Friday, May 29, 2009

The Last of Sixteen Weeks

We have once again reached the end of the sixteen working weeks. I have to admit that I haven't been quite as focused on my own writing, especially near the end, as I would have liked. Nor have I have been jogging as much as I would have liked. But the whole point of this period is precisely to allow for such assessments.

Let me quickly describe how this is supposed to work again.

There are seventeen weeks from the middle of of August til one week before Christmas. The challenge is to plan a writing process for those weeks long before you go on summer vacation.

Here's how to go about it. First, scratch one week for vacation. For most people, this will coincide with the fall break, or Week 42 here in Denmark, leaving 8 weeks on either side. Next, scratch the weekends; plan to have fun; plan to relax. That leaves sixteen five-day working weeks. Divide each day into two three-hour sessions.

A writing schedule should never dominate a whole day. The standard solution is to write in the morning (9 til noon) and then do other things. If you can only write in the afternoon or in the evening, that's fine, but then you need to make sure you leave some other part of your day free to do the things that "normal" people do in the evenings. Otherwise you are asking for burnout.

In any case, at most one of the two daily sessions should be devoted to your writing. Some quick math: 5 times 16 is 80 sessions. 80 times 3 is 240 hours. The most intense "writing semester" I recommend, then, without knowing anything more about your research practices, is to devote 240 hours specifically to publishing your results. (You have to find your optimal intensity, however; it could 160 or 320 hours, i.e., 2-hour sessions, or 4-hour sessions.)

My challenge to you is to decide over the next few weeks what you might use those hours for. You have to be realistic, of course. So if you know you are going to do a lot of teaching, consider 3 sessions a week (144 hours), or even just one (48 hours). But keep in mind that you already have half your day free for teaching and administrative work. As part of your planning, try to find out exactly when your teaching will take place. If you know you will be doing some individual supervision, book the time into your calender now. You can always move it a around a bit as needed, but there is nothing wrong with asking your students to respect your schedule. Your final plan can obviously only be made when all these unknowns become knowns.

Now, schedule your writing time. Put it in your calender, preferably in a repeating pattern: every day, every other day, or once a week. In addition, I have begun to recommend putting in a short session, 15-30-minutes at the start of the days you can't reserve a full 2 or 3-hour writing session on. That way you are writing every day.

In order to use your writing time effectively, you have to have something to write about. You don't have know exactly what you want to say, but you have to know what your want to talk about. Your writing schedule needs to map onto the outline of one or two papers or chapters that you plan to write. Part of planning a writing process is planning the written product. So write an abstract and make an outline for each project (chapter or paper).

That's it. The hard part, of course, will be sticking to your schedule. But you can't begin to do that until you make one.

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