Having perused one of the more recent Chronicle articles on stress and productivity, I’ve been reflecting on August being fully underway. It’s the time of the balance sheet for those of us who kept saying, “Bah! This summer will be a wonderland of academic production!”
I have by no means achieved herculean levels of labor. Though, I am pleased to report (to myself) that I have made progress that falls under the category of “not too shabby,” rested and brought my work to a new level.
Essentially, this topic is à l’esprit for most of us during this time of the year since we’ve spent most of the teaching part of the year looking forward to our “great summer of working.” Sighing longingly through the stretching semesters, we dream of the uninterrupted (read: no students) months where we decide our wake-up time as we like, can read leisurely all day if we like, and fold ourselves in front of our favorite computer to tap diligently at the keys, pouring our most profound academic reflections onto the Great White Page.
Similarly, we tend to view the long-weekend and the short holiday breaks as sacred working time. Yet, I will confess, at least, that during these shorter ‘breaks,’ I’m so exhausted from an over-loaded teaching schedule that not a whole lot more than netflix, sleeping, and grading gets accomplished. I also make a pretty convincing argument to myself during these times to justify my avoidance of all things academic.
If we take a look at the ledger, how many of us get all this work done that we day-dreamed about in a grass-is-greener type way during the academic year? As I said, I know during the short breaks I rarely accomplish anything unstructured without a deadline looming.
This is where (and yes, it’s a cliché, but a damned good one ) Paul Silvia’s book about being a productive little academic worker very much revolutionized my perception of what it is I do (or am supposed to do). Essentially, it’s a self-help book for academics. But, if you haven’t read this book and are considering reading it, don’t expect a session of care and concern for your well-being.
Instead, Silvia lords his own work record over our heads (because, in the end, no matter what other lies we tell ourselves, we all know that academia is not very different from any other corporate structure these days. Money talks. Competition (healthy and unhealthy) thrives. Colleagues are annoying. But, we do get to set our hours, for the most part – it only took 3 degrees and mountains of money to get there). He lists all the common (voiced and unvoiced) objections that we cry in dismay, all the ‘plans’ we come up with for ourselves and deftly finds the flaws in the logic as we’d do with our own students. It’s almost like he’s reading our thoughts (tricksy psychologist that he is).
In the end, you can reduce his lesson to the following: stop whining, stop procrastinating and schedule your ‘real’ work like you schedule your classes. Adhere to one as you would the other. He says,
“As an academic…you’re a professional writer, just as you’re a professional teacher. Treat your scheduled writing time like your scheduled teaching time. Say no to well-intentioned intruders, and explain why you can’t (not won’t, but can’t) break your committed writing time. If you feel bad about saying no, then lie. If you feel bad about lying, then use the obscurantism you learned in grad school: Claim a “recurring intractable obligation.”
His sermon on the Sacred Writing Time is not without its humor and levity but the weight of his point resounds: schedule your work, get it done and stop making excuses: we all know the excuses. I heartily recommend this for all graduate students — and anyone else who has large projects waiting to be completed.
Of interest, I found that this program, Omm writer, allowed me to increase my amount of words that end up on the page (even just for reflecting on ideas and readings Note: it’s very much an aesthetic program and all sound effects can be muted) as one of his secrets is to not engage the rest of the world when you’re working. Equally, Scrivener has revolutionized my approach to writing and is advised for large project management (such as the dreaded D-word or books).
The tools are there. I can attest to the efficaciousness; my productivity is up with the trifecta of the book and these two cheap (at least on a Mac) programs.
A renewed outlook (and wrist-slapping by Silvia) didn’t hurt either.
Edit: I forgot to include a great resource from a fellow academic writing savvy blogger: Dailychicana’s resource page is great.