02 January 2012

Transitions

Most people think of the new year as a beginning, but for northern-hemisphere academics it's the middle of the year, which really begins in September (Zcat, of course, gets to have all the new beginnings at once). Similarly, this first meeting of the Winter Writing Workshop in 2012 is also our mid-point, or at least my mid-point, though for some of you it's the point at which you can finally get down to something, and for others, you're about to be back in the classroom.

My plan to work 9-1 last week worked out very well, except on Friday, when the Shakespearean Heroine had an early vet appointment that couldn't be switched around; after that, I didn't settle into a proper work routine, but I did read a whole Renaissance play that had to be read, so that was something. As for writing, my focused free-writing on topics I hope will lead to a good, big-picture framework for the MMP is up to about 3500 words. I really need to produce an outline. I have plenty of words, but they need to be in the right order. I also need to re-analyze some of my manuscript data, and to do this, at least to do it really comfortably, I'd like to acquire a larger monitor instead of squinting at my laptop. So, goals for this week: outline, continue scheduled routine, invest in a monitor, outline, fiddle with data. Outline. And try to do some other work, like write up the syllabus for my spring classes, without letting that distract me from outlining the MMP.

Last week, Contingent Cassandra wrote, "I'm not as good as I need to be at switching from writing and research early in the morning (6/7-9 a.m.) to other work for the rest of the morning (9-12/1)." This sort of transition is hard for me, too, especially if I'm not going elsewhere (say, to campus) to do whatever the next thing is. Once I get settled in with a task, I like to keep at it. It can help to move around, to break the attachment to the desk and the particular task: walk around the block, or just make a cup of tea. But really, if you have the discipline to get up and do either of those things, then you don't have a big problem with transitions.

So far, I haven't worried too much about this. On some days, I set a timer for 25-minute stretches, and if I feel like continuing rather than taking a break, I just re-set it at once. Other days, I forget about the timer and submerge myself in work till I have to come up for air. If I feel stuck on a task, I look at my list (my hideously long list) of things that need to get done and just do something, anything, because they all need to get done so anything I feel like is fine.

But with two weeks till classes start, I feel like I should get a bit more methodical, and that is going to mean more attention to breaks and transitions, to doing a certain amount on one thing and then moving to another. So that's the topic for the week: how are you with shifting focus? If it's easy, why is that, and what do you do that other people might copy? If it's hard, what have you tried, and how has that worked for you?

And, of course, what are your writing goals for this week?

26 comments:

WTG Homesteader said...

I suck at transitions. It's difficult for me to go from one kind of work to another, but the most difficult transition is the one from teaching to research, from that outward-directed stuff back inward-nose-to-the-grindstone. Because of my winter quarter schedule and some deadlines that come up at the end of Jan and then in mid March, I'm going to have to do much better at these transitions, because late afternoon is the only research/writing time I have. We'll see how it goes.

I start teaching next Monday, but Toby's in school starting tomorrow. But I also have a lot of prep to do this week. So I'll stick with the one page goal this week, though next week. . .it has to shoot up.

Luck to all of us in 2012!

WTG Homesteader said...

Ack! I take my goal back. I just figured out that in order to finish the article by the end of the month, I need to write a rough draft page each working day of the month, starting on Wednesday (because today is a family day, and tomorrow is picking up the new car day). So by this Friday or next Monday? 3 rough draft pages and some freewriting/foundation-laying.

Gulp.

Sapience said...

I'm pretty good about transitions unless I really, really don't want to be doing the second thing. In which case usually I decide that structured procrastination is better than total procrastination, and just keep working.

I had a bit of a break through last week on my article. I completed a rough draft (minus the conclusion) and even started revising. If MLA wasn't this week, I think I'd have a full, revised draft by next check-in. We'll see how much structured procrastination I end up doing instead of prepping for my interviews...

Sisyphus said...

I cleaned up the ending of my article and am alternating between thinking it's pretty good and finished and that the whole ending sucks and needs to be scrapped. This is usual for me. I just emailed it off to a friend for a lookover.

I need to finish cleaning up all the lit review footnotes and polish the thesis a bit more, then deal with whatever comments Dr. Does Everything has on it, and then I can send it out! I am close. I hope. Would have loved to actually ship it out before the new year started, just to say I finished it in 2011, but what the hell: can't beat yourself up about that stuff.

I gotta say, this whole "I need to force myself to stop" hyperfocus thing is so weird for me to understand.(ditto the "I work so hard I forget to eat" statement) I can focus very well for about 6-90 minutes and then *have* to go do something very different; I just can't continue thinking about the same thing. So I don't have any problem with transitions at all --- I need to work on extending my work periods longer.

Sisyphus said...

* that is 60-90 minutes (i.e. an hour to an hour an a half.) If I push it, I can extend to 2 hours... sometimes.

And now I am posting so that I get the follow up comments. Why do I never check that little box!

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

Sis, what happens at 60-90 minutes? What does having to do something different feel like?

Trouble with transitions happens for me with non-work stuff, too. I finish working, plan to get a quick bite and then head for the gym, and 2 hours later am still hanging around the house, encouraging the picky eaters to have a snack, chatting with Sir John, reading the mail, and otherwise just failing to get out of the house. Somehow I need to just DO the next thing.

rented life said...

Usually I just have problems getting started on anything. For work work, I just have to force myself to do it. I find that certain days/times I work better and if I just allow myself to work during those times I'm much more focused. (I used to try to force myself to sleep Sunday nights, and never could. I'm better off working, being tired Monday but the rest of the week goes well.)

For writing it's different. Because it's not for work and because it's a creative process, I really have to make sure I'm in a place to write what I need to. I carry a notebook in case something strikes me and I don't want to forget it, but when I actually sit down, like today, I have my play list ready. Certain songs evoke emotions I know my characters are feeling, or are a soundtrack for a scene I have in my head. I'll come back to the songs over and over, especially if I get stuck.

My husband is the opposite. When he writes, there's much silence.

This week is still mine, I will not allow myself to do much prep work until next week when I actually have to. I have 15 of the 44 pages typed up, 29 pages to go. I'll keep typing today and I'll have a lot of free time to myself this week so I should make it.

Sitzfleisch said...

Dame, congrats on having such a productive week.

WTG, you can do it! I deeply sympathize, as I have a similarly ridiculous goal (approximately 1000 words/day ... even worse since my last week was so unproductive). Have fun with the new car!

Sapience, it sounds like you had an amazing week. A complete rough draft is a beautiful thing, indeed.

And now for my sad little report. I have done NOTHING since the last check-in. Zero, zip, nada. I think my brain sensed the impending quarter, with its attending work, and it simply stopped working. This is probably at least a little bit good, as I really did need a vacation. But, I've really lazed my way into a jam now, as my book proposal is now due in a matter of weeks. To be honest, I am kind of freaking out. To be even more honest, I am entirely freaking out.

So, on to my plan for this week. The new quarter is beginning, which means this will be a real test of the day-by-day schedule I wrote up a couple of weeks ago. My goal is simply to stick to the schedule every single day ... to actually write when the schedule says write. (And, because I spent all of today prepping my classes, this means that today's writing hours will have to be pushed to Saturday, usually a writing-free zones). If I really can stick to the schedule, I will devote 14.5 hours to writing this week. Here goes nothing!

I really ramble on these posts. I'm working on shortening them, I promise.

Good Enough Woman said...

The hardest transition for me is moving from my dissertation work to anything else--kids, grading, prep, etc. I get so little time for the dissertation work (since I'm a full-time faculty member at a community college), that I hate to pull myself away from it, and It lingers in my mind, making it hard to focus on something else, especially if I'm fretting about when I'll work on it again.

I also have a hard time being productive when I'm in my office, and maybe it's because that space hosts so many transitions. Being in there is like being in a giant transition. Maybe, I should just put a bunch of transition words on my office door: then, next, subsequently, etc. I'm not really sure how to make that space more productive and feel like I'm in more control of the time in there. Maybe lists would help.

I didn't quite meet my goals this past week, but I actually did some work, which is great. I read a chapter in a secondary text that relates to important philosophical grounding for my topic. I also read about 40 pages of primary text, which is great! Still, if I continue to be excited about such small accomplishments, I will never finish.

I'm not sure what I can do this coming week. We have one more day at the cabin. Then, Wed morning, we pack up to head home. We should arrive on Friday night. I'm hoping that friends or grandparents might be eager to see the kids so that I can get work done on Saturday or Sunday, but the dissertation work will be in significant competition with prep work and service work that will kick into high gear next Monday. So . . .

Let's say I'll read another chapter from the philosophy text, 30 more pages of primary text, and I'll fill three handwritten pages in my notebook.

Sigh. It's so paltry.

Sitzfleisch, I'll be eager to hear how your mindful inflexibility goes this week! You are leading the charge.

Sisyphus said...

Sizfleisch, do not freak out! You can do it! Keep Calm and Carry On.

Dame Eleanor, I don't really know. I was thinking it's the I have to go to the bathroom feeling, but I can get up and get water or a snack or go to the bathroom without breaking my concentration much in the first half of a session. Sometimes it's the feeling of going from alert and caffeinated to jittery and unable to sit still. There's a mental strain/eyestrain thing too, which I try to compare to clenching your fist really really tight and after a while it just won't clench any more even when you try --- like your brain just melted out of shape and will no longer do focused thinking. Sometimes it's the go check your email voice getting loud enough I answer it. Again, at the beginning of a work stint I can open up google and google one thing to fix a sentence or reference and then go back to writing stuff, and if I do that after an hour and a half I just won't go back to the writing.

Grading is different. I totally space out and daydream while grading --- imagining I have better students or how I could terrorize these students, lesson planning, making mental notes of stuff I want to warn them about in their papers --- I have to really watch that or else I go off into daydreaming mode by page 2 of the first essay.

I can totally see how shuttling kids around and getting them to eat and do stuff would make for tough transitions!

nakedphilologist said...

Ugh, I think I've been missing in action for a while. I didn't succeed terribly well at working during uni shutdown, but I did better than I did at it this time last year.

I missed my optimistic deadline but I have other plans in place, so that's reassuring.

Goals for this week:

- Check-in/brainstorm with supervisor
- Finish the section I've been slogging away at.
- Make a reading list for filling in gaps in said section.

I'm also hoping to develop a more structured schedule, as you were talking about in your post on flexibility. I'm terrible at structure outside of class time, but baby steps, baby steps. This week I'm going to pick -one- thing I can do for schedule management and try to do it for a week or so.

-Higly

rented life said...

sisyphus, that's interesting because I have the opposite problem--getting started. I do everything to stall getting started, even on tasks I want to do. Dishes, check e-mail, get more coffee, cuddle with my cats, etc. Once I get over that first 30 min or so of stop and starts, I get going and I'm good.

But I'm right there with you on grading. And I'm having those same fantasies as I continue to answer the "I deserve a better grade than you gave" e-mails that are still filtering in though grades were up weeks ago.

nicoleandmaggie said...

This past week I rage-quit everything related to work, and left town. So I didn't get anything done, but now I feel rested!

I noticed that 2(?) semesters ago when I tried the research-first-in-morning thing, I always got really angry when I had to stop and go teach, and it was really hard to pull myself out of research and writing head space once I got in it. I noticed that this past semester too, when I wanted to hang around the lab and get some things done but had to leave for a meeting. I get really ragey at teaching interrupting my research time, even if things are scheduled and the "interruption" is after like 2 hours and I planned it beforehand.

This week: back to doing actual work, for realz I swear.

Ink said...

I wrote four syllabi so that I could have this week to write. Also, I bought new bookshelves and organized my writing stuff. Those things count, yeah?

THIS week is the binge-writing week, starting tomorrow. I'm so excited. CRAZY excited.

Congrats to all who made progress and hugs to those who meant to but were sideswiped by one thing or another.

Luo Lin said...

My problem is also getting started. Advice from The Now Habit--Keep on starting!--pops into my head when I write that, but it's still a problem.

Last week, I got in a couple of good hours on two days, but only after taking twice as much time sitting but doing other things.

Once I get going, I can usually keep going, except that by then I may be running late for something else.

The Writing Triathlete said...

This is a cool topic, in part, perhaps, because of terminology: in triathlons, "transitions" are those specific moments when one switches between sports. The first transition (T1) is when one changes from swimming to cycling, and the second (T2) is when one moves from cycling to running. Often, the thought is to get through T1 and T2 as quickly as possible so as to continue with the race speedily.

But this is where an exception might be useful-- and where the link to your post will, I hope, become evident! In long-distance triathlons, far less emphasis is put on speedy transitions: in a day that encompasses 140.6 miles of self-propelled movement over 17 hours or fewer, shaving a few seconds off one's transition time becomes far less critical than making the change between sports as smoothly as possible. I wonder if this might be something to consider: would it be useful, for instance, to have some kind of ritual that you could set up to signal to both brain and body that one particular kind of activity is now done for the day and another is about to begin? Triathletes usually come up with a specific sequence of actions to follow in transition to get them out of one mode and into another; might a similar idea be helpful here? A cup of tea, a brief yoga movement or breathing sequence, reading a chapter of enjoyable fiction? Just a thought...

I've really got to look through my edition materials and size up where I am with the project so I can figure out what the next most useful step is. I also have two article abstracts to write before we fling ourselves back into the chaos of term.

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

I like the Writing Triathlete's ideas about ritual; they're similar to the idea of sitting down in the same place, same time, every day, and getting used to the notion that that is when you write. Definitely worth trying, I think; how about you, WTG Homesteader? You seem like someone who likes ritual and believes in mindfulness.

Ink those things count: you were clearing the decks for action, as in Week One of Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks. The same goes for you, Sitzfleisch: you've done things that make it possible to focus on writing this week.

GEW, I have similar problems with my office at school. It's not so much the number of transitions as the sense that I could be interrupted at any time. Even if I have the door closed and have resolved not to answer knocks, they break my concentration. I have to go to the library, usually, or wait till the end of the day.

Luo Lin and Rented Life, "Keep on starting" sounds like good advice. I admit that when it comes to grading, I can't achieve that deep focus. Except once in awhile (a long, long while) when I get papers that are good enough that I think about the ideas, not the crummy writing, punctuation, and mechanics.

Congratulations to Sapience for finishing something, and to Sisyphus for having almost raised Floyd.

Naked Philologist, welcome back, and good luck with your one schedule-making thing.

Nicoleandmaggie, I'm familiar with that rage: it's why I like to do research/write at home, and then take the long drive to school as calming transition time. Did recognizing that feeling make you change when you wrote, or did you just live with the rage?

I've been engaging in productive procrastination so far this week, but I am going to do some outlining work today. Pinky swear.

Matilda said...

Happy New Year, everyone!

This week has been more productive than I expected, considering several appointments and year-end relatives gathering and so on. I squeezed out at least one and a half hour every day at midnight.

I always find it difficult to get started. Once I start, then it is difficult to finish and move to next task.

Sometimes, only sometimes, if I really understand I have to do something immediately, I make myself to realise that and pull myself to focus on that. This needs energy, so it is hard to put myself in this mode, though it works well.

Goal for this week: two hours for my work every day; finishing the first part of my encyclopaedia work.

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

Matilda, I agree: energy is crucial. I was just thinking that sleeping better would make everything so much easier.

At any rate, I put in an hour on outline-creation. The process has begun. I am resisting the temptation to just slam together bits and pieces from my earlier draft and the more recent focused free-writing because I want to have a strongly structured essay, not just a bunch of pieces plastered together.

Contingent Cassandra said...

I managed 2 writing sessions last week (rather than the goal of 3, but there were some OBE issues, so I’m reasonably satisfied), and had productive sessions on Mon. and Tues. this week, though I didn’t get started quite as early, and hence didn’t go quite as long, as I’d planned. Still, I finished a full, pretty good but slightly too long, draft of Section 2 – my revised goal for the fall ADNWG – and have also chosen/typed in epigraphs and drafted the opening paragraphs of the introduction and done some reworking of the overall outline (enough that I saved the first freewriting-draft file and started working on v. 2). So, pretty good progress for 4 days' work.

Today was more of a challenge, maybe because I was supposed to be starting section 3, for which I only have something in between notes of passages to cite and a very rough outline, or maybe because carry-overs of small tasks on my “to do” list are beginning to pile up, and distract me. So I’ve bailed on actually working on the article for today, and am trying to deal with assorted ancillary and not-so-ancillary projects. Tomorrow, I’m going to start by re-reading the Section 2 notes, and the associated primary texts, and hope to come up with a more fully-fleshed-out outline. Since I plan to take Friday off (which doesn’t feel absolutely necessary at this point, but I know will enhance productivity in the long run), and I need to write a conference paper proposal related to an article-in-revision (see below) on Saturday, that more fully-fleshed-out outline is my goal for (the rest of) this week.

The transitions topic is relevant, since, as I noted last week, I have trouble with them, especially after lunch, which is a continuing problem (and one of the reasons the ancillary/additional projects are piling up). In part because of that problem (and because I need to begin some class prep work next week), I’m going to need to figure out a better plan for switching back and forth between the current article-in-progress and the provisionally accepted article-in-revision, which I’ve been neglecting. I’ve been weighing various plans over the past few days, and I think I need to switch to devoting the most productive morning hours to the article-in-revision, at least for next week (Jan. 9-15), while continuing to work on the mid-day transition/afternoon productivity (since the class prep work does need to be started).

I’m not sure where that leaves the article-in-progress; maybe I’ll find a way to check in on it at least one day during the week, and to alternate the two in some way during the last vacation week (given my transition problems, trying to work on both on the same day doesn’t seem like a viable plan, but maybe alternating days?). I’m still really hoping to come up with a full draft of the current article, and a list of manageable side-projects (mostly in the secondary literature, but also some tracing down of relevant themes in associated primary texts) that could advance it when time permits, by the end of January, but if push comes to shove, the article-in-revision has to take priority. If I have to drop the article-in-progress for a time (which might mean until the late spring, or even summer), I’m confident that I can pick it back up, which is a good thing (it’s a nice feeling to drop a project because I’m too busy with another project, or even too busy with teaching, rather than avoiding it because I don’t know where the heck it’s going, which accounted for long periods of unproductive time when I was writing – or not writing – my dissertation). Still, there will undoubtedly be some time spent re-acquainting myself, and I’d prefer to have the summer to devote to a cluster of more closely related projects (which are also related to the article-in-revision, which will be done by then).

Contingent Cassandra said...

(finishing up; I seem to be even more prolix than usual today)

And whatever else I do or don’t do in the next few weeks, I need to figure out an approach to afternoons at home that will make them more productive, which probably means a series of transitions between shorter-term activities such as lunch, exercise, household chores, and professional/teaching activities that require less sustained concentration (email, updating and posting course materials, etc.). This is hard to achieve, especially at low-energy times of the day, but it’s necessary logistically, and would undoubtedly be healthier, too; I’m spending far too much time sitting in exactly the same position, and various parts of my body are beginning to complain about that. I think that that will also be the key to the morning writing-to-grading/teaching prep transition: c. ½ hour of moving around, probably doing small household chores, before settling to the 2nd part of the morning’s work. For tomorrow, completely by coincidence, I have a 1 p.m. lunch date with a friend; we'll see how that helps, if at all, with the transition issue.

nicoleandmaggie said...

DameE, my rage at teaching grows and grows. So far I haven't found a schedule that eliminates that feeling of "teaching gets in the way of my work", but I'm going to keep trying various tweaks.

rented life said...

n&m let's have a trade off--I'll teach, you can do the other stuff. Because if I could only teach and not do the other stuff I'd be happy.

profacero said...

So it's all changed. Classes start next week. Break not as planned but was instructive. I'm starting some posts on planning / work management this semester.

nicoleandmaggie said...

Rented life: DEAL! Hundreds of underprepared and grade-grubbing snowflakes are now YOURS for the taking! Come and get 'em. I'll do some more writing in the meantime. :-)

Contingent Cassandra said...

I'm inclined to think that the resentment at teaching may be a good thing, at least for the writing. It puts writing in the position of being a privilege, a break from more-dreaded work, rather than the more-dreaded work itself, which was the case for me the last time I had more than a month or two to concentrate on writing. Of course, that was a very long time ago, and I hope that, given the chance (which isn't currently anywhere on the horizon), I'd make better use of a semester or year off from teaching. But even then, writing/research *would* count as a break, a year off -- or, I suppose, the chance to stop banging my head against the wall for a while. And I have to admit that, at this point in my life, if I suddenly found myself independently wealthy, I'd spend at least as much time gardening and cooking as writing (but I would spend some time writing, which I don't think would have been the case 10-15 years ago). Maybe it's just a "grass is always greener" thing, or maybe I've finally found a research/writing agenda that suits me better. Either way, I'll take it.