Tag Archives: Academia

The Point is the Doing

check list
Source: David Castillo Dominici, FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Between getting to the bottom of my son’s health issues, the holidays, and the fun of setting up my new planner, I haven’t actually been that productive in the last month. That’s not to say I didn’t accomplish important things — and they were truly important, because they were about family — but I’ve barely touched my dissertation proposal.

It’s time.

I began this morning by waking a bit early to journal why I’ve been reluctant to get in there and DO the work. It was an amazingly helpful exercise, because it shifted my perspective from feeling pressured to feeling privileged to have the ability to do what I do…and, even better, I feel a sense of purpose. I’m trying to support teachers who want to provide all students with equitable access to a quality education. As I wrote near the end of my journal entry:

This is a gift…my work is not a task to avoid because someone will judge me a failure if it’s not perfect. My dissertation allows me to explore big issues, and I believe my work will be of service to educators, and more importantly, children. The process itself is beautiful: Each day I work toward my dissertation, I am able to study what I want, how I want. What an amazing privilege! At the end of the day, I’ll know I am one step closer to putting my research in the hands of people who believe in providing better teaching and educational outcomes for children who deserve our best.

Guilt and shame don’t actually encourage me to do the work. While lists are helpful in breaking down a daunting task into manageable pieces, they are only effective if I do what’s on them. It helps to remember why I chose this path, and when I remember my purpose, I can draw upon renewed energy.

Now that I’ve reminded myself about my values and how lucky I am, I decided to post a few strategies to make my daily work life run smoothly. It’s right there in my Filofax:

  1. Write from 6-7am.
  2. No Internet until 9:30am.
  3. Use Facebook on Saturday only.
  4. Check e-mail three times per day: 9:30am, 2pm, and 5pm.
  5. No screens of any kind from 6-8pm.
  6. Run errands after the work day ends, not when the kids are in school. 
  7. Get 8 hours of sleep.

The writing time is because I want to start the day knowing I’ve accomplished something before distractions hit. My husband manages the early morning tasks with the kids, but once I leave my bedroom, the world intrudes on my mind. If I start working, I’ve won half the battle. The notes about the Internet, Facebook, and e-mail are tailored toward preserving my focus. Once I open my e-mail or read the news online, I tend to get derailed. If something is so urgent that it can’t wait until 9:30, 2, or 5, that person would likely call me.

I need to remember that because I work from home, I need to establish clear boundaries for my work and family life. I used to work outside of the home. I couldn’t run to the market during the middle of the day. I need to work while I have quiet time to focus. That’s when my kids are in school. I can always run an errand in the early evening with my children or on the weekend. Because I am home a lot, work can creep into my family time if I’m not mindful. No screens from 6-8pm. That’s time I reserve for my family, and they deserve my full attention. Period.

Finally, when I’m tired, I have a hard time focusing. Get sleep. How else will I write at 6am?

If the point of planning is doing, I need strategies that set me up for success. These personal guidelines have the potential to get me back on track with work. I am so glad I took time to think them through.

Updated (6 Jan 2013): Oh, these personal “rules” are the bombdiggity! I love getting something (an hour of writing) accomplished first thing, because the “small win” makes me want to keep on track. acebook is easy, because I’ve weaned myself off it since October. The rule about no screens from 6-8pm translates into more reading with/near my children. Honestly, the hardest thing is not compulsively checking my e-mail every time I pick up my cell phone or open my browser. I think one of the reasons I have been more productive so far, however, is because I’m not getting sidetracked by e-mail. Onward! [Actually, I need to get to bed. The 8 hours of sleep thing is a wee bit tough, too. G’night!

Launching a New Week, Part Two

My last post discussed how I use a “Weekly Launch” routine to prepare for a new week. Most of what I wrote yesterday wasn’t specific to my Filofax. Today, I will share how I sit down to set up my planner for the week.

I have three paper calendars or agendas, in addition to the dry erase weekly calendar I shared yesterday. Each serves a distinct purpose.

  1. Stapled monthly calendar – This calendar holds every event I need to track for our family. It’s thin, so I can carry it with me easily. Since this is the family calendar, the large size of each calendar square works perfectly for me. I use color to distinguish who does what…
  2. My A5 “Week on 2 Pages” layout – The WO2P tracks my personal schedule for each day. It gives me a chronological plan, and I omit activities that don’t impact what I’m doing or where I need to be. For example, if my husband is taking my daughter to swimming, I don’t include it in my personal schedule; it goes on the family calendar, though. I also include time-specific tasks. In between the two-page spread, I use a piece of lined paper for tasks that can be done at any time during the week. For 2014, I’m trying the layout with boxes, rather than the vertical lined days. Fingers crossed!
  3. My A5 “Month on 2 Pages” layout – I use the MO2P calendar to track my writing tasks for each day. I’m basically my own boss when it comes to working on my dissertation proposal, which is good, but I tend to run into trouble staying on track if I haven’t identified a purpose for my writing sessions. On Sunday, I set different goals for each day of the week to ensure I keep forward momentum. I wrote about this in detail in an earlier post.
  4. The weekly dry erase calendar – This calendar is not really for planning. It’s a communication tool. My husband, kids, and sitter refer to it to see what the day looks like for everyone. While my Filofax and calendar are personal, this is for the family. Plus, when I fill it out with my husband, we note scheduling conflicts and resolve them on Sunday by adjusting plans as needed. There are no unfortunate surprises like me having a late meeting and my husband being at the dentist when one of us needs to take our son to soccer, only to realize it the day of…

On Sunday, I manually “sync” them before I coordinate schedules with my husband or meal plan. It’s important to have a sense of the week before meal planning, because some days are more hectic than others. I plan the easiest meals for those days. Also, if we’ll be out for the evening, I know I don’t need to have food prepared that night.

I begin by making a cup of Jasmine Silver Needle white tea and laying out everything I need. This week, I have to mail a birthday card , so I pulled out my greeting card organizer and stamps as well.

Getting settled

My monthly calendar, A5 Malden, card organizer with stamps and Washi tape, laptop, paper supplies, and tea

Once I’ve hunkered down, I refer to my monthly calendar so I can complete my WO2P personal schedule for the week. I pull out events that need to be done each morning and afternoon/evening. Then I generate a list of tasks for the week that can be done at anytime. I also check my e-mail for any follow-up tasks that I should put on my calendar or task list.

Each night, I review my schedule before bed, making any changes as needed…including tasks that pop into my head. That’s my final “brain dump” (or in GTD terms: “mind sweep”) for the day. Establishing this routine helped eliminate my insomnia, because I no longer have a mental list scrolling through my head once I turn the lights out. I can rest easy because I’ve written down what needs to be done, and I can let it go until tomorrow. I put my Malden on my nightstand and refer to it every morning before I’m even out of bed.

I should mention that this week is pretty light for me since the children and my university are still on break. My son, however, has several projects that are due when he returns next Monday, so I added a Post-It to remind myself to nag him a bit 🙂 In the “this week” section, I’ve also added a few personal goals I’d like to keep front and center.

Once I finish with my daily schedule, I move to planning my academic writing on my MO2P. I don’t have a sitter this week, so it won’t be as productive as when my children are in school.

Jan1 writing

My writing schedule…I only plan one week ahead for this calendar. This allows me to be flexible.

Once I’m done scheduling my week, I’m ready to plan meals and coordinate schedules on the weekly white board I described in Pt. 1). If I am very concerned about remembering an appointment, I may add a reminder into my phone.

All told, this process takes me about an hour. I consider it an investment in the week ahead. It’s not just an exercise on paper; I’m mentally rehearsing for the week ahead. The Sunday routine allows me to strategize how to make the most of my time, and I no longer forget appointments or tasks.

What about you? Do you have a Weekly Review or Routine?

Using My Filofax to Create My Academic Writing Schedule

I keep my writing schedule on a separate "Month on Two Pages" calendar. The only things on the calendar are my writing goals and any significant events that might mean I won't have time to write that day.

I keep my writing schedule on a separate “Month on Two Pages” calendar. The only things on the calendar are my writing goals and any significant events that might mean I won’t have time to write that day.

I use a planner because my life has a lot of moving pieces right now, and it helps me make the best use of my time. A few years ago, I left my job as an elementary school teacher and entered graduate school. I have completed my coursework, and it’s now time to write my dissertation proposal and prepare for my qualifying exams.

When I was a teacher, my day was very structured. My day was dictated by a bell schedule and lesson plans. As a graduate student, I work the same number of hours, but there is no bell to tell me when to sit at the computer. No curriculum dictates how I move forward…My first two years, I struggled to use that flexibility wisely. Somehow, I conflated “more flexibility” with “more time to do other things.”

I know. Trust me, I know. It was a naïve mistake. I have done well in school, but I would have liked to have started my dissertation by now. Something had to change, and like the Type A person I am, I just knew that lists and a schedule could get me back on track!

I learned — through trial and error, along with some helpful reading — that I need a writing schedule if I’m going to get my own grad school work done. Family and my employer’s work tend to come first. When I shuffled pieces around, I deferred work on my own research and writing. No more! Now I use the Pomodoro technique (funny name, I know) to help me get in a minimum of two hours per day on my own writing. I often get in more, but the minimum helps me stay consistent and write every weekday. I read (part of my research, naturally), go to meetings and seminars, and work on paid research for my adviser the rest of the time. Well, that and the whole raising two children, managing a household with my husband, and living a life thing 🙂 But that goes in my other calendar!

My Dissertation Proposal Task List

OmniFocus on my phone – My dissertation proposal task list

Putting Together My Weekly Writing Schedule  

  1. Every Sunday, when I do my weekly review, I put two hours (minimum) of writing time onto the schedule for each day of the week. It goes into my weekly agenda simply as “Writing.”
  2. Next, I think about what writing tasks I hope to accomplish during the week ahead. I use the OmniFocus app to store specific tasks (e.g., “Write about sample selection.”). Yes, I’m a Filo girl at heart, but I love to mix it up with a few digital helpers. The plan is only for one week. It’s best to be flexible in case something happens. My son, for instance, had some unplanned doctors visits and medical tests yesterday, so I fell a bit behind schedule. I’m going to try and catch up, but if I need to, I can move tasks to next week once Sunday comes around.
  3. I enter daily goals for my writing time onto a dedicated “Month on Two Pages” (MO2P) calendar. This has its own section in my Malden, and it speaks to how important this aspect of my work is to my life as a graduate student. I’m sure this system could work for people tackling other large projects.
  4. Each day, when it’s time to start writing, I open up my binder and review my goals are for the day. No time wasted on wondering what I should be doing; that was decided on Sunday. Just dive right in! Since I’m easily distracted, I should also add that I disable my internet during these sessions. It’s the only way for me to get the work done!
Each writing task goes into the square for the day I plan to complete it.

Each writing task goes into the square for the day I plan to complete it. The notes may not make sense to others, but I know, for instance that today I need to plot out different options for my research design. I also need to write my research questions and read an article by Judith Warren Little, one of the members of my dissertation committee!

My goal now is to use the list on the side to record my total writing time each day. The two hours is a minimum, and I want to be accountable for meeting that goal. Perhaps I’ll identify patterns of when I’m most (and least) productive.

Some might wonder why I dedicate an entire A5 MO2P calendar just to tasks related to one part of my life. First, my research is an important part of my life. Before I gave it its own “space,” I found myself putting it to the side when family or work tasks demanded my attention. I probably added an extra year on to my doctoral program because of overcommitments in other areas.

It also helps take a big project and break it down into manageable pieces, all while allowing me to see the bigger picture. Adding family or other work events would be visually distracting, and it would be difficult to quickly gauge if I’m making appropriate progress toward my qualifying exams. It doesn’t clutter up my family calendar with tasks. The tactile and visual nature of writing in on the MO2P format helps orient my work for the week.

I’ve been a lot more productive since starting this system. The 2 hour minimum is a big factor, and the calendar allows me to avoid getting bogged down in planning what to write each day I sit down in front of the computer. This mix of paper and digital works well for me. Navigating between the two formats allows me to do the real “thinking” about what I want to accomplish before the start of the week, and it sets a productive tone for my writing sessions.

I add my writing schedule one week at a time. This is part of my weekly review each Sunday, so I have an idea about what my week looks like.

I add my writing schedule one week at a time. This is part of my weekly review each Sunday, so I have an idea about what my week looks like. Disregard the pink and blue stickers. I repurposed this calendar, and I struggled to cover some old entries.