Skip to main content


Showing posts from April, 2012

Stop What You're Doing and Breathe

It may seem counterintuitive to take time out to relax or meditate at this point in the academic year, but it's during these chaotic times when we most need to schedule in time for a break, even if it's just for a few minutes.  If the weather is nice where you are, try getting outside and taking a walk, or even just standing outside and breathing deeply for five minutes.  You can also sit in a rocking chair and rock, lie down on your back on the floor, or simply sit at your desk and close your eyes and count slowly from one to five. For a little aided meditation, there are several web environments dedicated to providing relaxing sounds and images.  You may want to try , which simply lets you into a quiet scene and stay there.  If you press start, there will be a slow voice giving you directions, but you don't have to press start. You can just sit and breathe and watch the scene.  You can also click on "no guidance," which will turn on q

Academia and Achievements: Why is it So Hard for Us to Give Ourselves Rewards?

A few days ago, Academic Ladder coach Susanne Morgan wrote an excellent article about the need for writers to create habits , and in particular, to follow a system in which we first give ourselves cues to write, secondly write, and finally, after we've finished our writing session, we give ourselves rewards.  This is a great way to build a consistent writing habit, and rewards, both internal and external, are a big part of Academic Ladder's philosophy.  But if rewards are so important, then why are we so reluctant to give them to ourselves?  Many of the writing participants I work with have admitted to struggling with this concept, and  I often struggle with it too. For many of us, it comes down to the culture of academia and the value that the academy places on product versus process.  Most of us have spent a long time in a culture where the amount of work we do is never valued or acknowledged; what matters is the end result.  Our dissertation chairs don't really care h

Task Mapping and Time Management for Academics

Last week we talked about goal setting and defining tasks. Since this is a challenging topic for most of us, I thought I'd break it down a little more. The idea of task mapping comes from business, but we can apply it directly to our academic writing tasks. The general idea is that you select a very defined segment of time and then think about what task or micro-task you can do within it. The beauty of this approach is that by focusing in on one tiny task per half an hour or 45 minute session, you minimize the anxiety surrounding the enormity of the task at large. Chances are that you decided to do academic work because your mind likes to solve problems. Put that strength to work by giving it lots of little, defined, workable problems, rather than a nebulous general to do list. For instance, instead of 2:00 – 4:00 p.m. “Work on chapter 3” or even “Work on chapter 3, section x”, try really mapping out your time: 2:00 – 2:45: Draft two paragraphs on the effectiveness of small

How to Define and Schedule Academic Tasks

On Monday, I talked about the weight of unfinished tasks, and how important it is to set daily, achievable goals, but many of us have trouble with that. Particularly if we are in the social sciences or humanities, we tend to have difficulty breaking down our larger projects into smaller, discrete tasks. We also tend to underestimate vastly the length of time it takes to do a particular task. So how do we get realistic? How do we set those smaller, more achievable goals?  The best way is to be as specific as possible with what you want to accomplish during a given session. For instance, at the broadest level, a task might be "work on paper" or "work on dissertation," but generally, that won't work too well. If we say "tomorrow I'm going to do something. Anything," it might work, but we'll have a much better chance of actually accomplishing the goal if we say something like "From 8:30 - 9:00 a.m., I will expand the introductory pa

Mental Clutter and the Academic Life: The Weight of Unfinished Tasks

Have you ever said any of the following? "I can't forget about that revise and resubmit. Oh, and there's also that book review." "I really need to work on my thesis." "After I grade papers and prep for class, then I can relax and work on my dissertation." "Things are just too chaotic this term to get significant work done. I can wait until the summer." As academics, to some extent, there will always be long term projects that will be hanging over our heads. So how do we make peace with this knowledge, particularly at this point in the academic year? How do we make peace with the idea that there may not be time to get everything we need to done? First, the most important thing we can do is to be realistic in what we can achieve. It may be that it's just not possible to write that book review and revise that article, or submit that entire dissertation chapter during the final part of the term. We may have to make diffi