Academic common room
Motivational tips needed
underestimation · 03/07/2018 15:05
I have finally been let off the leash of exams, admin, etc, etc. And I have a fairly extended period ahead of me with no teaching and relatively limited administrative duties - until next year. Hooray! Except that Oh My Goodness. I am struggling to motivate myself right now. I have so much writing that I must do but no specific deadlines. And I'm kicking off new papers and have that voice on my shoulder saying it will be rubbish and it will get rejected and the reviewers will be horrible and why bother. And .. the sun! There's cold white wine to be drunk* and ice creams to be eaten and the kids have non-stop sports days and other stuff which is constantly breaking up my days.
Anyone else feeling like this? Is it just me? Short of chaining myself to my desk and switching off my router (not totally practical as I need to get online for shopping research) has anyone got any ideas? Hope I haven't just underlined my status as a phoney academic.
- Evenings only obviously, it hasn't got so bad that I am laying into the wine at 10am or anything.
NameChangedAgain18 · 03/07/2018 17:04
Watching with interest. Term finished last week and I am so exhausted that I can't rouse myself to get on with the research backlog. To top it off, DH has gone on a lovely holiday abroad with his family while I am left here looking after an elderly dog and seething with envy. I can't even console myself with wine as I've given up alcohol. Bah!
And I definitely have the same demon on my shoulder as you whenever I sit down to write. In fact, the bastard won't even let me sit down to write at the moment.
Thespringsthething · 03/07/2018 17:38
First take a few days off. It's been a long year, lots of marking, time for a brief rest- so say til next Monday. No point pretending to work.
Then next week, make your first job to plan out your next 6-9 months. I don't do this in a sophisticated way, but list every single thing that you think you will be doing and bullet what you need to do to achieve it (e.g. write paper on X, to submit to Y, I need to: get the data off Darren, write email to co-author, spend 2 days on SPSS, write intro, write methods etc). Then set a realistic date for that end point.
Prioritize which you are going to do first- and then only do that one for a week to kick it off.
Then spend just one hour (you can always do more, but one solid hour writing is better than 5 faffing about) totally focused. Set a timer for 25 min, no web pages open, just focus on doing that one paper/grant. If you are very tired, just fix the references. The do another 25 min. It could even be just rereading it from the day before. Sooner or later, you'll hit writing- so write a paragraph in that hour, then one the next day. After a month, with a few days off, you'll have done 25 hours on that paper.
Every day, plan what concrete action you are going to do the next day (in a notepad/journal or online) and do that specific thing in the hour. That way you don't spend an hour trying to remember what you are doing!
This is the counsel of perfection, I don't always do it, but the hour method really works, and moves you past panicking/procrastinating/not knowing what to do next.
You don't have to do it this way, but any type of planning, then writing with concrete goals for short concentrated bursts works. Still painful though!
NotN0wBernard · 03/07/2018 20:02
I agree completely with the PP. Term time is sapping and the heat also sucks energy. Have a few days off - guilt free, and enjoy your kids and/or get around to doing something for yourself that has been on the back burner. Once the mental batteries are recharged break each writing task down into manageable chunks. I.e., 1) write outline, 2) do reading for lit review, 3) analyse data (I actually do #3 first as it's what I find most interesting and it motivates me to make sense of it which brings about a rough outline. This may not be relevant to your discipline though. Then every day work on a small task. You may not get it done, but seeing progress is motivating. Also second the working in small, but focused, spurts. In my PhD I used the pomodoro technique and also blocked the websites I knew I automatically turned to when the writing became 'hard'. It did wonders for my productivity. Lastly, remind yourself that even the stars in each discipline don't crank out a perfect first draft. The craft of writing is in the editing, not the original writing. Good luck, and take a break first!
MedSchoolRat · 03/07/2018 21:17
I would imagine doing these things:
Make a list of ongoing or upcoming tasks I still have to do (categories = definite, probably, maybe or maybe not, WTF knows) Don't plan really to refer back to this list, just to help me recognise the must-do tasks as they come in
Make a list of stuff I WANT to get done, from most to least (allowed to change)
Day to day if I can't prioritise where to start, I usually do the quickest jobs first (ignoring things I don't have to do, generally), working up to the jobs that take longer. Some things you just have to block time out for, though.
In the end I have a list, re-arranged week to week, of priorities as I want to and or need to get stuff done. The list also keeps track of status & progress made on each project, so that after I drop each item I can go back & look up where I got to previously. Feeling organised helps me stay motivated: I can spend AGES rearranging my work-in-progress lists.
MedSchoolRat · 03/07/2018 21:18
... also, getting the little jobs done means I don't have niggly worries about undone tasks, I can really focus well on each tasks as it comes in.
QueenRefusenik · 03/07/2018 22:24
This is me, OP. The only thing that's helped so far is downloading Appblocker for my phone, so if you're also prone to MN'ing during working hours I recommend that!
parietal · 03/07/2018 22:51
I also find it helps to sometimes take some time (in a cafe, or on a beach, away from my desk) to think about the big picture - where do I want my research to be in 5 years time? what are the big challenges ahead? what are the most important ideas in the field? If the gods of grant giving gave me a spare £1million tomorrow, what would I do with it?
answering those questions helps drive my enthusiasm and helps me prioritise the most interesting work over the things that have been hanging around the longest.
KellyanneConway · 04/07/2018 15:17
I'm currently putting together a fellowship application which involves so much work it's overwhelming. I made lists of things I need to do, as others have suggested, and I've been taking myself off to the the University library now it is nice and quiet with one (achievable) task to complete while I am there. I don't check emails or do any online shopping, or glare at social media, just go and do what I've set out to do, e.g. draft impact statement, then leave with one more thing ticked off the list. For some reason, that environment seems to prohibit my faffing tendencies and makes me more productive.
Summersup · 04/07/2018 16:21
Kellyanne I agree trapping yourself somewhere is a good way to do work, if only because there's nothing else to do!
bigkidsdidit · 04/07/2018 21:44
I work in the 25 minute blocks discussed above, and aim to do 10 per day of proper work (aside from emails, meetings etc). Just do one tomorrow. Only one!
I also start writing papers in streams of consciousness - if I stop to fill in correct refs or check details I start dicking about on the internet. So I just write write write and check things the next day.
TshoTsho · 06/07/2018 23:27
Another one who migrates to a Library to do serious writing. In my case a public library: as I don't trust their internet, I just don't use it, which filters a huge amount of nonsense. I suppose it also helps I don't take a smartphone with me.
And the planning of course, but it's easy to slip on that one when you are in the groove (basically things tend to happen then).
A book I quite liked when I was a postdoc was the very subtly titled "how to write a lot" by Paul Silvia: short and no-nonsense. I have mostly kept the idea of a writing spreadsheet to monitor progress and targets.
underestimation · 12/07/2018 12:26
Thanks so much everyone - and apologies for belated reply. There's so much that's helpful here, including knowing that I am not alone in struggling sometimes to commit to writing. I will be applying these tips over the coming weeks and will report back. Thanks again!
UnnecessaryFennel · 12/07/2018 21:26
Some fantastic tips here. I've just managed to carve out two meeting-free days, ostensibly to polish a paper that's hanging like an albatross around my neck...guess what I've actually done? Answered work emails, fielded work phone calls...and browsed rightmove for houses I'll never move to.
Motivation is at an all-time low but at the same time I'm genuinely considering taking unpaid leave and locking myself in a travelodge for a fortnight to write.
I feel as if I will never, ever get my shit together enough to actually get this stuff done. But I will definitely try some of these tips!
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