Note: Images from PhD Comics.
Over the past few years, I various people have asked me how I remain so productive with such a packed schedule. Today, I want to provide some tips to remain productive amidst so much work that needs to be done. This is by no means an exhaustive list of ways to remain productive. When I say productive, I am speaking specifically about scholarly productivity with publications, conference presentations, and other scholarly activities As well, these methods will probably not work for everyone. You need to, as with anything, figure out what works best for you and build upon that. Below, I will focus on what has worked for me over the past four-five years, beginning with my dissertation (August 2012-May 2014).
Even though I wanted to pursue a PhD in English, I always, like countless others, found the prospect of writing the dissertation as a daunting task. I never, I STRESS NEVER, thought I could write a book-length project. The mere idea of composing such a work intimidated me, but I found out, early on, that I could complete the dissertation.
Thankfully, my situation provided me with the time and space to work on the dissertation Monday through Friday for a set amount of time each day. Rather than teaching as part of my graduate assistantship, I worked in a center, and while there, I had chances to compose while also fulfilling my duties at the center. As well, I set up a schedule, early on, to keep my sanity and get the project completed.
What I learned during the dissertation was what I told students in every class that I have ever taught, “To be a better writer, you have to write every day.” Until that point, I did not have a schedule for writing, and if I did, I think I would not be as nervous about the dissertation as I initially was. Along with writing every day, I came to the realization that I will never know everything about my topic and no matter how much I research/read I would not be able to find everything that could be added to the dissertation. These epiphanies led me to the following plan.
At the beginning of each chapter, I would read as much as possible over a two-week period, all the while thinking about what I would write. After that two-week period, I would start to write. While I wrote, I would continue to read and research. Since then, I have maintained a similar process while writing everything from blog posts to essays. This process forced me to meld the processes of researching and writing, and that method allowed me to be more productive in my writing. For each chapter, I typically spent about two months. This did not include rewrites and edits. With this, I essentially completed a draft of the dissertation in less than a year. I edited and revised over a few months then defended.
While writing the dissertation, I would usually limit myself to writing Monday through Friday. I would not, for the most part, work on weekends and holidays (Christmas, Thanksgiving, etc.). I have continued this practice, not working on weekends and holidays, and that has led me to a happy work/life balance. I was stressed, at moments, but for the most part I did not find myself getting overly tense. I made it a point, for my own sanity and that of my family, to take time away from work. Along with the decreased stress, the breaks provided me with fresh eyes to look at what I had written, thus allowing me to revise as I wrote.
After I graduated, I started working as the interim director of the center where I was a graduate assistant. One of my initiatives was to connect with the public—locally, nationally, and internationally—through various means. One of the methods I initiated was a twice-a-week blog that highlighted items from the center or connections between the history, literature, and items from the center. I started these posts in April 2014, and looking back on those posts, they leave a lot to be desired. However, forcing myself, as part of my job, to compose two posts per-week caused me to implement a fresh writing schedule. (I do not recall what days I wrote these posts on.)
After I left that position, I became an adjunct for a year, teaching 6 courses in the fall and 4 in the spring at two different institutions. I knew that I wanted to continue blogging, and I decided to start my own blog and maintain a twice-a-week schedule (Tuesday and Thursday). As well, I made a conscious effort, as I started blogging more, to write about 1,000 for each post. At the beginning, this goal caused me to spend a couple of hours on each post; however, as I wrote more posts, it takes me about 45 minutes to a hour for each post, depending of the topic. Even though I stated earlier that I do not work on weekends, I do write blog posts on weekends. I usually write one on Thursday or Friday of each week and one on Sunday. Usually, this is the only thing I do on the weekends.
I began my own blog in August 2015, and I have maintained it, on a regular schedule, since then. There have been moments when I have wanted to stop writing the blog or take an extended break; however, I have never been able to bring myself to stop. (I do usually take two weeks off over the Holidays.) Part of the reason for this is because whenever I get to a point where I feel like I want to discontinue the blog, people contact me telling me they read they regularly read the blog or something comes up that I want to write about.
Sustaining the blog has provided me with numerous benefits and has ultimately aided me in my productivity. Some of the main benefits of blogging are the contacts and opportunities that the blog has opened for me. Through the blog, I have gotten the chance to write for more established blogs, and I have connected with fellow scholars in disparate areas, thus expanding my academic network. As well, the blog has given me a space to reflect on teaching. A large amount of my posts stem from class discussions and activities, thus granting me the opportunity to share with students, in the current course and future courses, more in depth discussions on texts than what we covered in class. Finally, the blog provides me with a catalog of ideas and writing that I can transform into larger pieces. Most of the posts are initial thoughts, and as time progresses, I start to think more about the topics. Thus, they become, in essence, early drafts of possible article, book chapters, or conference presentations.
This post, I know, began as tips for maintaining productivity amidst heavy teaching loads, committee work, and other responsibilities. While the focus has been on blogging, the things that I have learned from blogging have led to my continued productivity. I have learned to manage my time, consciously setting aside time for various projects, and if I don’t do them, I do get stressed. As well, it has allowed me to make contacts, essentially opening avenues for more opportunities to maintain my productivity.
One of those contacts is Ben Railton, a prolific blogger who has been at it for over seven years. He told me that blogging is his #1 strategy for writing. Ben has a post everyday, and for him, that works. For me, it doesn’t. Ben also emphasizes the importance of how blogging leads to other online writing, a venue that he claims, “forces you to think about audience and style and voice in distinct ways from the blog while still writing quickly and on a deadline and so on.”
Essentially, I maintain my productivity because I have figured out what works for me, in my own situation. I know that my work, and that means all my work, has to be done between the 8-5 window Monday through Friday due to my personal responsibilities. Again, this does not mean I don’t read or do some things apart from that time frame. This has come from about fifteen years of teaching and studying at the college level and through a lot of trial and error. Just like anything in the post, find what works best for you and run with it.
How do you maintain productivity amidst all of the commitments of teaching and service you encounter? How do you maintain productivity amidst your personal responsibilities?