So I spent another weekend at Thèsez-vous, my favourite (and only) thesis-writing retreat! The first one I went to was held at a children’s summer camp, this one was in an old convent, but the experience was similar. There is a very rigid schedule: we have blocks of writing time, interspersed with outdoor play time, meals and breaks and snacks, a somewhat condescending workshop with an experienced academic, and some yoga and meditation. We set goals for each writing period at the beginning, write them on post-its, and then move the post-its from the ‘to do’ section to the ‘in progress’ section, to ‘done.’ I found it super motivational, and though I thought I knew all there is to know about myself as a writer/academic, I found it pretty neat to realise that micro-structuring my time seems to be helpful. I didn’t achieve all my goals, but I did leave with a road map (or detailed outline) for the rest of the results/discussion, and a view of the end in sight, very very far in the distance, but in sight! So I’m hyper motivated and happy.
Of course, when I returned home it was to a whole other set of deadlines, none of which involve the thesis. This week I could write a blog post titled ‘How not to write a journal in 7 days,’ and then there’s another article to edit, some data for a third project to analyse, a conference submission or two to prepare, some preservice teachers to supervise, the MA student I am co-supervising needs me to read her document (I think it’s somewhere around 50 pages long), and besides organizing a conference, meeting with the teachers for a fourth project (where at least I am not the lead researcher), and meeting with some colleagues to discuss the possibility of starting a bilingual academic journal focused on early childhood education and care, oh and that book proposal I am supposed to write with some other colleagues…well, I should get a chance to work on the thesis again sometime soon.
Oh and did I mention I’m doing the Crossfit Open, going to start training for a 30k running race when the snow melts, and preparing to move with my partner and 2 kids to the city where my job is actually located? But thèsez-vous was an amazing experience, I highly recommend it to any grad students in Quebec or eastern Ontario. They have a Facebook page now where you can meet up at cafés and work. You just announce where you will be, put a clothespin on your laptop, and wait for the other students to show up and motivate you. I met a woman at the retreat who works full time so she either attends a formal retreat or organises an informal one with friends once a month, and she says she’s making excellent progress. My next plan is to try the informal rent a chalet with friends and attempt to reproduce the vortex of writing joy and vacation feel. I’ll keep you posted if it happens!
The Slow Academic, who is one of my academic superheroes primarily due to the name of her blog, recently posted about a conference she attended where the presenter inserted “thinking time” into her weekly timetable. Another article, this one on the Chronicle of Higher Education, discusses scheduling blocks of time for “deep work.”
I am not interested in chaining myself (any more than I already am) to my agenda. I wish I could unschedule my time. Now I appreciate living a life (and having a job) where I am (mostly) the one in charge of deciding what I do when. I often take an hour out of my work day to exercice, I work in cafés or at home, in the train or my office, I volunteer at my son’s school once every couple of weeks. My work time is split into teaching and the work that surrounds teaching (preparing, evaluating, meeting with students, and thinking); service and admin tasks (mostly meeting others in person or virtually, and doing follow-up work and communication between meetings and thinking); and research, which at the moment involves reading and writing (deep work), but also can include meeting with people, travelling to international conferences, and yes, thinking. This is one of the things I love about my job, and hopefully this variety and the constant evolution of courses and research and service commitments will make me want to stick with this job for the long haul.
Personally, my strategy is not to schedule more (to include thinking and other “slow” or “unproductive” tasks into my agenda), but to schedule less. To be loose with my time, to include more time than I think tasks will take in the schedule, and to be kind to myself when I just can’t concentrate on the task I had planned. To understand that some days what I had planned to take 6 hours will get done in 1, on other days it takes all day just to do something I thought would take 15 minutes, and on some days, my brain refuses to go into the deep thought place it needs to be, so I do less taxing work tasks like responding to emails, reviewing other people’s work, and doing the laundry. I only work evening and weekends when deadlines are dire, and I try my best to prevent this from happening. I manage to “produce” enough, but I judge my “productivity” on what I contribute. Did I make a new colleague feel welcome today? Did the article I published or the paper I presented make others think and question what they thought they knew? Did it inspire them? Did what I said at the meeting make a positive contribution, to the task at hand or more generally to some aspect of the field of Education?
Do you have any other ways to measure contribution on a daily or yearly basis? How do you handle scheduling your time?