Thursday, October 23, 2014

Take the Weekends Off!

When I began my tenure-track position in 2005, I did not have Internet access at home or a smartphone. I remember telling a collaborator not to expect a response from me on Saturdays or Sundays as I did not check email on the weekends. He was astonished. Fast forward to today: I have both web access at home and an iPhone so it’s more challenging to avoid working on the weekends now. But I still make every effort not to.

We all need a real break from work. I’ve found I need time off on the weekends in order to be productive the following week. Our productivity declines precipitously when we try to work more than 40 hours a week. It is, thus, much more effective to consciously limit our working hours so that we can be as productive as possible during those times we are working – and can enjoy our time off, guilt-free.

Still can't believe this beautiful beach in Big Sur is only 3 hours from my home!


What would happen if you didn’t work at all this weekend? I spent a recent weekend in Yosemite National Park, with limited phone and email access. I went on a hike to a waterfall, swam in the cool and clear Merced River, had engaging conversations with friends, and laughed with my daughters. When I came back to work on Monday, I felt rejuvenated and ready to move forward with my writing projects.

If you are used to working all or part of the weekend, here are some ways to spend your time that will ensure you return to work rejuvenated:

1) Take a long walk in the park without your phone. There is scientific evidence that walking helps us think. When was the last time you spent time alone? I mean, really alone, without any electronic devices? If it’s been awhile, you might be surprised what happens when you venture out with just your thoughts.

2) Get some exercise. Go to the gym. Getting your heart rate up can make you feel great. Go lift some weights or run as fast as you can on the elliptical. Go for a swim or take a yoga class. Apart from being good for your heart, there is evidence that exercise is good for your brain.

3) Meditate. There are many mental, spiritual, and physical benefits to meditation. Try it out and see if it works for you. “Mindfulness meditation” has been found to enhance your focus and even reduce your stress levels.

4) Hang out with friends and family. Tell them that you love them. Find out what brings them joy. What about a friend with whom you can share your worries? It can be especially good to spend time with someone who makes you laugh as there are numerous health benefits to laughter.

5) Do something crafty or artistic, even if you’re not very crafty or artistic. Do you have a project lying around you have been meaning to get to? Do you have an easel tucked away in a closet? Pull it out and get painting. Or sign yourself up for a drawing or photography class. It will allow you to be creative on something other than work.

Read the rest on The Chronicle....

Friday, September 5, 2014

On Writing: Sometimes Less Is More

I have published my first piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education's new site: Vitae. You can read it here and I have pasted the first few paragraphs below.

I recently organized a writing retreat in Yosemite National Park. When the participants learned that we would only be writing for two and a half hours each day, many were surprised. “Isn’t this a writing retreat?” they asked. “I am a slow writer, can I skip the afternoon activities so that I can get in more writing?”

I understood their frustration and surprise. It is normal to expect that the more hours you spend on a task, the more productive you will be. However, writing is different. I liken it to hauling stones: When you haul stones, you deplete your physical energy. When you write, you deplete your intellectual energy. Because each of us only has a limited amount of intellectual energy, it is not the case that the more hours you spend writing, the more productive you will be.



Your intellectual energy can be a bit delicate. If you run it to its bitter end each day, you will find that you have less and less. Have you ever spent an entire day working on a project only to find that the next day you are unable to move forward? Have you ever pushed yourself to the limit to meet a deadline and found yourself unable to be productive for the next week or longer? When that happens, it is because you have pushed your intellectual energy to the limit. You have hit a wall and need time to recover.

By limiting the amount of time you spend writing, you are protecting your intellectual energy and ensuring that it gets renewed daily. For that reason, I suggest that you can be most effective by spending one to four hours on your writing each day.

Of course, if you prefer, you can continue to overwork yourself and hit walls. However, wouldn’t it be better to figure out how much intellectual energy you can expend on a daily basis and stick to that? Wouldn’t it be better to wake up each day fresh and ready to move forward?

Then when you do sit down to write, you can completely focus on your work. And I mean completely. Turn off your phone, and step away from email, the Web, and social media. For most people, the best time to write is first thing in the morning--before checking email or Facebook. Try writing for at least an hour before looking at your email or social-media accounts.

Use a timer as you write to see how much time you are actually writing, as opposed to looking for distractions. Turn the timer off each time you are distracted by anything not directly related to your writing. (If you are not sure if you are actually writing or not, please see this list of 10 ways you can write every day.)

When you write first thing in the morning, and then stop writing for the rest of the day, your mind will continue to process thoughts related to your project. Take advantage of that. One of the best ways is to go for a walk alone and without any electronic devices. Use the time to process your thoughts. Think back on what you have written for the day and about what you will do the next day. You may be surprised about the revelations you have about your writing when you are not writing. You may even wish to take a notepad with you on these strolls.

Read the rest here.

And, if you are interested in that writing retreat I mention above, please see this website as there are still a few spots open for the next retreat - which will be in Hawaii.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

How to Publish an Article in an Academic Journal: Avoid Rookie Mistakes

If you are reading this, I likely don’t need to tell you about the importance of publishing scholarly articles to get an academic position or, if you have one, to secure tenure or promotion. Instead, I’d like to offer you some tips that might help you get your research published.



I am writing this post because I have reviewed an insane amount of articles over the past few months, and have noticed that many of these articles should never have been sent out for review, because they were missing key components.

The authors of these articles thus waited three months for someone to tell them that they do not have a clear argument, that there is no literature review, or that they need to describe their ethnographic methods. Sometimes they waited this long or longer only to hear other fairly generic advice.

I am in the process of submitting an article to a journal. I am thus writing this post both to make sure that I practice what I preach, and to offer some examples from my own writing that might be useful as you prepare your own article.

Some questions to ask yourself

First of all, before you send an empirical social science article out for review, ask yourself these questions:

  1. What is your research question?
  2. How is your research question related to the current literature?
  3. How will you use your data to answer your research question?

Before you send a piece off, make sure that a) you can answer these questions; and b) that anyone that reads your paper also can answer these questions.

I have reviewed twenty papers and books in the first half of this year. Many of the articles received rejections because the articles did not have all the necessary pieces or because the pieces did not have the necessary elements. Thus, make sure that your paper has all of the following elements.

(This post is primarily directed at authors of empirical social science articles, but let me know in the comments how this might be adjusted for other fields.)

Introduction

The introduction should contain a brief summary of the literature with which you will engage, a research question that derives from that literature, and a brief explanation of how you will answer that question.

For example, I am writing an article that engages with two distinct bodies of literature: scholarship on race and incarceration and scholarship on immigrant incorporation. My introduction has one paragraph on each of those bodies of literature, followed by a statement of the research questions and the methods.

“This paper brings the literature on immigrant incorporation into conversation with the literature on mass incarceration through a consideration of these two research questions: 
  1. How has mass deportation affected the incorporation trajectories of black male immigrants?
  2. What role does gendered structural racism play in blocking the mobility of black male immigrants? 
I draw from interviews with 83 Jamaican and Dominican immigrants to answer these questions.”

I then use two more paragraphs to define the conceptual terms I am using – particularly “gendered structural racism.”

Literature Review

Some of the papers I reviewed simply did not have literature reviews. Others made the rookie mistake of a serial literature review – where the author discusses one piece of scholarship per paragraph yet does not put the works into conversation with each other. The literature review must synthesize the literature and point directly to your research questions.

You can tell you are doing this if you have sentences that look like this:
“Immigration scholars argue that there are distinct paths to becoming part of society and refer to this process as segmented assimilation. These sociologists argue that immigrants who arrive in the country as youth experience either 1) assimilation into mainstream society; 2) selective acculturation; or 3) downward assimilation (Portes and Zhou 1993; Zhou 1997; Portes and Rumbaut 2001).”
You are not doing this if you have several paragraphs that each begin with: “Portes and Rumbaut (2001) argue…. Zhou (1997) argues…..” Synthesis is key here.

My literature review begins with a section on the collateral consequences of mass incarceration, which ends with the statement:
“As scholars get a handle on the collateral consequences of mass incarceration, it is crucial to also pay attention to the collateral consequences of mass deportation.”
The next section is on crimmigration, where I explain how immigration and criminal law enforcement have merged. This section is more background than literature review, and I have gone back and forth about where to put it. For now, it is between the first main section of the literature review and the last, which is on deportation and immigrant incorporation.

The subsection on immigration incorporation begins with:
“Whereas scholars who write about the urban African American experience often highlight the impact of mass incarceration, those who focus on black immigrants rarely mention heavy policing or mass incarceration. Whereas immigration scholars often focus on attitudes and identities, scholars of mass incarceration argue that, regardless of your attitude, U.S. drug laws are so draconian that it becomes difficult for any black or Latino male youth to avoid the criminal justice system, particularly if he lives in a primarily non-white neighborhood (Alexander 2011; Western 2006). This raises the question of how gendered structural racism affects the incorporation trajectories of black male immigrant youth.”
This is followed by a discussion of the prevailing literature on immigrant incorporation - the segmented assimilation discussion mentioned above.

Make sure that your literature review points directly at your research questions.

Argument

Every article needs an argument. You can state your argument in the introduction, in the abstract, and/or in the literature review. You need an argument, however, in order to get published. Here’s mine:

“I argue that a primary factor contributing to their arrest and incarceration was gendered structural racism – not oppositional attitudes. Neither ethnic cohesion nor Anglo-conformity protected these black male immigrants from being funneled into the criminal justice system.”
Note: If your paper is quantitative, you will need hypotheses. In my view, you don’t need these for qualitative papers.

Methods

My article is based on ethnography and interviews, so the methods section is pretty straightforward. I discuss how long the ethnographic research lasted (9 months); how many interviews (83); and the case selection – why I interviewed deportees in Jamaica and the Dominican Republic, and why most of my interviewees are men.

Data and Analysis

This is the meat of your paper – where your original contribution lies. The main trick here is to make sure that you deploy your data to answer your research questions.

In my paper, I am trying to show that black male immigrants who were on a path to mainstream assimilation, who engaged in selective acculturation, and who experienced downward assimilation all met a similar fate – they ended up arrested, incarcerated, and deported. My objective is to show that their attitudes about school and their future goals were not the reason they were deported. Instead, they were deported because they live in heavily policed neighborhoods, were racially profiled, and faced a punitive legal and immigration system. Thus, I divide my discussion of data and methods into those three sections.

Many qualitative papers fail to analyze their data. You not only need to tell us what you learned from your interviews and ethnography; you also need to analyze each piece of data you provide. Tell the reader what it means and why it’s important.

Conclusion

I have not thus far rejected an article for not having a good conclusion – although I did receive one that completely lacked a conclusion. And, that did not look good.

In any event, a good conclusion can only strengthen your article and make it more likely that your findings will be understood and disseminated.

In my conclusion, I reiterate my findings, mention any possible limitations, and explore directions for future research.

Here is my restatement of my main argument:
“Some of these youth assimilated to the local subcultures in their neighborhoods. Others maintained strong ethnic ties. Still others had high aspirations about becoming part of mainstream society. None of these paths, however, could protect them from the consequences of heavy policing in their neighborhoods.”
I think I am nearly ready to submit. How about you?



Saturday, April 5, 2014

How to meet your financial, fitness, and writing goals: Five strategies that work

Have you ever lost weight, saved money for an important purchase, or met a writing deadline?

If you have ever met any fitness, financial, or writing goals, there is a good chance that you have developed skills that will allow you to meet other goals.


Goal Setting

The strategies for meeting very different kinds of goals are surprisingly similar. In this post, I will focus on these three areas – as these are some of the most common goals that people have.

If you have never set or met any goals, then this post might also be helpful for you to decide if goal-setting is an appropriate strategy for you.

So, what do money, fitness, and writing have in common?

1. Set reasonable goals.

With saving money, it will be hard to meet your goals if you try and save half your income. Likewise, losing five pounds a week is setting yourself up for failure, as is trying to write 3,000 words a day. Instead, set reasonable, achievable goals. These goals will vary by individual, but it is important to set goals that are both reasonable and achievable. Here are some examples of reasonable goals.

Writing: Write for 30 minutes Monday to Friday. Write 300 words a day. Take notes on one article or book chapter a day.

Fitness: Walk or bike to work once a week. Go to the gym three times a week. Avoid meat on Fridays. Avoid sugar on Tuesdays. Lose one pound a week.

Money: Only buy fancy coffee once a week. Put 10 percent of earnings in a savings account. Use 10 percent of earnings to pay off debt. Cancel cable television. Eat out only once a week.

2. Keep track of your activities.

Knowledge really is power here.

If you really want to take control of your finances, one of the best things you can do is to track every penny you spend. If you are not ready to do that, however, you can at least make a budget and track spending in certain areas. Mint provides a free tool for you to do that. For example, if you set a budget of $100 a month for eating out, it will tell you when you’ve reached that limit, and you can eat in for the rest of the month.

The same goals for your fitness goals – keeping track can do wonders for you. There is a free app called My Fitness Pal which allows you to track everything you eat and even add your exercise so that you can keep track of calorie intake and expenditure. This application works, but requires a high level of commitment. However, even writing down the food you eat once a week or writing down the exercise you do daily can help you meet your fitness goals. I haven’t tried them yet, but many people recommend the FitBit - which tracks your activity.

For writing goals, there are also different levels. Some people find it useful to write down the number of new words they write each day. Others keep track of the hours they spend writing. If you want to go all the way with time management, it can be incredibly revelatory to track your time for a full week. In this article, Kerry Ann Rockquemore draws parallels between tracking your money and your time.

3. Get a buddy involved.

Getting friends involved can help you achieve these goals. There are many ways to do this, from joining support groups to simply asking a friend to check in on you daily or weekly. There are online forums you can join, or you can make your own. Many of us are uncomfortable sharing personal information with others, but , if you can find a trusted person who will keep you accountable, it can do wonders for meeting your goals.

4. Celebrate your achievements.

It is crucial to not only set goals, but also to reward yourself when you achieve them. Depending on your personality and your goals, you can either give yourself a small daily reward or promise yourself a larger reward at the end of the week, month, or year.

It can be hard to think of rewards, so I will offer a few productive examples.

  • At the end of each week, if you meet your writing goals, catch up on one of your favorite TV shows.
  • At the end of the day, if you meet your fitness goals, call one of your friends and catch up.
  • At the end of the month, if you meet your financial goals, allow yourself a small splurge such as downloading a movie or getting a fancy coffee.

5. Make your goals a priority

It would be very difficult to make fitness, money, and writing goals your priority at the same time. For this reason, I would suggest thinking about one area of your life and deciding where you want your priorities to be. In what area are you most committed to change?

I have made different areas of my life priorities at different times. Prior to going to graduate school, my priority was to travel the world, learn new languages, and have a great time. To meet my goal of traveling the world, I worked as a waitress, and saved nearly all of my tips.

Once I began graduate school, as a new mother of twins in a very low-income household, I had to track every penny we spent to make sure we could pay rent at the end of each month. My financial goals were to avoid getting into debt, and I made that a priority.

When I was lucky enough to secure a tenure track job at a research university, I made writing my top priority, as I was sure I wanted to be in academia, and I wanted to build a solid case for tenure.

Now that I have tenure, I continue to write. It still is a priority, but writing has become such a habit that I no longer need all of the mechanisms I once had in place to make sure that I made progress on my writing projects. This has allowed me to focus on other areas of my life. With three children headed for college, I have to think about saving for their education – thus bringing me back to examining my finances. As I just turned 40, I have also realized that my body is not getting any younger, and it is important for me to pay attention to my fitness.

Over the past month, I have recommitted to my fitness goals. It was actually through this process that I saw the parallels and was inspired to write this post.

Finally, I know it has been a while since I have posted here. One of the reasons for this is that I have been focused more on writing opinion pieces. I also have just finished writing a textbook called Race and Racisms that has taken up quite a bit of my time. You can check out the website for that here.

I am grateful to all the readers of this blog and hope to post here more often.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

How to Get in the Writing Zone

I write every weekday, and I think that this is the key to my writing productivity.

People sometimes ask me how I can get in the writing zone every single day. After having written every day for the past several years, writing has become a habit. I no longer need to get in the zone, as writing is habitual for me.

However, it is also true that there are a few strategies that I practice that enhance my clarity and make it easier to get in the writing zone. In this blog post, I will share a few of these strategies with you. I also will challenge you to try these strategies for two weeks to see if you are able to develop a writing habit.



Are you struggling with writing consistently? If so, try and implement these strategies, adjusted for the particularities of your schedule:

  • Make a writing plan for the week. Decide exactly what writing projects you will work on this week. For example: Finalize article and submit to journal. Finish literature review for Chapter Three.
  • Break your writing plan down by days, and make specific tasks for tomorrow. For example: Monday: Refine methodology section and add sample details from proposal. Tuesday: Add references on neoliberalism to literature review.
  • At 8pm tonight, turn off all electronic devices: cellular phone, laptop, tablet, television, etc.
  • Find a novel and read it in bed.
  • Sleep by 9pm.
  • Wake up at 5am or 6am.
  • Write for 30 minutes when you first wake up, before checking email or social media accounts.

I know that not everyone has the life circumstances that would permit them to implement this schedule. So, it is not for everybody. However, I will say that having children or a family does not necessarily prevent you from having a similar schedule.

At some point, your children will be old enough to put themselves to bed and to take care of their immediate needs in the mornings. In my house, everyone turns off their electronic devices at 8pm and reads or goes to sleep. My children are old enough to do this on their own. When they were younger, I would read to them, and thus had much less time to read novels that I found interesting.

In these strategies, you will find that I suggest getting 8 to 9 hours of sleep. Nearly everyone needs this amount of sleep in order to function at their highest mental capacity and to have the ability to focus.

I also suggest reading novels, as any writer should read to perfect our craft.

If you think these strategies are feasible for you, I encourage you to try to implement them for two weeks to see if daily writing - and writing before checking your email - can become habits for you.

Let me know how it works for you.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Do You Need to Go on an Information Diet?

Is it possible to have too much information? Could information overload be getting in the way of important tasks?

27/365

I am a professor, a social scientist, and – to some extent – a public intellectual. It thus seems imperative that I keep up on the news. I talk about current events in my classes. I write about immigration policy, which is constantly changing. And, I like to know what’s going on so I can keep apace at bars and cocktail parties. Thus, in many ways, I need to know what is going on in the news so I can be effective at my work.

Even so, I find it useful to cut back on the amount of information coming at me. There are two ways that I have cut back:
  1. Limiting the amount of time I spend on news and social media sites; and
  2. Getting my intellectual work (writing) done before checking email and other websites.

I am convinced that I am a more productive writer when I write before going on social media and email. However, I have to admit it is a constant struggle. That’s why I find a strategy suggested by Dr. Morgan Giddings useful – “the information diet.” This strategy is also suggested by Clay Johnson, author of The Information Diet.

I am participating in a “Think Creative, Be Productive” Course offered by Dr. Morgan Giddings. I have only gotten through the first module. But, in that module Giddings offers up a great strategy that she calls an “information diet.” She challenged all of the course participants to cut out or cut back the following sources of (often unnecessary) information:

  • News sites
  • Blogs
  • Email
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Text messages
  • Phone conversations
  • In-person conversations

Giddings argues that reducing the amount of extraneous information that you permit to come into your mind will allow you to tap deeper into your intuition. If there is less clutter in your mind, you can think more clearly. I certainly agree with that. But, how do you reduce the flow of information?

Giddings is not suggesting that you completely eliminate these sources of information, but that you control how much you take in and control the times that you indulge in them.

I have a family to take care of, so it is not usually the case that I can wake up and walk straight to my computer without talking to anyone in the morning. However, I can avoid the urge to go on the Internet first thing in the morning. I also can make sure that I write for two hours before permitting myself to engage in email, social media, or phone conversations.

I put this strategy into practice this week and was mildly successful.

On Wednesday, I was successful at avoiding all Internet activities before getting in two hours of writing. On Thursday, I did the same. On Friday, however, I thought I would just check a little bit of email while my kids were getting ready for school. They left the house at 8:30am. At 9:30am, I was still on Facebook.

That’s when I turned on my “Self-Control” application and wrote for an hour. Self Control is a free and open-source application for Mac OS that lets you block your own access to particular websites. Once you install it, you can set a period of time to block for, add sites to your blacklist, and click "Start." Until that timer expires, you will be unable to access those sites--even if you restart your computer or delete the application. (Check out this list here for other apps that can help you go on an information diet.)

On Friday, I set Self-Control for two hours and was able to avoid distractions for an hour. After an hour, however, I pulled out my phone and got sucked into a Twitter debate.

Lesson learned (again). No Internet in the mornings before writing!

It is not just about the time you save in the morning by not checking email, news sites, and social media. It is also about the mental clarity you are able to sustain. Writing is a tough intellectual exercise, and the more focus and clarity you have, the better you will be at it.

What do you think? Are you ready to go on an information diet? Do you already have self-imposed restrictions? How do you avoid the urge? Does the urge go away with time?


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

End of Year Check-In … 2013 is nearly over!

There are many ways a writer can stay motivated.


Setting small goals and meeting them is one example. However, setting big goals also can be helpful.

Setting large goals for the year, for example, can help you to think about the big picture. And, once you meet those goals, it can be useful to think about all you have done so that you can develop motivation to move forward.

Goals

The trick is to set reasonable goals and reasonable expectations for meeting them.

The end of the year is a great time to go back to your big goals and see all that you have accomplished during the year.

As I was looking over what I did for last month, I was a bit down because most of what I did was to continue to revise works in progress. It can be hard to see the progress I am making when all I have to say for November is that I revised a chapter and an article and they are still unfinished.

To pull myself out of that slump, I decided to look at all I have done over the course of 2013. And, it turns out I have some major accomplishments to report.

I have been working on a fifteen-chapter textbook for just about three years. I wrote the first chapter in early 2011 and have been moving forward slowly ever since. This was the year for the final push and I managed to write the final six chapters this year! That is 48,000 new words. In addition, I returned to the reviews and made final revisions on each of the chapters. The final deadline for the textbook revisions was December 6, so the book is now officially in production. The book will be out in August 2014, and I will certainly celebrate that. (If you are curious, I have details about the book here.)

I also have been working on a book on deportees for a while. I completed the interviews in August 2010. I finished going through the transcriptions, writing memos and doing the preliminary analyses of the interviews in January 2011. I have been writing up the chapters ever since. In 2012, I wrote the Introduction and the first three chapters. In 2013, I wrote chapters 4, 5, 6, and 7 – four new chapters or about 40,000 words!

In addition to those two books, I have also been working on articles and book chapters for edited volumes. I wrote and submitted one book chapter and one article based on the interviews with deportees. I also wrote a rough draft of another article. Those three pieces overlap somewhat with the book manuscript, but are not exactly the same.

While writing this, I looked back to see what I did in 2012, and my productivity was similar – five textbook chapters and four chapters of the deportee book in addition to a few shorter pieces. It is good to know that I can maintain a consistent writing pace. It is also remarkable to me that my productivity for 2012 and 2013 were so similar. Perhaps I really have found my writing groove! As I mentioned last year, I have been able to accomplish all of this writing by maintaining a consistent writing habit of two hours a day, five days a week.

I find looking back over my accomplishments to be rewarding. It also gives me energy to move forward and keep up momentum for next year.

Now that I am finished with the race textbook, I can focus all of my energies on revising and submitting the book on deportees. There is no doubt that I can be finished with the revisions by Spring 2014. This is fantastic, as I am ready to be done with it!

Once I finish the deportee manuscript, I can work on the three articles I have drafts of. And, then I can move on to my next project!

What about you? Did you make goals for 2013? Have you met them?