I tend to want to please people. But, I also can be stubborn. I sat down at my computer, opened Excel, and made a schedule of every day in the upcoming quarter (all 77 days of the 10 weeks + finals). I filled in what I was going to do every day, including Spanish homework, Spanish tests, comps prep, manuscript writing, TA responsibilities, etc. Then I presented it to Marian. She said…. Okay. I took Spanish for the next 7 quarters. It helped me a bit with data collection, and a lot with riding the bus.
To some degree, I continue to use a similar strategy. It’s easy at the beginning of a semester to say, I’m going to finish this in-progress manuscript and complete a new one. But how do you translate that to 15 weeks of work? In January you see the big expanse of Spring semester in front of you. Time can feel infinite and expansive. And suddenly it’s April and you’ve done about ¼ of the work you wanted to get done for the semester, plus you’re grading papers and/or writing class papers of your own.
My current strategy is to think about my general goals for a semester, and then try to translate them to a week-by-week plan. It helps me check whether I’m being realistic about what I can accomplish that semester (2 manuscripts in 5 months can sound doable. Sometimes, when you start filling it into a weekly calendar, and you realize you have 2 classes, 3 conferences, comps scheduled, TAing… it may start to seem less realistic). The week-by-week plan also helps me stay on track. If I’m far behind the schedule I made, I know I either need to pick up the pace, or revise my expectations for that semester.
This July I made a weekly schedule for the full 6 months of my sabbatical. I confess I didn’t accomplish everything on it, but it did help me pace my work. I also personally find it useful not to have to think, week-by-week, what should I tackle now? I use the big picture focus and my relatively clear head at the start of the semester to come up with a plan. Then, each week, my schedule tells me what to work on, and I can focus on smaller decisions throughout the semester.
I did the same thing last week. Last Friday I received an R&R with a 2 week deadline; I also have a co-edited issue to finish up by mid-month, so no room for other writing there. I have another R&R to tackle after that. I have two other manuscripts in various stages of completion to tackle, though getting them both done may not be realistic. I’m giving a talk in February, and presenting twice at SRA in March, so both require planning and time away. There’s Spring break. And in planning, I thought about my teaching workload at various times in the semester (the week I’m grading final papers is not a great week to do huge chunks of writing).
For the rest of the semester, I will start each week by opening the Excel file to see what I will be working on. At the end of the week I will highlight the things I completed, and as the semester progresses, I enjoy seeing lots of yellow (the default highlight color in Excel; though maybe I should change to a color I find more pleasing).
There has to be some flexibility in this system. If I’m lucky, I’ll get an R&R on the third manuscript I submitted in the Fall. I’ll receive co-authored papers to review, and when they converge, that takes up chunks of time. Winter always brings big stretches of sick kids (and sometimes parents; last April I had a 9 day fever after being home with sick kids) at home. But I find it reassuring to have a plan in advance.
As with any productivity strategy, my strategy won’t work well for everyone. If you hate Excel, use Word (and really, how can you hate Excel? Excel makes everything better). If you don’t work well with structure, you would likely find this strategy constrictive. So, if you’re looking for different strategies to get your semester off to a good, productive start, here are 10 ideas from profhacker.
Nowhere on my big picture plan did I include “write blog posts.” I enjoy writing these posts, but I’m still trying to sort out how to balance writing them with… everything else. I’m hoping to continue posting about twice a week, but one of those posts might be a very short one, like tricks for SPSS, excel, PowerPoint, etc. I will start trying those soon, and would appreciate feedback on whether you find those useful. Also, if you have questions that require short answers, feel free to post them and I’ll try to answer them in future posts.
“The post How will you structure your semester? first appeared on Eva Lefkowitz’s blog on January 13, 2014.”