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Every Semester Needs A Plan
Monday Motivator 


   

Every Semester Needs A Plan

 

I don't know about you, but the spring term has already taken off like a runaway freight train for most of the grad students, post-docs, and faculty I know. I keep hearing from people who feel overwhelmed by crazy class schedules, writing deadlines, department drama, and an endless stream of service requests. This term, the Monday Motivator will focus on the biggest mistakes faculty members make that exacerbate stress; suggest strategies to avoid those mistakes; and challenge you to take a few small steps forward to start gaining some control over your time and productivity. My hope is that pinpointing these mistakes will be helpful to everyone, no matter where you are on the academic ladder. And let's be clear from the get-go - I’ve made every one of these mistakes, so there’s not one ounce of judgment in my writing about them. Instead, my purpose is to identify the common mistakes so that you can avoid them and become highly productive in your academic career.

The beginning of a busy term is a great place to start with the first mistake many faculty make: assuming that the time management and writing strategies that worked for you in a previous stage of your career will continue to be effective in your current stage. For example, the workload, responsibilities, and pressures you had as a graduate student are different than those facing you a tenure-track faculty member. That sounds pretty obvious, and yet I regularly hear from new faculty members who don’t own a calendar, are trying to keep everything they need to do in their head, have no concrete research plan, and whose entire writing strategy consists of waiting for large blocks of uninterrupted time to materialize so they can go on a writing binge.

While this may have worked in graduate school, large blocks of uninterrupted time are unusual for faculty who more often find themselves scrambling to prepare new classes, attend departmental events and committee meetings, manage graduate and/or undergraduate RAs and TAs, settle into a new community, and make a positive impression on their colleagues. As a "junior" faculty member, you are expected to participate, perform, AND be productive. But without a proactive strategy for research and writing, productivity is often the first thing that suffers.

In order to accomplish all of these things, you must be absolutely clear about what work needs to get done to move your research agenda forward, and you must be ruthless about making time for the one thing that matters most to your promotion, tenure, and mobility: WRITING. If you work at an institution where publishing research isn’t part of your formal evaluation for tenure and promotion, or you're currently working in an administrative capacity, please know that what I am really talking about here is not getting lost in the daily chaos. Instead, I'm talking about strategically creating the space each week for activities that contribute to your long-term success (whatever those may be in your institutional context). In other words, busy terms/semesters/quarters can easily fly by without much progress towards your long-term goals unless you do three things at the outset: 1) create a clear work plan, 2) commit yourself to daily writing, and 3) connect with a community of support and accountability.

 

Three Steps to Spring Success:

Step #1: Develop a Clear and Realistic Strategic Plan

Before the term gets into full swing, set aside 30 minutes to develop a strategic plan for the next 15 weeks (or however long your term, quarter, or semester lasts). Creating a strategic plan is easy and enjoyable -- just start by listing your writing goals for the term and the projects that are necessary to meet them. Then map the projects onto your calendar so that you know which blocks of time you will devote to each one. There's a finite number of weeks in the term, so it's critical to determine what specific weeks you will devote to each project on your list. A strategic plan will help you to clarify WHAT needs to be done and WHEN you will do it. 

Step #2: Commit Yourself to At Least 30 Minutes of Writing EVERY DAY

I know I sound like a broken record on this point, but I have seen so many academic writers experience explosive breakthroughs in research productivity by simply committing to daily writing, blocking that time out of their calendars, and showing up every day. If you haven't tried it, all I can say is that daily writing will not only consistently move you towards the completion of your writing goals, but it will also reduce your anxiety by aligning your daily schedule with your institution's promotion and tenure criteria. 

Step #3: Connect With a Community of Support That Will Keep You MOTIVATED and ACCOUNTABLE

While it is critical to have a clear strategic plan and execute it by writing every day, the most important factor for success during a busy term is connecting with a community of support and accountability. Too many of us try to do everything alone and expect ourselves to be perfectly motivated and disciplined at all times. This is not only unrealistic, but it's also a recipe for isolation, alienation, and frustration. To be honest, sometimes I feel like writing, but most of the time I don't! That's because writing is not an enjoyable activity for me. I also know myself well enough to realize that I thrive in a community where I'm motivated daily by others and where people care enough about me to hold me accountable to my goals. There are lots of different ways to create accountability structures for your writing and research, but since you've already invested in an NCFDD membership, why not take a peek at the Writing Challenges in the NCFDD discussion forums? It's a quick and easy place to make daily connections and experience peer support for productivity. 

 

The Weekly Challenge

This week, I challenge each of you to: 

  • Create a list of your writing goals (and the tasks necessary to complete them) for the spring term
  • If you are resistant to this task, gently ask yourself "why?"
  • Map the writing tasks you need to accomplish onto each week of the term
  • Go through your calendar and block out at least 30 minutes at the beginning of each weekday for "writing time"
  • If you don’t have a calendar, stop reading and go get one
  • Write every day this week for at least 30 minutes (just try it!)
  • If you're not clear how to create your strategic plan, join us for our popular Core Curriculum webinar Every Semester Needs A Plan

I hope this week brings each of you the clarity to define your writing goals, the persistence to write every day, and the joy that is found in true community!

 

Peace and Productivity,

Kerry Ann Rockquemore, PhD

President, National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity

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Rebecca TerryFSP gave me tools and a fantastic support system to develop healthy and efficient work habits.

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