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!



Thursday, January 2, 2020

Don’t Check Your Email in the Morning


Woman in White T-shirt Holding Smartphone in Front of Laptop

You likely have heard this advice before. You may have even followed it for some time. You may have even read the book: Never Check Email in the Morning. But, if you’re anything like me, you tried avoiding email in the morning, and it worked for a while before you slipped back into your old habits.

We tell ourselves all kinds of stories for why we have to check email in the morning. Here are a few things I tell myself:

  • It’s efficient to check and delete emails from my phone while drinking my morning coffee.
  • It’s important to know what’s coming for the day.
  • There may be something urgent I need to respond to.
  • I can quickly scan my emails and then move on to other tasks.


Despite what I may tell myself, I am not that important. Nothing will happen if I don’t check my email all morning. And, although it may seem efficient to scan my email in the morning, it is not.

I recently read this great book by Cal Newport called Deep Work. In that book, he describes research which reveals it is harder to focus after checking email or social media. He explains that any activity you do affects your level of focus in the next activity you engage in. Thus, even if you take five minutes to scan your email or scroll through Twitter, that experience will leave a residue. The “attention residue” from email or social media is detrimental to your ability to focus on the next task. Email and social media are particularly detrimental to activities that require a high level of focus such as writing.


You will be able to achieve a higher level of focus and clarity in your writing if you get your writing done before checking your email and social media accounts.

I am Department Chair this year and I have to respond to lots of emails in that and other administrative capacities. During the Fall semester, I was able to handle those responsibilities while also getting my writing done in September and October. In November, however, I added three out-of-town trips to my already packed schedule and my writing fell by the wayside. Looking back, one of the main reasons I got so little writing done in November is that I began my days responding to emails. Once I opened my emails, it was difficult to achieve the focus I needed to make progress on my writing.

When I couldn’t focus on my writing, I turned to social media, which was a further distraction from my writing.

Thus, in the coming Spring semester, I am going to avoid email and all social media until I complete my writing tasks for the day. Then, I will limit both activities to specific times of the day.

My plan is to wake up at 6am, write for one hour, take my daughter to school, go for a run, have breakfast, and then sit down for my second writing session. Once my second session is over, I will check my emails. I then will close my email and check it again at the end of the day. At 5pm, I will log out of my email and close the program until the next day. In Deep Work, Cal Newport also recommends having an official end to the workday to allow the mind time to reset and refocus.

I also set up my phone so that I am limited to a total of 30 minutes per day on social media. I will only engage with social media once I have finished my writing and will avoid social media after dinner. This will allow me more time to spend focusing on my family as well as reading great books.

It should not be difficult for me to keep this routine during the month of January, as my semester does not officially start until January 14th and classes don’t begin until January 21st. Thus, no one expects a quick response from me during this time. My hope is that I will be emboldened and inspired by my writing productivity during the month of January and that I will thus keep this up for the rest of the semester.

How about you? What will it take for you to get your email and social media habits under control?

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Seven Strategies to Help You Become a More Creative and Productive Writer

Would you like to become more creative, more focused, more relaxed, and more productive? Did you know research shows there are specific habits you can develop that will enhance your ability to be all of these things?

Imagine writing in this environment!

There are many myths prevalent in academia that make it difficult for many of us to imagine we can be creative, focused, relaxed, and productive. These myths include: “the only way to be successful is to work all the time;” “some people are gifted writers;” “I can only write when I feel inspired;” and “a balanced life is impossible when you are on the tenure track.” These myths are counterproductive and prevent many academics from reaching their full potential.

Instead of believing these myths, I know that anyone can become a great writer by practicing their writing; that you can be successful and have a life too; and that there are specific strategies you can learn that will help you tap into your creativity.

Developing new ideas, which is at the core of academia, requires being creative. Your ability to tap into your creative potential is severely limited when you are frazzled, stressed, and overworked. Thus, although it might seem contradictory, being productive requires setting limits on how much you work.

I am sure you can think of a few writers you admire for their craft. I am also sure that those writers did not just wake up one day with the ability to write. Instead, they developed that skill over many years. The good news is that you can do that too. You can develop the ability to write clearly and convincingly, by practicing and honing your writing skills.

There are many strategies you can learn that will help you to become less stressed, more creative, and more productive. Seven of my favorite strategies include:



  • Daily writing


  • Unplugging



  • Spending time in nature



  • Meditation and mindfulness



  • Getting 7 to 9 hours of sleep


  • Getting regular exercise


  • Connecting to others via conversations about your work



  • You can find ways to incorporate these strategies into your summer writing routine. For example, have you considered writing every morning before connecting to the Internet? Have you tried meditating? Are you using the summer months to catch up on your sleep? Are you enjoying the beach or the mountains this summer? Have you considered taking a walk without your phone in the evenings?

    If you would like some help thinking about how to do all of these things, I incorporate all of these strategies into the Creative Connections writing retreat I co-facilitate every year. If you are interested, we have a few spots left for the June 2020 retreat. Participants find that this retreat is the perfect way to refresh and start their summer.

    The Creative Connections writing retreat for women academics is based on the idea that there are four elements that lead to enhanced creativity: 1) focused writing time; 2) spending time unplugged and in nature; 3) connections via conversations about our work; and 4) meditation and mindfulness activities that enhance focus and allow us to tap into our creative potential.

    This retreat will use a combination of these proven techniques to create a space that not only provides for productivity during this week, but that also teaches participants valuable skills they can use for the remainder of their careers. Producing cutting-edge scholarship requires imaginative and creative abilities and this retreat is designed to maximize creativity and productivity.

    The retreat is already 50% full. If you are interested, apply today to secure your spot.

    Whether or not you are able to join I wish you a creative, productive, and relaxed rest of your summer and look forward to hearing in the comments the ways you use to tap into your creativity.

    Thursday, October 25, 2018

    Why Daily Writing Leads to Productivity

    I began developing my daily writing habit in December 2006 – over ten years ago! Since then, I have written almost every weekday, except for vacations, of course. And, I have written a ton. I also have published a lot.

    In 2006, when I began to write daily, I had two published articles and a dissertation. Today, I have published five sole-authored books, over 50 articles and book chapters, and dozens of blog posts, online essays, and OpEds.

    A few years ago, I wrote a post about how to write every day.

    This post is about why daily writing works.


    I have writing on my calendar every morning. I write for two hours a day most days, and I get in a minimum of 30 minutes of writing on days when my schedule is packed with teaching and/or meetings. I thus write for a minimum of 30 minutes and a maximum of two hours every weekday.

    At the beginning of the week, I decide what writing tasks I will work on, and which days I will focus on which tasks. Sometimes, I have no pressing deadlines. This means I have to think ahead to figure out which writing tasks I should focus on.

    For example, I have an article due November 15. But, my co-author is working on it. I need to wait to hear back from her before I can work on it again. I also have been working on a grant proposal due in January. But, I don’t want to work on it now because I sent a draft to two readers. I am waiting to hear back from them before I get back to revising it. This means I don’t have anything to work on right now that has a deadline in the next couple of months.

    I thus am writing today only because it is a habit – not because I have an upcoming deadline.

    On Sunday evening, I pulled out my task list for the year to see what I can work on.

    I have three pieces due at the end of February 2019. For two of them, I have to wait for co-authors to do their part before I can move forward. But, there is one of them that I can work on. I thus am likely to finish that piece way ahead of schedule. And, that is great because I have two other pieces also due in late February.

    I think this is one of the main reasons daily writing leads to high productivity. If you set aside time to write, you will write regardless of whether or not you have an impending deadline. And, if you wait until you have a deadline to write, you might find that your deadlines are stacked together, making it difficult for you to meet them.

    My preference is to write daily, but the most important thing is that writing becomes a habit. If you set aside two days a week to write and write on those days no matter what, I suspect you would find the same thing – that you write because it’s on your schedule, not because you have a deadline.

    What about you? Have you developed a writing habit? Have you ever found yourself writing even though you don’t have an impending deadline?

    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?