I recently read a post by the Thesis Whisperer on how to write faster. Now, this particular website is one of the major motivating sources of my doctoral experience, and I have nothing bad to say about this brilliant Australian researcher and all of her great guest posters. I just have a different problem. I do things too fast. I lack the patience to be meticulous. When I began the PhD my partner actually told me that I need to work slower, and that was the best advice I have ever received. So here are some ways I am trying to work slower :
1) Never send a text, or even an email, without walking away for a few hours and then re-reading. This is good advice for everyone, but when I finish something I am usually so excited, or just relieved, that I want to move it along as soon as possible. Then I think about it and realize I forgot something.
2) Because I read and write and think and process ideas all at the same time, I don’t slow down to use a proper reference manager while I am writing, and I end up inputting all my references by hand at the end. A better thing to do would be to collect references, input them into Mendeley or another program before beginning to write, and then use the cite while you write feature. The problem is that I often need to find new references while writing…
3) Read things twice, or three times, away from a computer or other device where you take notes. Sometimes I read in the bath, or in bed, or on the bus. It’s just me and my book. Other times I prop the book open in front of the computer, and take notes as I read. The second method is much more productive, but the first is more enjoyable, and makes for a deeper understanding, and time to reflect and build an argument. The ideal would be to read the book once for pleasure, and a second time to take notes. The problem is that there is always another book to read… Similarly, and this may be a generational thing, I prefer to print out articles and read them with a highlighter in my hand, as opposed to on screen, but I don’t do this very often, because I want to save paper. I guess I just need to develop a closer relationship to the iPad.
4) Work in short bursts. I am a morning person, and I pick up my kids from school at 4:30pm. I drop them off at 8:30, so, when I am not working at one of my many part-time jobs, I work on my own projects from 9am to 3:30pm. Then I lose my ability to concentrate. After school, and on weekends, I play with the kids. I might read after they go to sleep, but it is rare that I will try to write at night. These forced breaks actually help me work faster during shorter periods of time, but then build in the necessary breaks to be able to look at my work with a fresh and critical eye.
5) Surround yourself with people who take the time to do things properly, whether it is the highly organised person who makes beautiful charts in excel or the well-read person who is taking 10 years to complete her phD because she is reading everything, in the original language. Maybe some of their patience will rub off on you.
6) Stop taking shortcuts – reading only the abstract, using someone else’s citations instead of a proper database search, etc… productivity is overrated – my goal is to enjoy the journey, and to challenge myself to be the best academic I can be.
7) And finally, do your PhD in a second language. You will learn things you wouldn’t otherwise, and will have to work harder to choose the correct word and to structure your sentences well. I think that’s one of the best decisions I have made along this journey.
On another note, I read a book that I suspect will change the course of my life, and my academic career. Reconfiguring the Natures of Childhood by Africa Taylor (2013). It is published by Routledge as part of their Contesting Early Childhood Series. For those of you not interested in nature, or childhood, or interdisciplinary work, the use of Latour’s ANT theory is brilliant, and she also introduced me to other theorists and to concepts in geography that she applies to early childhood. It’s a fantastic book, to read again and again, anywhere. I spent a week reading it and being blown away. One of the main ideas is that you can’t separate humans from nature. And then, cycling to school through the park with the kids, my son says somethings about how nature is so calm and peaceful and we need to not pollute (he’s 6), and my 10-year-old daughter turns to him and says, “but we’re part of nature, we’re not outside of it.” I love it when everything comes together like that.
I went to a workshop once on academic writing, and the presenter had us all go around the room and share whether we prefer to write at home, in our offices at the university, or somewhere else. Have I already mentioned that one of my main reasons for returning to school to do a phd was so that I would be free to hang out in cafés all day? Montreal has a great café scene, and I discovered an awesome new one last week – it has everything a café needs for a grad student, in my humble opinion: free wifi, great coffee, and a quiet environment. There are other places I prefer to go to with friends, but café Résonance is perfect for working. I don’t mind paying $5 for a latte, I think of it as rent for the 4 hours I spend sitting there working.