A Snow Day Mid-Semester

The weatherman is calling for many inches of snow tomorrow. One of the institutions I teach at has already notified that we will be closed tomorrow. 

In the middle of a busy teaching semester, a snow day is a beautiful day of pause. One can catch up on things and get ever so slightly ahead of the game in an otherwise busy routine that a semester brings with it. 

Because I wasn't expecting to have this extra time, I am not as prepared for it as I would like. How can I maximize this sacred gift of time? 

Balancing scheduled writing sessions with unexpected time is actually quite difficult for me as I seem to have the need to build up my mental capacity in advance of writing and to be able to work through different problems in my head first. The way that I categorize my different obligations in life at the moment includes transitioning from one type of task to another within a certain block of scheduled time. This is well thought out and calculated to ensure the best use of the various pockets in my week. 

I recently finished two projects, one chapter for an edited volume and a paper I presented at a workshop, so I actually don't have any active projects that I am deeply engaged in preparing. My options for how to spend the snow day are therefore many!

This afternoon, I have been brainstorming different ways in which I might be able to productively wait out the storm tomorrow. Any new major project that I begin tomorrow will be interrupted by the regularly scheduled activities of the semester and may not be as profitable as I would like. After some deliberation with myself, weighing the benefits of what each task will mean in my immediate future (because this is just the way I like to work), I have decided that revising an article recently bounced back to me by a journal may be just the thing I can tackle and concur in my newly gained 10 (or so) workable hours. I really wasn't expecting to get to this task until the end of the semester and had scheduled to work on it in that in-between time before summer research gets into full swing immediately after classes have finished. But re-working my text to include very helpful reviewers comments will not only feel nice, I may even have gained enough time to be able to resubmit it during the semester which would make me very happy.

Workshop at MIT

Honored to be a part of this group of scholars and present some of the work I have been undergoing on the Boston Conservatory's history, Western Music in Japan, and the International Boston Peace Jubilee that took place in 1872 and the amazingly strong connection among the three different events in history.

Happy New Year!

2018 is here and I have spent a good amount of time over the holidays resting and recuperating from a full and amazing 2017. Learning how to rest at strategic points was one of my newly implemented goals in 2017 and ending it the way I did with plenty of "me time" was an incredible way to put into practice what I had set out to change. 

I don't tend to set New Years' resolutions since for me New Years actually comes in the middle of my work year. But because I have been given the chance to be quiet, reflect, rest, and rejuvenate myself for a week, I did take the opportunity to include necessary tasks and some new self care routines into my calendar for the next semester.

Intense Scheduling
First off, let's just say that it is going to be a nice full one as I will be picking up some extra teaching duties this semester. My research might not get the full attention that I have been able to give it over the last year, but I think that there is still room for me to include plenty of it–I just have to schedule it in and make it a non negotiable. 

For my teaching obligations, I have taken my syllabi and tasked out each class and assignment thoroughly in my Things task manager. By doing this, I have daily reminders for when I have scheduled to do different tasks that must get done. These tasks include class preparation, grading assignments, and preparing exams. I have then taken the tasks and put them into my calendar blocking out the amount of time I think it will take me to accomplish them. If I stick to my scheduled appointments, I should have no problem feeling on top of what needs to happen.

I am finishing up one project and really need to start putting together thoughts for a new one soon. During the month of January, I intend to get a start on the new one by setting up a new Scrivner folder and gathering the materials I will need for the year-long project.

Taking Care of Myself
One thing that I started to be more aware of in 2017 was to take care of my self. Maintaining two jobs is intense and require me to give a lot in several different ways. When I don't have anything to give because I have neglected to take care of my own needs, I cannot do my job properly. It seems obvious but it is actually so easy to let things get out of control. To make sure that I maintain a healthy balance, I am making new appointments with myself by finding and scheduling "me time" again more strategically. 

Around my senior year in college, I picked up a habit of designating "Elina days" where I could do whatever I wanted but the day had to include something fun and something educational that was not related to what I would normally come across in my day to day living. I kept this up for about two years and then graduate school happened and somehow this went out with a few other things that were healthy practices. Now I am trying to bring aspects of what I learned nearly 10 years ago back into my life. 

My fiancé and I keep a list of museums or cultural events we attend that aren't related to our daily work which is very similar to what I used to do right after college. The effort to find a new thing to experience and bring into our lives on a monthly basis has been a really fun way to stay engaged with the world around us and open our minds to new ideas and possibilities. While continuing to spend time on this fun activity, my newly incorporated "me time" in my calendar includes yoga at least once a week. 

Moving Forward
In some ways, I am nervous for this upcoming semester mostly because I know how much work it will be for me to get through everything that has filled the weeks in my calendar already. In other ways, my approach to every task is strategic and has a clear purpose to it. I believe that this is what will drive forward the first five months of 2018.

The End as a New Beginning

The end of a semester is bittersweet. It is both a time to celebrate the learning that took place over the course of 12-14 weeks while also being a major shift in schedule and routine. Tonight, for example, is the first Tuesday evening I will not be teaching or prepping to teach since September. What do I do with my newly found time? I will binge a few shows on Netflix and maybe even grab a fun book from the public library and read on a topic new to me. But I also want this time to be used for advancing some projects that have been set aside because of teaching.

Currently, I have two major writing projects on my desk: a chapter for a textbook (a new challenge for me to write for a different audience) and a chapter for an edited volume. This second project is new and one which I will be working on throughout the next year. 

Scheduling Work Weekends
The textbook chapter is 50% finished and should be completed by the end of the calendar year. To accomplish this, I have carved out an entire weekend in my schedule devoted entirely to this project. This weekend immediately follows my grading period and is scheduled purposefully then so that I have no distractions. With three concentrated days to myself, I aim to finish this project or at the very least get the bulk of this text in a document. 

Structuring a New Project
The second project has an abstract but will need plenty of new research and investigation before I begin writing it in earnest. During the next eight weeks before teaching begins again, it should be on my priority to sort out a direction for this chapter. I need to create a designated Scrivner file and start pulling together a bibliography. I also need to begin working on some Latin translations that I will be using in the main body. But most of all, I need to pull open my Things list creator and begin tasking out the various components of this project.

The end of a calendar year is not as important of a shift for me as the end of the semester or the end of an academic year. But it is the time of the year when I start my new writing calendar. I will create a new page in my Excel document and put in a few more target goals for 2018 and modify my five-year plan (hello 2022!). These goals are movable and somewhat flexible but setting them in a document has helped me keep track of my writing targets which otherwise would be vague and misguided. Since beginning this tracking system in 2014, I have been able to stay motivated to keep writing, even during the most mundane weeks of the year!

2017 has actually been one of my best writing years ever. I am really pleased that I reached my writing goal of over 30,000 words; I presented four papers on different projects; I submitted two articles for review; I developed a new course for teaching; I spent a long week of research in archives gathering more information for my monograph; one of my articles, accepted in 2016, was published in June. 
So yes, there was a lot of work but also a lot of celebration. 

Finding (Making) Time

Last week I came across an article in the Medium by Michael Simmons: "Why Successful People Spend 10 Hours A Week on Compound Time." Recently, my interest in time management has shifted from the micromanagement of developing good daily and weekly habits to a larger scale where the long haul (10 years, 20 years etc.) is considered. 

So naturally I was curious what he had to say. 

The American workforce, including the academic community, seems keen to have a busy schedule at all times and yet, according to Simmons, most people considered to be successful in the world have mastered the art of saying "no" and shutting out the world, at least for part of their week. Simmons suggests that we should also do the same and gives advice that we should make journaling, napping, walking, reading, and talking, among other things, a priority if we are to maintain long-term creativity. I couldn't agree more.

Last week in my writing class, I asked my students to sit for 20 minutes in class and write. They could use their computer, they could use paper notebook - the medium was not necessarily important. The time in class that I offered to them was one that was free from distraction and confined. What I wanted them to do was to see what they could accomplish in this "short" period of time. I asked them prior to writing to make a note of what they did well (in their writing) this past week. Then I asked them to think about what they could improve on today and in the next week. This journaling aspect of reflection was designed to help them develop their own critical feedback. Once the writing session was finished, I asked them to do the same and reflect on their 20 minute activity.

What they learned about themselves surprised them: some did not think that they would be able to start at all while others realized just how much time it was going to take them to write their term paper. What I wanted them to find out for themselves in this exercise was that a concentrated 20 minutes can accomplish a lot more than a hap-hazard hour. 

What I think that many of the people referenced in Simmon's article do is precisely this type of time allotment. They likely schedule intense moments of work throughout their week and then schedule times when they will relax and invest in their own development. Both of these activities are scheduled, preplanned, and without distraction. 

I have found in my own work that when I write out exactly what I am going to do with an estimate for about how long it is going to take, I work better. Once it is scheduled, it is non-negotiable that I get at the very least the tasks that I have set out for myself accomplished. Because I do this, I can also take breaks during the day or over the weekend without stressing out how much work I need to get done. For me, the peace of mind to be able to enjoy life outside of my scheduled work comes from a well organized structured routine. 

In other words, having undergone a series of steps over the last two to three years towards establishing a lifestyle that is productive and within reach of my goals and physical capabilities, I feel that I have been able to find those special pockets of time that Simmons talks about to compound my own time. I've learned that when I rest and recover from the week over the weekends and that I get everything I want to get done finished with more energy and drive. None of the methods that I have adopted are rocket science. In fact, they are simple. It has been said that unnecessary multiplication of entities should not reach beyond: "Non sunt multiplicanda entia praeter necessitatem." - William of Ockham. At this moment, I feel that balance has been achieved. Now, I need to learn how to maintain this place.

The Final Quarter: Strategy

Conference Traveling
We are about to enter the final quarter of 2017. It has been a very productive year for me in a variety of ways. Reflecting on how I have worked has helped me streamline the tasks at hand. Planning ahead and knowing my limitations as well as where I can push myself has given me the incentive to work towards self-set deadlines and finish tasks. 

So, here are a few goals and deadlines for this semester as I settle into a new schedule:

Priority 1: Stay healthy, happy, and energized. Without these, nothing I do will be meaningful. Nor will they be worthwhile. Balancing life for the long term has become my goal in my 30s. Life is long and with this in mind, I have learned to prioritize sleep and meaningful social interaction. Being mindful of my needs helps me to reduce stress and in the end, I have found, keeps me curious and productive. Though not always easy, it is going to be one of my highest priorities this semester.

Priority 2: Continue to find small time-holes during the day that are otherwise wasted and use them. I often have an hour here, 30 minutes there during the day which are unoccupied and have learned to look out for them. Taking advantage of these time-holes allows me to work on tasks that otherwise seem to take much more time. This includes writing blogposts, but also abstracts for conferences or intensive thinking spurts. The latter of these can just be brainstorming sessions where I think through what I need/want to teach in my next class or even outlining ideas for a new article. These intensive thinking slots have given me a chance to come up with very useful pockets of ideas and information that I have gratefully used later, saving me from having to think on my feet entirely.

Priority 3: Finish projects. I have one large and important writing task that is currently so close to being done but still requires some more attention. Finishing this project has taken a long time because the details matter. But I am hoping that a few more scheduled hours of work will see this completed satisfactorily. While finishing this project, I will begin a new one, aiming to have it wrapped up by the end of the calendar year. When I complete this, I will have reached my goal of writing 30,000 words in this year. For me, being highly goal oriented, this is a great incentive to sit and get some words written out on my computer. It will be a wonderful point of completion.

So with several weeks of teaching under my belt to get me settled into my new schedule, I will now be protecting my own research and writing time zealously once again this semester. Through careful reflection and prioritizing what I need to get accomplished, I aim to complete this year strong.

Chop, Chop, Chop!

This week, I literally cut up my paper and pasted back together again. I knew that all of the words were there but the flow was just not coming together in the right order. With the recommendation of a trusted friend, I printed out my manuscript and sat down with a pair of scissors. Old time methods work. 

What was nice about spreading out the 30 odd pages was that I could sit and rearrange much better than scrolling up and down on my monitor. I cut things by paragraph and even sentences. To make sure my transitions into the next section were clear, I pulled out topic sentences from the paragraphs above and below. In the end, I was pleased for how quickly the narrative came together. A good solid afternoon of arranging in almost every possible way, I ended up being able to clearly observe where my flows were not as streamlined. I also realized in several instances that while an idea was clear in my head, it was definitely not clearly written on paper. 

In the end, it took me three more days of writing and rearranging before I ended up with a draft that I am more or less happy to label Final Version 1. There will be a few more versions of this draft before it gets sent off for review.