It’s the start of a new semester so I thought it was about time to update my ramblings about how I organize writing projects as an academic. One of the joys of a professor job is the “freedom” to work on projects you like when you like to work on them. But as we know that’s also a curse and means it’s easy to work all the time with no breaks. So today I’m talking about how I use organization to achieve a bit more work life balance. Here we go!
Writing Trackers. As I have discussed here, I make it a goal to write for 30 minutes a day on weekdays (highly recommend watching this if your university has NCFDD memberships!). Some days I write more than that (but I strive for no more than an hour and a half a day because too much writing leads to burnout, avoiding writing, and a shame spiral of avoiding writing…for me anyway!). The key to building my writing habit was:
- scheduling the time.
- doing the writing.
- instant rewards.
Scheduling the time was the easy part–I write every day at 9 AM. That way when the 30 minutes are up, I am free to do whatever “easier” things I have to work on for the rest of the day. The writing part was, as you might have guessed, the hard part. The key to actually sitting and doing something is (according to people who write things about habits) having a built in reward. Enter: The Writing Tracker.
I don’t know what makes this work for me. But the fact that I get to fill in a square in my bullet journal for every 30 minutes I write really works for me. And at the end of the week I get to add up how much time I spent writing. What I’ve learned from doing that is that yes, you can really get a lot done in 2.5 hours (probably because before when I thought I was “writing” for 4 hours at a time I was really hanging out at Starbucks, texting, and checking Instagram).
I’ve included a sample of my bullet journal spread here–I used to separate work out by days but now I do it by project and make a list of goals for each project every week. At first when I did this it was a mess because until I actually timed myself working I had no idea how long it was taking me to write a section of a project or gather research articles. The power of timers strikes again. Now my goals are usually about spot on for what I can get done in a week.
A giant wall calendar. Sure, I have Google Calendar and use it to schedule all my meetings, but I also have a giant dry erase calendar. It might appear redundant but I really like the visual! I glance at it often for bigger dates and deadlines and holidays.
The bottom of the whiteboard also has my writing “pipeline” built in–this is the idea that you should build up your writing projects so that they are at all different stages of publication (I try to aim for 2 projects where data is being collected in some way, 2 projects I am in the stages of writing, and 2 that are out under review at journals). I really like tracking them along the bottom of the calendar and I feel rewarded when I move things from one category to another!
The semester syllabus. The last thing I do is I make a syllabus for my writing every semester. I know, what? Syllabi are for classes. But it really helps to write down each project I want to work on and then actually chart them onto the 15 weeks of the semester. I just did this for this semester and it became painfully clear that I have overcommitted and need to push a few projects back. It’s far better to realize that in week 1 than week 14, I think.
So there you have it. Are there other ways you track big projects? I really love organization because it makes the overwhelming stuff look more manageable so please send them my way!