Friday, May 25, 2012

How to have a productive summer by working four hours a day

It’s summertime and the living is pretty…. Or, at least it should be!

How can you have a remarkably productive summer and return to the school year feeling refreshed and like you had a break? To do this, you need to plan to be productive and to  plan to leave time to enjoy life. The thing is, if you plan to work all  the time, you are likely to feel guilty every moment you aren’t  working. And, who wants to feel guilty all of the time?

Plan to be productive

To plan to be productive, first you have to decide what you will accomplish over the summer. Make a list of all of the things you would like to do this summer. Include everything – from revising book chapters to analyzing data to submitting articles to finalizing your syllabi.

Once you have your list, decide when you are going to complete these things. Start with the most important items first. How long do you think it will take you to turn that dissertation chapter into an article? How long will it take for you to come up with a draft for your next book project or grant proposal? Now, map those tasks onto the remaining summer weeks. What will you do between May 29 and June 2? Between June 5 and June 9?

Prioritize your Tasks

Once you map your tasks onto your calendar, you likely will realize that you have more tasks than time. But, believe me, it is better to realize this now than at the end of the summer. At this point, you still have time to prioritize. What is most important? What items have deadlines? What can wait until the Fall or until next summer? What can’t wait? What can you delete, defer, or delegate?

Make a Schedule – and stick to it

The next step is to come up with a work schedule. When will you work and when will you play? Many people work best in the mornings; others are best late at night. How many hours will you work each day? How much time will you spend writing each day? When and where will you do your writing?

If you wish to return to the semester relaxed and refreshed, I recommend trying to work every day for just four hours. That’s right – just four hours! You see, academic work is mentally exhausting and if you try to work all day, every day, you most likely will get burned out. Instead, if you try to work for just four hours every day, you will have the rest of the day to re-energize and are less likely to burn out.

Limit your working hours

Believe me - you can have a very productive summer if you work for four focused hours each morning. The thing is – you do have to focus during that time. And, it works best if your time really is limited. Last summer, for example, I worked early in the mornings before the kids got too restless. This meant that I had from 7am to 11am each day to work. My husband and I have agreed that, during that time, I will be allowed to concentrate and focus on my work, and that the kids could not bother me. I had all the rest of the day to complete household tasks, surf the Internet, hang out with the kids, got to the beach, and to relax.

Make time for yourself each day

As academics, we all need time to process our ideas, thoughts, plans, emotions, and experiences. It is crucial that you carve at least an hour out of each day for yourself when you can process all of your thoughts. This time allows you to make plans, to come up to solutions to theoretical puzzles, and to relax your mind.

If you have children, finding alone time can be tricky. But, there usually is a way. When my children were small, I took them to the gym each day – where they had a daycare where I could leave the children while I exercised. Now that they are older, I take them to the park where I can walk around the track while they play. Other ideas would be to put a DVD on for the children while you meditate or run on your treadmill. In my mind, me-time each day involves exercise, but others may prefer to garden, sew, crochet, knit, paint, or work on model airplanes. So long as it is an activity that allows you to think and reflect, it should work.

If you doubt my suggestion that you can be productive working just four hours a day, I encourage you to try it and see what happens.  And, let me know how it goes….

Monday, May 21, 2012

Is Having a Stay-at-Home Spouse the Secret to Academic Success?

Have you ever heard that quote: “Behind every successful man, there stands a woman”? I have often thought about that quote in relation to my senior male academic colleagues. However, today, I want to talk about how it relates to me. How does having a supportive, stay-at-home husband provide me with privileges in academia?

The reason I ask this question is that there is an assumption that this is an undeniable privilege. Consider this comment on FSP’s blog: “I think people with a stay at home spouse should have an asterisk next to their name on their CVs and tenure documents, like baseball players who've taken steroids.”

First of all, there is no doubt that having a supportive husband has been integral to my success. I entered graduate school in 1999. My husband and I married in 2001, and had twin daughters soon afterwards. My husband is an artist and a musician, and he simply was not going to be able to earn enough in his chosen profession to pay for day care for our daughters. He did work while I was on leave from graduate school. But, when I went back to school, he stopped working. He has rarely had a full-time job since.

It did not make economic sense for my husband to work full time when we had twin infants, and less so when our third daughter was born. Putting all three children in day care would have cost between $2500 and $3000 a month and the jobs for which he qualified would have netted him about $1000 a month. As a graduate student, I was barely netting $1000 myself.

It was not until 2008 that we had all three children in free public school. At that point, my husband could have gotten full-time work. However, he did not for three main reasons: 1) In Lawrence, Kansas where we live, entry-level jobs pay very little; 2) Music and art are his passion, not working for the man; and 3) We love to travel and any job he would get would not permit us to take 4-week vacations in December and three-month vacations in May. Thus, my husband has become mostly a stay-at-home dad, although he occasionally sells jewelry, plays music, takes odd jobs, or works on our house.

In case you are wondering, we have been able to take vacations even though we have just one salary because we live fairly frugally in a low-cost area of the country. We have made vacations a priority over durable consumer goods and expensive nights out at home.

For us, his staying at home has mostly been a lifestyle decision. I have a flexible job as an academic and he has even more flexibility as a self-employed artist. I have thought a lot about the privileges it brings me (as a woman and mother) to have a husband who works as much or as little as he likes. Here are some of the things my husband does on a regular basis:
  1. Grocery shopping
  2. Picking up the kids from school and transporting them to activities
  3. Taking the kids to doctor and dentist appointments
  4. Staying home with the kids when they are ill
  5. Cleaning and cooking
  6. Yard work
Things I do on a regular basis include:
  1. Laundry
  2. Helping kids with homework
  3. Getting kids dressed and groomed in the morning
  4. Reading to kids at night
  5. Paying bills and keeping track of finances
  6. Vacation planning
Looking at these lists, it is clear that my life is easier than a single parent who earns the same salary as I do. A single parent would have to do all of those things (and more) or pay someone to do them. On my salary, it would be a stretch to pay people to do all of these things for us. Thus, I can only imagine that being a single parent in academia can be very challenging, especially if the other parent is out of the picture emotionally and financially.

But, what about an academic who is married to a well-paid professional or even a decently-paid academic?

I do think that if my husband were able to earn a decent salary doing what he loves, he would do it. But, we simply have not been able to figure out how he could do that. And, if he were able to make a decent salary doing what he loves, then I think that we would simply pay people to help us out with the things he normally does around the house. Right?

For grocery shopping, there are grocery services. We could pay someone to transport the children to their after school activities, to clean the house, and to do the yard work. The greatest difficulty would be when one of the children falls ill. For that, one of us would have to stay home. However, the other things it seems that we could pay someone to do.

So, how much privilege is there in having a stay-at-home spouse versus a spouse with a well-paying job? Am I missing something in the equation here? Do I have privileges that a two-income household does not have?

As I mentioned above, it is clear that an academic with a stay-at-home spouse (or a working partner) has advantages over a single parent. It also is evident that there are privileges associated with having a well-paid partner as opposed to a low-wage partner. In that case, I am very lucky that my partner is happy working from home, not making very much money with his jewelry and music, and dedicating most of his time to our home and children. If he didn’t find that fulfilling and instead preferred to work for $9 an hour as an intern somewhere, then things would be more complicated. Or, if we lived somewhere where we couldn’t get by on my salary alone, life would be more difficult.

What do you think? Can parents outsource household tasks or are there real limits to that? Do academics with stay-at-home spouses have advantages over two-income couples?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Plan to Be Productive This Summer!

Most academics I talk to this time of year are looking forward to summer, when classes are over, meetings are few and far between and we have lots of time to write. We can finally pay attention to that writing project that has been inching along all semester.

Now that summer is here, we can jump in and devote ourselves full-time to writing and research productivity.

Journaling at the rasta hideaway in Ghana

The joy with which we start our summers, however, is not always paralleled by a strong sense of satisfaction at the end. Many academics recall summers past when they planned to finish the book, send off the articles, and submit grant proposals where the plans did not materialize. In this post, I explain how you can have a productive summer, and how you can emerge from summer feeling refreshed, accomplished, and ready to take on the new academic year.

Start Off With a Break

You have worked hard all semester. Once your final grades are submitted and you have attended your last meeting, take a break. If you are really pressed for time, take just one day. If you can afford it, take a whole week. Whatever you do, begin your summer with at least one day without working and without any plans to work.

Make a Research and Writing Plan

After taking a break, the most important way to ensure you have a productive summer is to make a plan. And, no, I do not mean that your plan should look like this: “FINISH BOOK!” Instead, a plan must include a lot more detail. Your plan needs to be divided into weeks and broken down into manageable tasks. Most of us have about 12 weeks in the summer. Thus, your plan could look like this:

Week 1:

  • Read three articles on due process
  • Write section on due process for Chapter One
  • Make plan for completion of Chapter One
  • Complete at least two tasks on completion plan for Chapter One

Week 2: ..... Week 12: ...

As you can see, you do not have to know exactly what needs to be done to complete Chapter One to make your plan. Instead, you can include making a completion plan as part of your plan. Once you finish with Week 1, you can do the same for Weeks 2 to 12.

The benefits of making a plan are that 1) you develop a better idea as to what you can reasonably accomplish; 2) you set clear benchmarks for yourself and ensure you are making progress; and 3) at the end of the summer, you have a realistic idea as to what you have and have not accomplished.

Develop a reasonable summertime writing schedule

You will not be working 24-hours a day over the summer, no matter how few external obligations you have. In fact, you likely will not even be working consistent 8-hour days. The reality is that academic work is hard and requires an extraordinary amount of mental energy. Most people are unable to devote 8 hours a day, 7 days a week to academic writing, reading, research, and data analysis. People that try to do this quickly burn out.

Each of us has our own internal limits to how long we can reasonably expect ourselves to work. It is difficult to come to terms with our own limits. However, once we do, it can be remarkably liberating. I am the first to admit that I can write for no more than three hours a day on a consistent basis. Not too long ago, I learned that I can either spend all day at the office trying to get that three hours in, or I can simply spend three hours in front of my computer first thing in the morning and get my three hours of writing in.

Once I have done my three hours of writing, I have done the hard work for the day. At that point, I might collect articles I need to read, respond to emails, pay bills, or do any of the other myriad tasks that occupy my day. If it’s the summertime, I stop early to ensure that I make time to enjoy all of the benefits summer offers.

You too must come to terms with your limits and figure out how long you can expect yourself to write, read, and research each day. If you have no idea, one strategy is to track your time for a week or two to see how much writing, research and reading you actually do. Be careful, however, to note that you have at least two kinds of limits: how much work you can expect yourself to do in a short period of time and how much work you can do on a regular basis that is sustainable. You may be able to write for 8 hours a day for one week, but then find yourself unable to produce a coherent sentence the second week. That indicates that you overstepped your limits.

Once you figure out your limits you can develop a reasonable schedule. Keep in mind that many people are very productive over the summer working four hours a day, five days a week.

Write every day

The only way you can ensure that you actually have a productive summer, i.e., that you emerge with real progress on your writing projects is to sit down and write. The best way to ensure that you write a lot is to write every day, five days a week.

Thus, when you make your plans and your schedules, make sure that you plan to write every day of the workweek. If you have never tried daily writing before, this is the perfect time to start!

Have a fantastic, productive, relaxing, and refreshing summer! And, be sure to check back here for more tips on how to make this happen. You can even subscribe to Get a Life, PhD by email!

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Twelve Steps from Dissertation to Academic Book

When I finished my dissertation, I knew I wanted to transform it into a book. I did not, however, know anything about the publishing process. As I am now finished with this long process, this is an ideal time for me to outline the steps so that others can know how to publish a book from your dissertation.

In this blog post, I will explain the book publishing process. However, keep two things in mind: 1) there is a lot of variation beyond what I describe here and 2) this is generally the process for the first book, not necessarily for the second or third.

My first book, based on my dissertation

Step One: Write the Book Prospectus

Although it seems daunting, a book prospectus is not a complex document. I describe the book proposal in detail here. Briefly, it contains: 1) a summary of your book that outlines the main argument; 2) a one-paragraph summary of each chapter; 3) a timeline for completion of the book manuscript; 4) a brief description of the target audience and potential classes for course adoption; and 5) the competing literature. Usually these are short documents. Mine have ranged from four to seven single-spaced pages.

Step Two: Submit the Book Prospectus

The second step is to find a press that might be interested in your book manuscript and to send them a book prospectus. I explain how to find a press here and how to contact the aquisitions editor here. Once you have selected the press and found out the name of the acquisitions editor, you can send them the prospectus.  Often, the press also will want one or two sample chapters. You can send your prospectus to as many publishers as you like. Most publishers list submission guidelines on their websites. These guidelines often indicate exactly what materials they would like to see: usually a prospectus, one or two sample chapters, and a two page CV.

Step Three: Submit the Book Manuscript

When acquisitions editors receive your prospectus, they make a decision as to whether or not they will send your book manuscript out for review. If they do not, they will send you a letter with their regrets. However, if they are interested, they often will call or email you with a request to see more materials. Some presses want to wait for the whole book manuscript to be completed. Others will send out just the prospectus for review. Others will send out 1-4 finished chapters. That depends on the book and the press. They will let you know.

Step Four: The Press Sends Your Manuscript out for Review

You wait between one and twelve months for the reviews to come back. If just the prospectus is under review, this will not take very long. If it is the whole manuscript, usually you will wait several months.

Step Five: You Get a Contract

The press makes a decision based on the reviews. They can decide to a) offer a contract based on the reviews; b) ask you to do more revisions and send it out for review again or c) decline to offer a contract based on the reviews. If it is c), you go back to Step Two.

Step Six: You Sign a Contract

If the reviews are favorable, the press will offer you a contract, which you first negotiate and then sign. Here are some items often up for negotiation: 1) who will pay for the index; 2) who pays for the cover and inside pictures; 3) who pays for the copy-editing; 4) the royalties rate; and 5) when and whether the book will be released in paperback. You may or may not be able to negotiate these items, but it does not hurt to ask.

Step Seven: You Revise the Manuscript

You revise the manuscript based on the reviews. Some presses will send it out for review again once you revise it. Others will review it internally and ask you to make further revisions. Still others will send it as is to the copy-editor after you make your revisions.

Step Eight: Copy-Editing

Once the book manuscript is revised, it goes to the copy-editor and they proofread the text. This usually takes 1 to 3 months.

Step Nine: Revision

You revise it again, based on the suggestions made by the copy-editor. You then send it back to the copy-editor who sends it to the press after your final approval. You usually have one month to respond to the copy edits.

Step Ten: Page Proofs

Your book is put into page proofs that you get to read and revise again. At this stage, however, you can only make very minor changes. You correct any mistakes and then it goes to the printer.

Step Eleven: In Press

The page proofs are sent to the printer, and you wait for your book to be printed. Printing usually takes a couple of months.

Step Twelve: On the Shelf

Your book is available for sale! Now that your book is for sale, be sure to include a link to the publisher's website or to in your email signature to advertise your book.

As made clear in these twelve steps, publishing an academic book is often a very long process. It is important to keep in mind that it can take years to publish a book, even after you have completed the manuscript.

For example, I completed the manuscript for my first book in May 2009 and sent it to a publisher who had agreed to review it. I received the reviews in November 2009, and the publisher offered me a contract on the basis of the reviewers’ evaluations at that time. I signed the contract and then revised the book according to the suggested revisions and returned it to the publisher in March 2010. In June 2010, I received and reviewed the copy-edits. In October 2010, I received and reviewed the page proofs. The book was released in February 2011 – nearly two years after I had originally “finished” the book manuscript! Keeping this timetable in mind is particularly important if your university prefers you to have a bound book when you go up for tenure.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Academic Book Publishing: How to contact and find acquisitions editors

The gatekeepers to academic book publishing are acquisitions editors that work at university and academic trade presses. Acquisitions editors are the people to whom you send your book proposal once you have completed it. In this post, I explain how to contact and find acquisitions editors.

Man with book sitting in chair

Once you have decided whereyou would like to publish your book, the next step is to contact the acquisitions editors – the people who work at presses that decide whether or not your manuscript is appropriate for their press. There are three primary ways you can use to contact these acquisitions editors: websites, conferences, and personal contacts.


The first way to find acquisitions editors is through websites. Most presses list the acquisitions editors on their website. For example, the University of Minnesota Press has specific guidelines for proposal submission on their website as well as a list of their acquisitions editors. The acquisition editors specialize by discipline and subfield, so read the list carefully to choose which editor’s work is closest to your own. If you don’t see any specialization that sounds like yours, then that press may not be the right one for you.


Another common way to contact acquisition editors is at conferences. Acquisition editors frequently attend conferences such as the Latin American Studies Annual Meeting, the American Sociological Association Annual Meeting, and any other major conference that has a book exhibit. If you have a proposal ready, you can contact acquisition editors prior to the conference and ask them if they would be willing to meet with you to discuss your work. You also can peruse the book exhibit with your proposal in hand and give it to acquisition editors or their assistants who seem interested. Additionally, you can approach editors even if you do not have a prospectus ready in order to gauge their interest. This process can be intimidating, so be prepared with one-minute and five-minute descriptions of your book and its contribution.

Published Authors

A third way to contact acquisition editors is through personal contacts. If you know someone well who has published with a particular press, and who knows your work well, you can ask them to recommend your work to an acquisitions editor. Many published authors are happy to share the contact information of their editors with prospective book authors, especially if they feel your work has promise. The crucial thing here is to be sure that the author you ask is a fan of your work so that they will feel comfortable recommending you to a publisher.

Once you find an acquisitions editor that is willing to work with you, you will be embarking on a long relationship with that editor. Thus, it is important to start off on the right foot as well as to be sure that you have a good working relationship with the editor. For these reasons, it is a good idea to contact the acquisitions editor before sending all of your materials to them.