Academic Productivity: To do Lists

I’m not some kind of time management guru, and I don’t generally advise people to try to optimize themselves to better conform to our insane system of fast capitalism in academia. And I’m not the most amazing always on time person…but I’ve gotten better and this method of curating a single to do list has helped. And I get asked about it occasionally, so I decided to punch out 15 minutes to explain the process.

If I don’t put something on a list then I don’t do it. I tried apps, the bullet method of journaling, all of them seemed to take away time from actually doing things. With a baby in my life, I have even less time to mess around. A lot of people have various “lifehacks” and productivity schemes and I might have picked this method up from one of those, I honestly don’t remember. The best lifehack is to stop reading lifehacks and get shit done. Importantly, I also manage my google calendar heavily and automatically. A lot of my schedule is timetabled automatically by my institution, so I rely on it to tell me where to go and when.

I have a document that hangs out on my desktop. It is almost always open. Title it something fun. Mine is “TO DO LIST…FOR THE AGES.” I separate this list out into time chunks and then I break down tasks I need to do into chunks that will fit into these time slots.

Urgent/TODAY – this category has the things that need to be done over everything else. This is ONLY for hard deadlines. Letters of recommendation, things that will genuinely screw you (or someone else) up if you don’t do them that day. Nothing stays in this category for longer than a day, because obviously you get it done.

15 minutes – this is where a lot of admin lurks, things like booking hotels, flights, invoices, but also securing permissions for images for publications, emailing students with literature for their dissertations, etc. If you find yourself with a free 15 minutes, open the list and do one of these things. This is the “survival mode” category where you have way too many things to do all the time.

An hour – This is where I have things that take more thought, like teaching, writing, reading, etc. The trick is, if you have an hour, do NOT do anything on your 15 minute list, because then you get caught up in an endless cycle of admin and you never do research. An hour is sacred, enough time to write 500-1000 words or read a few research articles. I used to have a 2+ hour category pre-baby. Now, not so much. If you have longer than an hour, keep going, or switch to another hour task. Mine that gorgeous brain time all you can.

Writing – This is a list of in progress publications & grants. They are usually sorted in order of importance and deadline.

Things to Think about – This is a long, slightly insane list of one-offs, potential blog posts, digital projects and ideas. This slush file keeps me focused when, inevitably, in the middle of some task I find something OH SO SHINY and instead of burrowing down into a marginalia K-hole about Tessa Wheeler’s personal field notebooks, I write a quick note to myself to look through this later. This category is great for inspiration when everything starts to look a bit gray.

This to do list incorporates both personal tasks and professional tasks–managing two different lists is another time sink. So that’s it. Just a document on my desktop. In theory I could do something fancy and sync it to my phone, but honestly when I need to remember something from it…I just take a photo of the relevant part of my to do list. Saves messing with version control and internet connectivity.

Right, now to catch a plane. Hope this helps!

Twitter is Full of Filthy Crannog Dwellers

One of the projects I was marking this year featured a virtual reconstruction of a crannog, a dwelling built out into the water on an artificial island. There are a lot of them in the UK and Ireland, and they were used over 5,000 years, apparently. This is not my speciality (hence I am currently on an archaeological excavation in the desert in the Arabian Gulf), so we’re going with what Wikipedia says.

I was lucky enough to visit Must Farm while the excavations were still going on, which featured several of these houses built on stilts. It was an incredibly cool excavation for the preservation, the detailed examination of the vast array of finds, the hard work of the excavators, and the bang-up job that Chris Wakefield did on the social media for the site. From an outsider’s perspective it was a model excavation…though perhaps they could have used more time and money, but that’s generally true for excavations.

Anyway, during my visit all I could really think of was how miserable it would be to live in a damp house built OVER THE WATER in an incredibly damp country. I mean, LOOK at this:

Photo by Dysartian

Absolute horror show. Can you imagine the mold?

So I decided to take a quick poll to see how many Twitter people would live in one of these monstrosities. Apparently, a lot of them. I can understand not wanting to live in a pit house (the name has little to no appeal), but the cave house in Cappadocia was clearly the best option.

Photo of a cave house by Matilda Diamant

If that makes me a troglodyte, so be it.

Photo by Shelmac.

I mean, c’mon!!

Dig House Life: Now, With Added Baby

I really hoped she didn’t wake anyone. It was 3am, and Tamsin was up, again, howling. She’s a good baby, very smiley and chilled out, but at eight months she still wakes up. A lot. Sometimes every two hours. Consequently I have done things during the very depths of sleep deprivation that I did not believe possible…and now we are in the field.

Of all the things I thought about when I planned to bring her with us to Qatar on archaeological fieldwork, somehow I didn’t really think about the fact that she might be going through a rough patch and keeping people up at night. Our fellow dighouse dwellers have insisted that it is fine though, and have been exceedingly sweet about the whole thing.

Probably everything about our experience so far has been exceptional; we are lucky to be here with the Origins of Doha & Qatar Project, with Rob Carter, the project director who is not only one of the best people I’ve ever met, but who also loves babies. It’s a gift, really. I’ve inconvenienced just about everybody at York (staff, students, admin…sorry y’all) by going into the field, but they’ve all been incredibly supportive of me trying to make research work while having a baby (especially Claire & Nicky). And most of all, my husband who also works hard to make room for my research. It also helps that we have all the modcons here in Qatar. Living in the “field” in Doha is basically like living in Dallas. Except that the people are nicer. hah.

So, that laundry list of “lucky” is to say that we have a huge amount of support and we take none of it for granted. The opposite of this support is not, as you’d think, people telling us “no, not with a baby” (though there is some of that) but the silent omission, getting passed over for work. When a field season or a lecture comes up, a quiet conversation about how “she’s too busy right now.” Let us decide. I’ve turned down over a dozen opportunities in the past year, and each one ate at me a bit, but I decided. I don’t know how many opportunities were not offered, and I’ll never know. But thank you to the people who gave me the choice.

Anyway, it has been going well, but it has been flat out. Digital archaeological work often means (to my chagrin) not going out into the field, but being behind a keyboard, and that has also worked in our favor. Also our permit has been slow to come this year, so I’ve been managing archaeologists doing heritage work. It’s great but I get stretched pretty thin.

And there’s been awkward moments–there’s never really a great time to dry out a breast pump in the dig house dish rack. Having a baby in field archaeology is incredibly difficult, and impossible for many who can’t be away and might not be able to afford childcare, or who do not have a supportive employer, department, colleagues, husband. Not to mention the super secret cabal of archaeologist parents who offer help, coffee, find cots & pushchairs for you to use in the field (thank you, Paula!) and who know.

But there is support out there, and a cadre of archaeologist parents who are working hammer and tongs to make it better for the rest of us. So, though I’m still a bit shy of putting Tamsin up on social media, I wanted to follow up on my series of posts about Archaeologists-who-happen-to-be-mothers–role models and who handled it much better than I could ever hope for.

And now…I think I hear the baby, up from her nap. God I’m tired. But still here.

Dig House Living: Seasonality & Materiality

For the past couple of days I’ve been here in Qatar, setting up the dig house for the 2017 season of the Origins of Doha and Qatar project. My husband, Daniel Eddisford, is the excavation director (while I’m the digital archaeologist) and we’ve been doing all the chores required such as picking up the rental SUVs, cleaning up the dig house and buying odds and ends for the arriving team.

Our dig house is undeniably urbane as these things go–Dan & I wrote an article about the contemporary archaeology of dig houses that featured much less comfortable living quarters, including Flinders Petrie’s residence in a tomb in Egypt.

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Flinders Petrie in front of his tomb dwelling in Giza.

Dig houses, as we say in our article, are good to think with–they are structuring structures that give shape to our thinking about the past. They also dictate critical social relations amongst team members so we try to give a lot of thought and care about our setup. Our dig house consists of two adjacent flats in “Education City” a sector in Doha that houses all of the universities. There are young families who live in the other apartments and we have a bit of grass, some palm trees, and open space.

Yesterday Dan picked up several boxes of our kit that we’ve stored away for the year at UCL – Qatar. We have all sorts in there, spare lamps, kitchen knives, a christmas tree, a muffin tin, jigsaw puzzles and each team member has their own box of stuff that they’ve stored over the past year.

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It’s a tricky thing, storing stuff from year-to-year for excavation seasons. It’s a sign of confidence that 1) the project will continue without interruption and 2) you’ll be invited back. Even if you are very confident you’ll be back, it’s good to hedge your bets–we usually leave a random assortment of clothes that aren’t quite knackered…but close, along with various other odds and ends that aren’t worth transporting across the world, but we hate to throw away. Dan and I had stuff stashed on three different continents at one point.

So this stuff, these little caches of assorted, slightly-knackered and mostly worthless kit become a bit nostalgic when you open them the next year. I’d forgotten about the hoody that I’m currently wearing. I bought it over a decade ago and I probably really should throw away but am currently thankful that I’ve left it as it’s chilly this week in Doha!

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This is a silly laundry basket that I bought for a long season in 2011 and am always happy to be reunited with.

It’s also a point of pride, of anticipation of future work, to leave a box with your name on it. On the other hand, it can make people incredibly grumpy when they leave a box and then cannot retrieve the contents, even if they contain relatively worthless materials. When you do not plan on coming back, you often shed these same possessions, sometimes by burning or sometimes the project has a place to either donate or pass on clothing. Çatalhöyük had a giant box of miscellaneous ragged clothing that we’d rummage for costumes and such. Infamously, if you did not retrieve your washing from the clean washing pile you might find your beloved possessions in that same box.

It’s an interesting class of possessions, slightly worthless, slightly precious, always a surprise when you rediscover it but nostalgic at the same time.

Recent Ramblings on Digital Archaeology

A quick update, I’ll be at TAG Southampton, presenting a paper:

Title: The Queer and the Digital: Critical making, praxis and play in digital archaeology

Abstract:

Visual archaeological depictions have long reified heteronormative representations of the past. Feminist critiques have destabilized the representation of people in the past (Berman 1999; Gifford-Gonzalez 1993; Moser 1992) and queer theory in archaeology has pushed this even further, finding “silences” in heteronormative depictions of families and activities (Dowson 2007) and identity and status in the past (Blackmore 2011). Though experimental visualization is increasingly available through the growing accessibility of creation and publication through digital tools, current depictions of archaeological practice and the past have remained largely static. People are largely absent from digital reconstructions of the past, and when they are present they are an afterthought. This is similar to depictions of current archaeological practice. There is a corresponding absence of discussion of digital tools for emancipatory practice in feminist and queer archaeologies (but see Joyce and Tringham 2007 and Morgan and Eve 2012). In this paper I discuss the potential for an expressive, queer digital archaeology that incorporates critical making, praxis and play.

And I have a new(ish) publication about the transition from analog to digital photography in archaeology:

Title: Analog to Digital: Transitions in Theory and Practice in Archaeological Photography at Çatalhöyük

Abstract: Archaeology and photography has a long, co-constructed history that has increasingly come under scrutiny as archaeologists negotiate the visual turn. Yet these investigations do not make use of existing qualitative and quantitative strategies developed by visual studies to understand representation in archaeological photographs. This article queries the large photographic archive created by ongoing work at the archaeological site of Çatalhöyük in Turkey to consider the visual impact of changing photographic technologies and of a shifting theoretical focus in archaeology. While using content analysis and semiotic analysis to gain a better understanding of the visual record, these analyses also unexpectedly reveal power dynamics and other social factors present during archaeological investigation. Consequently, becoming conversant in visual analyses can contribute to developing more reflexive modes of representation in archaeology.

And I edited a volume of the SAA Archaeological Record about Video Gaming & Archaeology. Sadly some of the articles (including mine) were bumped to a future issue:

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Check them out and let me know what you think!

Becoming Jacquetta Hawkes

It was spring when I began to write and now September has put cool fingers and a few leaves into the air. While I have written, the sea has swallowed a gobbet of land in one place, released a few square yards in another; there have been losses and gains in the flow of consciousness. Again I see the present moment as a rose or a cup held up on the stem of all that is past. Or is it perhaps after all that spiral shell in which I once heard the call of the plover; into which I can look to see all things taking shape and where the bottom-most point is one with this last convolution? From A Land.

The real Jacquetta Hawkes

The real Jacquetta Hawkes

On the surface of it, Jacquetta Hawkes and I are as different as two female archaeologists could be; she’s the “cool and formal” daughter of a Nobel prize winner who had an idyllic, genteel childhood and received a first from Cambridge while I’m a tattooed American who was bounced from one mediocre public school to the next, dumpster-diving and attending community college before I got into archaeology at the University of Texas. So when I received the invitation to participate in Raising Horizons as Jacquetta Hawkes I was flattered but confused, with the first twinges of imposter syndrome that I’ve had in a while.

As an avid theorist and maker of archaeological media, I’d looked into Jacquetta’s role in creating a film on British prehistory, and found myself immersed in Christine Finn’s excellent biography. Jacquetta was legendary, one of the greats of our profession–check out this blog entirely about her achievements. She was able to move within scientific and artistic circles, leading a remarkable life full of love and adventure.

To celebrate 200 years in geoscience, Trowelblazers is dressing up current women in archaeology in vintage costumes, taking their portraits and exhibiting them to provide role models for girls who want to get into science. How could I resist? So I trundled down to London with my baby daughter in tow for a costume fitting at a professional costume supply company, Cosprop. They dressed me up in a tweedy skirt and wellies, stuck a scarf on my head, and there was Jacquetta. I have to admit, still a bit dumpy at four months post-partum, I felt more like I reflected my indifferent roots than the patrician Englishwoman I was meant to portray.

The second trip to London was for the actual photoshoot, and I brought along a copy of A Land that I had kicking around, but shamefully had never read.

Oh–ohhhhhh! Then I got it. While I never had the benefit of posh private (UK public) schools and genteel conversations over tea, I read voraciously, desperately. I was the kid who was always ashamed, saying words the wrong way because I learned them from reading. And writing too–I wrote, wrote, wrote, notebooks full of narratives, poetry, love letters, mostly garbage, really.

When I cracked open A Land on the train, I immediately recognized another prolific, catholic abuser of the English language. Jacquetta is delightfully turgid, catastrophically broad, jumping from Rodin to Mary Anning, to lumbering sea creatures through the appreciation of the Blue Lias geological formation. Yes, she had the good sense to write bestselling books while I witter away in a blog, but still! We both worship at the altars of Proust & DH Lawrence, love adventure, and tap out great gushing gouts of purple prose. Okay.

The Fake Jacquetta Hawkes

The Fake Jacquetta Hawkes

So look out for me and Nicky Milner and Shahina Farid and other fantastic women posing as our honored predecessors in the coming weeks. But also, please support the Raising Horizons campaign.

We want to ensure that women in the sciences not only receive recognition for the accomplishments of a previous generation but also to show girls that they too can grow up to pursue a life of discovery, adventure, and fascination with the past.

A Very Neolithic Halloween

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Mornings at the Çatalhöyük dig house were a chaos of tools and tea cups. Too many archaeologists were crammed into a small outpost in the middle of the dusty Anatolian plain and civility came later in the day, after breakfast. It is a very particular way of living that not everyone can cope with; in print I’ve compared it to Goffman’s Total Institution:

“a place of residence and work where a large number of like-situated individuals cut off from the wider society for an appreciable period of time together lead an enclosed, formally administered round of life”

The specialists would retreat to their respective labs–paleobot, osteo, zooarch, lithics, pottery, finds–but the excavators would climb up the tell to escape, pushing squeaky wheelbarrows full of tools. The real prize was to be the first to get away, as you got the best tools and a wide open vista of blue sky and long, golden-brown grass. For a moment you could imagine that you were alone on that big hill, fat with archaeology and promise. And quiet. A little wind flapping the tent, but otherwise, gorgeous, gorgeous quiet.

Of course the chaos of the dig house would eventually clamor up the hill after you, and the day would roll on, but you’d hardly notice by then as you were stuck in, troweling, drawing, taking photos, bagging samples and artifacts. We were digging in Building 49, a smallish mudbrick building that fit onto a sheet of permatrace–so under 5m square, almost bijoux, but full of paintings and people buried underneath the floor.

All archaeologists are atheists, but we are all atheists with ghost stories. Actually, that is not even remotely true, I’ve met my share of witches and christians in the trench, and we are a profession ripe with superstition. I take it as part of my professional ethics not to believe in ghosts or anything remotely supernatural but if you study humans, then you must acknowledge a sort of placebo-effect of religiosity–if you believe it is true, then it is true for you. This is a convoluted way of saying that if you deal with the remains of people for long enough, you will eventually come across things that creep you the fuck out. Sometimes it’s not even in the ground.

So on that sunny, slightly misty morning in July, I pushed my rusty wheelbarrow up to the side of the trench. There was a fine layer of dew covering the archaeology, plaster floors, low, muddy walls, and pits where we’d dug several of the eventual 15 bodies to come out from beneath the floors of the house. I was preoccupied with a series of scrappy paintings layered on top of each other, black lines, then squiggles, then hands, then red.

That morning, there in the dew, a line of footprints snaked across the floors and platforms that we’d carefully uncovered the day before.  I was digging with two other archaeologists that year and we all stood at the edge of the trench, staring down at the footprints. The feet that had made the prints were bare, medium sized, and it was obvious where they’d came out of the trench and left the tent. What wasn’t obvious is where they’d entered the trench.

You see, nobody was allowed on the tell outside of working hours. I’d worked on projects before where people had illicitly come in the night and messed around in the archaeology to hunt for whatever treasure they thought we were after. In this instance, nothing was out of place. Someone probably just had a sunrise amble across the tell. Barefoot. Yeah.

So after a little while we just got on with it, took out our tools and went to work. But we never figured out who took a stroll through the Neolithic that night and I remember wondering if we should have recorded the prints before I used a small brush to gently whisk them into oblivion.

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Happy Halloween!