Thursday, December 23, 2010

Calling all Workaholics! Fifteen Things You Can Do When You Are Not Working

Time To Read
I admit it: I have been called a workaholic on more than one occasion. I do make time for myself and my family, but it is hard for me to have “down time,” where I sit around and watch television or relax on the couch and stare into space. First of all, I don’t watch television, and secondly, I find staring into space boring after about … 30 seconds.

As a working mother of three children, I don’t have a whole lot of free time. But, there are moments when my husband takes the kids for the day, or when the children are off at a friend’s house, and I actually do have time to myself. It is hard for me not to use that precious time to write or do laundry. But, I find having a list of things to do other than working is helpful as a reminder of all of the things one could do in those rare moments of free time.

I suspect I am not the only person out there who has trouble relaxing and not working or doing housework. In this post, I provide a list of activities you can do when you are not working….

Fifteen things you can do when you are not working…
  1. Read a novel
  2. Talk on the phone with friends
  3. Go for a walk outside
  4. Attend an event at university concert hall or museum
  5. Watch a movie or TV show at home
  6. Soak in the bathtub
  7. Take a dance class
  8. Invite people over for drinks or dinner
  9. Go to the movies, a restaurant, or a wine tasting with friends
  10. Go to the gym or exercise class alone or with a buddy
  11. Engage in creative activity: writing, art, crafts
  12. Do yoga or meditate
  13. Tend to the garden
  14. Cook a new recipe
  15. Listen to the radio or a podcast
If you rarely or never do these sorts of activities, you might just be a workaholic. Remember, rest and relaxation important for the mind, body and soul. Give yourself permission to do something you enjoy. You deserve a break!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Two Week Method of Writing Academic Articles

Can you really write an article in two weeks? Of course you can, but you are pretty unlikely to be able to write a publishable article in that short of a time. Nevertheless, two weeks is a good amount of time to give yourself to work on a project before taking a break from it.

One strategy that has worked well for me is to write for two hours every day for two weeks on a single short project: a book chapter or an article. Working consistently for two weeks, I can come up with a very rough draft of an article. After working on it for two weeks, I put it aside. If it is in good enough shape to share with a trusted colleague, I will do so. If not, I put it aside and come back to it in a week or two.

How does this work? The 2-2-1 method: (Two weeks, two hours, one project)

  •           Work on a single project for two weeks at a time. You can have other smaller projects, but one will be your top priority.
  •           Work on your top-priority project for two hours a day. This work should mostly be writing, but also can include taking reading notes, revising, arranging the bibliography, etc.
  •           At the end of two weeks, decide if it is ready for you to solicit feedback, send to an editor, submit for review, or just set aside.
  •           Get it off your desk and wait at least one week before you give it another two weeks. This will allow you to approach your project with fresh eyes.

When I revisit my article or chapter after setting it aside, and, hopefully, with feedback from a colleague, I give myself another two weeks to work on it to create a better draft. I continue to do this until it is ready for submission. Once I have submitted an article to a journal, and I receive the feedback, I give myself two weeks to revise it. Depending on the number of revisions required, I may re-submit the article, set it aside, or ask a colleague to review it.

This method works for me only if I do two things: 1) Write every day for at least two hours Monday to Friday and 2) Have this article as my priority for the entire two weeks, meaning I work on it every day, first thing in the morning.

Depending on the project at hand, the level of complexity, my familiarity with the research, and the richness of the data, writing a complete, ready-to-submit draft of an article takes me between one and six two-week sessions.

Working on something for two weeks at a time allows me to approach the project with fresh eyes the next time I pick it up. It also forces me to stop and ask for feedback when I am having trouble moving forward.

The 2-2-1 method may or may not work for you. If it does, great! If it doesn’t, it is still important to decide ahead of time how much time you will commit to a project before you begin. Without setting these internal deadlines, you risk creating a situation where you revise and revise an article without ever submitting it.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Five Tips That Will Help You Have a Successful Co-Authorship

Co-authorships are very common in some fields, and hardly existent in others. When these collaborative ventures are successful, they can enhance the scholarship of the collaborators. In many cases, scholars consider co-authorship to be one of their most rewarding activities.

I have co-authored several articles and book chapters with colleagues. Some of these ventures have worked better than others. Others have not worked at all. When co-authorships are well-planned, they can be mutually beneficial and take your scholarships places you had not foreseen. In contrast, when the terms of the co-authorship are murky and the power dynamics unfavorable, co-authorship can turn into a nightmare, especially for junior faculty and graduate students. The good news is that these pitfalls are often avoidable.

In this post, I discuss some strategies you can adopt to ensure that the co-authorship works out.

Tip #1: Begin with an outline of the article
When you begin a co-authorship venture, sit down with your co-author and come up with an outline of the final article. Once you have a skeleton of the article, you can use that to agree on who is responsible for which part, and how long you plan to spend on each part.
For example, your outline could look like this:
   Introduction (500 words: Author A): First draft: 1/30
   Background (1000 words: Authors A and B): First draft: 12/1
   Literature Review (1500 words: Author A): First draft: 12/15
   Methodology (500 words: Authors A and B): First draft: 12/7
   Case Study One (2500 words: Author A): First draft 12/22
   Case Study Two (2500 words: Author B): First draft 12/22
   Discussion (1000 words: Author B): First draft 1/15
   Conclusion (1000 words: Author A): First draft 1/22
   First draft review (Author B): Due: 2/7
   Second review; citation check; copy-editing (Author A): Due 2/14
   Final check for accuracy and proofreading (Author B): Due 2/17
   Submission to xxx journal (Author A): 2/18

Tip #2: Agree on as much as possible up front
If you agree up front on as much as you possibly can, things will go much more smoothly. Here are some things you can agree on up front:

  • Agree on how long the paper will be, how long each section will be, and who will write the first draft of each section.  One of my most successful co-authorships was when my colleague and I agreed to work together to write a 25-page article. At the beginning, we decided on how long each section would be; for example, we decided that the intro and conclusion would each be 2 and ½ pages, that each of our background sections would be 1 page, etc. We also agreed on who would write the first draft of each section.
  • Set clear deadlines at the beginning.
  • Agree on theoretical framework and proposed methodology.
  • Agree on which journal you are targeting for the first submission.

Tip #3: Keep the communication lines open
Establish a weekly check-in with one another by phone, in person, or over email to ensure that both of you are keeping on task and to resolve any potential issues.

Tip #4: Keep track of the files by clearly establishing who is in charge of the most current draft
If you assign sections of the paper to specific co-authors, make sure it is clear who is working on what section at which time. Once you have a complete draft of the manuscript, it is usually best for one person to work on it at a time. When one author has the manuscript, the other author will not make any changes to the file. That also gives the other author some time away from the manuscript and a chance to look at it with fresh eyes when it comes back their way.

Tip #5: Be positive, encouraging, and courteous.
If one co-author is not keeping up his or her end of the bargain, make sure to let them know as soon as it becomes apparent. But, do so in a positive way and offer to help. Your shared goal is to produce a high-quality paper in a timely manner. Keep that in mind as you work through any unexpected difficulties.

Collaborative scholarship can be very rewarding. Following these guidelines can help to ensure that you get the most out of this venture. I look forward to hearing from you if you have any additional suggestions for fruitful collaborations.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Are You a Perfectionist?

Academic publishing requires diligence, attention to detail, conceptual innovation, and hard work, among other things. It does not require perfectionism. In fact, perfectionism can impede academic writing and publishing, and it is important to be able to identify your perfectionism and figure out how to get past it.

What is Perfectionism?
Perfectionism revolves around two false premises: 1) that writing the perfect piece is an attainable goal, and 2) that anything less than perfect is unacceptable. Although we all want for our work to reflect the excellence to which we are committed, it is crucial to get away from the idea that our work must or even could be perfect.

One reason your writing does not have to be perfect is that your intention is not to have the final say on a matter, but to contribute to an ongoing dialogue. Your attempts to publish in peer reviewed journals and books are your contributions to a conversation, not the end of the conversation. Your writing should be provocative and thought-provoking so that people will respond to it. If it were perfect, there wouldn’t be much to respond to.

Perfectionism leads to Procrastination
For many academics, perfectionism leads to intense procrastination. There are two ways that this works: 1) you are reluctant to write until you have the perfect thing to say; and 2) you are hesitant to share your finished work until it is perfect. If you refuse to write until you have the perfect idea, you likely will find that you write very little. And, if you fear submitting your work before it is perfect, you may find that you never submit it.

One of my colleagues recently shared with me that she finds it difficult to write before she knows what she will say. She will sit down at her computer and be unable to think of anything innovative or even relevant to her project. So, she will busy herself with other tasks – laundry, cooking, paying the bills, cleaning – until she comes up with just what she wants to say. When she finally comes up with the idea, she rushes to the computer and writes it all down. I asked her how often she actually comes up with ideas while doing all of those other tasks. She admitted it had only happened twice this semester.

Although it is true that we sometimes can think of great things while we are engaging in other activities, if we wait until we have something ground-breaking to say, we will find ourselves writing only on those rare occasions. Instead, a much better tactic is to put that perfectionism aside and to allow ourselves to write every day, even if we don’t think we have very much to say. You just have to trust yourself that good ideas will come while you are writing. Trust me, they are more likely to come if you sit down in front of the computer and begin to type or pull out a pad and a pen than if you give up and decide to do laundry all day instead.

Perfectionism Keeps You from Submitting Articles
Another colleague of mine recently told me that he has been sitting on a near-finished article for several months. He continuously finds reasons not to submit it to a journal, even though his tenure case depends on him publishing articles. One of the reasons he is reluctant to submit the article is that this article is central to his research agenda, and his research is at the center of his self-identity as a social justice activist. He, like many academics, sees his article not just as a reflection of his work, but as a reflection of himself. He does not just fear his work being evaluated by external reviewers, but fears putting himself up for evaluation. Since he sees his article as a reflection of himself, and not just his work, his perfectionism is in full gear.

Of course, your work is not you; it is what you produce. When you pour your heart and soul into your work, however, it is hard to separate the two. The first step to getting around this type of perfectionism is to recognize that it is occurring. Once you are aware that your reluctance to submit is related to your feeling that you are your writing, you can begin to have a conversation with yourself that allows you to see that you are much more than your writing. Your writing is just one aspect of your identity. And, it is an aspect of your identity that you need to share in order to enrich. Although you may keep a private journal to record your most intimate thoughts, your academic writing is not meant to be kept private: it is intended to be shared and critiqued. What ends up being critiqued is not you, but your writing.

Perfectionism is pervasive among academics and can lead to a lot of anxiety and stress. However, many academics are able to be happy and successful despite their perfectionism. The key lies in recognizing your perfectionism and figuring out how to deal with it.

I’d love to hear from you: what are some ways you have dealt with perfectionism?