Henry James wrote in his Portrait of a Lady: “Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.”
As for this lady, well, so many summer mornings will be filled with lovely runs and rides through town, summer days filled with research and writing long delayed, summer afternoons full of trips to the park with my toddler, and summer nights with relaxing on the deck with a glass of wine. (This is all not to say anything about afternoon tea [see opening lines of Portrait for my thoughts on that].) But with all the hours free from teaching, grading, prep and campus duties, how will I organize my work? How do you organize it?
Usually, at the start of every new chunk of time–summer and winter break, as well as each semester–I do a breakdown of tasks for that period of time. I have until mid-August to complete the tasks I have set out before me for this summer. I’ve done this type of breakdown ever since I read this post from sociologist Tanya Golash-Boza’s blog getalifephd.blogspot.com. Her blog has been indispensable in helping me to organize and achieve my academic writing goals. As we’ve seen, not all of these goals have been successful, but my writing is happening even with a toddler, and even during busy teaching and service semesters. One of her overarching points throughout the last 6 years on that blog, is that our tasks seem too large when we look at them as a whole–a book, an article, a conference paper–but if we break them down into achievable chunks they seem more approachable.
For example, this week I’ll be sending some articles out for review for a special collection I’m co-editing, revising an introduction to another edited volume, and working on a grant application. These are 3 projects I have going this summer, and that’s not saying anything about the 6 other writing projects I have on the docket. We have to keep track of them somehow, or we end up dropping them by accident or on purpose because we think we don’t have time. But if we break them down into sections like: find 5 sources on X topic; write 30 minutes on the lit review; find 3 possible publishers/journals; and more, we can see notable progress on big projects. I’m also a list-crosser-offer and I love to see tasks get completed, and this process allows for that on a regular basis.
I also recently read this article from the New York Times Opinion section about being busy and how much people believe they work, versus how much we actually work. I’ve made a daily breakdown of my schedule each semester, using 30-minute segments of time, within an excel spreadsheet. This helps me to focus my productivity in the appropriate times. Small chunks of time, even 30 minutes, can get you writing, reading, analyzing, grading, and more. I use pomodoros, a writing theory I learned about at Get a life, but you can get more information here. The point is, you’re WORKING, even if it is only in 30 minute chunks.
I’m interested in what everyone else does–how do you manage your projects?