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Tuesday, February 7, 2017

productivity notes (from a workshop)

Give yourself “the gift of undivided attention”:

*This applies not only to your work, but to everything you do in your life. You are usually better off doing one thing at a time. By doing this with everything you do, you will improve your concentration for your work as well. You want to do everything in increments of however long you need for the particular tasks.

*Don’t multi-task. Nobody is actually very good at it, even people who think they. Think about it this way: dividing your attention between two sources of attention is the very definition of distraction.

*Once you’ve given yourself that gift, the concentration will follow from that. In other words, you don’t have to wait until you are in a “concentrated mood”; just reserve the time for concentration and it will follow from there. Just by not multi-tasking you will have won most of the battle.

*Schedule your time: M-F. 1-3 hours of writing. Treat your work hours as seriously as you would a class that you are teaching.  You need to show up for your dissertation, the same way you show up for teaching your class. You might want to schedule all of your time during both night and day, but at the very least schedule your work day. Five hours on five separate days a week, Monday through Friday, is better than six hours divided between Tuesday and Thursday. The reason is that the best hour of work is the first one, so that six hours on two days gives you two good hours, and five hours on five days gives you five good hours.

*You think your problem is time, but it is actually energy. You have enough time to do the work, so if you’re not getting it done, you either aren’t sitting down and doing it in scheduled time, or you are working at an extremely low energy level when you are. Maybe you making it your last priority and working only on it when you are exhausted. 

*Don’t rush / don’t burn out.  If you give yourself enough time, you don’t have to rush through your writing session. (The Pomodoro timer of 25 minutes is probably too short.) By the same token, trying to write for five hours a day can easily lead to burn-out. If you establish good work / time management habits, you won’t actually have to spend more than a few hours a day actually writing. You can even have weeends and evenings free.

*It’s a good idea to stop writing while you are still writing well. That way you can start the next day freshly. 

*Once exception to the rule: ocasionally you will want to do an encerrona, take a day in which you spend most of the day just delving into one section of the project, in order to jumpstart the process. (This is different from trying to avoid work all week and then spending the weekend trying to catch up, or cramming deep into the night before a deadline.)    

*Write first, research later. Obviously you need to do your reading / research before you write your chapter, but every day you should begin by writing a few pages. As you work, take note of what you need to research for the next day’s writing, then do that research later in the day.   
*But don’t be too rigid either. If you miss your appointment with yourself to write, don’t use that as an excuse not to write that day. If your attention is distracted, don’t conclude that your writing session will be futile. Just keep on doing it. If a particular day looks impossible, then spend just 15 minutes, rather than losing the forward continuity. 15 minutes is enough to look at a paragraph and tweak a few sentences.    

*Accept the law of averages. To complete a forty page chapter will take between 30 and 40 work days. If you do well on a particular day and write three pages, then that is good, but that is not really the point; if another day you write only half a page, that is equally good, because what matters is the continuity of effort. It will all average out to a steady pace, so you don’t have to worry about individual days.    

*The goal of research is to put yourself in the position in which you can do more research, or at least in a position where your expertise and intellectual development can be put to good use. Since the main goal of research is intrinsic, the dissertation is not a hurdle to get past, but something valuable for its own sake. If you treat the dissertation with the value that it has, then it will be easier not to look past it.  There will never be a time in your life where you will be able to read and learn so much. This is the stage where a large part of your intellectual growth takes place.  

*If you are on a M-F schedule, spend part of Sunday on a planning session. Map out what you want to accomplish during the next week. 

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