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What to Do while Not Feeling your A-Game

  1. Feb 9, 2010 #1
    Hi all, I wanted to know what a physicist should do when they simply don't feel their A-game. I need to solve the Schrodinger equation in reduced-mass coordinates for a finite spherical well in order to model a deuteron in preparation for a talk on Friday, and I simply can't think straight. My back hurts, I'm sleepy, and...gah. I mean, I'm ready to suck it up and truck on, but that just affects my creativity. Not sure what to do. There is a solution all worked out somewhere, but I don't want to look at it until I've come up with a solution of my own.

    Suggestions? I think I know what the answer is already, but I need to hear it from outside of me. :-p
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 9, 2010 #2
    Sleep? (Exercise some way then sleep?) Eat? (Talk it over with friend over lunch?) You say it doesn't have to be ready til Friday... give your brain other things it needs for a little while.
  4. Feb 9, 2010 #3


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    If you are physically exhausted you need to get some rest. As physics girl phd has suggested, get some exercise, rest, take a break from the problem, and then come back to it when you've got a fully functioning body and mind.
  5. Feb 9, 2010 #4
    Right-o, amigos, I'll certainly get some rest. I've got a walk to a restaurant planned for this weekend, a nice jog on Saturday, a chat with a good friend, and some old school Banjo-Kazooie, and maybe watch Batman when that comes in the mail.

    But: what do I do when I have no other choice but to keep working, since deadlines are immediate? Let's suppose I had no other choice but to work. Of course: the answer to that question is "work", but how to work effectively? Or: a helpful thought to keep in mind to help me think better when I need to? Like now? :-p
  6. Feb 9, 2010 #5
    Efficient working is achieved in different ways for every individual, I guess. I like to break problems down: work out how much time I have then write down any mini-goals that are possible. They can then be crossed-off as they are achieved and every half hour or so (unless I'm on fire with my work) I will take a short 5 minute break - this also helps me to digest/summarize anything I have done.

    If i'm not working efficiently, no matter when the deadline is, I take a break. Being able to focus is extremely important: you'll probably spend less than half the time on a problem when you're able to think about it properly.

    When I'm in positions such as yours, one thing I like to do is go for a walk and run through everything in my head: bring a notepad so you can note down anything you want to check out later. I did the same thing when I had to revise for exams.
  7. Feb 9, 2010 #6
    Yet another post...
  8. Feb 9, 2010 #7
    Large amounts of caffeinated beverages.

    You can't, so don't even try. If you have a deadline that you can't move, your goal should be to hit the deadline, and you must accept the fact that the quality of the work will suffer and so will your effectiveness.

    Do what you have to do to get the problem set done and submitted. Get a good night's sleep, and then when your mind is in better shape, review the work when you are in a better situation.

    Accept that you are human and you have limits. This is important because you don't want to get into a "burnout spiral" in which you don't like the quality of work, you feel miserable, which makes the quality of work worse, which makes you feel more miserable, etc. etc. etc.

    The other trap you want to avoid is if you turn in the assignment, but you are so annoyed at it, that you never look at it again.

    Finally, one thing that you need to learn how to do is to "degrade gracefully". I've known people that ignore what their body is telling them which works until they get more and more things piled on, until they collapse.
  9. Feb 9, 2010 #8


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    A miligram of prevention is worth a kilogram of cure.

    I can relate to the spot you're in. The best advice I can give is, don't let yourself get there in the first place. Yes I'm sorry, that won't help you now at all.

    Your back is sore...maybe you can prevent this with lots of regular exercise, especially if you increase your core strength. No one is at their best when they're sleepy, but chronic sleep depravation shuts off your creativity pretty effectively.

    I can soooo relate to your problem, in my 20s I had to take NSAIDs frequently on days when I was forced to sit too long. And no, I wasn't exercising or sleeping enough at the time.

    Oh and twofish-quant is right about the caffeine.
  10. Feb 9, 2010 #9
    Also you do need to be careful not to go into a downward spiral "I don't have time for exercise/sleep" -> "I feel awful" -> "I'm less efficient" -> "I don't have time for exercise/sleep."

    If you start getting into really bad shape, you should start looking at how many points the homework really is, since it may be worth blowing off a homework assignment if you are in a downward spiral so that you are in better shape for the finals.
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