Wednesday, June 29, 2005

On not wasting one's summer

Over at Ianqui's, I found a link to this blog, which led me to this article, titled "Don't Waste Your Summer". Given that I've had major motivational and productivity issues over the past few days, the article seemed particularly relevant. The author of the article, Mary McKinney (aka Academic Coach), points out that summertime is an academic's most precious resource, and that if you don't want to waste this resource you should go into summer with a plan and some firm goals. Most importantly, you should go public with your goals, to make yourself accountable to the goals you established and to prevent the "drifting" to which we're all prone.

I've done a lot of thinking about this article since I read it yesterday, and also thinking about the lessons I learned from The Now Habit, which I read earlier this year. I've realized that not only do I need to articulate my summer goals better, I also need to have a stricter "schedule" for myself so that I don't flit from project to project (since I have multiple projects in progress this summer). So part of this morning's task is to get my goals and my schedule in order, to hopefully ward off the lack of focus I've felt lately. And I'm going public on the blog with my goals (and maybe I'll even add some sort of progress-tracker on here, like Geeky Mom and Profgrrrl and others have done) for the summer.

The article lists three questions to ask yourself, so here goes:

(1) What is your number one priority for the summer?
Well, I wish I had read this article earlier, because I have way overcommitted myself this summer. So actually, I have three number one priorities for the summer (three big projects):

* WRITE CODE. I've written a piece of software that's central to my current work. Other people are interested in using my software. There are some revisions I'd like to make to it, some core features that I need to implement and test. This has been the albatross on my back for a long time---I just never have enough time to devote to finishing it up and releasing it. I just want to finish this once and for all!

* Co-author a book chapter (deadline: end of August).

* Revise and revamp one of the courses I'm teaching in the fall. This mainly involves restructuring the assignments to incorporate an entirely new focus for the class. (I'm getting paid to do this, so this is not just frivolous syllabus-tweaking!)

(2) How are you going to carve out time?
First, I will set up a schedule so that each project has some time devoted to it each week. For example, Monday mornings might be devoted to working on the course revision, Tuesdays and Thursdays might be "coding days", Wednesday mornings might be writing days. I need to figure this all out more carefully. What I will let go of to accomplish my goals: Perfection; giving any more talks this summer (I have one I'm committed to already, but no more); giving up a service commitment that's interesting but really not worth my time; putting off putting together my review dossier for now, since that's not due until later in the fall.

(3) How can you increase your motivation?
I really have to avoid burnout. That is my biggest sapper of motivation. To do this, I'm really going to try to limit my work to 30 hours a week. I'm planning on going up to school 3 days a week and either working at home 2 mornings or working at home one day and taking the other weekday off. By compartmentalizing my work more efficiently and sticking to a schedule of sorts, I think I can do this.

So, that's my summer plan. I'll keep you posted on my progress this summer, and evaluate everything at the end.


What Now? said...

I'm finding this such a great conversation, both on your blog and on One Bright Star (I'm too lazy to link). I've just read Mary McKinney's article, and I'm going to spend some time thinking about my own answers to these questions and "go public" myself later this week. Thanks.

academic coach said...

Thanks so much Jane, for using my article in this way. BTW, I had a related article published by Inside Higher Ed on Tuesday.

Best wishes with your goals. Keep me posted!