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Embracing the Cult of Done

3 Feb

The Cult of Done Manifesto: I have this hanging above my desk now.I have a new motto for my tenure track journey:

DONE.

Just get it freakin’ DONE.

I’m just at a point in my academic career where I feel a strong sense of urgency. I completed my dissertation 3+ years ago. I spent 2 years in a visiting position, and I’ve been in my current tenure track job 1.5 years– long enough to learn the ropes and feel settled. Long enough to have a system for prepping and teaching, and long enough to have some committee commitments that (shouldn’t) take too much of my time.

So I could keep working through (hitting my head against) details like perfectionism, when to write, where to write, feeling confident enough to write, what counts as finished, etc. etc. OR I could just write. For the sake of getting the crap in progress finished already. I don’t know what clicked for me in the past month, but I’m at the point of just wanting to get stuff done.

“Whatever you mean to do, do it now. The conditions are always impossible.” — Doris Lessing (1919-2013)

Here’s the thing: I love my job. I feel incredibly fortunate to not just have landed a tenure track job in the market, but to have wound up at a public institution where my commitment to social justice is needed and welcomed. I feel supported. I have room to develop my own research plans and to grow as a teacher and scholar.

This is all fantastic (I truly feel like I landed my dream job) BUT my career is also my own. Yes, there are things I want to do at this university in terms of teaching and service, and it excites me to get to work toward these plans. But, my own career as a scholar has to stand on it’s own. I have my own plans for what I want to spend my career researching and learning. Acting on those plans is not just key for getting tenure, but makes me happy and makes me feel whole as a scholar.

One wonderful part of finally having a tenure track job is having to plan future research projects. For example, we have to apply for teaching release time a year ahead of when we’ll get it. When I sat down to work on my research proposal (admittedly at the last minute), I was still thinking very much like a graduate student. What would my dissertation committee advise me to do? What did little graduate student me, way back then, think might be the next direction for my research after the dissertation? I forced myself to write something up. It was just eh.

Then I realized that I didn’t really want to do that! Not only that– I actually didn’t HAVE TO do it! No one was holding me to any research plans I might have written about in job applications! My dissertation committee (a brilliant bunch whose advice I value tremendously) wasn’t evaluating me any more! My colleagues and dean would be happy with whatever research I was productively doing. In fact, I could do any research I wanted! I have a PhD! I’m the one in the driver’s seat!

So, I scrapped what I wrote and cranked out a proposal for the research project I want to do next. And I was excited about my research and scholarship for the first time in a long time. That’s motivating for me. And it’s propelled me into this semester with a new sense of purpose.

Now going forward with new research means finishing up publishing the old project. So, thus the Cult of Done.

It doesn’t matter when or where I write. It doesn’t matter if it’s perfect. It only matters that I sit down and do it a little bit every day, and that I get it done.

“The point of being done is not to finish but to get other things done!”

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2 Weeks In: Reviewing & Adjusting My Schedule

20 Sep

We’re now 2 full weeks into the semester, so it seems like a good time to sit down and take stock of where I’m at with following the schedule I outlined a few weeks back.

What’s worked:

  • Having a schedule. Seriously, just mapping out when I’m going to do what (not just appointments and classes) has helped me feel so much more organized and productive. I hung it up in my office and it keeps me more focused during the week.
  • Coming into school an extra day: My new schedule includes coming into school a 4th day (we’re really only required to be on campus 3 days a week). Not only do I have to come in sometimes anyway for meetings, but thinking of Thursday as a full day of work helps keep me productive. If I stayed home, I might be somewhat productive, but I’d be distracted by stuff I needed to do at home.
  • Scheduled writing time: This has been eaten into the last couple weeks (see why below), but knowing that I have set times where I have to write really helps.
  • Scheduled research/reading time: Knowing that I have Fridays to catch up on some errands, and also focus on reading and research has also been great. I plan to do specific tasks those days, and then don’t feel badly about not doing them other days.

What hasn’t worked: 

  • Events: The beginning of the school year always means extra meetings and events (Meet the New Provost! All College Meeting! etc.). These cut into my writing and prep time during the first two weeks. Hopefully there won’t be many of those coming up.
  • Committee Meetings: Yeah, I knew I’d be on committees this year (we’re only exempt from service our first year), but jeez, I wholly underestimated the amount of work involved. I shouldn’t have– I’ve done administrative work before, but I guess I blocked it out. Not only do I have committee meetings, there is work that goes along with those committees (especially since I’m the chair of one). And because I’m still new, there is time spent finding out from other people what I should being doing as chair on said committees, and learning how everything works. In short: I need to schedule in 2 hours a week for committee work and other admin-related paperwork.
  • Club Advisement: As the Soc Club Advisor, I actually have to go to their weekly meetings! So, I’ll add that to the schedule.
  • Running: I’m happy that despite a head cold, and the spell of 90 degree weather, I’ve gotten out for 3 really good runs over this 2 week period. But, the Monday/Wednesday/Friday running schedule isn’t going to work. Mondays is fine. I teach two classes and generally have enough energy when I get home for a run. Wednesdays is impossible. I teach late on Tuesday night, and then teach early Wednesday morning. That’s not an ideal schedule for me anyway because (a) teaching is exhausting, and (b) I’m just not a morning person, but it is what it is. So I’m tired enough to only relax Wednesday night. Running will have to be moved to Thursday. And then another run Saturday, which works out just fine. Regular running = a happy Jan in the Pan!

So, here’s a new schedule for the rest of the semester (Department meetings and Curriculum Committee meetings aren’t actually weekly, thank the goddess, but they’re on here as a good example of interrupted time). All in all, I like the idea of planning things out. I used to be resistant to how rigid this seems, but I think I see now that this is necessary in order to get done all the many different things I have to get done every day. No more multitasking (which we know is a myth, anyway), instead I’m trying to work on one task at a time, in it’s allotted time slot.

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Ok, I set up a schedule. Can I actually stick to it?

23 Aug

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Inspired by one of my favorite blogs, Get A Life PhD, I decided to actually make a schedule for the semester. It’s not that I’ve never had a schedule before– I’ve always blocked out my teaching, meetings, and office hours for the semester. I do this in Apple’s ical, and then it’s accessible on my computer, iphone, and ipad. So what’s different about this schedule? Well, I actually scheduled in chunks of time for writing, reading/research hours. And running, because, hey, a girl needs to do that. And I’m going to make an effort to stick to these hours, barring any meetings that I can’t avoid (like the department meeting above).

This isn’t a complete schedule. My morning routine is to drink coffee and catch up on email and social media. My brain just isn’t good for anything more than that before 9am. I also didn’t factor in my commute, which is 25 minutes each way. I didn’t include lunch, because unless I venture out of the building to have lunch with a colleague, I usually eat a sandwich at my computer while working. I did leave an hour open before my Tuesday evening class so I have time to not only eat, but venture out to get coffee and clear my head if I need to. Grading is obviously not included and that inevitably eats into evenings and weekends.

In addition to 8 hours of  writing time per week, I included a day for research (data collection, interviews etc.) and for reading articles etc. related to research. I’ll work from home on Friday as doing that stuff from home is ideal. Writing I do better at the office. There is no way I can get any writing or research done on my heavy teaching days (Monday and Wednesday), and that’s just going to have to be OK.

I included time for running 3 days a week (chances are that I’ll go on a long run on the weekend too). Running is key to keeping all these activity going in as non-stressful a way and the afternoon is the perfect time for me to run, come home and have reward beer. I haven’t been able to run much this summer due to an injury (and the heat), so getting back into that routine will be fantastic. Ideally, I’d come home around 4pm each day, go for a run (MWF), then cook a nice dinner and eat with my partner. Cooking and relaxing are just so much a part of daily life for me, I need a schedule that let’s me do that. And in the evenings I’m sure I’ll have to do some emailing and grading, but ideally, I’ll be able to actually relax and watch a good old movie.

So what could go wrong? Well, lots of things. First of all, meetings are going to inevitably cut into chunks of time. I’m on more committees this year and have more commitments. I can’t do anything about that, although I can say “no” more, which I did just do for the first time. Tuesday and Thursday are also potential issues. I am good about getting into school for teaching (the professor has to make it to class– no matter how close she cuts it), but in the past I have not been good about getting into school to just work. I’m likely to spend too much time in the morning in my PJs, unaware of the time, and then lazily run errands on my way to school, stop for lunch etc. Notice what I wrote there? “Just work.” Well, writing, we know, is work and isn’t “just” anything. I think if I actually put this time in the same mental category as any other appointment, that will help. And my partner knows about it, so she can prod me to follow my schedule.

Another potential problem is that during those writing times, I’ll get side tracked by emails, the fascinating internets etc. The only way that works for me in terms of focusing, is to use the Pomodoro technique and a timer. I have a timer app on my computer, but I’m not adverse to buying a plain old kitchen timer for my office. Knowing I can work for 15 minutes (with ticking in the background– helps to distract me from my tinnitus) and then quickly check FB really works for me.

If this schedule works, then I’ll be productive, and I’ll have time to relax and have a life.

I need some incentive, though. If I can get through September, following this schedule (minus meetings), then I need to do something as a reward. I can’t think of what that is, though. Maybe a nice meal out and a movie?

Current Goal: To Be Deliberate, and Afraid of Nothing.

12 Jan

31243791135917738_KrKqVNZ1Right now I don’t even feel like I know what my research is about. God forbid someone ask me. Well, not really. I mean sure, I do know what my research is about. But sometimes I don’t feel like I have a reign on it– I over think it, or I spend some days away from it trying to get prepped for the semester that begins Monday. Monday? Yikes! Since I’ve worked every single day (other than Christmas and New Year’s) since the break started, I’m not even going to count this as a break.

Anyway, here’s what do I need to do to “take back” my research agenda:

  • Get back to writing every day. The “break”, visits from friends and family (which was so wonderful and needed), prepping for new classes etc. has gotten me out of the habit.
  • Ease into that by finishing up a blog post related to my research.
  • Order some books from the library related to my current research and devour them. There’s nothing like a stack of books and a bunch of notes to get me all excited (yes, I’m a dork) and remind me of why I do what I do.
  • Review my job application material, and finish my retention essay on my research agenda.

I love starting a new semester. Even if I’m not buying new school supplies anymore, there’s so much newness— new students, new classes, fresh starts, new goals. So far my semester goals are:

  1. Finish up my retention package and hand that in next week.
  2. Review new literature and finish a draft of Article #1. I’m trying to fit it into a slightly newish sub-field for me, so I have to figure out what kind of contribution it’s going to make to that sub-field.
  3. Work on Article #2. Decide which journal it is best suited for. Bring in new data that I started analyzing last semester.
  4. Write a short piece for the highly accessible magazine-like journal in my field.
  5. Import my data into Dedoose and learn how to use it. I don’t anticipate much of a learning curve, though. I’m official giving up on NVivo. Good riddance.

And I have a few general teaching goals:

  1. No paper. I’ve set up my courses in Schoology and will stop accepting paper assignments.
  2. Not to let grading get the best of me.
  3. To actually stay a week ahead of my students in terms of readings. Posting discussion questions for each reading will force me to do this.
  4. To give my students (and myself) a daily sense of where we are in the class, what’s next, and how things fit into the larger picture. Last semester I felt like I was flying by the seat of my pants (maybe because I was?), and I don’t like that feeling.

All in all, I think those are reasonable goals. My very astute partner just pointed out that I shouldn’t be too hard on myself about the time it takes me to adapt. We’ve done 2 very large moves in 2 years, and I’ve had to adjust to two different jobs, schools, colleagues, students, commutes, grocery stores, etc. And adjusting takes time and energy.

This semester my one goal is that I am going to be deliberate. And afraid of nothing.

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