One of the benefits of the academic calendar is that each new semester provides a convenient point to reassess how things are going and start fresh. The spring semester doubly so, because it comes on the heels of new year’s resolution-making. I generally try to separate my yearly resolutions (which are almost always related to keeping my house cleaner) from my academic goals, so while I made a few personal resolutions at the beginning of the year (again, focused almost exclusively on being less of a slob), I’m just now sitting down to set some work-related goals.
This is especially important because I’m on fellowship this semester. No teaching, no office hours, no staffing the writing center–just me and my dissertation, all day, every day. Every time I tell someone I’m on fellowship, the immediate response is, “How will you manage your time?” My interlocutor usually follows this question with a fairly lengthy description of how much trouble he or she would have getting anything done with so much unstructured time. After the fifth or sixth conversation like this, I found I’d developed a fairly reasonable-sounding set of answers, which serve as the basis of my semester goals/don’t-squander-my-time-on-fellowship plan:
1. The first thing on the list is to keep doing what I’ve been doing, only better. I’ve done a pretty good job over the last year of devoting my mornings to writing and writing-related tasks (outlining, note-making, etc.). My best energy is morning energy, and I need to keep taking advantage of that. This means maintaining a consistent schedule that gets me started by or before 8 each morning.
2. Find out how best to use my afternoons. When I’m teaching, I schedule as many things as I can in the afternoon, when I don’t have as much focus and won’t be as productive in my writing. Stepping into the classroom always gives me an adrenaline boost, so I’ve taken to requesting afternoon classes–that way the adrenaline counteracts the afternoon lethargy. There are certain stages in my writing process when I can work straight through the afternoon and into the evening, but there are other times, particularly early in the drafting process when every sentence is like pulling teeth, when trying to write in the afternoon is a terrible use of my time. With that in mind, I’m going to try to save email, reading, research, and possibly blogging for the afternoons.
3. Set deadlines. That one’s pretty obvious, and it’s something I’ve been doing for the past year or so with a lot of success. Between my writing group and my dissertation advisers, there are plenty of people I can be accountable to.
4. Set ambitious goals. Having been given all this time, I want to make good use of it. On the one hand, I want to forestall any self-flagellation that’s likely to come mid-semester when I start tallying up what I have and haven’t accomplished, so I’m deliberately marking these goals as ambitious, best-case outcomes. If I fall short, it will be because I set a high bar, not because I got lazy. But I need urgency to get things done, and in a semester of unstructured time, I’ll have to manufacture that urgency. With that in mind, my goals for this fellowship semester are to get two chapters drafted and last semester’s chapter revised.
On that optimistic note, I declare the semester officially begun. Bring on the lounge pants and endless mugs of tea!