Monday, June 13, 2011

Summertime, and the research is...

It is mid-June. My lickety-split spring course--contemporary critical theory in 3.5 weeks--has finished. I've submitted my grading and filed all my papers and lectures in hard and digital copy. Congress has also passed. I learned that Fredericton is lovely. I made some new friends and colleagues. I was completely inspired by a panel on lyric scholarship. I had the wonderful good fortune of having generative responses to my own presentation (thanks SB, LM, and MG!) and my dear friend and collaborator TVM and I had the good fortune of chairing a phenomenally strong and interesting panel of papers given on a topic we curated! Bliss.

Now that things have slowed down a wee bit (read: I am unemployed until August 1st when my new contract begins) I've been thinking about how best to spend my summer. Last summer I flailed. I spend a huge amount of time fretting about being unemployed, an equally huge amount of time trying to generate an immense amount of research, and ultimately I spent a good deal of the summer feeling paralyzed in front of my computer. I managed to write a bit, but readers it was not a pretty or productive scene. What's worse, I hardly rested. I felt far too guilty when I was relaxing to ever properly relax.

I'm 365 days older and while I might not be that much wiser I have gathered some strategies that I'd like to share with any of you readers who like me have hugely ambitious summer research plans that don't also include lazing on the beach/biking riding/drinking wine at a cafe or whatever enables you to let the tightness out of your shoulders.

One of the things I've done this year is join an online writing group. This is a direct result of Aimée: she's written about Academic Ladder, and finally in a mid-May grading fit of despair I joined. Academic Ladder costs money, and for me that's part of what works. I've paid to join a writing group where really what I get is kind peer pressure, encouragement, empathy, and suggestions for writing block, organizing my time etc. So far, so good. I've written an article, a conference paper, and a draft of another article all while teaching M-R for three hours a day.

You might find this is a little hokey (actually I kind of do too, but I marvel at how it has worked for me). If you're not into paying for peer pressure (hmm...) then why not write a list of all the research and writing related things you want to/have to accomplish over the summer. Everything: course prep, book orders, book proposals, manuscript, research trips, all of it. Then consider sharing your list. I shared mine with my pal TVM on Google Docs and he sent me his list. We've offered each other strategies for prioritizing and we're checking in with one another regularly. I'm also a big fan of crossing out rather than deleting a task when it is finished as I feel like I can see my progress.

In addition to making lists and prioritizing my tasks I'm trying to set some fairly firm limitations on how much I work. I must work over the summer, as I suspect many of you must, but I've finally clued in to the fact that it is imperative that I relax as well. To that end I've decided that work stops at 3pm. I practice yoga in the morning and then come home, clean up, and walk Felix the Dog, so that puts me at my desk around 9:30-10:00. Setting an end-time is proving to be the most challenging for me. I don't have the family obligations that many of you do, and my partner works out of town during the week, so I have to push myself to unplug as step away from the desk. But let me tell you, once I've shut off my computer and called it a day I feel pretty darn good. Ending at a reasonable time gives me the tangible sense that I've worked, but allows me the freedom to have a huge chunk of the day to myself. I've been reading books for pleasure...!

There's no silver bullet for balancing life/research life in research, but writing down my goals, sharing them, tracking my progress daily, and quitting early regularly is really working for me. How about you? What are your strategies for balancing work/life/summer?

8 comments:

  1. Erin, I like your idea of the 3pm stop-time and am going to try to adopt it! I've never been good at creating boundaries between my work/personal lives; I've often caught myself responding to students' emails in the middle of the night or, for instance, on my iPhone in the middle of a grocery store. I realise I do the same thing with my own work, too: I work around the clock on a project, then drop from exhaustion once it's finished. Maybe a 3pm stop-time for the summer will help me pace myself, relax, and *think* more (which doesn't necessarily equate to *doing* less, but maybe doing *better*).

    Glad to hear your summer is off to a great start, and thanks for the ideas about productivity vs. relaxation!

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  2. Hey Vicky! Yes, I too need to create boundaries between my work and my personal life. I've been trying to stop checking email at a certain time (so hard with a smart phone... makes me think I'm not *so* smart for having one!)

    I have to say that going public with my goals either in a big way or with a friend or two has been extremely helpful.

    And hear hear! Thinking... that's real work that we need to make time and space for, and there's no telling what thinking looks like from the outside!

    Keep me posted!

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  3. What a great post, Erin -- I think you've very nicely expressed the Angst of Summer that is common to many of us. Pushing too hard to do more, then hating ourselves for not managing it. Not very restful at all.

    I like your 3pm stop time. My goal is a little different. I just want to work between three and four hours a day, then stop. So if i'm done sooner, awesome. If I put it off until the afternoon, okay, I'm working in the afternoon. But the idea is the same. And like you, I'm getting more writing done than ever! So I guess it works ...

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  4. Great post, Erin. I am doing what Aimee is doing, limiting myself to 3-4 hours a day of work, when possible. Evenings and weekends are off-limits which I find makes a huge difference. After spending more than a year preparing for the minor and major field exams, and leading the hectic life of a grad student/mom/spouse, I am enjoying these pockets of downtime when I can read for pleasure and travel a little without guilt.

    Lists have always been a huge motivator for me too. I make tables on my desktop with all the deadlines, and highlight the rows as each task is completed. Such a great feeling to see all those tasks accomplished! It feels daunting at the start, but I find going back to review all those saved lists keeps me motivated. I did it once, I can do it again.

    I love what I am doing at University, but love it even more when I come back to it after a break…even if it's just a coffee break some days.

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  5. Aimee, Lourdes: I love the way you've both articulated how you're balancing life/work this summer. Lourdes your phrasing ('when possible') really resonated. Brava to you and all the readers!

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  6. Thank you so much for this post! I just got back from DHSI, and after a week of not working on necessary work, I'm faced with a backlog of RA work, two publication deadlines quickly looming, and a self-imposed dissertation proposal submission date of September 1. My response--paralysis. Tomorrow, I'm going to try some of your strategies and see what happens. I'd like to enjoy my summer, at least a little! (And Aimee--thanks for your great comments/questions during my panel at DHSI.)

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  7. @Melissa: Let me know how it goes! And remember...DHSi was work too.

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  8. The writing group seems to be the key thing for you. I'm all for this. It's advice I took from a little book called How to Write A Lot: a Practical Guide to Academic Writing:

    http://www.amazon.ca/How-Write-Lot-Practical-Productive/dp/1591477433

    It's a great book, and I give away copies of it all the time. Keep up the awesome work, Erin!

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