 18% was service. “So it was way different than what I thought. I was spending most of the doing the research stuff I really loved and not a lot time doing the teaching things that I thought was taking up a lot of my time.” On average worked about 39 hours a week. Felt over 50 hours. “It felt like I was completely overwhelmed and working all the time.” Didn’t realise how many hours he was actually working.

26:50 Flexible way of handling his day, on campus between 4-8 hours, will work from home when he can. Works early morning time. Helps kids. Finish up in the afternoon. Email in the evening. Some days only 4 hours. Flexibility of the job to let him do this lifestyle structure. Balances out with 10 hr day.

28:22 What contributes to it feeling so much more? Asked himself some tough questions about why feeling overwhelmed, exhausted. Maybe a lot of it comes down to choice.  So many demands on attention can be overwhelming, A lot of contact points. So many things coming at him overwhelming. The sense of responsibility and loving helping people. Feeling obligated and wanting to help.  Lack of getting to what he wants to do, don’t feel he has as much as choice as he wants to. Teaching feels a little more like work, less control over it. Loves teaching, reinvigorates but freedom of choice issue.

32:09 How does it feel now with requests? Looking through time makes it easy to recognize this is happening and use it to leverage different choices, and also figuring out when he works best and how to adjust his schedule. Talks about how he structures his work now. Also gives example of writing the discussion section that he finds hard, and timing it before a run or a break (drive into work) so he can then think back on what he just wrote and see if new insights come up.  Works well except for keeping notes. Wouldn’t have tracked that as work time. 34:54 “Work is on my brain a lot of the time. It’s hard to get it off my brain.” Think best ideas come when he is not working. Never know what you are going to see that is going to spawn a great idea. Fluid work and locations makes it even muddier. Even though ideas flow in non-work time, easy enough to separate them and not linger. Gets a note down and then get back to the personal stuff.

38:19 Not managed so well … when family visiting, guests, etc. But also forces you to engage with family and friends more.

39:09 Criteria for making choices, saying no? “Doing what I know I love to do”. Gives example of telepresence chair service role. “It’s stuff I love doing so it’s not really like work.”

40:34 Sabbatical experience. Three months recognized missed his normal job and couldn’t do research full on. Needed the breaks. Realised how much he valued them when gone. Feeling of guilt for not working. Tension of should and wants. Wanting to get away from the job but then realizing he really loved it. His choice to re-engage with some teaching and service while on sabbatical. Still mental turmoil, would he wish he stepped back more. But felt good at the end of the year. Accomplished more than planned. Happy with what he did because he was making choices, saying no and also saying yes to things he really loved.

44:54 “It was a turning point, and I realized moving forward - get back that choice. Really think about what I want to do and don’t be afraid to do that.”

45:29 Seeing career moving forward. Knows research direction, more admin work in department coming up, understanding internal politics. Talks about getting to know people more now and seeing where they are coming from. Tries hard to understand people from their perspective. Easiest way of getting policies through is understanding people’s perspectives and incorporating them. Talks a lot with people, prep work, understanding people. Came out of empathy training some years ago (in context of running a study) but “it’s really valuable for all walks of life just to empathise and understand others.”. Created less butting heads, faster to get on same page, accomplish more. But takes time/work.

50:51 Gives other examples of other situations where empathy helps, from family/kids to co-author/grad student and teasing out what is going on. Involves a lot of listening. Aim to get the best work, mutual goals.

52:59 Tries to foster a lab culture, about being dependent on each other, helping each other. Learnt from advisor Saul Greenberg. Shared responsibility in helping people out, a team, a family.

54:49 Final thoughts – “I think so much of our time is spent with our heads down and trying to get things done. I still really struggle with lifting my head up and getting that broader perspective. But I really think scheduling in even a little bit of time every once in a while to get that perspective back is super important.”. Advice from Joanna McGrenere – schedule time on sabbatical for personal reflection. Applicable beyond sabbatical. Schedule that time block eg for a run, walk, or silent drive. Making it a point of your regular routine is so incredibly invaluable. Recognise you are doing good stuff and how to keep that path going forward and how to have time for yourself.

57:35 My reflections on harmonious passion.

59:55 End

Related Links

Saul Greenberg podcast – on supervising, building a lab, creating good work life balance  

Sheelagh Carpendale - http://pages.cpsc.ucalgary.ca/~sheelagh/wiki/pmwiki.php

Joanna McGrenere - http://www.cs.ubc.ca/~joanna/

Jolanta Burke podcast – on burnout, harmonious passion, positive workplaces & helping others

Some articles on passion, obsessive passion and harmonious passion:

Gloria Mark on service, multitasking, creativity and fun

Gloria Mark is a Professor in the Department of Informatics at the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences at University of California Irvine. Gloria talks about her experiences as chair of a major conference, not just the work but also the rewards. She talks about how she moved from a Fine Arts background, painting murals on buildings, to a PhD in cognitive science and now studying the relationship between media use, attention and stress, but still being able to be creative in work. She also reflects honestly on her own struggles to manage her screen time and stress but above all she reminds us of the importance of fun and fulfilment in work.

“There are opportunities all around us and very often we are blind to them. … You have to be willing to give up a particular path that you might think you are on.”

 “Email is a symbol of work… a reminder there is work there” 

“You can practice creativity in so many ways, in conversations, in writing, in just thinking of ideas.”

“It’s important to keep some kind of fun in what you do because otherwise it’s not worth doing and it’s very important to have fulfilment.”

She talks about (times approximate) …

1:30 Organising a major conference as a tremendous amount of work but being fulfilling, and value of CHI stories for understanding who are the people behind the research

4:50 Taking on a big service role as conference chair, its fit to her ‘big picture thinking’ strengths, growing into the role and learning about people

8:40 Greatest moment seeing it come together walking around the exhibit hall

10:10 Everyone has a particular talent they can contribute, encouraging volunteers and matching skills/interests and what they can contribute

11:00 Career path starting with a fine arts degree, painting and drawing, painting building murals … but not being able to see a future painting in a studio

14:00 Decision to do something practical using her maths skills, but finding bio-statistics boring, needing to earn a living and applying for a research assistant position

17:20 Being asked: “Do you think you can do research on the discovery process of artists?” Of course! Loving reading on cognitive psychology and being yelled at at her first conference

20:00 Getting into cognitive psychology PhD in decision making

20:30 “One philosophy that guides my life - it’s what Einstein says, chance favours the prepared mind. I love that. There are opportunities all around us and very often we are blind to them. But if you are really aware and open, important to be open.” “You have to be willing to give up a particular path that you might think you are on and you have to be willing to change, to veer away from it or to change completely.  And of course … you have to do it intelligently and weigh the risks and the benefits of whatever choice you can make.”

“If it connects to something that is really a part of you that is worth the risk. Because you can’t do something that you feel is not who you are or is against your belief system.”

22:50 Themes from research studying issues around multi-tasking, stress etc. How this research strand started from a personal experience, moving in 2000 from Germany working in a research institute doing only research, to an assistant professor position in the US to do teaching, writing grants, committees, service work … “to what extent am I the only one [multi-tasking]?”

25:20 Patterns seen in studying multi-tasking – sped up and intensified through use of digital media, and the more people switch attention through different screens, the higher their stress because of limited capacity of attentional resources and not replenishing resources

29:30 Extra stress in re-orienting to a new context, every email involves some new topic - “Email is a symbol of work… a reminder there is work there”; online a lot, reading email at breakfast,

32:50 Measured average duration of attention for people on any computer screen is a little over 40 secs, a cost when switching so frequently

33:40 Knowing this from research but making a difference to personal patterns? More insight – as habits are hard to break

34:40 First habit to break? To be more aware of physical environment, going outside more, interacting with people more, shifting attention from screen; but hard to break away because there are rewards for being online –the Las Vegas phenomena and random reward hits

37:30 “Another reason it is hard to pull away is because we are all caught up in this web of interconnections” – have to solve the problem on a macro level, need to think about organizational policies eg batch email times

40:25 Study cutting off people’s email in the workplace for 5 days – stress down, screen attention duration longer … variety of individual responses but at the end of the 5 day period realised life went on. But Information is too seductive

42:40 Looking after herself, honouring the art piece of her? Discovered she can be creative in different mediums not just visual and art training good for science “because I learned how to do lateral thinking” – “you can practice creativity in so many ways, in conversations, in writing, in just thinking of ideas”

46:20 Not good at pulling away from work. Too stressed and manifest in sleep patterns. Take vacations but sometimes vacations can be stressful. Don’t do enough of trying to alleviate stress. One thing that helps – “try to take care of a task as soon as possible because delaying on a task makes stress worse”. ... “It’s like a treadmill”

50:00 Final thoughts? Important to do things that are fun and interesting.

52:43 End

Related Links

Gloria's home page: https://www.ics.uci.edu/~gmark/Home_page/Welcome.html

CHI2017 conference chaired by Gloria with Sue Fussell - https://chi2017.acm.org

Anna Cox on family, work & strategies for making the changes we want

Anna Cox is a Reader and Deputy Director at the UCL Interaction Centre (UCLIC). Anna shares her early career experiences, the challenge of lecturing a large class, and how she and her partner created flexible work practices to manage family and work. She also talks about the research studies she and her students have been doing on ‘work life balance’, including the ways in which people are different, and strategies such as creating microboundaries and frictions to help us take more control of our work.

“The longer people are in this job, the more busy they get. You always seem to get more stuff. No-one is ever going to take anything away from you. So therefore it is down to you to say no to things and that’s really hard. I think lots of people struggle with that.”

“Making changes is hard so we need to be thinking, what are the strategies that will help us make the changes we want to make.”

She talks about (times approximate) …

1:45 Background in cognitive science and HCI, and early career learning curves e.g., performing in front of large classes, dressing the part, being mistaken for a student instead of the lecturer, coming to be an institution

10:10 Taking a risk, giving up a permanent job for a temporary one in moving to UCL to pursue a research career

12:35 Co-editing an HCI textbook and taking maternity leave during the process

15:55 Experience of having first child, maternity leave, returning to work and taking advantage of being able to work flexibly to juggle family, partner needs….but all parties needing to be flexible

 22:13 “I suppose some people might think that I had to compromise on things like travel but I’d never really it very much so at the time it never felt like something I was giving up”

24:05 Getting research funding on balance, through an unusual ‘sandpit’ process mixing an initial face to face and then virtual meetings (interesting experiences of getting ‘kicked out’ of the environment but where participants didn’t feel like they had been able to go through the usual ‘goodbye’ rituals)

27:29 Digital Epiphanies project and a network (Balance Network) funded, and using a PhD student to extend that work

28:13 What is a Digital Epiphany? Related to post traumatic growth, can we track computer activity and give people feedback so that they get to their own epiphany about balance?

30:45 Studying academics, and professional services staff, and patterns of work relative to role and type of life they want and helping people understand what their preferences are so they can create the support they need

33:23 And what can an organization do – not have one policy for everyone!

34:09 “The longer people are in this job, the more busy they get. You always seem to get more stuff. No-one is ever going to take anything away from you. So therefore it is down to you to say no to things and that’s really hard. I think lots of people struggle with that.”

34:45 Work on how people handle their email, and what is the best way to handle it; the difficulty people had in following instructions about either keeping on top of email or only looking at it once a day; more efficient if they try to minimize time dealing with email in clearly defined times, less disruptive to rest of work and deal with email quicker

36:38 Work of Marta and how people use smart watches to manage when and how they respond to messages. The strategies people are adopting to work around the technologies and evolving practices.

41:50 Own use of insights from the studies? Going through stages of using tools to track how much time working on the computer; times of year particularly busy that can be predictable but never really plan for it; putting in work around deadlines; using tools to help justify taking a break afterwards.

43:13 “Is the reason that there is so much on my to do list that I don’t work enough? And it was very interesting to track how much time I worked and then say actually I do enough. And there is just too much work. I feel like I need that evidence.”

43:55 Times switching off email from the phone, removing work account – creating micro-boundaries, to make it harder to slip back into behavior you don’t want to do

45:05 Other examples of micro-boundaries: different email accounts, different devices and apps; creating frictions; becoming more conscious of what you are doing and reflecting on data that tells how we are living our lives;

47:35 “But making changes is hard so we need to also be thinking what are the strategies that will help us make the changes we want to make”

49:05 Questionnaires for understanding work-life boundary preferences, and then thinking about what strategies to adopt to help us gain control again

51:35 Reflecting on own personal balance – overall pretty happy. But the irony of the enormous work to put together the Athena Swan award submission in part about the things to support flexibility and balance.

53:40 Getting too much? “You recognize things when the other things you want to do in your life start becoming more difficult to include… then that is a good sign you need to think about what you are doing and change things”

55:05 Broader changes? Creating a culture where more and more papers become expected and impact on early career researchers. Thinking about number of deadlines, more journal focus, job ads/promotions, more men taking parental leave and its influence on understanding of working part time, and all of us thinking about working less and spending more time on things we care about.

58:00 Getting ideas to try to out from other podcast stories; tells a similar story of seeing in an application about someone holding a daily stand up meeting for their team, and then implementing that for her team on Slack using a bot for a daily check-in by the whole team; advantages of increased visibility all round

1:04:45 Good academic life – getting to spend lots of time with her kids and feeling challenged and fulfilled at work and having control over what you do at work.

1:05:40 End

Related links

Digital Boundaries Project https://digitalboundariesresearch.wordpress.com

Related publications including microboundary papers: https://digitalboundariesresearch.wordpress.com/publications/

Microboundary strategies booklet & self-study diary on communication habits https://digitalboundariesresearch.wordpress.com/home/resources-links/

Marta Cecchinato – research on work-life-balance https://uclic.ucl.ac.uk/people/marta-cecchinato

Links to questionnaires:

Kossek, Ellen Ernst. "Managing work life boundaries in the digital age." Organizational Dynamics 45.3 (2016): 258-270. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0090261616300705

Kossek, Ellen Ernst, et al. "Work–nonwork boundary management profiles: A person-centered approach." Journal of Vocational Behavior 81.1 (2012): 112-128. http://ellenkossek.hrlr.msu.edu/documents/YJVBE2638finalofboundarymanagementstylesarticle.pdf

Rafael Calvo on technology and choices for mental health and well being

Rafael A. Calvo is an ARC Future Fellow, Professor and Director of the Positive Computing Lab  at the University of Sydney. He is also a co-author with Dorian Peters of the book, Positive Computing, published by MIT Press. Rafael describes a fascinating academic journey that spans physics, philosophy, computer science, and cognitive and affective computing. He talks about his current work on Positive Computing and designing technology to support people’s mental health and well being. He also shares experiences in managing his own mental health and well being, that includes some great tips.

“[a setback] was one of the best things that could have ever happened to me”

He talks about (times approximate) …

01:42 His current work and his varied career path – “sometimes they seem disconnected but there is a very strong thread in the middle”

08:30 His work on Positive Computing technologies, impacts of technology on people’s mental health, challenges of email

10:00 Responsibility to design so that we don’t hinder people’s health and well being, changing the mindset of designers to look beyond productivity … with examples eg the psychological benefits of effort in endorsements

14:45 Engaging with psychology theories and working with psychologists and interdisciplinary partnerships

19:18 Looking after his own mental health and well being and the impact of too much travel

20:50 Learning to say no, how you decide what to say yes/no to, email strategies, choosing admin work he can contribute what other people can’t, exaggerated risks of saying no as a young academic

26:56 Looking for opportunities where he doesn’t have technology, blocking times without interruptions, and more strategies

29:40 Keeping use of devices for work and home separate

35:10 End

Final notes:

Book: Calvo and Peters, ‘Positive Computing’, MIT Press 2014 - https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/positive-computing

Book: Wulf, Schmidt and Randall (eds) ‘Designing Socially Embedded Technologies in the Real World’, Springer 2015 - http://www.springer.com/us/book/9781447167198

Time Management software: RescueTime  - https://www.rescuetime.com

Paper: Cox et al, Design Frictions for Mindful Interactions: the case for Microboundaries, CHI EA 16 - https://uclic.ucl.ac.uk/content/4-publications/0-design-frictions-for-mindful-interactions-the-case-for-microboundaries/cox.chi.2016.pdf 

Video: Brad Feld on tech and well being - http://www.positivecomputing.org/2016/04/brad-feld-on-tech-wellbeing.html 

 

Mary Czerwinski on managing people, managing stress, and the work to do good work

Mary Czerwinski  is a principal researcher and research manager at Microsoft Research in Redmond, US. Mary shares some great experiences about her role as a manager and how she plays this out practically in enabling and protecting people, and establishing a culture in a group. She also talks about some of the key insights from her own research work on stress and how to manage stress, from email management strategies, to designing technology interventions as well as some very easy practical interventions that we could all try out. A theme throughout is the importance of getting to know yourself and your values, and of planning– this is the work to do good work.

“How you choose to look at stress...” “Honouring your calendar”

She talks about (times approximate) …

01:45 Her current work and background

04:20 Managing and leading a research group

07:15 Establishing a group culture, dealing with issues, conflict resolution, one-on-ones

11:10 Insights from research on stress, managing email, choosing how you look at stress

17:00 Knowing the rhythm of your day, your priorities, and planning

18:20 Personal interventions, the ‘tools in the toolkit’ e.g., deep breathing, mindfulness techniques, new work on DBT, Pop Therapy

25:05 Challenges now with escalating pace, needing to say no more often, importance of prioritizing based on knowing what are your values

28:50 Wish for the younger generation: prioristing the important things and still having time to accomplish what you want to in work, needing to make time for family and self

30:08 End

Final notes:

Pop Therapy - https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/research/project/pop-therapy/

Mindfulness – loads of resources https://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/mindfulness

http://www.umassmed.edu/cfm/

Dialectical Behaviour Therapy

http://behavioraltech.org/resources/whatisdbt.cfm

Jon Whittle on the digital brain switch, drama and dance

Jon Whittle is a full Professor in the School of Computing and Communications at Lancaster University, England, and also a Chair of Software Engineering and Head of Department. He covers lots of themes including making career shifts, changing strategies when proposals get rejected, making multi disciplinary work work, creating balance, and leading by example. He lives work-life balance, describing himself as an artist and a scientist.

“You have to give yourself a break” ... “you can do very simple things” that make a difference.

He talks about (times approximate) …

01:15 His varied career path between Scotland, US, India and England

05:40 Changing fields and how to move into a new community/field

12:40 Experience in the US tenure system, difficulties getting grants, and changing strategies

15:20 Working in multi-disciplinary projects, lessons learnt and how to bootstrap multi-disciplinary team work

19:40 Work life balance (WLB) – living it as an artist and a scientist, researching it in the Digital Brain Switch Project

26:00 Being Head of Department, leading by example, structuring time, setting expectations, handling email, giving yourself a break

33:32 Three things to maintain a healthy balance – delegate, learn how to say no, be organised

End 36:40

Final notes:

Digital Brain Switch’ project

EPSRC Sandpits