One of the fundamentals for writing productivity is putting in the time to write and in that time you move your fingers across a keyboard and sensible words appear in some word processing document.
I have found myself making several excuses to not get to my computer to write, or even to my notebook to make some jottings. Excuses are nothing but sneaky, little lies we tell ourselves about why we can’t make progress on our goals. But if I’m really ready to achieve my goals, I have got to raise my own standards and say ‘No more excuses’. So I thought to make a list of my typical excuses and decide on what I need to do to prevent the excuses. First, I will list my excuses to determine why I’m using these excuses. The list of excuses below is just me being honest with myself. Then I will decide on a course of action. I’m doing this because excuses are the only things standing between me and my dreams.
Excuse 1: I am tired
I have used the I am tired excuse repeatedly in the recent past. When I checked my research logs, I realized I was doing my research intermittently and trying to do most of the work on evenings. I am tired on evenings. Especially after dealing with postgraduate students and listening to two colleagues bitching. I have to really limit my time on campus and go in only for planned meetings and leave just after those meetings. The male academic staff members do this and I as a female need to adopt the same attitude. The PGs and other students are not going to die. One meeting per week for most should be sufficient.
I worry about the writing during the semester. I have early classes and some days I have to tend to labs and the teaching programme I have to do to satisfy contractual requirements. Those days I will be completely bummed out afterwards to do any research. I need to get up earlier in the morning to do my research.
Excuse 2: I have to check and read email
For some reason, I just need to check email before I start. Initially this was because my head of department used to send me urgent matters to deal with in preparation for some meeting for him. That is the downside of working along with your previous PhD supervisor in the role of a new academic staff member. Now, he is no longer head of department and I am still checking email the first before anything else including my research work. This is one bad habit I need to break out of.
I also realized that I subscribe to a number of newsletters and email lists. Half of the email I get are promotions. Yet, I read this crap before doing my research writing. I need to unsubscribe from some and throw others into the promotions tab of gmail. Trimming my emails will reduce my time reading things that don’t need to be read. Or, I could schedule some down time on evenings to read emails.
Excuse 3: I have to take one lesson from an online course
I have paid for a number of different online courses which I have not completed. I have access to many. Truth be told, I don’t even know how many. Again, I need to reduce. I also need to do only one course at a time because frankly they are mostly for my personal development and do not contribute to my research and teaching duties. Taking courses seem to be a hobby for me now.
I just have to close the course tabs in my browser some time before my work sessions.
Excuse 4: I have to clean
I am not a neat person. I got piles of papers surrounding me. I have piles on my desk at home and at work, on the floor at home, a short pile on my bedroom dresser and in my bookshelves. So whenever I am supposed to be doing research, I get the urge to clean a pile, to check through if I still need the papers on my desk.
I recently realized that these piles are there because of each sheet of paper represents an idea I have to write on. The piles are also on the floor and desk because I am simply out of book shelf space. I simply have too much paper in my life. But I am afraid to declutter because each page represents some idea I have to write about.
What I really need to do is to have a system to capture my ideas. And yes, researchers are already supposed to have such systems. But most systems that exist are reference systems like Endnote, Mendely, Zotero and JabRef. Others use OneNote and Evernote to capture ideas. I tried these in the past but I never seem to stick with the software. I prefer to write on paper. Again another habit I need to break out of. I also need to think through my work flows and how paper comes into that work flow.
Nevertheless, I should not be interfering with the paper piles just as I am supposed to write. Cleaning is just another procrastination tactic but the papers I try to clean represent open loops in my mind.
Excuse 5: I have to post a Happy Birthday note on Facebook
I have been trying to be a little bit more social on Facebook. I got friends there that rarely ever see. So posting at least Happy Birthday or commenting on their post seem to be reasonable. But, do I really need to do those things first thing in the morning. Besides, if my ‘friends’ are really friends, I should make a note of their birthdays in my primary calendar. Posting a comment in response to a pop up on my phone is a reactive response. I considered going on Facebook once a week and scheduling out my birthday posts one week in advance. Facebook does not allow this from personal accounts. So the calendar seems to be a better option.
If I address each of these five excuses I should have a better chance of doing my work. Herein lies my problem. Leaving my research writing work up to chance. It cannot be like this otherwise I am leaving my career up to chance. I have to find and implement methods to systematically eliminate these excuses.
Solution 1: Wake up earlier
The only way to not do research writing when I am tired is to do it when I am fresh. A 6 am wakeup is only sufficient to eat, get ready and get to work.
I have to get up earlier. A 4 am start on research will be better.
Solution 2: Plan my meetings for campus and leave as soon as possible
Impromptu postgraduate meetings are the bane of my life. Setting meetings in advance will help me determine when I need to be on campus. I also have to plan to leave soon after these meetings to avoid the wasteful chats with colleagues. Some is important but not everyday.
Solution 3: Assign a time each day for checking email
Twice a day checks on email should be sufficient. Maybe just after my meetings or lectures on campus to deal with teaching and administrative matters and to clear up my inbox. Then once at night at home for personal emails. But no other time. And definitely not before my research time.
Solution 4: List my online courses and do one at a time
Too many personal development courses require too much of my time. So I have to limit myself to one course at a time starting with courses that will help me professionally first. With a list in hand, I can go to other courses only when I have finished the current one.
Solution 5: Develop a work flow for paper work
This one might be the hardest one to do. I have to think through how I use paper and why I print items. Whether or not I like it, I have to use software to at least store things I might need in the future. I also need to develop an idea capture system because the printed paper represents ideas I want to work on.
Solution 6: Go over the pile of paper on my desk and remove items that do not serve me
Most things on my desk are being stored there. I need to decide on which items I really need on my desk to get my work done. Other things can go in the shelves. I also need to move around books from my accessible shelf to the storage bookshelf to make room for my project work in the accessible bookshelf. Project work should not be stored on my desk.
Solution 7: Check Facebook on evenings and only to post comments to specific friends
Truth is, not everyone in my Friends list on Facebook are everyday friends. I only have to comment on everyday friends posts and say happy birthday to the others. Once a day check for a time limit of 15 minutes should be sufficient.
I have a number of solutions to implement. I will do one at a time because each one may need an iterative approach to optimizing my research writing time. Putting in the time at the keyboard is the only way to improve my research outputs.