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For the last year, I have been working on my thesis in the area of mathematical physics. It's been a long project with many challenges and hurdles and progress has been slow. At the same time, I have managed to be in a stable long term romantic relationship with whom I cohabit, and spend a significant chunk of my time. In the light of that, I have kept my work time and personal time separate. I try, as much, not to think about work off work hours, and I am decently successful at it.

Now, the issue I have is with my mood. When I have a great day at work, and problems get solved- I am ecstatic and fun to be with. But on days when things don't work, I am not a great person to hang around. I am silent, and worry too much. Almost always, the problem solves itself in the next few days, or even sometimes after a good sleep. I know this; I know that I will manage, yet I somehow can't make myself feel good on days like these, and in research- I have a lot of such days. I wonder if anyone else has experienced the same, and if so, how do you deal with it? I feel like this is in general very important for my well-being if I remain in research.

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    See this related question. – Dan Romik Apr 25 '19 at 19:07
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    What is your exact question? – Alone Programmer Apr 25 '19 at 19:20
  • The question is explicitly written: I wonder if anyone else has experienced the same, and if so, how do you deal with it? – Sandesh Jr Apr 28 '19 at 11:26
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Probably a pep talk isn't going to be a big change in your life, but it sounds like you have good work life balance only when work is going good. Maybe your balance isn't related to time considerations.

But maybe you just need a more realistic set of expectations about research. If it is real research then it can't really be scheduled - results can't anyway, only effort. Some problems are hard. Some will require years of work for resolution. Some will require armies of researcher working for years to obtain key results. In mathematics some questions have stayed open for hundreds of years. In physics, it is decades, at least. There is no real reason to be overly frustrated by the difficulty of intellectual work. If it were easy and could be done on schedule people would hire unemployed coal miners to do it.

So....

Well, you have already had the insight that some things just come to you when you aren't trying. Too many people don't understand that and think that longer days and shorter nights makes them more productive, not just more tired.

So, find a way to put down the responsibility for work when you call it a day. Close your notebook and say - enough. Life is good.

That is my mantra, actually. Whenever I'm feeling a bit "off" I just say it: Life is Good. Deep sigh. Relax. The work will still be there when I return.

Is this just a psychological trick? Yes, of course it is. But you can also make it a hook to take control of your own psychological state. You don't have to be driven by those moods.


However, if you also have the experience that you have stray insights when not working, then you may need another trick. Especially if you sometimes lose those thoughts since you aren't focusing on them. I developed the habit of always carrying a few index cards and a pen, no matter where I was. Some of the cards had a few notes on things I needed to review and some were blank. If I found myself with a few moments, I could review my notes. If I had an interesting thought, I could write down a few words so as not to forget. I discuss the Hipster PDA in some detail in the linked post on another site.

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  • Really like the index cards idea. – Sandesh Jr Apr 26 '19 at 7:03

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