Friday, November 12, 2021

Three Things Your Academic Book Must Have: An Argument, a Theoretical Contribution, and a Structure

I recently challenged authors on Twitter to state the core argument of their non-fiction book in a tweet. It’s harder than it sounds to state your argument clearly and succinctly. It’s also a necessary step in the manuscript development process. 

If you are writing a nonfiction book and can’t articulate the argument in a tweet, don’t worry. I have written several books, and usually have no idea what the argument is until I have drafted most of the chapters. If you aren’t there yet, keep writing and thinking. 


You need an Argument 

So, what is an argument? An argument is not a topic or a description of themes the book addresses.

Instead, as Wendy Belcher writes in her book, an argument is a statement someone can disagree with. And, as Helen Sword explains, every non-fiction book needs a question. The process of leading the reader from your question to your answer is your argument. 

Here are some examples of clear and succinct arguments from the tweet thread:




The thread inspired me to gain some clarity on my argument in the book I am currently writing. I have been writing this book since 2017, have drafted most of the chapters, and am still working on my argument. Thus, I came up with two versions. The first version describes the argument I am making in the book, using academic language. 

Disinvestment and coercive investment in Black communities in DC have displaced and dispossessed Black residents, making gentrification through racialized reinvestment possible.

I explain all those big words in the book. But, after reading through the thread, I realized I liked the arguments that use simple language better. So I tried again: 

The choice to use prisons and policing to solve the problems faced by Black communities in DC in the 20th century, instead of investing in schools, community centers, social services, health care, drug treatment, and violence prevention, is what made gentrification possible in the 21st century. 

As you can see, you can disagree with this statement. And, per Helen Sword’s guidance, my argument answers my guiding question of what factors led to gentrification. 

You need a theoretical framework 

In addition to an argument, you need a compelling theoretical framework. The theoretical framework is where you explain how your argument is novel and how it relates to what we already know about your topic. You could have a great argument like: “Mass incarceration is the New Jim Crow,” but, Michelle Alexander already made that argument so it’s unlikely anyone would want to publish that. 

An academic book does not need a literature review in the same way a dissertation does. If you don’t believe, me, pick up your favorite academic book and see how much lit review there is in the introduction. Often, it’s just a few paragraphs. It is almost never a full chapter. 

The manuscript I am working on engages with three fields: housing inequality, the War on Drugs, and gentrification. Thus, I explain in the Introduction what we already know about these three areas and how my intervention is new. 

The Introduction explains how Black communities, even those dominated by Black homeowners have been dispossessed; how poor, working, and middle-class Black communities across the city experienced disinvestment and then coercive investment, and how reinvestment is racialized today. As you can see, it all has to stay on the same theme – with a tight focus on the core argument. 

You need a structure 

Once you know what your core argument and interventions are, you need to figure out how you are building your argument throughout the book. Each chapter should contribute to your core argument.  

I am doing this in my book manuscript by focusing first on disinvestment, then on coercive investment, and then on reinvestment. This is in line with my argument that disinvestment and coercive investment in Black communities in DC have displaced and dispossessed Black residents, making gentrification through racialized reinvestment possible. 

I am not making the whole argument in each chapter, but instead focusing on one piece of the argument in each section, which includes two chapters. 

Part I: Disinvestment 
Ch 1: Disinvestment in Black DC 
Ch 2: The Violence of Disinvestment 
Part II: Coercive Investment 
Ch 3: Crack in the Neighborhood 
Ch 4: Bringing in the Feds 
Part III: Reinvestment 
Ch 5: Chocolate City No More 
Ch 6: Racialized Reinvestment 

There are other ways to build an argument. In my book Deported, I set the book up to follow a deportee’s journey, from growing up in the country of origin, to crossing the border, to growing up in the US, to getting into trouble in the US, to getting caught, to detention, and then to life after deportation. This structure allowed me to explain how global capitalism shaped each aspect of their migrant journey. 

If you are having trouble envisioning how to build your argument, try using a mind map. This is where you pull out a pen and paper, write down your argument, draw a circle around it, and start drawing more lines and circles to visualize the connections you are making. This can help you see the elements of your argument and to make decisions about what chapters you need to write to build your argument. 

Finally: Writing a book is an iterative process. 

Don’t expect to sit down, write a book, and publish it as is. Instead, sit down, write a draft, stop, figure out what your argument is, rewrite the manuscript to fit your argument, and then revise your argument to fit your manuscript. Repeat this process until the manuscript is doing what you want it to.

Since it takes years to write a book, make sure you have a community to support you through this long process. If you don't know anyone working on a book, the Twitter thread has lots of people you could reach out to and ask if they are also looking for support.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

How to Teach Engaging Discussion Sections as a Teaching Assistant

This is a guest post by Maria D. Duenas, PhD student at the University of California, Merced, and a long-time Teaching Assistant and Teaching Fellow in Sociology.

Graduate students are often tasked with leading discussion sections, yet graduate departments sometimes do not provide adequate training on how to teach effectively. 

During the first year in my Ph.D. program, I remember my cohort and I feeling unsure about what we needed to do in a discussion section since, for many of us, our undergraduate institutions did not offer discussion sections. Even if you have experience being a student in a discussion section, it can be difficult to know how to plan your classes. 

The goal of this guest blog post is to help ease graduate student anxieties about what to do in discussion sections by providing a structure you can use in your own classes. 

Before describing my recommended structure, I'd like to point out that the first task you should complete when designing your discussion section is to ask your instructor of record what expectations they have of you and the discussion sections. Getting clarity on those expectations up front will make things easier down the road. 

Unless I get specific guidance to do otherwise, the format of my discussion sections is class announcements, a mini-lecture reviewing the key concepts of the week, and class activities.
Image of an empty classroom
Photo by M. Monk on Unsplash

Class announcements 
A good way to start classes is with class announcements. Make sure to leave plenty of time for student questions, especially in weeks with upcoming assignment deadlines. After that, I either transition into a class activity or a mini-lecture.

A mini-lecture reviewing the key concepts of the week 
I review the key concepts of the week in a mini-lecture in PowerPoint. Your mini-lecture can be from 5 to 15 minutes and should cover the substantive arguments from the readings and lectures and how the arguments are supported. I use clear language and word choice in my mini-lectures and large font sizes in my PowerPoints to help create an inclusive class environment for students with disabilities and for students for whom English is not their first language. At the end of this part of class, I leave time for student questions. 

 Class activities 
Discussion sections offer an important learning opportunity for students to discuss course concepts with each other that they may not have in a big lecture. I use 1-2 active-learning class activities (3 at most – and only if they are shorter activities) in a 50-minute class period. 

Using backwards lesson design, I develop class activities that get students thinking critically and talking to each other in smaller groups of 2 to 3 about the main ideas or concepts of the week. As students are discussing in groups, move around the classroom, ask students questions about concepts or the discussion questions, and answer any questions they may have. Then, bring the students into a larger discussion as a class where you incorporate clear explanations of the key take-home points throughout the discussion. If students are misunderstanding a concept or idea, class activities allow you to see what to clarify and to continue reenforcing key points. 

Active-learning class activities can take many forms. One example is discussion questions with open-ended questions that engage students in critical thinking. Todd Beer at Sociology Toolbox has an excellent blog post with critical thinking discussion questions you can use in your classroom. 

Another idea is to have students watch a video that provides a real-life example of a concept and design discussion questions that ask the students to think critically about how a concept applies to the content presented in the video. You can also facilitate a guided class discussion where students inductively learn a course concept through a guided conversation. I developed a class activity that uses this technique to teach Goffman’s impression management. 

Students enjoy game-like review sessions using Taboo created through PowerPoint or Kahoot and simulations like PlaySpent that are followed up with reflection questions. 

Innovative activities that get the students doing something they do not usually do are memorable and exciting. For example, I designed an activity where students move around the classroom in groups to visit chat stations that list statements containing racist discourse and identify whether the statements are biological racism or one of the four frames of colorblind racism. ASA’s Teaching Resources and Innovation Library for Sociology (TRAILS) offers a great repository of class activities and other teaching resources that you can use in your classroom. 

Concluding thoughts 
Think of the class announcements, mini-lecture, and class activities format as adaptable to your specific course and student needs. For example, if you need to include a weekly quiz into your discussion sections, please feel comfortable adding this assessment into the general discussion section structure I present here. Christine Tulley advises us to think of class content as interchangeable segments you can use to build a class. 

Lastly, remember to be easy on yourself. You are learning how to teach, which takes time. Be understanding and patient with yourself as you develop course activities, ways to explain concepts, appropriate pacing for mini-lectures and activities, and more. 

What are some of your favorite class activities that you incorporate in your classroom?

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

How to Write a Compelling TEDx Script: Revise, Get Feedback, Repeat

I just finished writing a script for a TEDx talk and I am certain I have never before put in so many hours into such a short piece. 

I chose to write a script instead of speaking from an outline. The talk needed to be 12 minutes or less and the best way to ensure that would happen was to write a script.

As an academic, writing a TEDx script is like exercising a whole new muscle. I write all the time but had never done this particular form of writing. Learning how to do this well took a lot of time and feedback. Thus, I did something I have never done before: I got a speaking coach who read and listened to multiple drafts.

The first draft of my TEDx talk was similar to talks I have given in academic venues. The talk had place-based and historical references. It explained policies like redlining, White flight, and slum clearance. Here is my attempt at explaining why what I was saying in the talk was novel:
"If you read The Color of Law, then you know that federal policies created racial segregation. If you read The New Jim Crow, then you know that Black communities were devastated by mass incarceration. And, if you read How to Kill a City, then you know that gentrification has led to the displacement of working class and Black people from cities. Now, what you might not know is that segregration, incarceration, and gentrification are connected. My research into the neighborhood where I grew up has taught me that policies that created segregation laid the groundwork for mass incarceration, which in turn made gentrification possible."

I shared a version of the talk with this verbiage with my speaking coach. After listening, she told me she felt like she had just attended a fascinating academic lecture. But, that is not what a TEDx talk is. I needed more storytelling. I needed to cut some of the policy descriptions to make room for the stories. I needed to slow down and tell those stories. I also needed to cut the paragraph above because most people have not read those books.

I also reached out to a developmental editor I’ve worked with in the past, Audra Wolfe, as she has done some work on podcast and radio editing. She told me I needed to tell the stories in a way that evokes the senses and emotions. This was hard. For an academic, I might be a pretty good storyteller, but this was a whole new level. I wasn’t ready to invoke smells. But, I could try sounds. And, I knew I could invoke the visuals. I decided to describe the bus ride from my house in a primarily Black neighborhood to my school in a primarily White neighborhood.

I then presented the talk to a group of generous colleagues. My humanities colleagues, however, told me I needed to slow down and really tell the stories. This meant telling more of my own story as well as that of my friends. It meant providing more details and texture to the stories. This meant cutting even more of the policy discussions.

As a sociologist, I endeavor to strike a balance between storytelling and structural analyses. To tell more stories, I had to cut some of the policy discussions. This was hard as it all seemed so important!

I cut the part about how the Washington Real Estate Board’s code of ethics promoted racial segregation, about how White people were able to access federally-backed loans to open businesses in the 1940s, and about how only 2% of the loans insured by the FHA went to Black borrowers. I also had to cut the part about the wealth gap – DC’s White residents have 81 times the wealth of DC’s Black residents. I had to cut those because I didn’t have the space to explain them fully. There is no use giving a random fact if you can’t flesh it out.

I went back to my speaking coach with my revised script. She suggested I focus and really tell the stories I did tell. I cut the story of a family who left during White flight so that I could flesh out the other stories.

My speaking coach also said I needed a call to action for the conclusion. This was very hard. What should I tell listeners to do?

After a gut-wrenching discussion of the violence of disinvestment, lives lost, and people displaced and imprisoned, I couldn’t think of any policy suggestions that did the topic justice. More affordable housing? Changing lending laws? Providing jobs to formerly incarcerated people? None of these did the topic justice.

I reached out to my brothers, who share my politics and are not academics. I had come up with something about lessons learned and how White supremacy is encoded into laws. My brother Sean said: “Why just acknowledge the harms? Why not abolish the police?” My brother Ian said: “You wouldn’t end a talk enumerating the harms of chattel slavery by vaguely talking about profits over people and the deep roots of White supremacy, right?”

They were right. I had to stay true to my message and my values.

I revised the conclusion and ran it by my colleague and friend, Crystal, who suggested I end by calling back to the stories I had mentioned earlier. So, I did that.

I then gave the talk to three of my closest friends from Washington, DC who are not academics. They suggested I add in at least one uplifting story, so I did that. I ran it by my other brother, Justin, and his girlfriend, Tina. They suggested a couple of points that needed explanation.

I don’t know if you’re keeping count, but I definitely called in a lot of favors for this talk. I asked at least 27 friends and colleagues to either read the script or listen to the spoken version. I haven’t even mentioned everyone here. My colleague Anthony also read it and provided great feedback. He gave great tips on how to phrase things and where to slow down for more impact. My mother gave me feedback on an early version. She told me I needed to narrow down the points I was trying to make. My friend Christina told me I needed to make the argument clearer.

Once the script was done, it still wasn’t over. I needed to rehearse and to figure out how to perform the script. There was a part of the script that was very hard to deliver effectively because of the emotional ride in that part. I reached out to a friend and colleague, Nicole, who is a theatre professor and she stepped in and generously gave me some amazing tips on delivery.

My university agreed to professionally record the talk, so I delivered it on a stage. I got a student to help me with the graphics and the university’s media team put the video and graphics together. It thus looks a lot better than just me in front of the zoom screen.

I didn’t tabulate the hours I put into this effort. But, I know I worked on the talk at least 10 hours a week for 8 weeks, so at least 80 hours of writing and revising. I also spent at least another 40 hours practicing it. I listened to it and practiced it out loud every single day on my afternoon walks.

Was all this effort worth it for the TEDx talk? Watch it here and let me know!

Sunday, January 17, 2021

If You Want to Do a TEDx Talk, Start Preparing Now

Exciting news: My TEDx talk "How to Kill a Neighborhood and Make a Profit" will be released on January 23, 2021! 

I have long thought about doing a TED or a TEDx talk. (TEDx events are independently organized TED events.) Thus, when I heard of a local opportunity, I applied immediately. That was in February 2020. As you can imagine, that event was canceled due to the pandemic. 

Once I applied, however, I started giving some serious thought to what I would say in a TEDx talk. To apply, I had to tell the organizers what I would say, so I had already come up with a throughline: Disinvestment in Washington, DC made gentrification possible. 

The throughline is the argument on which your entire talk is based. If you imagine your talk like a tree, the throughline is the trunk and you use the branches to fill the argument out. 

Your throughline should be based on your expertise. I am writing a book on this topic, am a Washington, DC native, and am a sociologist of race. For academics, the expertise and credibility part is straightforward. However, I also wanted to choose a topic I have personal as well as academic interest in. I could have given a talk based on one of my other areas of expertise, but this topic is the nearest and dearest to me because everything I discuss in the talk happened in the neighborhood where I was raised.

Your throughline also should convey something novel or unexpected like Barry Schwartz’s TED talk, which explains that more choice makes us less happy. That’s unexpected, right! 

Tanya Golash-Boza delivering her TEDx talk

The novelty doesn’t have to be something only you know, but it should be novel to a broader audience. For my topic, academics who study gentrification know that gentrification requires disinvestment. However, most people have not thought about the fact that racist housing practices and policies like redlining and blockbusting led to disinvestment in Black communities and made gentrification possible. Another twist in my talk is that the community I discuss is a Black middle-class community, which adds another novel dimension to the conversation on gentrification. 


Once I had my throughline in place, I began to think about which stories I would tell – both from my own story of growing up in a neighborhood that has gentrified and from my research. There are so many stories to choose from, so I had to decide which stories would be the most compelling 

On November 17, 2020, the organizers from the TEDx UC Merced event reached out and told us they decided to go virtual so the event was going to take place in January 2021. And, the script was due on December 23, giving me less than five weeks to prepare. 

Luckily, I had already begun working on the talk because five weeks is a very short time to come up with a compelling script. So, the first lesson in all of this is: If you want to deliver a TED or TEDx talk, start working on it now so that you are ready when the opportunity arises. (There are plenty of opportunities to deliver a TEDx talk – this website lists several events every day!) 

Come up with a throughline and a full outline before applying. First of all, you need a good throughline to apply in the first place. And, secondly, this will give you a head start on preparing. 

When I received my invitation to give my virtual TEDx talk, I had my throughline and a very draft-y version of the talk prepared. Only a few lines from that original draft made it into the final version, although the throughline stayed the same. I worked on my talk every single weekday (and some weekends) between November 17 and the date I delivered it: January 11, 2021. 

I will write a couple more blog posts in the coming days to provide more TEDx related tips. So, please comment below if you have questions!

And, please watch and share my TEDx talk!

Monday, May 18, 2020

How Deep Work Can Enhance Your Productivity and Creativity During the Summer of the Pandemic

We are facing unprecedented times. The summer is now upon us and it will be unlike any summer we have ever experienced.

This will be the first summer in over two decades that I will stay put. When I moved to Merced, I knew the summers were very long and very hot. But, I also thought that I would be able to leave for at least a month each summer to escape the heat. Clearly, that won’t be happening this summer.

I am particularly disappointed about having to postpone our writing retreat which was going to be on a private island in Belize, but, this is our new reality and I have accepted that.

With three long, hot months ahead of me, I know I need to plan to make sure that I emerge from the summer feeling relaxed and rejuvenated and ready to take on whatever the fall semester may bring.

I also have work to do as I have grant-funded research that needs to happen this summer.

Fortunately, I know from both research and experience that it is possible to have a summer that is both productive and relaxing. Today, I will share some strategies with you that will also help you to have a productive and relaxing summer.

This will require using small chunks of focused time for deep work. Cal Newport, a computer science professor at Georgetown University, defines “deep work” as “professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capacities to their limit.”

Newport argues we have to work in distraction-free environments to reach the limits of our cognitive capacity.

The work we do as academic writers requires tremendous cognitive capacity. To publish our research, we have to create new knowledge. That requires first understanding at a very deep level the current state of the field and then having the creativity and ingenuity to create new knowledge. The work we do is not mundane. We are creating new knowledge and this requires deep work.

There are some knowledge-creators who have the luxury of going to lakeside retreats by themselves for weeks or months at a time where they can achieve a state of flow and concentration that allows them to make important breakthroughs. If you are a single person who lives alone, you may wish to try out a monastic strategy where you cut yourself off from the world completely for a week to focus on your research and writing. However, I know that is not possible for most of us. And, fortunately, there are other ways to achieve this state of distraction-free concentration.

My strategy is to carve out two hours each morning to focus on deep work. I know from over a decade of experience that focused work for two hours every day is all I need to achieve very high levels of productivity. I have been keeping track of the time I spend writing since 2007. Thus, I can say with certainty that I have written for about two hours a day every weekday for the last 13 years. I have only written more than two hours on very rare occasions and have written several books and dozens of journal articles within that time. Thus, I am confident that two hours of deep work is all I need to have a productive summer.
My Summer 2020 weekly template

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to just write for two hours and call it a day because I have lots of other work to do that is not deep work. Thus, I plan to set aside another two to three hours each weekday to manage the dozen or so employees I have working for me, to respond to emails, and to plan out and troubleshoot my ongoing research.

I also know that exercise and self-care will be very important so I have set aside time in my schedule for those activities.

I show you my summer plan here and will walk you through the logic behind my decisions. I wake up very early. I am an early riser, so this is not difficult for me. Also, as I mentioned above, it gets very hot here in Merced, California. However, the early morning hours are cooler and this is the time I would be able to get in a jog. Thus, I plan to jog for 30 minutes four days a week, first thing in the morning.


I also will meditate just before writing as I find that meditating greatly improves my focus and helps me get into the mindset of doing deep work.

Sitting for two hours is not the best thing for my back, so I will do yoga after meditating to stretch out those kinks. Then, I will take a break to have lunch and do some housework. Then, I will spend 2 to 3 hours taking care of email and meeting with my students and employees before dedicating the rest of the day to hang out with my partner and our three teenage daughters.

And, one day a week I will break up this routine and go on a long morning hike. I chose the morning time because this is the only time it will be cool enough for a long hike.

You will notice that I also set aside time for email and housework. The logic behind doing that is that, knowing that I have those activities on my calendar will make it easier for me to not get lost in email when I should be writing or decide that I really need to dust the ceiling fans during times I have set aside for writing.

How about you? Have you come up with a weekly template for your summer? Will you be able to set up an hour or two of distraction-free time for yourself?

Friday, April 3, 2020

How to make effective teaching videos for online instruction

When preparing an online class, videos may be the first thing to come to mind. And, videos can be a great idea. However, you certainly do not want to transform your 50-minute lecture into a 50-minute video.

Instead, think carefully about your learning goals for each class session. And, think about which portions of your lecture class are best suited for video format.

You can teach your learning goals that don’t require videos through lecture notes, assigned readings, discussion boards, podcasts, and online activities. (You can check out my LMS site for some examples.)

Once you’ve settled on a learning goal you think is well-suited for a short video, the first step is to do an online search to see if someone else has already made an excellent short video on the topic. There’s absolutely no need to reinvent the wheel. If you want to introduce a concept and there is a highly produced, scientifically accurate video freely available online, by all means, use that one.

(For example, I have created 18 videos for teaching race and racism, and you may find some of these useful instead of creating your own video that explains the difference between race and ethnicity or what racial formation theory is.)

If, on the other hand, there is nothing available that conveys exactly what you’d like to teach, it’s time to make your own short video.

How to make own videos for teaching

Making videos for teaching can be fun, although making high-quality videos takes a lot of time. I took over a year to make those 18 videos, and I had a lot of help. Here are a few simple steps to follow to make your videos.

Step 1: Write a script.
Your script should be between 100 and 500 words. It takes about one minute to read 100 words, so that will keep your videos at an ideal length of 1 to 5 minutes.

Step 2: Decide on the media for each sentence.
Look at each sentence in your script and decide on the best way to convey that sentence. There are at least four possibilities: 1) live-action; 2) still images; 3) slides with words; and 4) pre-recorded videos.

Our brains use two primary channels to take in information – audio and visual. We can use both channels simultaneously but can only take in input on one type of channel at a time. Both listening to and reading words are on the audio channel. So, we can listen to audio and look at an image. But, we can’t listen to audio and read words at the same time. Thus, if you show words on the screen, use the same ones you are speaking, and keep the words minimal.

Step 3: Create a story board that assigns media for each sentence in your video.

I use PowerPoint for my story boards, but you should use whatever technology is easiest for you. Some people like to use Excel sheets for story boards, for example.

Photo of Woman Holding Brown Book With Her Child
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels
https://www.pexels.com/photo/photo-of-woman-holding-brown-book-with-her-child-3818561/

Step 4: Start with still images.
There are tons of free images available on sites like pexels, unsplash, and flickr. You can also find historical images in wikicommons. Try to find images that add value to what you are saying. If you are talking about emotional bonds, for example, you can show a photo of a mother and child. The image reinforces the message. Look at each sentence and decide if it can be conveyed using an image.

Step 5: Add in one or two pre-recorded videos.
Pexels and other sites also have free videos available that you can record your voice over. The use of moving images instead of still images can keep the viewer entertained for longer periods of time. There may also be concepts that are better captured through movement such as the movement of boats across water to discuss migration via sea routes.

Step 6: Add in slides with words, phrases, or figures that are critical.
Your slides with just words on them should be minimal. But, if there is a definition, concept, sentence, or figure students need to see, include a slide with that concept.

Example of a slide that includes a definition and an image.

Step 7: Include some live-action
Live-action involves you speaking. When students see your face, it creates a human connection. So, having some live-action is useful. It can be a good idea to include some live-action at the beginning or in those places where you can’t find an image that works well.

As should be clear, making good videos takes a lot of thought and time. So, only make videos for your classes if you have determined you really need them. Otherwise, use alternative methods of conveying information.


Monday, January 6, 2020

How to Have a Productive Day Working from Home

It seems as if it should be straightforward – if you have the whole day to work at home, you should be super productive. Just work all day, long, right?

If you are able to consistently have days where you sit in front of your computer and write for hours on end, then kudos to you. I, on the other hand, find that if I am not mindful about how I spend my time, a day that is free of appointments can end up being a frustrating, unproductive day.

I love my home office!

My very best writing days are the ones I have at my annual writing retreat, where I am in a beautiful location, surrounded by amazing women writers. I try and replicate that experience about once a month by meeting up with friends at a mountain cafĂ© and then going on a hike with them afterward. Alas, I can’t do a mini-retreat every day or even every week.

I can, however, work my schedule such that I have at least one day where I work from home. And, how I cherish those days!

Here is my recipe for a productive day of work from home:



Wake up: 5:45am (I know … I am an early riser)

5:45-6:00am: Prepare my almond milk latte and sit on my couch and savor it.

6:00am-7:00am: WRITE!

7:00-7:20am: Take my daughter to school (We live in a small town so I can do a round trip in 20 minutes)

7:20-8:30: Go for a run and have breakfast.

8:30-9:30am: WRITE!

9:30-10:00am: Shower and get ready for the day (I always need a little break after a long writing session)

10:00-11:00am: Reading and/or data analysis

11:00am-11:30: Lunch prep (I do love putting things in my Instant pot and then getting back to work).

11:30-12:30pm: Reading and/or data analysis.

12:30-1:00pm: Lunch

1:00pm-2:00pm: Email (It is important to avoid email for most of the day to stay focused but I can't ignore it all day, so after lunch is a good time to check it.)

2:00pm-3:00pm: Review papers. Take care of administrative business.

3:00pm-3:30pm: Youtube Yoga session

3:30-4:30: Meet colleague for tea or have phone call.

4:30-5:00pm: Final email check of the day

5:00pm: Shut down work for the day


If you are counting (and I know some of you are), that’s 2 hours of writing; two hours of reading and/or data analysis; 90 minutes of email; one hour of meetings; and one hour of administrivia.

For me, that would be a super-productive day at home. What is most important to me about this schedule is that I get all of my focused work done in the morning. In my experience, the single most important thing I need to make this happen is to avoid email and social media before finishing all of my focused time. The second most important thing is to have a clear cutoff time for email – where I stop checking email for the day.

Having this schedule is also helpful because, when I am writing, I might start thinking: “I really should put a load in the laundry.” If I have some light housework on my schedule, I can just tell myself that I will do it at the scheduled time. Likewise, if I remember an email I have been meaning to send, I can make a note and then send it when my email time comes around.

I also will schedule phone calls in the afternoon of my stay-at-home days because I often can take those calls while going on a nice walk around my neighborhood. Having this schedule in mind makes it easier for me to time those phone calls well.

How about you? What does an ideal work-from-home day look like for you?

PS: We have had a couple of cancellations for our retreat in Belize this June. Apply here today and we may be able to get you a spot!