Princeton has recently given its graduate students free membership to the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity. This online community offers support for academics in many forms, and I have just participated in one of their 14-day writing challenges. The goal was to incite us to write for at least 30 minutes a day, so that we could see that even a minimal amount of work could lead to large accomplishments after two weeks. However, I had already developed these habits much earlier.
Beginning with my research year in Paris, when my days were no longer structured by seminars and I had satisfied all departmental requirements before the dissertation defense, I honed specific strategies to define goals and accomplish them:
- Collaboration: While writing a dissertation is individual work, writing with others makes a huge difference. I try to schedule regular writing sessions with fellow scholars no matter where I happen to be. Working on individual projects together is not only good for mental health, but also allows us all to be more productive.
- Clear goals: The best part of the challenge was that it asked us to define specific writing goals at the beginning of each week. I took a very specific approach, breaking up larger projects into smaller chunks that I knew I could accomplish on specific days. In fact, I was able to finish this entire website in those two weeks, as well as almost completing my chapter 2 chapter draft! For defining goals, I have found that the “pomotodo” app on my phone is a comprehensive to-do list combined with a timer. I found that dividing my work into different tasks and measuring how much time I spent on each helped me understand my overall process.
- Habit forming: Although I already wrote for far more than 30 minutes a day before this challenge, habit forming is key to real productivity. One of the best ways I found to build the habit was the mental jump from evaluating my productivity in terms of actual production. Once I began to count reading books, spending time in archives, going to museum exhibitions, watching documentaries — essentially anything remotely related to my work — as my work itself, I was already on my way to being more productive. I also began to understand my own process more, what times I write the most effectively and what times I would be better off reading and taking notes. I can always be getting some sort of work done, but that work is better if I prioritize well.