Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A step-by-step guide to being an organized person in academia

How can you be an academic with an organized life? How can time management be applied to academics? I have been practicing time management for about five years, and can share with you what works for me.

This post summarizes how I keep myself organized during the semester. I have learned a variety of organizational tools from participating in Kerry Ann Rockquemore’s workshops, reading David Allen and Julie Morgenstern’s books, and following blogs such as the Professor Is In, Gina Hiatt, and Meggin McIntosh. In sum, there is a lot of information out there about time management, but I thought I’d summarize what I find works for me.

Hipster PDA

Annual Goals

Each January, I take stock of what I have done the previous year, and make a list of what I would like to accomplish in the coming year. Then, I separate that list out into months.

In January 2012, I wrote out a list that began like this:

2012 Goals
- Finish Deported book
    o DRAFT: INTRO Ch 1. Ch 2. Ch 3. Ch 4. Ch 5. Ch 6. Ch 7. Ch 8.
    o Citizenship notes
    o Incorporate discussion of TRAC data
    o Revise chapters

Then, I broke that (longer) list down into months:

January Goals
- OUP Chapter 3
- Guate interviews
- Guate draft
- Submit Human Rights piece to Sociology
- Submit jokes article to ERS
- Summit speech
- Publish op-ed
- Finalize SOC 780 syllabus
- Finalize SOC 332 syllabus
- AJS review
- Paper to ASA

I took all of my 2012 goals and mapped them onto the 12 months in the year 2012. I printed out my 2012 goals and posted them on the wall in my office. I also saved the file in my Dropbox folder that I call “PLANS” so that I could access it from anywhere. Then, I took a little break, and made up my semester plan.

Semester Plan

My semester plan is a bit more detailed than my Annual Plan, as it breaks down each month into weeks. Here is the first week of January:
January Week 1 (January 2-6)
- Human Rights piece to Sociology: Read through. Send to CM.
- 6 Guate interviews
- Talk for UH
- Summit Speech
- Outline/Plan OUP Chapter 3
- Set up mentoring for SREM

Weekly Plan

Each week, at the beginning of the week, I take my weekly plan and break it down even farther – into days.

Monday: 1 Guate interview. Read through HR.
Tuesday: 1 Guate interview. Finalize HR – send to CM. Summit speech.
Wednesday: 2 Guate interviews. Summit speech. UH Talk.
Thursday: 1 Guate interview. UH Talk. SREM Mentoring.
Friday: 1 Guate interview. UH Talk. Outline/Plan OUP Ch 3

I then map each of those tasks onto my calendar, like this:
Monday: 9am-11am: revise HR. 11am-1pm: Guate interview, etc.

At the end of the week, I do a weekly review, where I cross off my list those tasks I completed, and move to the next week those tasks I did not complete. The tasks I didn’t complete get moved to the following week. I always keep my semester plan and my weekly plan in my Dropbox folder so that I can access them from anywhere to make sure I am working on the right project.

Daily Execution

Each morning, I get up and look at my weekly plan so that I know exactly where to start. I try really hard to not check email, Facebook, or Twitter before writing. Then, I try to stick to my schedule and get what I need to get done. Things never go exactly according to schedule, but it seems things go better when I plan.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Scholar’s Dilemma: Is there a tradeoff between productivity and the measured cultivation of ideas?

Every so often, I read an online article about writing and academia that resonates with me. This article by Imani Perry struck a chord with me. She writes:

I really enjoy writing. … However, I also am aware that the pressure of writing “early and often” has led me, at certain points, to take an instrumentalist approach to projects. At times I have given up the kind of measured cultivation of ideas I highly value, in exchange for the designation “productive.” I know I am not alone in this, and even now, with tenure, I still carry a nervous buzz about “getting things out.

There are two I like about this statement.

First of all, it is remarkably rare to hear anyone say “I enjoy writing.” It is great for me to hear that, as it is a reminder that it is okay to like writing. I have the impression that most academics hate writing. This makes it difficult to have an open discussion about seeking out the joy in writing. I wouldn’t say I love writing all the time, but there certainly are times when I find it to be pleasurable, invigorating, inspiring…. I love this reminder to seek out more of those times.

Secondly, I have to admit to “guilty as charged” when it comes to exchanging productivity for the cultivation of ideas. I have published a lot over the past few years, and there can be a trade-off between productivity and letting ideas simmer.

Cowboy Pondering

Before I type any more, I want to point out that there is also a balance between cultivating ideas and avoiding procrastination. For me, letting ideas simmer longer would mean continuing to revise drafts, getting feedback from more people, and reading more broadly in the field. It does not mean avoiding writing or delaying sending off drafts and polished pieces.

I am currently struggling with this dilemma as I work on what will be my fifth book. Several people have told me to take my time with it. I have three years before I would even qualify for promotion to Full Professor – thus I do not have any institutional pressure to finish the book immediately. The ideas I am working on in the book are big and complex, so I have a lot of thinking and grappling to do. The conceptual field – neoliberalism – is large and fairly new to me, so I have a lot of reading to do.

The pressure I feel to get the book out soon mostly comes from myself. The topic - mass deportation - is important to me; it is in the news all of the time; and, I want to contribute to the national debate.

On the other hand, I have already written two books that cover many of the policy issues. My third book “Due Process Denied” is an expose of the injustices incurred by US immigration policies, and my second book - Immigration Nation: Raids, Detentions, and Deportations in Post-9/11 America - has “deportation” in the title. So, in some ways, I have already met the goal of getting my voice into the debate. But, I have so much more to say!

I currently am working, slowly, on my book on deportees. I have been toying with the idea of getting a developmental editor to work with me to ensure it moves forward more quickly. I also need to form a new writing group in my new town so I can have conversations with local academics about the book.

In sum, as I work on my next book, I will continue to use the strategies that have worked for me in the past – daily writing, soliciting feedback, finding support, and enjoying the process. As a new thing, I will cherish more deeply the slow-moving nature of the process and work to ensure that my ideas are fully-cooked and cultivated before appearing in print.