Advice for my former self

The Passage of TimeI’m quite good at time travel. It’s easy, as long as you only want to go forwards 😉

Now that I’m working on the final module of my MEd, I found myself wondering what advice I would offer myself if I could travel back to the start.

1. Nothing is more important than sleep and exercise

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve worked late to meet deadlines or to “get things done”. It took me a long time to realise that the later I worked, the more tired and less efficient I became.

2.Stand up (and stop procrastinating)

Discomfort from too much time spent sitting at my normal desk forced me to try a standing desk. It turns out to be a very comfortable way to work.

Oddly, since I’ve been standing up, I’m spending more time on task. I don’t know why, but it’s a good result.

3. Life happens, so make space for it

The last couple of years have been exceptionally eventful for me. Even if there are no big dramas, there will be setbacks during any extended period of study. It only took a simple viral infection at the start of my latest module to put me out of action for a week and leave me playing catch up.

My advice to my past self: Enrol for one module at a time. Don’t commit to eleventy-nine other things. Leave yourself some space.

I don’t think my past self is listening.

4. Little and often is the best way to study

Obvious really, but it still took me a long time to stop trying to allocate big blocks of time and start doing little bits of tasks throughout the week.

5. I like paper. And Instapaper.

I used to wonder why people moaned about PDFs. Then I started reading a lot of research papers and became one of those people. PDFs are a pain. I’ve tried working with them electronically, but in the end I’ve gone back to printing them out and working from paper.

Of course, some enlightened folk also publish their work on actual web pages. Thank you enlightened people! Instapaper does a fantastic job of adding these pages to my Kindle for later reading.

6. Get a bibliography manager

I don’t want to think about how many hours I’ve wasted looking up references, trying to find where I downloaded papers from, formatting bibliographies and so on.  I finally tried Zotero a few weeks ago.  Now I save papers complete with all the data I need, cite with a couple of clicks and auto-magically create a reference list. It’s fantastic – how did I ever manage without it?


In a sense I knew all of these things before I started studying. I’d read lists like this one on other people’s blogs. But sometimes being told isn’t enough. Sometimes you have to live it to learn it.


Also published on More Than a Maths Teacher.

Photo: The Passage of Time by Toni Verdú Carbó on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons Licence.

3 comments to Advice for my former self

  • I worked/lived in Copenhagen for a time and the offices I worked in were completely gone over to standing desks. they had a sort of electric motor system so that they could be adjusted from a sitting to a standing height and most of the time we worked standing up. It only seemed strange for the first day or so and there were alsosome of those z shaped chairs if you wanted something different to sit on.

  • Lois Lindemann

    Apologies Rashbre – only just spotted your comment! I think only strange for the first day is about right. I spend most of my day standing up at work, so it wasn’t a massive adjustment.

  • I doff my pointy hat to you – doing an OU MEd at the same time as working full time is an amazing achievement. Good luck with the last module.

    I didn’t know of Zotero, but have stored it away as I know it will come in useful to someone one day. I can’t imagine that I’ll ever want to torture myself again with formal academic study, but, who knows?

    Mr BW is great at small bits at a time. I, on the other hand, tend not to start anything unless I can work on it for as long as I feel like. Guess who gets most done? Not me.