Browsing the archives for the Productivity tag

Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #27 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Another note to self. Do you have a paragraph in an essay you’re working on that vexes you? Or maybe an idea that you can’t seem to sort out? Print out or write down some of your work-so-far and carry it with you. When you have a bit of downtime, pull out your note instead of your phone. Checking in with social media is important, but checking in with your research can be even more meaningful. Spending time with your research periodically in spaces away from those where there is pressure to write can also alleviate some of the discomfort that occurs when you get distanced from your research-in-progress.

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Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #21 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Set early deadlines. A brief anecdote: my cousin asked if I could drop him off at the airport to travel home. When I asked what time his flight was scheduled to depart, he wasn’t entirely honest with me. By modifying the flight time, he built in a cushion of comfort so there was no panic about getting to the airport on time.

Set early departure times for your abstracts and article submissions. Putting something on your calendar the week before it’s due will bring it to your attention earlier. Additional time to start thinking about and working on your submission might potentially alleviate last-minute, rushed writing.

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Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #18 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Go ahead and clean the kitchen. Many academic writers talk about how when it comes time to sit down and write, they are distracted by the whole list of things they have to do first. Instead of sitting down with a clenched jaw, determined to stave off distraction, take a few minutes to review your draft or your notes. Then go clean the kitchen, wash the car, or tend to whatever physical task distracts you. If you do that mundane task or put your space in order while you are already thinking about your project, you might find yourself coming up with epiphanies rather than distractions.

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Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #17 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Use Post-its. Many years ago, I read an article by the author Michael Ventura in which he talked about writing bits of scenes and dialogue on Post-it notes and putting them on one wall of his office. As he used a bit, he moved it to the other wall. He could also easily stand in front of the wall with the notes to see where he might go next, and move ideas around, physically. Being able to step back and take a long look at your ideas can help tackle difficult organizational issues.

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Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #15 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Dress for work. If you’re writing at home, it can be difficult to separate your writing and research time from the flow of your everyday activities. The children’s show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood would always open with Fred Rogers changing his shoes and switching out his coat for a sweater. What change of clothes or accessories might denote your change from one environment to another? The physical act of getting ready to write can prompt the intellectual and psychological transformation as well.

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Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks – Week Eleven
Posted by Ellie Mackin

Content_WritingEllie Mackin is a third year PhD student in Classics at King’s College London, and is working through Wendy Belcher’s ‘Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks’ while attempting to finish her thesis.

I have long since accepted that my thesis won’t be perfect – that I just have to get it to good enough to pass (with minor corrections). Why cannot I do the same with this article?  I am starting to feel like it will never actually be finished. This week – the penultimate week of the programme – I can finally see how far my article has progressed, but it doesn’t seem quite good enough.  Thankfully, Belcher opened this week’s reading talking about just this issue, and she comes to basically the same conclusion that I have about my thesis: there needs to be some kind of problem for the examiner/peer reviewers to latch onto in their report – not to try and cover up any glaring mistakes (which at this stage, should have been sorted out anyway) but simply because they have to write something on their reports, and you don’t want to make them go digging for something to pick on.

The tasks for this week were pretty straightforward. Spend one day working on finalising the argument – reading back over week 3 and following the advice. The next is spent getting the literature review sorted out – we covered that in week 5. Then going over the Introduction – week 8. Getting the structure and sorting out the evidence come next – that’s from weeks 6 and 7. Finally, getting the conclusion together – week 8 again. So this week gives you a chance really to look over every aspect of the article in quick succession, and to gain a more general overview of the article as a whole. I started – as Belcher suggests – by actually printing out a copy of my article and marking it up (although, she suggests this under finalising the argument, I found it helpful to keep that hard copy to refer to during the rest of the week.)

I was initially a little bit scared at the concept of printing out this article and looking over it. I have done so much work, I thought, what if I find some really big, glaring errors or mistakes (oh no, I’m still doubling!). What if the article doesn’t actually make sense, or if I have to re-write whole sections! I think I’ve said before that I wish I had kept a copy of my article before I had started – the original product, as it were – so that I could do a bit of compare and contrast along the way (if you haven’t yet started Belcher’s programme and you are going to, this is my one big piece of advice!). More than any other week I think it would have been nice to go back and read my original article this week. I think it would have put some of my fear to rest, being able to actually see how far I have come.

And, even from my memories of that early piece, it’s a long, long way. So, after getting over my initial apprehension, I knuckled down and tackled this week’s tasks, half expecting a large amount of work still to do. Belcher even comments that going over each of these points might take more than a week. It didn’t (this bring on another set of anxieties though, of the ‘have I done enough?’ kind).

I had a few things to fix up in most of the categories – my literature review didn’t need any work because I have been fairly vigilant to keep on top of it during the whole process. My most troubling day was the last day – conclusion – which I have never been particularly confident with (I’m also currently tackling my thesis conclusion and having the same kinds of problems!).

But at the end of the week, there it was – in all it’s (highly edited, revised, rewritten, rethought, reworded) glory: my article ready to be sent next week.

And, I am excited.  And, I’ll admit, more than a little bit anxious!

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Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #14 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Make notes while reading. While seldom an advocate for multitasking, this is an instance where I would recommend decompartmentalizing: we often think of research and writing as two separate steps in a linear process, or a cyclical one. I’d like to suggest that writing while reading can have great benefits. Instead of underlining, highlighting, or marking in the margin, what if you put down the book and wrote a memo that ties your research to your writing? Focus on what inspired you to mark that passage in the first place. It’s much easier to remember why you wanted to refer back to another text when you have a meaningful prompt. And, you’ve already started writing that part of your essay/book/thesis/dissertation.

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Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #13 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Write a memo. Credit for this goes to Cheyanne Vanderdonckt. Sometimes an idea, a thought, an epiphany even, takes shape when you’re not in the midst of writing. Or, you are in the midst of writing but working on another idea. Those ideas can be fleeting, and may not even seem relevant or useful when they magically appear. Take a moment and take a memo. Whether in another file, on paper, or whatever method works best for you, jot down that idea. If you try to figure out how it fits in or where it goes in your document, it may slip away from you. And if it ends up not being relevant to your current project, it may be the seed of the next big idea you develop.

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Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #12 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Schedule a meeting (or seven). As a new year is beginning, and a new semester for many, you may be looking at your calendar for 2014 to fill in your standing meeting, appointments, and classes. Now is the time to schedule your meetings with your projects. Setting a routine meeting can be a good way to ensure you sit down to work on research and writing. The key is to block the time and lock it in: don’t let anything take precedence over the time you’ve set aside. So rather than thinking, “I want to write on Tuesday and Friday,” set a specific time of day that can’t be interrupted.

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Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #11 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Write by hand. It might seem passé, but finding a pen that fits your hand and writing style is a valuable addition to your toolkit. You may already know the right pen, but haven’t had one around for awhile if you’re a person who does most of their writing with a keyboard. Whether you write on a napkin, the back of an envelope, or in a notebook that you’ve also added to your arsenal, writing by hand can open a new line of thought. It’s an embodied experience that draws on different creative muscles and body memory than typing. When you form those words and sentences by hand, they may take shape in unexpected ways.

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Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #6 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Be a kid, again. Last week, we talked about reading children’s books. This week, think about getting down on the floor to play. Get some crayons, markers, or colored pencils. And turn off your inner critic. Giant spirals and streaks, tiny intimate figures, big or small patterns—take advantage of the color and texture of your tools and toys. Task-oriented writers might like to start with a coloring book too, and there are some coloring books designed specifically for adults. The embodied act of creating something that is not your writing project can be an inspiration, a distraction, or a way to release some pent up energy.

Missed last week’s tip from Linda? Find it here!

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Collaborative writing at a distance by Melanie Boeckmann
Posted by Linda Levitt

800px-Teamwork_(5893295462)Melanie Boeckmann, M.A. works as Research Fellow at the University of Bremen and pursues a PhD in Public Health at the Leibniz Institute for Prevention Research and Epidemiology – BIPS in Germany. You can find her on twitter @m_boeckmann.

Sometimes, you are just really really lucky. You get funding to go to an international conference, you network and all of a sudden you and a colleague (or several colleagues even) email about this great idea you have for a project. Yes, you think, we should write this article together. The caveat: You are at your institution, and your colleague is on a different continent in an inconveniently shifted time zone. The only solution: collaborating online.

Research thrives from exchange. So does writing: thinking and writing both profit from telling somebody about your thoughts, to receive input or (constructive!) criticism. In addition, collaborative work can lead to research that is beyond your original field of expertise, or in a subfield, and just in general allows you to broaden your horizon.  Collaborative writing, then, is work requiring a tool box rather than a single tool.

Whether you are toying with the idea of suggesting a joint project to the colleagues you met at that (inter-)national conference, or are a pro at juggling time zones and document versions, here’s how a colleague and I successfully cooperated on an article that we are submitting:

1.    Set a realistic goal
Ideally, we wanted to pump out a bunch of articles and apply for a huge grant. And we can, eventually. But the first step was to identify one area that interested us both, and to formulate a specific research question that we could actually achieve in one year.

2.    Divide the tasks
Especially with interdisciplinary collaboration, one or several persons will be experts at different topics or methods. This way the splitting up tasks is fairly straightforward. If you are all from similar fields, maybe you can negotiate the sections and chores you are most interested in? And everybody should contribute to the tedious tasks, too!

3.    Use interactive platforms
Options include mailing each other the documents, syncing devices like Dropbox or Spideroak, working on a google document together, or sharing the writing through other tools like github. The Profhacker blog over at the Chronicle of Higher Education usually has great introductory posts to software and tools such as these.

4.    Version control
Sometimes you send something and you wait for feedback, but then you also have a great idea and you change some sections around in the document. Of course you can just send the document again with track changes and hope the other persons have not added many changes themselves yet. Nicer would it be to have everyone work on the same document without danger of erasing what the other person has just written. This works with google docs, but for the next project I hope to learn how to use github, because I hear their version control is excellent: one worry less!

5.    Keep in touch!
I found this to be one of the most important aspects of our collaboration. Obviously don’t over-do it, but checking in once in a while, especially if you don’t have fixed deadlines, is helpful.

What about you? Do you have any online collaboration success stories to tell?

Coming up soon, Charlotte Frost and Jesse Stommel will show you how they work together using collaborative tools across continents and time zones!

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Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #5 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Be a kid. Sometimes we take ourselves too seriously. Demanding deadlines, self-imposed expectations, inclinations toward perfectionism: they more likely make us frustrated humans than they are likely to make us better writers. Maybe you remember what it was like to be a kid and have experiences of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s idea of “flow”—being so engaged in the pleasure of what we’re doing that the rest of the world falls away. The simple rhythms of childhood can be a great relief from the constant noise of the inner critic in your head, or the idea you’re having trouble articulating in just the right way.

Whether it’s Dr. Seuss, Shel Silverstein, Eric Carle, or whatever author of children’s books connects best with you, find a book and read a few pages out loud. Not only are the rhythms magical, so are the simple approaches to complex concepts. Be a kid, be silly, and see if it can help refresh your writing.

Want more tips from Linda? Find it here!


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Forming Good Writing Habits by Charlotte Frost
Posted by Angson Chow

By koalazymonkey via Flickr

 Here are Charlotte Frost’s top 10 tips on how to form good writing habits.

1. Have a schedule

If you try and tag writing on at the end of the day when all tasks are done, there’ll never be any writing time. It just won’t happen. So make sure it’s part of your schedule every day.Try and carve out a block of writing time every single day. Plan for it ahead of time by blocking it out in your diary/calendar. Even setting aside 25 minutes of uninterrupted writing time can make a huge difference if you focus for that time. And to be honest, starting small is often best. Add small chunks of writing time to your schedule and build up once you get in the habit.

2. Make a habit of it

OK, so you’ve learned to plan the time and sit down and work. Now you just keep doing that over the next few weeks. These don’t have to be long torturous sessions, it’s best to keep them brief and productive. But keep them going. You’ll peak and trough during that time of course. There’ll be some days when the time flies by and you finish with extreme satisfaction at having written well. Other times even though you’ve only got 25 minutes to write something, it’ll seem like forever. You’ll have trouble formulating ideas and words won’t flow. Well guess what?

A) That was still productive time because even if the words aren’t there, the thinking has been done and

B) you stuck to a routine. And that’s the really important part!!!

If you carried on regardless of the difficulties, it means it’ll be all the easier to sit down tomorrow and get more work done. Try to keep this daily writing routine no matter what else is going on. So, even if you’re traveling, consider setting aside just a small amount of time to do some writing, even if you’re just pecking letters into the notes app on your smartphone. Writing sessions are like rabbits – they breed like crazy. If you put two together, you’ll get a third and fourth and before you know it, there’ll be a whole line of cute furry writing sessions behind you and, look what’s in front of you, a finished piece of work – and that’s even cuter!

3. Plan

Never sit down to write without knowing ahead of time what you’re sitting down to write! Many people believe that writer’s block and or procrastination come from an empty or muddled mind. Even if you’ve set aside some writing time, shut down all distractions, and approached your desk rested and coffeed up, you might still stare at a blank screen for the next 5 hours if you don’t know what it is you’re supposed to be writing. Firstly you can help this by making sure you’re well prepared. It can help to schedule reading time in advance of writing time. Some people find that they write best in the morning and read well in the afternoon. If this is the case, when you have your afternoon reading session, end it by making a brief plan of what you’ll write up the next day. But whatever happens, make sure you keep an up-to-date plan of what needs writing next. If you’re working on a literature review, list the books and amount of writing time you’ll allocate to each and tick them off. If you’re working on another section, divide it up and again allocate portions of time for each.

4. Have a back up plan

Sometimes with the best will in the world you can’t quite wrap your head round your work. Even the worst writing session can pay off if it means you’ve somehow (even without quite realising it) thought something through. You might not have many words on a page to show for it but they’ll fall out of your fingers next time you write. However, if you really think you’re being unproductive or you think it’ll break your writing spirit to sit another minute without having achieved something tangible, go to your back-up list of tasks. This is a list you’ll make of things that always need doing. This might mean doing some research, editing a section, checking footnotes…Have this back up list so you never lose momentum. Although you should only use it when you really need to feel productive, otherwise this will become your procrastination weapon of choice.

5. Limit desk time

As the mighty ‘Thesis Whisperer’ Inger Mewburn says, the less time you have at your desk the more productive you’ll be when you are there.  Don’t do all your socialising and online shopping at your desk and then try to work from it too, all you’ll feel is that you’ve been at your desk for hours. Try to use another tool or location for your online life (a tablet, a smartphone) and keep your desk as ‘pure’ as possible. If you have to use the one machine/location for all, absolutely don’t do it in the same sitting. Make sitting down to work a ‘fresh’ thing to do.

6. Limit hours

Even if you can write all day, you can’t be productive all day, so think about how much of that time has been wasted on words you won’t use. Limit the amount of time you work to manageable chunks. Again, it’s the Thesis Whisper who reminds us to be mindful of the 2 hr rule – that you only have about 2 productive working hours in you per day. She urges you to get them out straight away. So sit down to write, and write more or less for 2 hours. That said, it’s also a good idea to keep to brief time slots and refresh yourself in between.

One of the best methods for this is the Pomodoro Technique. The Pomodoro Technique is a productivity method that applies to almost any task. You take a timer (the technique is named after the iconic tomato-shaped kitchen timers), set it for 20 minutes and go full throttle. Stop for five to visit the toilet and get refreshments. This 25 minute slot is called a ‘pomodoro’. If you try to divide your working hours into these tomato-timed units you’ll stay refreshed and productive throughout. And now here’s the thing. When you’re done for the day, you’re done. Walk away. Even if – actually especially if – you’ve reached a thorny subject. Leave it! Even if – actually, especially if – you’ve hit your stride. Make notes for the next day and, leave it! Don’t over do it or burn out because it’ll take its toll in another writing session and erode the habit you’re building.

Apps for timing and counting your progress include:


Tomato timer:


7. Limit words

Maybe writing in time slots doesn’t work for you. Perhaps the timer goes off just as you get going. Try instead to set word-count-based targets for yourself. But be kind! Some people can dash off a thousand words in an hour and will go back and edit it later. Other people plan each word on the page and might take an hour to hit 50 words. First, notice which way your write. Then test yourself over a week or so. Record how many words you’ve written at the end of each day, average it and there’s your word count for each day of the next week. Record your results and decide if you need to drop your target word-count to make it easier to achieve or if you can put it up a bit to stretch yourself. Just don’t push too far. Try to stay within the realms of the realistic or you’ll break your writing spirit.

8. Just do it!

If you schedule writing time and sit down ready to write (even if you been doing urgent work email for the last hour, get up, get a quick break and signal your good intentions by sitting down refreshed for this important new task) you must now write. This sounds so easy in theory and it’s so much harder in reality, but block out those nagging thoughts of failure and don’t you dare touch that browser address bar. Remind yourself you’ve only got to get 25 minutes of work done and just do it. Get up, get a coffee. Sit down and do it again. If you force yourself to stick to this simple act of just starting (and remember, starting anywhere is fine) you’ll soon find you can get work done and – crazy as it may sound – repeatedly get work done without much stress.

9. Write anything

Writing regularly is the key. It almost doesn’t matter what you’re writing because regular writing will improve your communication skills in all areas of your work and ward off that dreaded writer’s block. And let’s face it, there’s always writing to be done in academia, whether it’s your thesis, or a paper, or a blog post, a lesson plan or conference abstract. If tackling your thesis is too much to begin with, use your allotted writing time/space to work on anything that needs to be written. Every bit of writing we do helps hone our craft. But as soon as you start to nail your writing habit, phase in some project writing. Perhaps alternate to start with going backwards and forwards between two pieces of work.

10 . Remember that routine?

The single most important slayer of procrastination is having a routine and sticking to it. OK so we’ve all sat down to work, let our minds wander and ended up 2hrs/40 cat videos later feeling like we’re worthless academic failures. Maybe that’s going to happen now again. But if you set aside productive time, and keep it that way, the cat video might never come to call. Keeping to set times and not focusing on one task for too long helps you to make sure you are productive (and then who cares what you do with the rest of your time. Although, ever noticed how a successful writing session kills any desire to search for cat videos?) In fact, have you ever noticed how being productive in one area propels you forwards into being productive in another area. You might find a great writing sessions ends with a bunch of errands run in record time and an evening or a weekend doing something truly fulling.

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Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #4 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Find some new music. If there’s one space of disagreement among preferences for the writing environment, music and background noise might top the list. A friend who grew up in a noisy household takes her laptop to a bowling alley. Another insists on getting as close to silence as possible. Still another puts on Spanish-language television, even though he’s rather monolingual. The dialogue stops the mind wandering and provides a rhythm without distraction. A few other options: very familiar music you listen to all the time can be evocative (in the days of audiocassettes, I had a mix tape that I named “sanctity songs”). Consider classical, jazz, or electronic music. No lyrics, less distraction. Folk, country, or opera may also suit you. See where the music might take you. A variety of wind chime apps are also available for iPhone or Android. If you prefer, noise cancelling headphones are also widely available.

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