End of Summer Reflections

Beautiful Coffee Shops in Montreal
I started my summer with one goal in mind: keep myself accountable so that at the end of summer I will feel that I have accomplished something. I sat down with my calendar and worked out that the summer weeks would be extensive, 17 weeks long to be exact.

Based on the challenge that my friend gave herself during her study leave, I decided to keep a public forum here on my blog and write weekly on my progress, on what I struggled with, and how I manage daily research and writing routines. These are the things I learned about my own work style.

In the early weeks, I did not have any structured plans for what I was going to be working on. Instead, I relied on external circumstances to dictate my work. For example, in my first week, I received a copy of my chapter for an edited volume with comments and suggestions for altering to fit the style of the final book. I took these comments and worked with them, but did not find ways to be proactive about how I was going to work on the chapter. Most importantly, I did not have a goal for when things would be done during my week. This is likely why I wrote that I felt that the week had slipped by rather than feel structured and in control. I set a few vague goals for the following week and worked toward these.

By week 3, I was writing that I was losing momentum and did not have clear guidelines set up to follow through with the work that I knew needed to be done. I felt an imbalance between what needed to be done and what I had been able to accomplish. I wrote about discovering how I needed to maintain a momentum rather than work hard one day only to find it difficult to pick up where I left off.

Thankfully, the struggle did not last too long and by week 4 I had gained back my confidence and clarity of perspective. It also coincided with a two-week class that I was scheduled to teach in the summer. I wonder now if the thought of having something regulated in my schedule forced me to find focus once more. In any case, it seems to have taken at least this much time for me to find my feet, so to speak, in my new summer rhythm.

By week 6, I was able to send off my re-worked chapter to my editors and felt very good about this turn around. The struggle of figuring out what I needed to do while I rewrote certain sections was painful but in the end I am much happier with the outcome of this chapter. Now I had the chance to figure out what I wanted to do for the remainder of the 10 weeks of summer, a somewhat daunting task.

It was also at this point in my summer that I found the use of the task manager, Things, to be extremely helpful in scheduling tasks and projects that I wanted to complete. I learned how to use this task manager over the course of 3 to 4 days and began plotting out what I needed to get done during the week to fulfill my goals. Now I had a way of putting everything into one place and be reminded what tasks I needed to do when I opened my computer. I could not believe how much easier my morning routine became!

With Things as my co-pilot, I now have a new way of working through my projects. On the weekends, when I have a bit more time to figure out what I need to accomplish in the week, I sit and write down all of the tasks that I can think of that need to be done. They include articles that I need to read, books that I need to borrow, chapters of dissertations that I need to read, paragraphs that need reworking... Then, I assign dates for every task. This is where I take my calendar out and see what other activities surround my writing schedule. Some days I have quite a few hours to devote to a longer task while other days I can only find an hour or two to fit work into. And I learned that this is okay and simply part of life. What happens in the morning when I sort my day out is that the tasks that need to be accomplished that day are sitting right there in my task manager. I don't have to think about whether I should be doing this task or not this day because that decision has already been made (by the weekend me). There is simply nothing I can do about it but complete the task.

Once I rearranged my work schedule using this task organizer, my entire summer shifted from being a long overdrawn and endless set of vague goals to small, clear, and manageable tasks that needed to be accomplished.

The second half of my summer was devoted to working through 32 manuscripts and putting the contents of these manuscripts into a large database that I created in Scrivner. This is a task that I had wanted to work on during my PhD but never ended up having the time to do. Now with other essential components of my life a little less ambiguous, I finally had the time to work through and consider the material in a complete scope. I found secondary literature that needed to be read and assigned days to read these. I found descriptions of manuscripts in obscure places that required interlibrary loans. I focused on getting the big picture now so that I can go back and find the smaller things throughout the sources at a later date.

In between these tasks that I assigned for myself, I had to prepare for an interview and so took a couple of weeks away from the daily grind to formulate a new temporary set of tasks. A new semester in the fall meant that I needed to refresh some of my syllabi and teaching materials. I also made sure to take several long weekend getaways to rest and recuperate during the quieter months. Exercise through the form of biking (I did so many 30 mile rides!) and swimming at least 3 times a week kept me healthy and refreshed.

In my final week of summer, I can say that I accomplished these key items this summer:

1) revised and re-submitted a chapter for an edited volume

2) taught a two-week intense summer class on writing
3) created and completed a large database for future research
4) read through many seminal articles, books, and chapters that I had been putting off for a while
5) prepared syllabi and teaching materials for the new academic year
6) completed an article for review
7) learned how to organize my research agenda to ensure that tasks are actually completed
8) got plenty of sunshine and exercise to keep me happy and motivated.

Spending 17 weeks tracking my own work style has been an extremely useful activity for me. Blogging about my work has helped me to reflect on what I found good and bad in my work habits. I thought that I was already pretty good at getting things done but it really wasn't until I began the new habit of assigning myself tasks to accomplish during the week that I found clear direction in what I need to get done. I now have a better understanding of how I work.

To those who followed through with me on this summertime journey, thank you for reading. I hope that perhaps some of the things I learned along the way motivated you to also find new ways to keep tasks at bay and goals accomplished. I truly feel good about starting the new academic semester because I am refreshed, feel accomplished in what I was able to complete, and know that I can continue my task management system to keep me on track.