Off the Wagon (and using conference presentations to work on chapters)

Yes, I’ve been slacking. At least, I’ve been slacking about keeping up with my blog, and keeping up with my schedule. I did actually take time off last week for Spring Break (I needed it!), but I’ve also most definitely not been as consistent as I had been. And it all goes back to when I decided to “try” to not create a weekly schedule but rather try to create weekly goals. The result? Sort of, kind of ,meeting my goals (I did get an article submitted, and made some progress on transcription, which is still kicking my behind), but feeling otherwise out of control. And it made me totally ignore my blog, which makes me feel that I am not being accountable to myself.

So, I’m back to scheduling. And the truth is that even when I don’t stick to it completely, it’s been a boost to my morale and to my productivity. And yes, I don’t really feel great about the monthly goals I set out, but recently my good friend and mentor sent me a message where she remarked that things always seem to take three times as long to get written –and it’s true! Hopefully this doesn’t mean that the book is going to take me 36 months rather than 12, but I have to admit that before I started tracking I really didn’t realize just how long it took me to get things done.

Meantime, I’m working on a conference paper, but I’m doing something I actually am not accustomed to doing, and which I am very excited about. In the past, I’ve always written conference papers specifically for individual conferences: I answer a prompt, write an abstract, and then turn the abstract into a a 7-10 page paper. Of course, I always pick panels that have something to do with my research, but things usually end at the conference. This time, though, the paper I’m writing, and the paper I wrote for my professional conference in fall, are very relevant to the book –in fact, the subject I’m writing about (the process of transformation undergone by psychiatric patients in a public acute ward) is the backbone of an important chapter. So I’m taking the opportunity to write a real paper, building on my previous one, significantly expanding it, and reworking the thesis. The moderators will likely get a fairly lengthy manuscript (which I will then have to cut down to seven pages), and I am excited to get constructive comments back, because the writing will eventually (soon, hopefully?) become a chapter. It’s a bit weird for me, working this way, but I realize that this is how the process is actually supposed to work.

I’m also thinking that this manuscript will be submitted as an article before I complete the book. It will help to get comments back, and also help me keep my publications steady as I navigate the tenure process.

So this week, I scheduled, and I’m blogging. Here’s to doing this again next week!

On a lighter note, this is what happens to me when I try to work at home on the weekends….

phd060112s

Scheduling vs. Reality

This week has been moderately successful. I can honestly say that I achieved the following:

 

Manuscript

Article

  • I chose a chapter to work on.
  • I started drafting the chapter.
  • I coded.
 

  • I wrote a statement of argument
  • I coded
  • I reverse outlined the chapter that is forming the basis of the article.
  • I wrote a new outline for the article.

 

I did not achieve the following:

 

Manuscript

Article

  • Write a chapter outline.
  •  Complete the new analytical framework.

 

I also did not stick with my schedule as well as I would have liked. My first challenge was simply getting started as early as I wanted to: It was hard for me to get myself and my child ready and out the door as early as I would have liked, which meant that my day started later than I wanted it to. Days where I intended to code I found myself drafting, hours where I had scheduled myself to draft got swallowed up by my online class. As I prepare my schedule for next week, I definitely need to schedule more time for my online teaching responsibilities.

 

I would like to make use of a cool resource as well. Phinished.org is an online forum for people who are struggling to finish their dissertations or other writing projects. Among their many offerings, they have chat rooms where people can meet and check in with each other every specified period of time. So when I log into the “50” group, we check in with each other on the :50, chat for ten minutes about what we’ve accomplished, and then get back to work. I only used the tool one day this week, but when I did I found it to be tremendously useful. I am going to make it a goal to use the tool more next week.

 

I also am trying to figure out a way to finish the article I’m working on without sacrificing valuable time that I should be devoting to the manuscript. I have an annual evaluation coming up, and listing the article as “submitted” would be a positive mark on my CV, so I am especially incentivized to work on it right now. Perhaps in next week’s schedule, I will give myself more time to devote to the article.

Next week, my goals will be:

 

Manuscript

Article

  • Write a chapter outline.
  • Continue drafting chapter.
  • Code
  • Research
 

  • Begin writing analytical framework.
  • Continue drafting.
  • First completion deadline:1/18 (submit preliminary draft to colleague for review).

 

Making Time for Writing (and research, and teaching, and service, and…)

Relevant Belcher chapter: Week 1: Designing your Plan for Writing

Belcher’s book is full of practical advice on getting writing ready for publication. The simplest and most important is the one I find the most difficult to do: write daily. Last semester, I taught two days a week, and on those two days, it seemed that my entire day was consumed with teaching-related activities. I had grant-writing and committee work to do. I also made the mistake of agreeing to write an encyclopedia entry (won’t do it again ‘till after tenure!!!!), which turned out to be much, much more time consuming than I ever imagined. I had to find a way to balance out all of these responsibilities with a schedule I could stick to.

At the end of the day, the schedule that finally helped me continue to make progress on my own writing looked something like this:

Monday Teaching and teaching-related responsibilities

15 minutes of writing (using a timer)

Tuesday: Grant-writing, encyclopedia-writing, and committee-related work

15 minutes of writing (using a timer)

Wednesday Teaching and teaching related responsibilities

15 minutes of writing (using a timer)

Thursday: Writing
Friday Writing (including attending a writing group on campus with other faculty)

At the end of the semester, I had a finished draft of an article ready for submission, a draft of an introduction to a special issue I am co-editing, and a conference paper; I also made major revisions to another article, which was accepted, and minor revisions to another, which is now out. I also wrote and submitted that accursed encyclopedia entry, submitted an internal grant proposal, and wrote a preliminary draft of an external grant proposal. However, I arrived at this schedule following a series of fits and starts. Before I begin creating a schedule for next year that will allow me to write this book and balance my other responsibilities, I want to consider what worked, and what I could improve.

So what worked?

The first thing that made a noticeable impact on my Thursday and Friday productivity were those 15 minutes writing sessions I forced myself to do from M-W. I wish I had discovered them in September, because the difference, even in the first week, was dramatic. Writing for 15 minutes a day on days that I did not devote to writing kept the writing “fresh” (using Belcher’s terminology). Because the exercise was “low-stakes” I didn’t feel pressured or disappointed if I didn’t make significant progress on my writing –as long as I wrote for 15 minutes, my goal was met, and it didn’t really matter if what I wrote was any good or not, so long as I kept writing (and, by the way, some of my best ideas came out of those 15 minute sessions!). All I did was stop at some point in my day, set a 15 minute alarm on my iPad, open up my current writing project, enter “focus view” in Word (AMAZING!), mute my computer, and write on whatever came to mind. When the timer went off, I stopped (usually), un-muted my computer, exited focus view, and went back to whatever task I was working on. Easy and incredibly helpful when Thursday and Friday rolled around.

The second thing that worked well for me was making Tuesday my “giving back to Caesar” day. This meant that I maintained firm boundaries between my “other” work stuff, things like committee work and grant-writing, and my “real” work, my own personal writing. Because I knew that I only had one day a week to devote to this stuff, this made Tuesdays very productive. Because the grant I’ve been working on is being written with a collaborator, I would check in with him via email and continue about my day. I spent significant amounts of time trying to find an appropriate grant to submit to. Some things about grants (like research questions and methodology) are the same no matter where we submit, so those things I was able to work on. I also spent quite a bit of time contacting program directors and pitching the grant, a useful exercise that will hopefully keep me from wasting my time submitting grants I have zero chances of winning. I also worked from home on Tuesdays, and for some reason found that working on Caesar stuff just flowed better there (I always have one day a week I work from home, this semester it happened to be Tuesdays).

The faculty writing club, which meets for two hours every Friday, has been great for my productivity. It changes things up, getting me out of my office and sitting around a table with other faculty who are also working on writing projects of their own. We chat about what we’re working on and then spend the rest of the time writing next to each other. Weird, I know, but effective for me. The people in my group come from several different fields and schools –one is a chemist, another a sociologist, another works in the school of public health and public policy, yet another is a colleague in my department writing on biological anthropology. We don’t read each other’s stuff, and our research interests are dramatically different from one another, but we share a similar journey and similar struggles in the pressure to publish or perish, in teaching, in fulfilling our academic and professional responsibilities. It always helps to know the road we walk is not nearly as lonely as it first appears to be.

The final thing you might notice about my writing schedule is that Saturdays and Sundays aren’t listed. That’s right. I don’t work on weekends. It might sound insane, but here’s why: I have a young child at home (3), and a spouse whose company I enjoy. If I let work take over my weekend, I lose valuable time with them. So, I made the decision early on to keep work at work: I belong to my university from Monday to Friday, but to my family (and myself!) on Saturday and Sunday. I usually try to resist even checking email, though I do occasionally check in.

What could be improved?

First, I wish I had had this schedule from the get-go. I spent a lot of time doing things that weren’t working: I didn’t do any personal writing on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, which made it difficult to get going Thursdays and Fridays, and I struggled for a good number of months before I figured it out.

Second, I still had some trouble with adequately scheduling my time on Thursdays and Fridays. Belcher rightly mentions that rates of return go down after spending more than 4 or 5 hours writing, and definitely found that the more time I spent “writing” the less productive I seemed. In my next schedule, I want to better schedule my time so that I can get the most “bang” for my “buck.” Moreover, I will have to schedule time for transcribing and coding, which is mindless, time-consuming work.

Finally, keeping my weekends is important to me, but I am concerned that writing a book is not the same as writing an article, and that my current pace might keep me from writing as many chapters as I should to complete the manuscript. I need to figure out what is realistic, and how to set my pace.