Happy Home Holidays

So I belong to one of those lucky people who get to work from home. Even better, I’m not quite sure if I’m even expected to work! My campus closes for a month over summer (and also two weeks over Christmas and one week over Easter), but that doesn’t mean I automatically have a month off.  Just like any other Belgian, I have about 20 days to take off whenever it pleases me.

Now, any other PhD student will happily tell you that taking a month off isn’t the best idea. You don’t ever really want to take a clean break, as you don’t want the ideas you’ve worked so hard on to swim away as you jump in the sea from some Italian cliff, or to whizz past you as you cycle through the Black Forest in Germany, or to simply fall asleep and get left behind when you’re chilling out in some park after lunch. So no, I do not have a month of holidays. But I have to say, life has been treating me well.

Obviously I don’t work my 9 to 5, or even 10 to 4 really. I get up, go to the gym or have a glorious sunny morning run, do stuff around the house or garden, and then I get to work. Under the parasol in our little garden, because yes, it is summmeerrrrrr! And as I sit here working, once in a while, my mind drifts off. Like: I’ll go make some ice cream. Or: oh man there’s a cricket! You know what I mean right, the cicadas that make that holiday sound you just cannot escape when you go south? We don’t really get them here as much, but instant holiday feeling! I located them to the tiny bush of grass by the edge of the garden I’ve been meaning to get rid off. None of that now though, instead I might just see if it grows bigger and attracts more vacation-bugs. Because I might be home and I might be sort of working, but life is not bad at all, and I don’t mind doing this for the rest of summer at all. Who says you need to go on holiday to get the holiday feeling?!

So to summarise: here’s my recipe for a holiday at home:

  • 1 or 2 crickets
  • A parasol
  • Little ice popsicle holders (just mix some yoghurt with that fruit you were gonna throw out because it’s not that fresh anymore but really still quite tasty and stick it in the freezer)
  • A load of sunscreen

Happy holidays!


The Art of Not Working At Work

This week isn’t my week at work. Which is fine. I’m sure my focus will come back again another week, and leave again, and come back again, and leave again. It’s just the way it is and has been ever since I started this job. Tuesday, I went home early. Snuck out when my boss went to the bathroom. Wednesday I “worked from home”. Sometimes I do actually work when I’m home, but this Wednesday I went to the gym, bought new hiking boots and went shopping for Saint-Paddy’s day props. (I am so ready for it: green hairspray, green glasses, green hat, bubbles and glowsticks.) Yesterday, again, I left early when my boss happened to be out. I went home to do some gardening. It’s starting to feel like spring!

Now I don’t want to sound like an awful person who doesn’t do what she gets payed for. I’m sure all of this sort of time-off will come back to bite me in the behind and I’ll spend many of my supposed-to-be-free weekends and evenings on the dissertation when I get to year 4. (And I will try not to complain when that happens, yes, it’s my own fault.) I do keep going to the office most mornings just in case The Focus has returned, but for now, I simply don’t feel like it.

So today I have been trying to find ways to keep myself occupied: not working but not being bored. I can’t go home early because I am meeting friends in town after work. So I have to keep pretending until 5pm. Now, I share an office with 8 people. They are hardly ever all here, usually it’s just my boss and me and the occasional come-and-goer. My boss and I are sat opposite of each other, which means we can’t see each other’s screens but we can see each other’s facial expressions. So no watching funny youtube videos because they make me giggle.

Behind me, there’s is the other professor who is often here. So if I don’t want him to see what I’m doing, I have to hide my browser in the bottom right corner of my screen and make it tiny. That way my head covers it up. As soon as someone gets up, I swipe left and the article I am supposed to be reading comes up. I am telling myself no one has a clue.

So what have I been up to today? I browsed some online shops for the perfect anniversary present for the boyfriend. Next month, we will have been together for two years 😀 I have a pretty genius idea for a surprise, but I’m still deciding exactly what and … Well, I don’t want to say too much because he’ll probably read this. (Last time I told him not to read my next post it was the first thing he did.) I also read almost every article on the news website, scrolled down Facebook an infinite amount of times, tried to chat with some friends but turns out my friends are actually working. They are good people. I studied the map of the Zoo in detail, we are going this weekend and I figured I could use some preparation. (Yes, you’re right. Preparing for the Zoo sounds and is ridiculous, but it was a perfect way to pass the hour before lunch, thank you very much.)

The last hour I’ve been googling about Sims 4. You see, I am a big fan of Sims. Hmm maybe not necessarily a fan. I think the word “addict” would suit me better. There is no such thing as a moderate amount of Simming. I wish there was. But there isn’t. Yes, I spend too much time on it. And afterwards I look cross-eyed and I feel a bit crazy. But ow boy can it be fun! I’ve been thinking about blogging about it but I don’t want to scare readers away. I know it might be a bit weird to be so enthusiastic about the Sims, I’m supposed to be a grown-up. But am I? And now thanks to this overly unproductive day at work, I have a thousand new ideas of things to try! New plants to graft, secret locations to unlock, and I still have to finish that awesome house I was building.

But from all the ways I can secretly not work at work, I’m afraid Simming isn’t one of them. I’ll continue wasting my time in more subtle ways for the next hour and a half.


Life of a PhD Student – Luxury Problems

In my job I get to decide when and where I work as long as I get things done. When and where I work: I try to go for 8 hours a day at the office like a good girl. The things I need to get done: write a thesis by the end of 2018. I don’t know how it is for you, but I always achieve better with close deadlines. Bit of stress here and there can actually help.

So, this “as long as I get things done” is open for interpretation. And it’s mostly me and my boss who have to interpret. Like today, the sun is out. I don’t feel like working, have no motivation or concentration, and the coffee machine at the office is broken (!Disaster!). I am so tempted to go home and do some gardening. And maybe claim that I’ll work more in the evening then. But, can I tell this to my boss? “‘Sup Mr Bossman. I’m heading home to plant some veggies. Have a good one?”

Or do I just sneak out of the office and hope he doesn’t notice? Or at least hope he won’t wonder why I am leaving this time? Wonder if I am actually working at all?

I think it’s fairly obvious to everyone that I don’t work nearly as hard as the average PhD student. I do everything I can to avoid working weekends and evenings. I still haven’t done any conferences or written any articles. I gladly take a self proclaimed holiday when “working from home”. But so far no one has mentioned anything and I am getting away with it. I gave a presentation for our research group the other week and got loads of complements. How I already got really far in this new subject, how it’s very interesting, how I seem to have a good insight both in the literature as for the facts. So, maybe I’m not doing as bad as I think I am? Wouldn’t it be nice to think I’m just so intelligent I can get the thinking done in half the hours?

Nope, that doesn’t sound like me at all. What does sound like me, is spending a whole day at work wondering about whether or not to go home early.


The Working From Home Challenge

I usually blog about my weekends. Because weekends are fun. And last weekend was particularly fun! I guess it helped that I sort of started the weekend already well rested.

Because of the whole Brussels situation, I had to work from home for a week. As you might know from my previous posts, I’m ridiculously bad at working from home. But this week was slightly different. The boyfriend is currently in between jobs, and he wants to change careers. So, he’s at home learning how to program through the CS50 MOOC offered by Harvard. And if he’s being such a good boy, working his ass off trying to learn new things, and I am actually being paid to do exactly that, I felt bad letting myself get distracted. So as the week progressed, I actually worked more and more. I still didn’t do as much as your average PhD student, but I did loads more than I usually do and I’m quite proud really.

So I figured, why don’t I share with you my three new tips and tricks for working from home? Some of you work from home like a boss, I know, so this post is merely for likeminded easily distracted and not so motivated workers. To the bosses out there, you’re welcome to include extra tips in the comments!

  • Firstly, it helps if there are people around you. You feel bad quite easily having your mom or partner give you the (subtle or not) eye for watching another episode of the series you like to binge watch at 10pm or for being on Facebook all afternoon. But if you don’t have anyone around, strangers do the trick as well. Head down to a coffee shop or a library, a place you know work is being done, and you’ll feel equally bad about watching funny cat videos while you should be working. A stranger’s stink eye can be just as effective.
  • Secondly, don’t feel bad when you do decide to take a break. Otherwise you’ll end up frustrated and angry at yourself and you’ll get nowhere. Take for example that new work experiment they’re doing in Sweden: 6-hour workdays for the same pay! The idea is that by having to work less long, you’ll be more efficient. So rather than sighing and moaning and grumping and checking the news website every 5 minutes and sighing again trying to get back to work, just take a break. Watch some telly for an hour, go buy that pair of new shoes you can’t stop thinking about, cook an awesome meal. Don’t be afraid to spend more time on it and enjoy it without worrying about work, it’ll make you so much more efficient afterwards.
  • Thirdly, there is no such thing as work hours. Work when you feel you will be efficient, and do your other stuff when the timing is ideal. Do your grocery shopping at 2pm when there is no one in the shop, and work around 5pm when you would be commuting back home otherwise. Rather than setting designated times to work, just give yourself an aim: at the end of the day, you need to finish this. No matter how long (or short) you spend on it. Oh, and make sure you have daily deadlines, not weekly ones. Otherwise you’ll end up doing nothing Monday to Thursday, being angry at yourself, to then be even angrier on Friday.

Today, I am back at the office and already missing the home working. I think I should try it more often, maybe I was just so bad at it because I didn’t get enough practise! I felt so much more relaxed, not having to worry about the chores to do when you get home as you do them during the day, not having to bother with that horrendous commute, and of course it helps to be around the boyfriend all day. He’s pretty good company!

Daydreaming: My “If I Were to Win the Lottery Plan”

I used to love theatre. Watching, playing, even writing. Kinda grew out of it. Used to do a lot of painting, played guitar, went swimming three times a week, read two books a week. I wasn’t really talented at any of those things. But they kept me happy. And the good thing about them was, they were manageable hobbies. Travelling the world as your one and only passion, a little bit trickier to keep up. I think it is time I start a search for new hobbies. Because really all I do now is work and dream about traveling. And spending way too much time watching crappy tv shows and playing silly computer games. Ow boy, I seem to be wasting my free time!

I still like baking biscuits. Maybe I can do that a bit more often. But who’s gonna eat all my biscuits! I also still like sports (trying to pick up running again and I go kickboxing once a week), but not that much that I can balance out the eating of a whole load of biscuits every day. Wouldn’t it be awesome if I could find some local cafe that would like to buy my biscuits? Have fun and earn extra money? I do love my money. They say money doesn’t make happy. Well, where I live, it sure does help!

If I had money, ah, I have it all worked out. My “if I were to win the lottery jackpot” plan. Except for the fact that I don’t play on the lotto. But here is it. If I can manage mentally, I’d finish my PhD. While I’m doing so, I’d buy a house in town. Spend my free time hiring people to make it perfect. I’d also buy a massive 4WD. If they would still make them, it would be a Defender. But I’d pick something newer. Automatic. Super energy efficient. Solar panels included. We’d give it a name. Alfie, or Fred. I’d take my boyfriend to a 4WD course and we’d get a book “car mechanics for dummies”. We’d go to all the camping shops in the country buying only the best of things. Super thin and light but warm sleeping bags. A super easy to set up tent for on top of our 4WD. Camp kitchen stuff that we would build into the back of the 4WD. I’d let the boyfriend do whatever he wants to in the meantime. He could work, study, invest in his own freelance business. And then when I finish my PhD, we would rent out our super big house (probably turn it into student housing, and hire someone to keep an eye on it for a small price), and that way keep having a steady income. We’d put away some of the money for who knows what kind of emergency. And then we would start travelling until the money runs out. Which it won’t! (Oh, and of course hand some of it out to family and charity.)

I started out writing this post to come up with some new stuff to do. Instead, I ended up dreaming about the ideal future. Involving travel and only travel. Oh well. Maybe what I should look for is not a new hobby, but different ways to earn money on the side. So that one day… And in the meantime… I Keep Dreaming!

Tell me, what do you dream of? Have you managed to make some of your dreams come true so far?

Coffee in Leuven

I found a new coffee place today! Which inspired me to write a little post about coffee places.

The place where you have your coffee, it’s like your favourite pillow: it has to be the perfect fit, and that’s a different fit for everyone. For me, a coffee place needs to be quiet. Or rather, peaceful. When I was still at uni, I used to come to these places to study or read some books. There was some nice mellow music, some soft chattering in the background. It is nice to be busy in your own little world, while at the same time noticing you’re not alone. The coffee was excellent, it also came with a free chocolate. And the seating was perfect for my aim: I always sat at the big table in the middle, surrounded by like-minded people trying to get some work done. Sadly, my cafe is no longer. And I’ve been looking for a new one ever since.
I went into the replacement of my favourite cafe, BarBoek!, but it is not the same. My cafe was a cafe with a book store. The new one is a book store with a cafe. Still awesome, but no longer the perfect fit.
So I went to another one I had been to before, The Coffee Cafe. It has all these old coffee grinders on the wall, cosy small wooden tables, and very good coffee. But since it closes at 2pm, again, not the perfect fit.
The one I am sitting in now is almost perfect, it’s called Anna, opposite of the museum in Leuven. It again has a long table, which is perfect because that way I don’t have to take up a whole seating arrangement for just me and my book or laptop. I can be just one of many working souls around this table. There are some couches as well, in case I would want to bring a friend for a chat. The lighting is perfect, and cosy. And even fascinating, since I keep staring at it. Maybe not the best idea.
The coffee stil has to prove itself though. I started with a filter coffee, which was not as nice as I had hoped. People always go for these fancy frothy coffees, I saw the barista do one up, it looked stunning. But I like my coffee simple and strong, no milk no anything. Either an espresso, or a filter coffee. I hate these Americanos, where they just fill up your espresso with water until they reach a bigger cup of coffee. That is not coffee. Filter coffee then is the ideal solution, that is, if it is good filter coffee. This one, not so much. But then again, filter coffee is hard enough to find, so I’ll try an espresso after to give them a second chance. (Later addition: the espresso is STRONG. That means GOOD! Though not as good as the ones I had in France a few weeks ago.)
The other minus point about this place is the music. The set up is modern-cosy, but the music is what you would hear in the town’s cheap club, 5 years ago, mixed with what the depressed teenager would listen to 10 years ago. This place needs lounge. Or jazz, even better. Or some singer-songwriter stuff. I’m not a big fan of the latter, because it can be so depressing, but it would definitely better than the stuff on now. Titanium. Really? And Rihanna? Whattt?!
Oh my god I just found a massive plus that will beat ANY Belgian cafe: they offer free water. It’s just standing there for you to poor into fancy glasses. Bazinga, well done new coffee place!
Oh and did I mention their free coffee-side biscuits are super tasty? Sticky oatmeal biscuits. Yum!
(Also, they’re playing Coldplay now. Much better. Thank you.)

Work vs. Sand Castle

Once again I am blogging at work. It’s easter holiday, and none of my colleagues are here. I’m the only one in our office! And on the whole floor, there are maybe two other people. Also, today  is a gorgeous day! Check out the view from my office window!


How am I supposed to get anything done like this!

Next week, my office building is closed, but that does not mean I have the week off. No, I’m just supposed to work from home. As if. So I’ll leave with this short message and get back to work:

Please help me out: any tips on how to get your work done when all you can think about is taking a train to the seaside and building a sand castle?!