Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Ten Tips for a Productive Summer*

Summertime is here! For those of us who are not teaching, or who are only teaching for part of the summer, summertime offers weeks or months of unstructured time during which we hope and plan to accomplish great things.

Many of us hope to be as productive as possible during the summer. However, having unstructured time can be a trap that leads to less (not more) productivity. To help you to avoid falling into that trap, here are Ten Tips to make your summer as productive as possible.

Tip #1: Start with a Plan
Start your summer with a set of realistic, concrete, and achievable research goals. For example, “finish book” is a bit too vague. Instead, decide which chapter(s) of your book you will write or revise, and set specific time frames for each task. The tasks should be as clear as possible, with estimates for when you will do them. One example is: “July 1 to 4: Read five articles on transnationalism and incorporate them into the literature review of Chapter Two.”

Tip #2: Write Every Day
Faculty development researchers have found that the key to productivity is writing every weekday for at least one hour. Writing from the first day of the summer will ensure that you don’t wait until the end to start the most important part of your work. While most people are resistant to this idea, daily writing provides you with the opportunity to stay in constant contact with your work and will continually allow you to generate new ideas.

Tip #3: Prioritize Your Writing
The best way to ensure that you will finish your writing projects is to make writing your top priority each day. Too many academics make the mistake of taking care of everyone else’s needs before they attend to the most important part of their work. Don’t let it happen to you.

Tip #4: Tame Your E-mail
Never check email first thing in the morning. Check it only after writing for at least one hour, and limit yourself to a couple of times a day. Remember, it is the summertime, and you are not on call. To remind everyone of this, put an auto-responder on your email that indicates you are on leave for the summer.

Tip #5: Create Support and Accountability
Join a writing support group. These groups can be in the department where your work or study, across disciplines, across town, or online. Writing groups provide vital support and feedback and make the process much more enjoyable. There are many different types of writing groups, and it is important to find the one that suits you best.

Tip #6: Build in Feedback Loops
Decide in advance how many presentations, conferences, and/or guest lectures you will give. One or two per summer are good for sharing your ideas and making sure you are productive, but too many can get in the way of meeting your writing goals. At the beginning of the summer, determine who can read your work and give you critical feedback and let those people know when you will have a draft ready to send to them.

Tip #7: Create Structure in Your Day
Develop a daily routine that works for you. I like to go to the office in the morning, coffee shop in the afternoon, and save reading for home in the evening. Whatever routine works for you and your energetic rhythms is fine, but developing a regular routine will help keep you on track, regularly connecting with others, and out of the house each day.

Tip #8: Know Your Limits
Figure out what your personal limits are. When you are writing and have few other commitments, time can seem limitless. Each of us, however, has limits on the amount of time we can spend each day engaged in intense mental labor. Determining your limits will prevent you from feeling like you are not doing enough while keeping you productive.

Tip #9: Track Your Work
Keep a log of what you do each day and how long it takes you to do it. This sounds a bit neurotic, but if you record that you wrote for an hour, checked email for thirty minutes, then read for 90 minutes, you will feel inclined to limit web surfing, and won’t end up spending ten hours in front of the computer with little to show for it.

Tip #10: Celebrate Your Successes
Reward yourself on a regular basis. Each week that you meet your writing goals, do something nice for yourself – a meal out at your favorite restaurant, a nice bottle of wine, a manicure, a ballgame, a trip to the beach or the mountains, a walk in the park, a visit to the history museum – whatever suits your fancy. You deserve it!

The clearer you are at the outset about your writing goals, and the more pro-actively you work towards creating support and accountability for your writing, the more likely you are to achieve your goals.

*Adapted from this post: Ten Tips for a Productive Post-doctoral Year by Tanya Golash-Boza and Kerry Ann Rockquemore


  1. Great tips. Thanks.

    I am on Summer Plan #2. I was supposed to be spending all summer co-authoring a book, but my co-author is still engaged in another book project. That's okay, I'm just using my writing time for other projects.

    However, many months ago when buying tickets for summer vacation, I told my husband, "You go with the kids. I will be consumed with the book project." Oops. Lesson learned: Plan my writing around my family, not vice versa.

  2. Ann: I hope you are able to find a way to go on that vacation! Either way, you have a great point: It is crucial to plan around our families when we can.