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.

In Between Time

This past week, I had an "in between" week. I had finished writing an article that is currently with a trusted friend for proofing but has not been returned to me yet. So I began another half finished writing project that I had wanted to get through this summer. I managed to complete it and sent it off for review much quicker than I had anticipated. 

This created a good amount of energy in me. Although I had another project that I really wanted to get started on, I decided to use the majority of the week to read and consume rather than create new content. I am so glad I did.

By the time that Friday came around, my sacred day of writing, research, and thinking, I had so many ideas brewing in my head that I could immediately get started on the writing. I had been jotting down notes to myself during the week and made sure to identify several different components that I knew needed to go into certain sections of my writing. I think that because I did this, I was able to delve straight in and write 1,700 words of my conference paper in one go. 

By taking some time away from typing up my thoughts, two things worked especially well for me this week:

1. I took the time to pause and collect my thoughts. Although it may seen counterintuitive to take time away from writing, I actually was still writing, just not typing up my thoughts. I am beginning to know when I need to do this for myself and almost always, the writing process afterward is much smoother because I do. 

2. I made small notes for myself throughout the week, writing them down purposefully and with clarity so that when the time did come to write out the presentation, I knew where my thoughts were going to connect. I am still getting better at this part and would like to continue honing in on how I record these thoughts so that when it comes time to sit down with my cup of coffee, they are comprehensible to me. 

I am beginning to learn that it is a balance of when and how that needs to be mastered and that these change from week to week for me. But taking time away to compound thoughts and ideas seems to be a good method to keep in ind for the future. 

End of July: A Midsummer's Reflection

Waiting for the tube to take me to my archive.

It has been a full summer. Full stop. I have tried not to use the word busy during this time because "full schedule" more adequately describes how I have felt for the past ten weeks of summer. Here are a few things I have learned about how I have scheduled my work for summer 2017:

1. Conferences
Unlike summer 2016 where I spent the summer weeks compiling databases for future research presentations, this summer has been that future. I have presented my work on teaching music history at an annual conference on the same subject, and new ideas about a medieval treatise to the annual Medieval and Renaissance Conference  this year held in Prague. The first of the two summarized a process of how I taught a newly devised class. The latter of the two was a presentation I organized jointly with a colleague. Both were new types of papers which required me to think differently about my work and how I present. I enjoyed the challenge. I have one final presentation to give this year before my conference run ends. Conferences are always energizing and rewarding, but as I take the time to prepare, I am reminded that as with all things worthwhile, good work takes time and energy. Scheduling off sections of my week for concentrated uninterrupted time is the only way I have been able to stay on track with all of my obligations.

2. Archival Research
I was very lucky to receive a fellowship from my institution to go to Europe for some serious archival work this summer. I spent an entire week traveling up and down the British Isles looking at medieval manuscripts and getting a better sense for how I can formulate my monograph. Because the time on these trips is so precious I made sure to have a strict schedule and process of examining the manuscripts. Here Scrivner was my friend. I prepared folders with necessary information in advance and made notes for manuscripts that were especially of interest to what I was searching. Once I arrived in the archive, I had plenty of time to look through and examine what I needed. The preparation process paid off in the end and now I have a beautiful set of folders waiting for me to open and examine more closely during the winter months when the weather turns too cold to go out for a lazy summer stroll.

3. Writing
I have brought two writing project up to a point where, with a few more minor edits, I will be able to submit for peer review by the end of the summer. Both are on topics which I have previously presented at conferences which have been reworked into articles for journals. Because of this, I have fleshed them out with additional secondary sources and more lengthy and well argued paragraphs. This process is a difficult process for me which takes time and effort in a different way from preparing texts for a conference presentation. To work out ways to explain my thoughts in written form rather than spoken form requires an entirely different work ethic. I have been learning more through my own writing how this process is best achieved but don't think that I have reached a satisfactory place quite yet, if this is ever achievable. This will be something that I will continue to work out over the years, I am sure.

4. Teaching Prep
I am teaching a brand new course in the autumn. I have been working in between writing projects towards compiling all of the material necessary to teach this class. This is a process which takes far longer and is made more complex because I have decided to offer a course that is not reliant on a textbook. For every seminar session, I am gathering articles and book chapters for my students to read. Then, I gather the musical examples (scores and recordings) to have ready to listen to and study. I know that my future self is going to thank my past self for doing all of this work in advance of the semester because once the new academic year begins, it will be almost impossible for me to find the time to gather this. With all of this material neatly organized in dropbox folders designated for each seminar session, I will avoid chaos later on. 

5. Publications Materialized!
Two publications have materialize this summer! It was such a satisfying moment to hold in my hands an artifact that contains my writing. But I even as I did, I realized that it was very easy for me to quickly move on to what ever other thing was occupying my time or mind that day and to not properly celebrate. Because publication is such a long process in the academic world, I do feel that recognizing the moment becomes difficult. To make sure that I remember how important this part of scholarly life is, I have cleared off a section of my bookshelf where I prominently display my work. After a long day of writing, it is nice to glance at that section on the bookshelf and celebrate that I too have made a contribution to my field.

August is nearly here. I have had a full run already on this summer. Having utilized many spare hours that this time of the year allows, I am happy with the work that has been achieved so far. But I am hoping that the rush of the first 10 weeks of summer will taper off ever so slightly so that I can sneak in a few days of R&R before another delightfully full year of teaching begins.

Summer Writing: Week 3 Getting Down to Business

Week no. 3

I have just had another great week of work. This week, I needed to prepare for a weekend of work with a colleague who is presenting some research together with me in July. We have been working on this project together since the late autumn so I had a pile of different bits and bobs of research sitting in my folders. What I needed to do was to gather all of the information into one large document to figure out what still needed to get done. Fortunately, I ended up with a 30+ page document of information. Unfortunately, I knew that I needed to focus my ideas. So, I decided to put together short summary of my work. I began with the story that I have been formulating in my mind for several weeks now, shaping it through previous scholarship and concerns that originally led me into this research. What I have come to find helpful in organizing my conference presentations is pin pointing each idea through bullet points and finding ways to make sure that a simple statement can be made for each statement. This streamlines my argument, and prevents me from running off on a tangent of information which may be interesting, but has little to do with the main argument. I find this sometimes difficult and have realized that it is a discipline that requires practice and patience.

This is the first collaborative project that I have done and I am loving it. I find excitement in knowing that I have another mind to bounce off ideas. I also like that there is a little bit of pressure that makes the research actually happen. The fact that different angles are brought up even before sharing with a larger community has helped me focus on what needs to be done in the meantime. Although we have not finished everything, I am excited to find other opportunities to collaborate because two minds must surely be better than one.

I am actually writing two conference papers at the moment on two entirely different subjects. I actually find having two contrasting subjects helpful to work with, mainly because I can channel my different interests and energy differently. When I am stuck on a problem with one, I can leave it, still be productive in my other subject, and return, happy to find that time and distance has helped me figure out that the problem was not as complicated as I originally had though.

This week, by getting down to business and simply delving into my work, I was able to accomplish quite a lot. My sense of accomplishment has, yet again, come down to the fact that I have a grand master plan with smaller, achievable goals which are set up in advance before the week even begins. 

Writing Challenge:Summer 2017

Week no. 1

Although the weather outside today certainly does not make me feel like saying this, summer is officially here -- at least where my focused writing/reading/researching is concerned. I am pretty excited to be able to report that on my first day of the project I have been able to devote a good 2-3 hours of my time towards my summer goals. It is a good start.

Last summer I worked out how I can get through a 15-16 week summer in the most productive way to make sure that I would not waste very precious time. I set out to put together a large database which I have consulted several times over the year. I also put together two pieces of writing last summer, one journal article which has just been published (yay!) and another book chapter which is currently being edited. 

As I did in 2016, I plan to keep a weekly diary here to keep track of my work habits. It was a great way for me to find out how I can organize my days and work towards long-term goals that sometimes can feel unambiguous at the beginning.

This summer, my focus will be on three conference presentations scheduled to be delivered between now and the end of summer. Most of the research for these papers has been completed, leaving my main task to writing it up in presentation form. Two of the presentations will be reworked into publication as the first chapter of my monograph and hopefully into an article that can be submitted for publication by the end of the summer. 

I will also be able to spend some time in British archives this summer to gather more information necessary for my larger research project. I am thrilled to have this opportunity to dig through resources in person. Between these tasks I have set up for myself, I see how quickly my summer will fly by! But if I time my work well, all of this should be achievable for me in 15 weeks.

In many ways this summer is much easier to prepare for because of the effort and work that I put into organizing my schedule last year. I learned that if I set myself small and manageable weekly goals, they can be accomplished relatively well. It is also easier working with a to-do list (I use Things which is on my Mac and my iPhone) based on the working method Getting Things Done. It has proven to be especially useful for me as I juggle several different kinds of work during my work week. In addition to my to-do list, I have a writing diary and a 5 year plan which help me to keep on task as well as project goals for myself.  

It is exciting to be at the beginning of a concentrated time of work and I hope will be as fruitful/productive as my summer of 2016.

In the Midst of a Busy April

Waiting for Coffee at the Coffee Shop
The semester is in the final weeks and in a month my students will be walking  across the stage to receive their hard-earned degrees. This point of closure for them is aligned with my own beginning: a new summer challenge.

It is hard to believe that summer months are going to be rolling in so quickly, especially since on my "search for spring" walk through the neighborhood, I could barely find any signs of it yet here in the Boston region. Nevertheless, now is the time for me to plan out the long summer months to maximize my productivity.

I actually woke up this morning on my research Friday knowing that I have a ton of things to get through but finding it difficult to pin point where to start. I found my mind panicking. But, over the last few years of transitioning from graduate school into the workforce and discovering what it means to be a scholar while teaching and maintaining my administrative job, I have learned that I simply need to establish a plan.

As it turns out, I am currently in the position to create new goals. After thinking through what is currently on my desktop I realized that many of my targets that I set out in January have been completed, fulfilled, or are in a waiting position under someone else's time so I am at liberty to begin to plan out my bigger goals. While last year I did not present any conference papers of note and focused most of my summer weeks on compiling new databases for future research, this summer and autumn are set to be an entirely different experience. I have three conference presentations lined up with perhaps a fourth one in the works. Because of this, my summer will be chopped up in a different way. A long-term daily research schedule on a single topic will not be taking place. On the one hand, I am assuming that the smaller projects will be somewhat easier to organize around. On the other hand, I have much stricter deadlines for these projects which will require me to be more disciplined in my work.

Plan carefully. Work efficiently. This will be my motto for the upcoming summer's work schedule. By sitting down with my calendar now in April, I will be able to find what is most important in all of the different tasks that will need to get done prior to the presentation days ahead of me.