Monday, February 12, 2007

Sabbatical scorecard: What's working, what's not

So I've now been on sabbatical for about a month and a half, and I'm learning quite a bit about my work habits and motivations. I think the most interesting thing I've discovered is that my motivations are much (as in, night and day) different when I have large, unstructured blocks of time vs. during the semester/term, when there are so many more demands on my time and so much else on which to focus.

(Interesting side note: I had this topic in mind for today's post, and then saw this post over at Academic Coach's site. Great minds think alike, I guess! :) )

1. I found it very helpful last month to set and write down goals related to my research, but this month I haven't felt the need to do so. Maybe this is because I needed a kick-start to get my mind back into "research mode", and now that it's there I have somewhat of an intuitive sense of what projects I need to work on and the status of each project.

2. Having somewhat of a limited attention span is proving to be beneficial, because it means that I do tend to work a bit on all my various projects during a typical week, rather than just concentrating single-mindedly on one project.

3. While the "time goal" works very well for me during the semester/term, it does NOT work AT ALL for me right now. I experimented this week with "I will work for 1 hour a day on Big Project X". What I found is that I found this way of working too restrictive, and would often spend the hour working on the most miniscule, minor task related to X. Yes, this stuff needed to get done sometime, but I probably could have spent the time much better.

4. What is working extremely well is saying something like "By Tuesday, I will finish Task Y in Big Project X". I probably spend the same amount of total time on X that I would if I set the time limit, but I spend it doing more worthwhile things.

5. What also works extremely well, in terms of getting me started in the morning, is writing down my to-do list for the next day at the end of my work day. I make sure to list the most "important" task first, so that I start working on that first thing. And strangely enough, I always do.

6. I'm also getting together on a regular basis with others on sabbatical. OK, this is mainly a front for socializing, but it is nice to have the extra, external motivation (and we do set goals for ourselves each week and have some built-in incentives for meeting our goals).

It will be interesting to see how my work habits continue to evolve as the sabbatical progresses...


Anonymous said...

I am third year PhD student whose research has finally gained enough momentum where I have 2-3 projects that I can work on simultaneously. But since this never happened to me before I don't know how to handle it. I have always been so used to focusing solely on one project, it almost feels like I am being unfocused by working on three projects. Any suggestions how to get over that initial bump?

Jane said...

Great question, anon! What's worked for me in the past is setting up a weekly schedule. It's overwhelming to think about three projects at once, but if you tell yourself that you will only think about/work on Project A on Monday and Wednesday mornings, Project B on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, etc., then it becomes a bit more manageable. (This also forces you to keep good documentation about your projects, so that you can remember where you left off the next time you go to work on a particular project.) Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the tip. I will definitely try it out.