¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 It’s worth noting that while we tend to think of time management as the sole responsibility of individual students, many of our time management struggles are baked in to the structure of contemporary graduate education.
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Retreating from the world for approximately 2-8 years to pursue nothing but academic work just isn’t feasible for most of us because of where we live: a city with one of the country’s highest costs of living. On top this this, many of us have family responsibilities, careers, health concerns, or, you know, lives outside of school to consider.
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Even so, taking note of the root causes of some time management issues that we all encounter (or even just knowing that other people encounter the same issues) can be a helpful way to develop different and more effective strategies for getting the reading and writing done.
stop shaming yourself for procrastinating.
¶ 6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 I had a hunch about why this was happening: I, too, was (and sometimes still am) a procrastinator. I’ll confess that I even procrastinated on — and ultimately delayed — meeting my own deadline for finishing this guidebook! It sometimes seemed that these students and I were almost intentionally putting ourselves in the position to not be able to to produce our best work.
¶ 8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 Culturally, we tend to think of procrastination as the product of our own moral failings. I saw this in the MALS writers’ survey. Time and time again, students wrote sheepish confessions of procrastination like the ones I heard in the writing center. We believe that we procrastinate because we are lazy, rather than because we are working inside of a system where procrastination is a completely unsurprising outcome.
¶ 9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 We have some agency over our own choices, of course. But in the book Procrastination: Why You Do It, What To Do About It Now, psychologists Jane B. Burka and and Leonora Yuen (2007) argue that biology, mental health, interpersonal and social relationships, and a variety of other factors also play a role in our likeliness to procrastinate. Our own fear of failure may be a major cause.
¶ 10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 Schools often have rigid, inflexible, and one-size-fits-all standards about “rigor” and “quality”: a phenomenon which Cathy Davidson has documented in her work. They’re also places where students are encouraged to hide any evidence of their own “failure” to measure up (instead of pushing back on what it actually means to succeed).
¶ 11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 Fear of failure might cause us to procrastinate, and schools might train us to be particularly vigilant about hiding the evidence of our failure. So we make the choice to stay up all night playing video games instead of writing our essays. We clean the shower instead of diving into a data set. We skim Facebook instead of reading for class. We position ourselves to blame our laziness and procrastination — rather than our intellect or our ability — if we don’t achieve the result that we want. After all, we waited too long to do our best work. Things would have been different if we hadn’t procrastinated.
¶ 12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 I believe that understanding that procrastination may be caused, in part, by a fear of failure AND understanding that graduate education and academia in general are places where success is narrowly defined and closely monitored doesn’t necessarily stop procrastination from happening. But it can be the first step in the process of many other steps that can help us all to better manage our time.
understand the writing process.
¶ 13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 In a study of the places, times, people, and artifacts that influence the writing process, Writing Studies researchers Jody Shipka and Paul Prior (2003) found that many professional writers set timers or engage in processes that intentionally interrupt their progress every 45-60 minutes so that they may ultimately work for longer periods.
¶ 14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 They also found that students and professional writers often plan writing or experience “breakthrough moments” while they’re not writing, but while they’re doing other things like exercising, showering, talking to friends about a project (or a related subject), or cooking.
¶ 15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 Blocking out time to write, and then also understanding complementary activities as part of your writing process rather than antithetical to it, might help to reduce anxiety and guilt about procrastination (as long as you’re actually also writing!).
commit (and stick to) a writing quota.
¶ 16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 Deciding to dedicate a (realistic) amount of daily time to writing, and then logging that time after we write, helps to give us a better picture of when we work (and to actually get the work done!). It can also help us to generate more (and, eventually, better) ideas.
¶ 17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 There are a lot of ways to log hours. Here’s a helpful website that gives many different models.
¶ 18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 Keeping writing logs throughout a semester can help us to avoid writing seminar papers in one caffeine-fueled burst at the end. This is a good thing, because research has shown that binge writing is bad for our mental health and for our productivity. In one study, Bob Boice (1997) found that binge writers tend to write less, get published less often, have fewer creative ideas, and score higher on the Beck Depression Inventory.
write a shitty first draft.
¶ 19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 Every semester, I have my own first-year composition students read a chapter from Anne Lamott’s book, Bird By Bird, called “Shitty First Drafts.” In it, Lamott describes the process of producing an utterly inadequate and almost embarrassing — but finished! — first draft of various professional writing assignments.
¶ 20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 This is more anecdotal than research-based, but in self-reflections, my students have frequently reported to me that lowering the stakes of the first draft by simply calling it a “shitty first draft” can help them to get started a little earlier and to actually get the writing done.
¶ 21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 I can understand why this is true: it’s helpful to know, as Lamott says, that “very few writers really know what they are doing until they’ve done it” and that writing is a way of thinking rather than (just) a demonstration of knowledge. If we’re still working out ideas, they’re not going to be immediately perfect. They need time to develop. They need multiple drafts. This is as true for first-year students as it is for tenured professors.
¶ 22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 So, try typing up a shitty first draft much earlier in the process than 3 weeks before the end of the semester. Start shaping your draft as you complete your readings, and try not to think of writing that you don’t use as “wasted” effort any more than you would understand a half-formed thought that you rattle off in a seminar as a “wasted” effort.
¶ 23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0 You don’t have to show this draft to anyone, but if you have a writing group, you could all decide to produce the shittiest shitty first drafts possible. Not all of the draft will be usable. Maybe none of it will. But, on the other hand, you never know where those ideas will lead, and some writing is better than nothing!
Set a timer.
¶ 24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0 One of my professors has been using the Pomodoro Technique as she researches for her book project. Francesco Cirillo created this fairly simple method for getting work done that involves setting a timer, working consistently in short, 25-minute bursts, and then taking short breaks (5 minutes) in between the bursts.
¶ 25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 0 In the break, getting up and walking around, doing some small chore (like emptying a backpack or washing out a coffee mug), doing some breathing exercises, or getting a glass of water can be helpful ways to stay motivated for the next 25 minute burst.