April 12, 2012

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 paragraph of chapter 2" or "from 9:00 - 9:45 p.m., I will begin outlining the section on Piaget's influence on early childhood development."

But what if you don't know enough about your daily schedule to be able to set a specific time to work? What if you haven't looked at a section in a long time and you don't know enough to be able to break it down into a set of micro-tasks? In that case, it's probably good to specify at least a range of hours when you think you'll be working, and still define the amount of time you can work. Frankly, it's not as good as making that concrete appointment with yourself, but it's better than just saying you're going to work on it "tomorrow." And if you don't know enough about the section you're writing to be able to break it down, then make your first session back into it be a brainstorming session, during which you make a list of the tasks you know you'll need to accomplish in order to complete the section. Then at the end of that writing session, you can choose what tasks to schedule next.



Now you tell me--what helps you get and stay motivated to keep writing? And how do you set your own goals and define your tasks?

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2 Comments:

At 6:44 PM, Anonymous Jenna said...

Nice post which What if you haven't looked at a section in a long time and you don't know enough to be able to break it down into a set of micro-tasks.In which enough about the section you're writing to be able to break it down, then make your first session back into it be a brainstorming session, during which you make a list of the tasks you know you'll need to accomplish in order to complete the section. Thanks a lot for posting this article.

 
At 6:12 PM, Blogger Gina Hiatt, Ph.D. said...

Excellent point, Jenna. Planning a brainstorming session is often a good place to start. Actually any time you are stuck is a good time to brainstorm.

 

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