I’m Kim Gratz, Professor of Psychology, and This is How I Work

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I am Professor and Chair of the Department of Psychology at the University of Toledo. I also co-direct the Personality and Emotion Research and Treatment (PERT) Laboratory. My laboratory and treatment outcome research focuses on the role of emotion dysregulation in the pathogenesis and treatment of borderline personality disorder (BPD), self-injury, and other risky behaviors (including suicidal behaviors, substance use, and risky sexual behaviors). In particular, my research focuses on understanding the nature and consequences of emotion dysregulation in these conditions (through the use of novel behavioral/experimental paradigms), and applying this understanding to the development of more effective treatments. My work in this area has clarified the role of emotion regulation difficulties and other emotion-related mechanisms in BPD and related risky behaviors, particularly self-injury, suicide, and substance use, and resulted in the development of an efficacious treatment for self-injury among women with BPD (i.e., emotion regulation group therapy; ERGT). More recently, I have become interested in treatment dissemination and the intergenerational transmission of BPD-related personality traits and emotion regulation difficulties from mothers to their infants.

 

Location: University of Toledo, Toledo, Ohio

Current Gig: Professor and Chair, Department of Psychology

One word/phrase that describes your work style: Focused and detail-oriented

Current computer/mobile device: Dell desktop computer; iPhone SE

What apps/tools/software can you not live without?  

The list is not very long, as I am by no means technologically savvy. All I really need to be productive is Microsoft 2003 (yes, this is not a typo), SPSS, and AOL desktop (also not a typo). I am most productive when I have access to the tried and true programs with which I am most familiar. As for phone apps, the only ones I use regularly (and that I would feel a bit lost without) are Fitbit, Facebook, The Weather Channel, Pandora, and ESPN Fantasy Football – all of which are more about self-care than productivity.

What’s your best time-saving shortcut or life hack?  

With regard to work in general, I find it helpful to plan my week so that each day has one primary focus. This doesn’t mean that I only focus on one task per day; sometimes the focus may be on accomplishing the week’s administrative tasks, editing a number of different manuscripts I’ve received from colleagues or trainees, or completing a number of small tasks on my to-do list. As long as I mindfully choose to multi-task or dedicate time to completing a number of outstanding tasks, I consider this a singular focus. The upside is that reserving time for these types of tasks on certain days allows me to reserve full days (or at least large blocks of time) for writing. That said, the key to this approach is flexibility; therefore, I have no problem changing the plan for any given day given new demands or deadlines that pop up or simply because I believe I will be more productive focusing on something else – I just make sure to move the planned tasks for that day to a different day that week (rather than to abandon them completely).

With regard to writing in particular, I am most efficient and productive when I set aside large blocks of time for writing, preferably a day to a day and a half at minimum. This allows me to make steady progress and get into the flow of writing. I also make sure not to censor myself as I write, instead putting any and all possible phrases, sentences, and paragraphs on paper as the ideas flow. I have described my writing style and early drafts of papers as “choose your own adventure,” as my manuscripts generally contain numerous possible wording and structure options. This “stream of consciousness” approach to writing allows me to write far more quickly and efficiently than if I focused on writing a clean and polished draft, as there is no need for me to slow down or pause to figure out the precise wording I prefer. Instead, I get a number of options down on paper and then can make choices later on. I have also found that this approach to writing makes writer’s block almost nonexistent.

What’s your workspace set up like?

I have very specific requirements for my workspace if I am going to be most productive. First, I need to be able to see out a window from my desk – preferably with views of trees (which I currently have from both my home and work office windows). Second, I use only my favorite desk chairs that allow me to cross my legs when I am writing and that provide good back support. Finally, my desk is relatively uncluttered. I have only my computer and keyboard (centered on the desk), electronic coffee mug warmer, weekly planner and any current folders or paper documents I am using, desk lamp, and a couple of small paintings/drawings of scenes from my favorite escape – Martha’s Vineyard.

How do you keep track of things you need to do (any to-do-list apps)?

I prefer old-school paper weekly planners for tracking meetings, appointments, and deadlines, and find it incredibly satisfying to literally cross items off my to-do list. I also use my email inbox as my ongoing to-do list, as I only archive messages once they have been addressed. This also helps ensure that I respond to emails in a timely fashion, as I generally try to respond to all emails within a day or two of receiving them and to have fewer than 15 new messages at a time on my primary email account.

Besides your phone or computer, what gadget can’t you live without, and why?

 I am not big on gadgets. The only one I use other than my computer and phone is my Fitbit, which I have found to be very motivating. Other than that, I prefer to spend my money on shoes and wine.

What everyday thing can you do better than most people? What’s your secret?

I have an excellent memory for deadlines, appointments, meetings, and most interactions; it is rare for me to not know my schedule offhand or to not remember details discussed in meetings. I am also a prolific and efficient writer (likely due to being raised by an English professor).

What do you listen to while you work?

Nothing at all; I am definitely someone who needs silence to work and am very sensitive to noises.

How do you recharge?

Once a year, I take a 2-3 week vacation on Martha’s Vineyard where I unplug completely – no emails, calls, or work of any kind. On a more regular basis, I find it comforting and grounding to travel to large cities with exceptional restaurants; good food and wine, combined with exploring new or beloved favorite cities, is a key source of comfort. On a daily basis, I unwind with walks through my neighborhood, bad TV, cuddling with my cat, excellent red wine, and gourmet meals prepared by my exceptionally talented husband.

How do you balance your work life and your home/family life?

Simplest answer is not well at all historically. However, this is something that I am beginning to attend to and work toward. One strategy that has seemed to help is to refrain from checking email from my phone after I finish work for the day (whatever time that may be). That said, I also approach this as more of a guideline than a rule and try to apply it flexibly; therefore, if I am more distracted by the thought of what emails I could be receiving, I allow myself to check but then try to put aside my phone. I have also found that scheduling evening or weekend trips to larger nearby cities or making social plans on evenings or weekends is an excellent strategy to ensure greater balance.

What’s your sleep routine like?

Practically nonexistent and incredibly dysfunctional. I don’t sleep very well and tend to get only a few hours of sleep a night (if I am lucky). I am and always have been a night owl and generally cannot fall asleep until at least 2am and often later. In the past couple of years, I also find it difficult to sleep in, although tend to be able to do so on extended vacations. The only silver lining is that I function quite well without sleep, so generally it does not interfere with my productivity.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Be open to any and all collaborations, but don’t be the first person to devote time and effort to new collaborations; if you are approached by someone who wants to collaborate, wait to devote real effort to the project until that individual follows up and/or delivers on her/his part. This approach has simultaneously facilitated the development of numerous productive research collaborations and protected me from devoting valuable time to projects that were one-sided or not likely to come to fruition.

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Kim Gratz

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One comment

  1. […] I watch, it would be hard to live without it (60” Panasonic, UHD/4K, Smart TV).  Instead, like someone else recently suggested in this blog, I tend to spend most of my spare money on other things, like single malt scotch (Macallan, […]

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