April 04, 2014
FOMO: Just Say No
Posted by Usha Rodrigues

Haskell Murray and Anne Tucker recently blogged quite engagingly about their Fear of Missing Out (FOMO).  They made me feel old--not only because of these newfangled acronyms, but also because I remember feeling that way myself.  I found particularly brave their articulation of the suspicion that they weren't "good enough" and had somehow lucked into the job.  I remember feeling that way, too, and I have a sneaking suspicion that there are 2 kinds of junior faculty members: 1) those who think they're not really as smart as everyone else, and 2) those who really aren't as smart as everyone else.  "Arrogance" is just a few letters away from "ignorance." 

But I digress.  I remember feeling this way, and I had a mentor give me excellent advice my first year:

Just say no. 

At least, your default answer should be "no."  To my chagrin, I realized something at the end of my first year of teaching: This job has infinite demands. There are 3 elements to it: teaching, scholarship, and service.  You could devote every waking moment to your teaching, and still have more you could do.  Ditto for service.  Ditto to the nth degree for scholarship: always another talk you could attend, an article you could read.  But you can't do those things and write.  At least, I can't.  You have to get used to always feeling like there's more you can do.  You'll feel guilt, but you have to make your peace with it.

I set boundaries for myself, like trying not to travel more than once a month while classes are in session.  But the best piece of advice I got was that your default answer should be "no."

P.S. Haskell, I'd love for people to think that I'm some kind of superwoman, but that was my schedule for a brief period of my life.  Baby #3 started sleeping through the night at about 6 months.  Hallelujah!

Permalink | Law Schools/Lawyering| Legal Scholarship| Productivity| Wisdom and Virtue | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0) | Bookmark

January 31, 2013
A Luddite Academic's iPad Paean
Posted by Usha Rodrigues

OK, so I'm more late-adopter than Luddite, but it makes for a pithier title.  And late-adopter I am--I broke down and bought a smartphone only when my faithful flip-phone's charger died.  And yet I'm here to tell you that the iPad has rocked my innovation-resistant little world.  I offer these thoughts for those few readers out there more retrograde than I.

If you've ever stepped into my office, you'll understand the problem.  Awash in paper, it oscillates between relatively orderly piles of paper on my desk and bookshelves (in the month after my more-or-less annual spring cleaning) and disorderly piles of paper littering every available surface, including the floor.  

I have two main problems. 1) I'm a tactile reader--marking up, pen in hand, is how I process what I read. Reading on a computer screen, even a laptop, is no good for me. 2) I have an irrational fear that "I may need that," hampering my ability to purge the many pieces of paper an academic collects.  I've tried file folders, I've tried binders.  They work in moderation.  But when time is short, the terrible piles accumulate.

Enter the iPad.  Guided by a knowledgeable and kindly colleague, I have used a combination of Dropbox and the GoodReader app to create folders for colloquia, hiring, and various research projects.  Now when I get an electronic something I need to read, I convert it to PDF, save it to Dropbox, sync with the iPad, and voila: I can mark up documents on a screen, and save the markups.  

This may seem like a simple change, but it has revolutionized my working world.  Here are some benefits:

  1.  I no longer download, print, read, and mark up the same article 4 different times because I keep misplacing it.
  2.  I print a lot less, assuaging my environmental guilt and reducing paper clutter exponentially.  
  3. If you sync regularly your notes are preserved on Dropbox and available to you wherever you go.
  4. Indeed, your research is available wherever you go.  No more kicking yourself as you frantically prepare in your hotel room the night before your next morning's talk because you left behind the Seminal Article that makes the point you want to refer to.  Not that I ever do this.  But still.
  5. If you're at home with a crappy printer for the semester, you can quickly download and mark up law review edits or articles that friends send to you.  Before you'd have to drive by the office or make do at home.
  6. Travel benefit #1: All the conference papers fit easily on an iPad.  No paper cuts.  
  7. Travel benefit #2: You can't read said conference papers until you reach cruising altitude.  
  8. Travel benefit #3: If someone emails the paper after you've left, or refers you to an article while you're at the conference, you can access it and read it while on the road.
  9. Travel benefit #4: Airport security? Keep it in your carry-on, baby. This ain't no laptop.

I'm sure I'm not using one-tenth of the iPad's capabilities.  To take but one example, despite repeated efforts I can't seem to get my iTunes password to work, so my iPad is registered to my husband and I get all of his apps.  If I want one, I have to ask him to get it. Even still, it's technology that's changed the way I work.

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March 30, 2011
The Two Year Tour: When Academics Return from (or Depart for) the Beltway?
Posted by Erik Gerding

In 2008, a number of Professors joined the Millionaires and Skippers (and perhaps a few Gilligans, Mary Anns and Gingers) for the fateful trip to go work for a new Administration.  Because of many University leave rules, their cruise will soon end as a two year tour.

What happens when law professors return to the academy after a stint in public service?  Does it give them a fresh perspective after seeing the sausage in production, one that enriches their scholarship?  Might the experience occasionally have some offal results - if a professor feels compelled to dull a critical edge and engage in political apologia? 

I respect the integrity of the professors I know who went to work for the Administration.  But a close examination of the experience of policymaking professors remains ripe for exploration.  What happens when professors can't just theorize about the "tensions" inherent in a rule, but need to make hard decisions about concrete rules?  What happens when these same professors return to the academy?

These types of issues came to the fore when academics returned from the George W. Bush Administration.  But the highly charged nature of law professors involvement with that Administration's national security policy may frustrate a careful examination of the broader phenomenon of academics as policy makers.

Similar concerns about the critical edge of legal scholars extends to other non-academic endeavours.  I had a professor in law school whose criticism of some of his colleagues active in appellate advocacy stuck with me, even if I didn't agree with it.  He argued that the prospect of returning to argue in front of the bench meant that these professors necessarily were careful not to make scholarly commitments that might come back to haunt them in future oral argument.  One reason this criticism may have stuck with me is that it struck me as slightly odd coming from someone who believed law was not at all distinct from politics.

But this criticism came back to me last month when I was drafting an amicus brief (more on that in a subsequent post).  Although I did not have a client (the brief was on behalf of law professors), the brief needed to be true to my scholarly views and the views of the other signatories.  At the same time, legal scholarship is an inherently critical enterprise.  The same exercise in the Socratic classroom of exposing the inconsistencies and difficult application of legal rules marks good scholarship.  But judges need to make decisions.   

The tensions between scholarship and policymaking or advocacy also come to the fore when scholars are nominated to executive positions and they face questions about their scholarly positions.  Elizabeth Warren, again a lightning rod, serves as Exhibit A.  Of course, nominated professors can offer the defense that their role as an academic differs fundamentally from their would-be role as judge or official.

Yet the example of Elizabeth Warren and the criticism of her scholarship also merits closer examination.  Aside from the substantive criticism of her views and work, there may lie an unease with the vein of advocacy itself in her scholarship.  Of course, advocacy is a part of much if not all legal scholarship.  Legal scholarship is not natural science.  Moreover, it is by nature a lot more applied than much of the social sciences.  We would delude ourselves if we would think rhetoric and advocacy could be neatly removed from legal scholarship.  But we would also be deluded if we thought there were not some deep tensions between advocacy and truth-seeking inherent in legal scholarship.

A better explication of these tensions will have to come from more scholars with more philosophical training.  But for now, consider the proposition that scholars embarking or returning from policymaking can lead us to ask some very intriguing questions about the nature of our enterprise and what we do when we do scholarship.  We can't answer the question about whether political experience affects the quality of scholarship (or whether scholarship is a barometer for fitness for a policymaking position) without confronting the the legal academy's unease about what makes scholarship "good" or without looking anew at old questions about the law's relationship to politics and ideology.  Those law professors passing through the veil of the academy offer very personal vehicles to explore these questions.

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February 16, 2010
The Droid
Posted by Gordon Smith

Back in 2005, I was in the market for a smartphone, which I was still calling a PDA. I ended up with a Samsung SCH-i730, which I later described as "clunky in every sense of that word." 

My experience with the Samsung was so bad that I reverted to a clamshell two years later. I wanted an iPhone, but I wasn't willing to switch to AT&T, so I suffered in 1990s Mobilephoneland for two more years.

Until last week, when I acquired a Droid. Wow!

(Note to iPhone users: the term "Wow!" is not intended to be a claim that the Droid is superior to the iPhone, but is intended rather to convey a generally favorable impression of my new device.)

I have read many reviews extolling the virtues and shortcomings of the Droid, but I want to focus on a particular benefit to me that I didn't see emphasized enough in the reviews that I consulted. As longtime readers of the blog know, I went all in with Google in 2007. While a couple of Google's products that I emphasized then -- the personalized homepage and Notebook -- have fallen off my list, I have added others, like Google Tasks. The wonderful thing about the Droid is the way in which Gmail, Calendar, Contacts, and Tasks update almost simultaneously on both my phone and my computer. Moving from one device to the other is seamless.

Also, other Google apps on the Droid are outstanding. Google Maps is fast and easy, and I am looking forward to using the navigation feature, though I haven't had occasion to do that, yet. I have started using Google Listen in place of iTunes, which I use primarily for podcasts. Google Sky may be the coolest app available on the Droid, but Google Goggles is fun, too.

Lots more to explore, but my first week with the Droid has been a revelation.

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August 25, 2008
As I head off to bed ...
Posted by Gordon Smith

Two tidbits from the CNN story about sleep and productivity:

The evidence that sleep matters is irrefutable and constantly growing. Let's start with a newly discovered link between sleep deprivation and serious illnesses such as diabetes and cancer. A 2008 research project at the University of Chicago's medical school kept young, healthy volunteers awake for all but four hours a night for six nights running. The result: The levels of subjects' hormones shifted -- in particular a hormone called leptin that affects appetite. They became ravenously hungry, scarfing down pizza and ice cream long after they would have felt full normally, and their blood sugar shot up to pre-diabetic levels -- an ominous result after less than one week of inadequate sleep. Other studies duplicate those results so regularly that researchers now believe that not getting enough sleep is a top cause of obesity and diabetes


One experiment at U. Penn's medical school kept subjects up until 4 A.M., woke them at 8 A.M., and then gave them a series of tests designed to measure memory, alertness, and the ability to react quickly to new information. The researchers were startled to find that subjects' mental acuity declined markedly after just one night and kept dropping with each successive night of four hours' sleep.

I would look up the studies, but I need to get to bed. After all, I am a morning person now!

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July 20, 2008
Posted by Gordon Smith

How often do you think about productivity? Lots.

How do you measure your own productivity? Hmm ... impressionistically?

The measurement problem stems from the fact that my work as a law professor is not merely about pushing product out the door. Teaching production could be measured in contract hours and scholarly production could be measured by the number of papers produced or downloaded or by citations. But I resist evaluating my own productivity in these simplistic ways, partly because these measures do not include a meaningful evaluation of quality and partly because I have come to understand more fully the value of things that are not easily measured. Being a good colleague. Belonging to multiple communities. Serving as a mentor. Listening. Learning.

Despite these measurement problems, I know that I feel productive at my job when certain things happen during a day.

  • I meet a deadline or finish a project that has no fixed deadline.
  • I respond to all of my email.
  • I read important news stories, particularly in The Wall Street Journal.
  • I write at least one blog post that teaches me something.
  • I work on at least one of my scholarly projects.
  • I organize something, like my desk or a conference.
  • I teach someone or help someone with a project that is not mine.

Going by this list, many of my days are unproductive. After all, that's a pretty ambitious list. But I have sensed a boost in my productivity recently, and I give part of the credit to Google. Just over a year ago, I blogged about "Going Google," and I wrote an update last fall. That update is still more or less where I am today -- with less reliance on iGoogle and more on a non-Google program called Remember the Milk. Google's various software programs have become the primary means by which I gather, process, and store information, and I perform those tasks more efficiently than I ever had without Google.

Now is the time for the next step in my pursuit of productivity: becoming a morning person. This is one of Zen Habits' excellent list of Top 10 Productivity Hacks. (If you want more lists on productivity, Zen Habits has collected them here.) More on becoming a morning person below the fold.

From time out of mind, I have been a night owl. I have read that night owlishness is partly genetic, so perhaps I have an excuse, but most people get up earlier as they get older, and I am just looking to start now, rather than waiting until I am 60. Here is an idea on how to become a morning person from Steve Pavlina:

It seems there are two main schools of thought about sleep patterns. One is that you should go to bed and get up at the same times every day. It’s like having an alarm clock on both ends — you try to sleep the same hours each night. This seems practical for living in modern society. We need predictability in our schedules. And we need to ensure adequate rest.

The second school says you should listen to your body’s needs and go to bed when you’re tired and get up when you naturally wake up. This approach is rooted in biology. Our bodies should know how much rest we need, so we should listen to them.

Through trial and error, I found out for myself that both of these schools are suboptimal sleep patterns. Both of them are wrong if you care about productivity. Here’s why:

If you sleep set hours, you’ll sometimes go to bed when you aren’t sleepy enough. If it’s taking you more than five minutes to fall asleep each night, you aren’t sleepy enough. You’re wasting time lying in bed awake and not being asleep. Another problem is that you’re assuming you need the same number of hours of sleep every night, which is a false assumption. Your sleep needs vary from day to day.

If you sleep based on what your body tells you, you’ll probably be sleeping more than you need — in many cases a lot more, like 10-15 hours more per week (the equivalent of a full waking day). A lot of people who sleep this way get 8+ hours of sleep per night, which is usually too much. Also, your mornings may be less predictable if you’re getting up at different times. And because our natural rhythms are sometimes out of tune with the 24-hour clock, you may find that your sleep times begin to drift.

The optimal solution for me has been to combine both approaches. It’s very simple, and many early risers do this without even thinking about it, but it was a mental breakthrough for me nonetheless. The solution was to go to bed when I’m sleepy (and only when I’m sleepy) and get up with an alarm clock at a fixed time (7 days per week). So I always get up at the same time (in my case 5am), but I go to bed at different times every night.

I go to bed when I’m too sleepy to stay up. My sleepiness test is that if I couldn’t read a book for more than a page or two without drifting off, I’m ready for bed. Most of the time when I go to bed, I’m asleep within three minutes. I lie down, get comfortable, and immediately I’m drifting off. Sometimes I go to bed at 9:30pm; other times I stay up until midnight. Most of the time I go to bed between 10-11pm. If I’m not sleepy, I stay up until I can’t keep my eyes open any longer. Reading is an excellent activity to do during this time, since it becomes obvious when I’m too sleepy to read.

When my alarm goes off every morning, I turn it off, stretch for a couple seconds, and sit up. I don’t think about it. I’ve learned that the longer it takes me to get up, the more likely I am to try to sleep in. So I don’t allow myself to have conversations in my head about the benefits of sleeping in once the alarm goes off. Even if I want to sleep in, I always get up right away.

After a few days of using this approach, I found that my sleep patterns settled into a natural rhythm. If I got too little sleep one night, I’d automatically be sleepier earlier and get more sleep the next night. And if I had lots of energy and wasn’t tired, I’d sleep less. My body learned when to knock me out because it knew I would always get up at the same time and that my wake-up time wasn’t negotiable.

A side effect was that on average, I slept about 90 minutes less per night, but I actually felt more well-rested. I was sleeping almost the entire time I was in bed.

Hmm. I was intent on trying the first approach, but this hybrid approach is appealing. In reading various advice sites on this issue, the main goal seems to be getting up at the same time every day. Getting to bed at the same time seems to follow naturally from reaching the first goal. It makes sense, but for some reason I have always approached this the other way around.

So we begin on Monday ...

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