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.

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.