From Putting out Fires to Being on Fire
Texas Christian University
how to interact with this presentation
The goal of this presentation is to assess the time, priorities, and accountability we have for professional projects. First, we recommend reading through the compilation of strategies listed below; these might help you consider what it is you do (or don’t) and what it is you might do more effectively to manage your projects. Then, we encourage you to reflect on the prompts provided in the two parts: assessment and action. Finally, check out the resources for more information on writing productivity.
typically tried and true methods
- Structure your writing time in what Robert Boice calls BDS: brief, daily sessions. As Annie Dillard says, “If you skip a day it will take three painful days to get to believing in the work again.”
- Set goals in terms of time and action. For example, “I’ll write an hour today,” and “I’ll do this in that time block today.”
- Build accountability: writing groups, accountability buddies, and/or deadlines you set with someone else.
- Put your writing time in your schedule; you can make a semester or monthly plan as a guide, but with semesters being so varied, also plan your week ahead where you decide when you’ll work, and that is set.
Think of what we tell students; as Mark Snyder says, “The work produces the idea, not the other way around.”
time management strategies
- As much as possible, structure your writing time when you are at your best. For example, if you are a morning person, teach in the afternoon if you have control over your schedule. Do work for others when you are more tired (emails to answer? Do that when you need less energy).
- Learn about productivity and your own habits, but don’t get bogged down in it; it’s another rabbit hole.
- There are great methods out there: Pomodoro (Focus Keeper is a great app for that), Getting Things Done, Seinfeld Strategy, 18 Minutes, etc. Google them in case they may be useful. Discard them if they aren’t.
- Set your lists and priorities, but don’t get consumed by them. More time planning is less time doing.
- When asked to do something that isn’t mandatory, ask yourself if you’d say yes if it was something you’d have to do the next day or two. Don’t answer right away: Think of the benefits of saying yes, as well as how many hours that will be taken from your writing time.
- Move from forest to trees: Plan the micro by looking to and from the macro. Will skipping a workout to play with your kid or to visit a friend or to sleep be better in the long run? Have a strict schedule, but know when flexing is the best thing for it.
mental health considerations
- Move, especially outdoors. I don’t mean a full exercise program that will cause as much schedule stress as finding time to write. Yes, regular exercise should be a priority when able. But I’m talking about stepping away from the computer and moving. Research has shown that walking is a kind of meditative practice that can propel ideas.
- Take real breaks. Anxiety experts say an hour a day, a day a week, and a week every quarter(!). Define breaks as what feels like real down time to you, not what you think others consider good down time.
- Sleep! Everything is torture otherwise. We can get so locked on to our daily schedules (even our writing schedules) that we sacrifice our sleep, but ask yourself if sometimes the benefit of more sleep in the short term will help you in the long term.
- Remember it’s not a competition. There are people doing more than you, and there are people doing less.
- Clear your mind. Stop, Breathe, Think is a great meditation app, and Yoga with
Adriene is the best, with free yoga “quickies” to full sessions. Also, don’t forget to about the Coalition’s strategies for mindfulness, meditation, and yoga.
- Think of making writing time an opportunity, not a slog. You get to do it, and so you’ll create the space to do so.
Of course these are just strategies, not prescriptions, and they are for you to use, adapt, or ignore. Do what works for you.
Boice, Robert. Advice for New Faculty Members: Nihil Nimus. Pearson, 2000.
—. Professors as Writers: A Self-Help Guide to Productive Writing. New Forums Press, 1990.