Thursday, May 31, 2018

How to Restart Your Writing Practice: A Few Ground Rules

Are you looking for a reset after a long year of teaching? Are you struggling to get back into your writing for the summer?

Many academics are mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted at the end of the academic year. So, the first step is to intentionally take some days off. At a minimum, take the weekend off. And, make sure you have some summer vacation planned, as you will need a real break. I plan a two-week vacation with absolutely no work every year. This year, after my writing retreat, I will spend that vacation in Peru! I hope you are also planning a vacation for yourself this summer.


Once you are ready to get back to work, one strategy that might work for you is to set some ground rules for yourself to get back into your writing practice. I set ground rules for myself and adjust them according to the season. I find they are helpful to keep me on track with my writing.

Here are some examples of ground rules for getting your writing done:


  1. No social media before noon on writing days.
  2. Don’t check email until writing is complete.
  3. Complete two hours of writing before doing any other work or household tasks.
  4. Take the weekend completely off.
  5. Get some exercise 3 days a week.
  6. Spend at least one afternoon a week enjoying nature.
  7. Read fiction at least 30 minutes a day.

You may notice that only one of these sample ground rules is actually about writing. The first two are about what not to do before you write and the last four are about self-care. That is because, in order to ensure you write every day, you also need to take steps to avoid distraction as well as take time to refresh. And, summer is a great time to get back into fiction reading. (I am currently reading The Ministry of Utmost Happiness - what's on your list?)

What do you think would be good ground rules for you? What do you need to do to keep up your writing practice this summer?

If you want to be a super-nerd about this, you can do what I do, which is to create an Excel spreadsheet with your ground rules and give yourself a gold star for each week that you meet all of them.

Also, keep in mind that it is perfectly fine - even recommended - to change your pace of work during the summer. I talk a bit more about "summer hours" in this post.

I wish you a productive and relaxing summer – at least for those of you in parts of the world where it is summertime!

Sunday, April 8, 2018

How Academic Parents Can Find Time to Exercise

A question that often comes up when I do campus workshops on work/life balance is how and when busy academic parents can find time to exercise. As we get older, it becomes increasingly important for us to exercise in order to stay healthy and keep our stress levels in check. I find time to exercise because I know how important exercising is for my mind and body.

Like many aspects of work/life balance, how and when I exercise is something that has shifted over the course of my career.

Here are a few tips on ways to make time to exercise as an academic parent.

Jump

Find a gym that has daycare
When my children were of pre-school age, I took advantage of the childcare offered at the YMCA in order to be able to work out. One strategy that worked for our family is my husband and I would alternate between going to the gym and cooking dinner. For example, on Mondays and Wednesdays, I would pick the kids up from daycare and drive them to the gym. My husband would stay home and cook. We’d get home around 7pm and eat dinner together. He would go to the gym on Tuesdays and Thursdays with the kids and I would cook.

Some parents may not like the idea of having the kids in daycare all day and then taking them to the daycare at the gym. However, we found this system allowed us to spend quality time with the children during and after dinner. And, that was much preferable to us being stressed out and trying to prepare dinner with the kids running all over the house.

Exercise with your kids
Another way to get exercise in is to exercise with your kids. When my twins were infants, I would bundle them up in the jogging stroller and take them out for a jog or a walk. As they got older, I could walk or jog around the track while they biked. Eventually, I could walk or jog with them alongside me. Taking long walks with my tween daughter was extremely helpful for both of us at one point.

Exercise while your kids are doing something else
Once my children became school-aged, I often had to take them to various afterschool activities. For example, I would drop my youngest daughter off at gymnastics for her 90-minute practice. Instead of waiting at the gymnasium with her, I would drop her off and use that time to exercise. Sometimes I would go to the gym and other times I would go for a walk or jog in the neighborhood near her gymnasium. When she played soccer, I would walk or jog around a nearby track during her soccer practice.

Exercise while your kids get themselves ready for school
As my children got older and became capable of getting themselves ready for school, I realized that the early morning was a perfect time for exercise. My teen-aged kids wake up and begin to make noise around 7am and leave the house around 8am. I am always awakened by their noises. Thus, I get myself out of bed, put on my jogging clothes, and go out for a 30-minute jog in the morning while my kids shower and get dressed. I then make it back in time to have breakfast with them. The bonus is that I don’t have to hear the kids arguing about whose turn it is to take a shower!

Just do it
I have been meaning to do yoga on a more regular basis for years. However, the class schedules never seem to align perfectly with my schedule. My gym has an 8am yoga class that I really enjoy on Tuesdays. That doesn’t work perfectly with my schedule because the class is from 8am to 9am, and it means I don’t get home until 9:15, and I can’t realistically start working until about 9:45. That puts a real dent in my morning productivity. However, I made a decision that I am going to just do it. I am going to go to my once-a-week yoga class even if it means I will have a little less time for writing on Tuesdays. I have been doing that for about a month, and, guess what, everything is fine!

Have walking meetings
One way to get some mild exercise into your day is to have walking meetings. For example, if you need to meet with a student and the weather is nice, you can offer to walk and talk for your meeting. I have also gotten into the habit of arranging my phone meetings at times when I can take the phone call while walking. That way, a 30-minute phone call turns into a 30-minute walk. Of course, there are some meetings that require you to be in front of a laptop. But, there are many that solely require your attention.

It can be challenging to find time to exercise when you have kids of any age. However, if you are creative with your schedule and willing to prioritize getting in your exercise, you should be able to make it happen.

What are your tips for finding time to exercise when you have young children?

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Getting the Most out of Academic Travel: The Ideal Work Trip

I have been traveling a lot for work lately, which is great, but it also means I need to make decisions about which invitations to accept, as well as what to ask of my hosts to make travel more feasible and enjoyable. Jet-setting around the world can be fun, but also exhausting.

Several years ago, I wrote a blog post about my "ideal day," inspired by Barbara Sher's book, Wishcraft. I think of this exercise often, although my ideal day has shifted a bit since 2011, as I have gained clarity on what I want and need, and what makes me happy.

During a recent work trip, I realized I could use the "ideal day" exercise to think through what my ideal work trip would look like. What kind of work trip would I look forward to?

Envisioning what an ideal work trip would look like allows me to try and arrange my visits to reflect that - and to actually enjoy traveling for work.

Here is what I came up with for my ideal work trip:
Photo from a recent work trip to Costa Rica!

Tuesday evening:
Pack for my trip so that my travel bag is ready to go.

Wednesday morning:
6:00am: Wake up at home and write for an hour
7:00am: Go outside for a jog.
7:40am: Have breakfast with my family before they leave for the day.
8:00am: Shower, get ready.
8:30am: Write for another hour.
10:00am: Leave the house for my work trip
… travel to my destination ….
6:00pm: Have an engaging dinner with hosts
8:00pm: Back at hotel, relaxing with a novel

Thursday morning:
6:00am: Wake up and write for an hour
7:00am: Go outside for a jog or to hotel gym if weather is not suitable
7:40am: Have breakfast.
8:00am: Shower, get ready for the day.
8:30am: Write for another hour.
10:00am: Leave the hotel for a day of engagement with hosts and other guests
… this day can include meals, talks, meetings, and downtime …
8:00pm: Back at hotel, relaxing

Friday morning:
6:00am: Wake up and write for an hour
7:00am: Breakfast
7:30am: Shower, get ready.
8:00am: Write for another hour
9:00am: Leave the hotel to do something enjoyable - preferably a long nature hike. If I'm in a city, visit a museum or something I can only do in that location.
12:00pm: travel back home
….
6:00pm: Back home with my family

My ideal workday at home involves waking up early, exercising, and getting a couple of hours of writing in. My ideal work travel visit also involves having some alone time in the morning when I am writing and not skipping out on my exercise routine. If I can travel and keep my writing routine going, I feel better about my projects. If I can travel and find time to exercise, I feel better all around.

I enjoy engaging with others. But, I have also realized that one full day of engagement with people is plenty for me. So, I can request that my meetings be limited to one day. I enjoy having meals with people and trying new food, so I also try and arrange my travel such that I can make it in time to have dinner the night before.

When I travel, I also enjoy doing at least one activity that I can only do in that place. During a recent trip to Oregon, I went on a hike up a butte, for example. And, when I went to Costa Rica, I was able to visit a volcano!

I travel a lot for work, and often miss my family when I do. It thus works better for me to travel during the week so that I am home on the weekends and can spend time with my partner and three kids.

Now that I have a sense of my ideal work trip, I can aim to mold my future trips to emulate this as much as possible.

Of course, I am dependent on airline schedules, conference schedules, and my hosts' needs and location. However, knowing what I want makes it easier for me to make decisions about which invitations to accept, as well as when to schedule my flights.

For example, I have an upcoming trip to give a public lecture on a Thursday evening. I am unable to leave on Wednesday for that trip so I will have to leave early in the morning on Thursday. I have a three-hour flight, so hopefully will be able to get at least an hour worth of writing done on the plane. I have asked my host to schedule all of my meetings on Thursday so that I have Friday to myself. I will wake up on Friday, write for a couple of hours, and then find a great place to hike and have lunch before getting on a plane back to California.

Now, I am looking forward to that trip and especially to finding a cool place to hike!

What about you? How are you handling work travel these days? What does your ideal work trip look like?