focus + flow

October 27, 2010

work thoughts & a media compromise
last weekend, my father asked me on the phone whether my 5-day media cleanse had any lasting effects on my internet habits or overall media consumption. sheepishly, i had to admit that other than a rather intense media binge (rebound effect?) the day i allowed myself to return to my precious google reader, the answer was no.

part of my voracious appetite for internet distraction comes from the fact that i am in grant writing mode and therefore NOT occupied all day by patient responsibilities and the pager. while one might think this would render me able to unleash razor-sharp focus onto the task at hand, that simply has not been the case.

am i trying? yes. promise!

do i need to try harder? yes.

it’s not that i am not getting anything done — yesterday i completed a draft of my specific aims page and submitted that as well as my background (“significance” section in NIH-speak) section to one of my advisors for review. i am sticking to the plan of attack (as i write this, the first three checkboxes have been marked off!).

but i KNOW i could be using my time better, and that i am in need of finding better focus. i have had little tastes of “flow”, but the majority of my hours are filled with little distractions and i do not feel like i am producing my best work. brainstorming a few ways to improve, i came up with the following set of guidelines:

ways to find flow and increase productivity in PROJECT mode
craft a clear set of daily goals. for me, this means — you guessed it — another list! perhaps it seems ridiculously simple, but having in front of me exactly what i would like to accomplish in a given day is a huge help in keeping me on track.

today’s list excuse the blurred-out patient names!
intersperse harder tasks with easier ones. it would be unrealistic for me to attempt to just spend all day today writing my ‘approach’ section from start to finish. i would get burned out, tired, and frustrated. instead, i will create a loose outline for that section, but will also do a variety of other (less mind-bending) things.

become a CONSCIOUS media consumer. translation: i have to stop randomly checking email or hitting up blogs and websites every time i get an itch to do so. since just increasing awareness of my addiction via the media cleanse was ineffective, i think setting more concrete limits is in order.

— on weekdays, i will open my google reader once and only once daily, in the morning.

— i will limit checking email to specific break times (usually to be done upon finishing tasks, as a reward of sorts.)

i think the above guidelines are a good compromise, and i hope they will help me to work better (and ultimately feel more satisfied with the job i am doing).

what do you think of the above plan? does anyone else set rules for themselves to help avoid distractions and find better focus? further suggestions/comments are welcome!


10.25 + 26
i didn’t want to put monday’s dinner at the bottom of the running page for obvious reasons, so today we have a double header . . .

workout: monday = rest day; tuesday = 45 minutes elliptical + weights (pushups, squats, lunges, hamstring curls, pull-downs, and forward/lateral raises)

real simple dinners, continued confession: every time i write ‘real simple’, i have an urge to change it to ‘realLY simple’. the grammatically incorrect title drives me absolutely batty. oh well — i still enjoy the recipes!

on monday, i whipped up their version of chicken paprikash.



not an aesthetic masterpiece, but an enjoyable, homey meal
tuesday i made a variation of their shrimp with white beans and toast recipe.


it may look innocent, but their recipe called for 6 tablespoons of butter (!?) to be spread on toast. ummm, no thanks. i used about a tablespoon to sautée the shrimp, white beans, and arugula, and instead spent my daily allowance of saturated fat on a piece of delicious local artisan cheese. i also added golden grape tomatoes from our CSA box for a pop of color and extra veg. nutrition.

practically a recipe makeover


  • Reply Rachel MacCoss October 27, 2010 at 12:20 pm

    This looks super yummy, Sarah. Did it taste as good as it looks?

  • Reply Amanda K October 27, 2010 at 12:33 pm

    I love that I have finally discovered someone who writes more lists than me! You're totally right though, it is without question the best way to keep track of everything. Plus I hate leaving anything unfinished at the end of the day, so it keeps me moving. I also let myself do whatever I want once the list is done, which is great motivation (and not that harmful to productivity since I usually end up with about an hour at the end of the night).

  • Reply Meredeth October 27, 2010 at 12:33 pm

    Hah – just saw the comments from your running post (love it) – yes bachelorette party part deaux! Come visit us, Sarah!

  • Reply Chelsea October 27, 2010 at 1:17 pm

    Not getting distracted by the internet is tough! I find it helpful to listen to music or podcasts while I work (as long as it doesn't affect my concentration). It's like the perfect balance of working and not working. Otherwise I have to "just say no" unless it's a scheduled break time (or immediately before my 8:30 staff meeting, like now 🙂 ).

  • Reply Valerie @ City|Life|Eats October 27, 2010 at 1:27 pm

    I am in a similar situation – Google Reader is definitely a problem for me. Thank you for the great tips 🙂 And I agree – as much as I love Real Simple, the grammar issue always gets to me.

  • Reply Michelle @ Chasing Ambulances October 27, 2010 at 2:43 pm

    Google reader is like my crack. I do tend to check it and read all the posts every day instead of limiting it to a certain amount of time (getting all my items to an unread state is a compulsion – it's not unlike crossing things off a list). Since I work in front of a computer all day, I tend to distract myself with google reader. One thing that helps is putting my iphone out of reach and plugging in my headphones. Music helps me stay productive for some reason.

  • Reply Jess October 27, 2010 at 6:16 pm

    Your shrimp meal looks better than theirs. I spend way too much time online.

  • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger October 27, 2010 at 11:40 pm

    rachel: both were good! i preferred the shrimp just b/c i love shrimp 🙂

    meredeth: actually i really want to. i will talk to emily about a weekend trip!

    amanda: yep, definitely my motivating trick as well! i'm a free woman when all of the boxes have been checked off.

    chelsea: i actually can't concentrate as well w/ music! sad b/c i love it.

    valerie, jess and michelle: perhaps a cleanse is in order 🙂 you obviously should make an exception for THIS site though!

  • Reply Allie (Live Laugh Eat) October 28, 2010 at 3:58 am

    Beautiful food styling skills you got!

  • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger October 28, 2010 at 9:26 am

    allie: wow, thanks — if only i had the photography skillz as well 🙂

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