26 December 2011

Big changes or small ones?

Time for another Monday check-in and goal-setting. I'm not going to call roll; we'll take care of attendance via in-class writing. If you're here, leave a comment.

The usual advice about making changes in one's life is to start small and be specific. Rather than saying "get healthy" or "lose 50 pounds," you're supposed to to say "I will walk for 10 minutes a day" or "when I want a cookie, I will eat a piece of fruit first." Small changes add up, and little shifts like more exercise and more fruit can lead to larger lifestyle differences. Some of you are thinking along these lines, like Z's resolve to work 25 minutes a day for three days.

I have myself found that these small changes can be helpful and long-lasting. That said, sometimes it's more helpful to make one single big decision rather than trying to work out a lot of small stuff. For instance, if you're capable of quitting something cold turkey, well, that's a decision made that you never have to revisit. You'll never again smoke a cigarette, have a drink, eat meat, whatever. When you're tempted, you say you've made that decision, it's not negotiable, you're not revisiting it.

This does not work for everyone, or in all circumstances.

Possibly it's not going to work for me this time, either, but I'm going to give it a shot this week. This is my big change: I'm going to work from 9-1, Monday to Friday. Everything else has to get done before or after that. Exercise, cat wrangling, phone calls, blogs, paying bills, novel reading, sorting closets, meals, shopping, cooking, if it's not work, it has to happen before 9:00 a.m. or after 1:00 p.m. What's more, I'm not going to do work outside of those four hours, either (that's the part that really freaks me out, actually). Afternoons and evenings will go to fun stuff or at least life-maintenance stuff.

I'm tired of trying to work out the optimum schedule, of trying to figure out whether, when I get up, I should first write, go for a walk, do yoga, feed cats, or hit the gym. Since fall classes ended, what happens first generally depends on what time I wake up and whether or not it's sunny. Clearly I'm capable of sticking to a schedule when I have to, because I always show up on time for my classes. I have written before about enjoying the flexibility of academic life, but I think I should give inflexibility a chance, for once. Nine-to-one, some translation, the MMP, some class planning, some other academic work, and then I'm done. We'll see how it goes for a week.

So what are you going to do this week? Make a small change? Try a bigger one? Keep doing something that has been working? Sometimes it's good to stick to what works, and sometimes it's good just to change things up so you don't get stale.


Anonymous said...

That's good thinking! You know, I need to reframe the way I think about my goals, too. I tried that six weeks ago, but it didn't work--the way I thought about them. I've been thinking all morning about doing some soul searching here, and I feel like this post was a bit of a pep talk for me. Good luck with the 9-1 schedule! I look forward to reading how it turns out!

Matilda said...


Well, big changes or small changes? The end of 2011 is coming, so I have started to plan what I want to do in 2012. Why not start one week earlier, just to warm me up for the new year?

I have believed that it is better to start with what you can do among all the things you have to do. If you try to start what you need to do most but you least want to do - you just procrastinate and then only time passes on. Rather, I thought, start what you can do, and you will have at least something done.

I'll give a try to change this habit, at least for a week. Start with what I don't want to do. (DEH, do you remember how I had been procrastinating the encyclopaedia work?) If I do first what I least want to do, then I will only have to do what I want to do more or and more. Does this work? I first need to change my mind-setting, which always trying to avoid what I don't like.

This is the real big change - changing my mental attitude!

I have started the encyclopaedia writing finally. Once started, it has been enjoyable more than I had expected, though slow.

Good luck, everyone!


Anonymous said...

Such a thoughtful question. I do tend to make BIG plans and then, when they fail, feel stupid and guilty. Instead, I want to focus on doing what I can, realistically, and celebrate that. For example, I vowed here to write for two hours a day over break. Well, since the kids are home 24/7, and since it was Christmas madness, I wrote for exactly ONE hour during the past seven days. And the truth is, I probably won't be able to do two hours a day until school starts again. HOWEVER, then I'll probably write six to eight hours at a stretch, because that's how I roll. So rather than beating myself up for not sticking to a rigid regular schedule, I need to realize that I'm more prone to "binge writing" when the house is empty and just ACCEPT that. So my big change is, I guess, a shift in perspective. And the good news is that they go back two weeks before I do, so there will be syllabus-making AND novel-writing time for 14 days straight before the teaching begins...

Sapience said...

I'm not sure yet what sort of changes need to happen--there are some unavoidable interferences with working in the next two weeks, but once things settle down after MLA I'll be able to reassess.

However, just as an update--my editor just extended my deadline from January 15th to March 15th, so I'm revising my goal for this group--instead of completing a whole revised article, I'm just aiming for a complete first draft by the end of this group. So, I need to keep reading and write a bit every couple of days, and I'll think I'll make it.

Anonymous said...

I think it's posts like this where academics get the reputation for having easy, cushy jobs. I work 7:30-3:30. Every day. With one 30 minute break for lunch. Everything that isn't my job--from blogs to child wrangling to meal prep--gets done before or after those hours or not at all. And that isn't even to say I never take work home after those hours because I do (although admittedly not often).

Just an observation.

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

Anastasia, that's the point. Flexibility leads to working round the clock and then "frittering" away "work time" by taking breaks at whatever time suits. Keep in mind that my university is closed this week: I'm not expected to be working at all.

But I do hope that now that you're out of academia you're not going to jump on the bandwagon of sneering at academics just because you're relieved to be elsewhere. This post is for the Winter Writing Workshop participants, and I don't think they need to hear about their cushy jobs when they're trying to get writing done among the distractions of having children at home and whatever else is going on.

Anonymous said...

If someone wants to talk about how cushy my job is, I will refer them to the recent external site review report that refers to my working conditions as "unconscionable".

I have had mixed success with small goals this year, as you can see on the "monthly challenges" page of our blog. Some months I rock it out, some months I fail completely, and most often I make some change but not a lot. Change is very, very hard and I seem to be quite bad at it.

Last week I didn't accomplish my goals, but I did do another goal that popped up: page proofs came in that needed to be turned around in 2 days, so I did that. Hooray!

This week I need to get back on the writing wagon now that Christmas festivities are easing off. I already have time in January blocked off for an intensive course-revision seminar, so that doesn't need to get done right now. But 1 draft still needs out the door and the other needs revisions. I am very close to having the draft out!

rented life said...

It shoudl be said, I'm not writing for my work. My field frowns up fiction writing, it will serve me NO purpose towards an academic career, but it has finally given me a purpose in life that my job (because constantly being temporary instructor isn't a career)couldn't. I joined the workshop to not let WORK get in the way of something that finally gives me true joy. Because normally? I'd let work take over, keep being miserable and not do this for myself. I need this to remind myself my writing, that has to be squeezed into my stupid work schedule, is in fact important.

Small changes here. I have a history of planning big changes and it going pretty poorly. The goals are just unrealistic. So small goals, with room to forgive myself when life takes over is better for my mental health. I get too discouraged when I don't reach the big goals.

So far I've ordered some DVD's I need for some research and had some revelations about what needs to happen in my book. I haven't been able to sit down write because last week was hell. While I've done some legit progessing on my story, it wasn't the writing I wanted it to be. But this week, I will have a few days I'm not obligated to be anywhere, I don't need to bake for anyone, so I'll be writing away. And I need to start finding some books to fill in my knwoledge gaps so the ideas I recently had can move forward.

rented life said...

Oh...and while the buildings at my school are closed this week, I am still expected to have 2 courses revised and various other tasks completed on my winter "break." My college has the highest rate of labor compliants of any college in the STATE.

zcat_abroad said...

Lots of good comments following another very thought-provoking post. I'm sitting here having done nothing study related this past week. I taught ESL (not my favourite job, but it brings money in over the summer break) Monday to Friday, had family Christmas celebrations Saturday and Sunday, and then felt really resentful towards my work yesterday. As I have to teach again tomorrow (Wednesday), I thought I would take this week of and try not to beat myself up about it. But I really need to make big changes in my life/study/writing, in that I have to stop putting things off. My goals for this next year are quite simple: run three days a week (starting with 5km); and write at least 1 hour, five days a week. Small steps, which will be much bigger steps than others I've been taking them recently.

theologoumenathon said...

Oh, this is such an insightful question. I've had a lot of success so far with sticking to my small commitments, and I've been getting a ton of reading done for my lit review. I find it pretty easy to toss a book in my bag or pull up an article when I'm waiting for a train. But I'm not having the same success with making time to sit down and write. Admittedly, life has gotten in the way a bit--first Hanukkah, then the post-finals flu--but I think I'm just going to have to commit to it, if I want to make it happen. Good luck, all! Keep up the great work :)

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

One of the great things about ADNWG was the individual comments that ADM and N gave us. I don't think I can live up to their standards, but here goes:

Lost, I hope you figure out a good way to think about what you're doing. That can be very important.

Matilda, mostly I agree with your usual approach, but as I said in the main post, sometimes you just need to do something different, especially if through procrastination and guilt a task has donned a monster mask. I hope the writing continues to be enjoyable and that you can get it done and go back to something you want to do more.

Ink, despite all the hype for Brief Daily Sessions, if what your life allows is binges, then better binges than no writing. IMHO.

Sapience, that sounds like good news---takes some pressure off!

N&M, turning proofs around fast sounds like a shot in the arm: a clear achievement in more ways than one. Congratulations!

Rented Life, I love hearing that writing is a thing that brings people joy.

Zcat, those sound like manageable goals, small enough to be accomplished, big enough to give you a real sense of achievement when you stick to them.

Theologoumenathon (may I call you Theo?), I know what you mean. Reading feels easy to do here and there; it's low-commitment. Writing feels harder. You can trick yourself into it, if you need to, by writing notes in the margins or on post-its, and then typing them up later.

All right, my friends, carry on: whether you're just starting now, or finishing up, or practicing for the New Year, I wish you well with this week's writing work.

Contingent Cassandra said...

Since I didn't get the last batch of grades in until (very) early on Christmas Eve day (partly my fault, partly the fault of the calendar and other circumstances beyond my control), I'm still somewhat in the planning stages for the winter break (which runs fairly long for us), and also trying to fit in a little bit of actual rest and relaxation before putting more sustained effort into making substantial progress on writing and other work. So:

--Small change in my overall goal for the WWW(which might need further adjustment once I get into the writing, but I think this is realistic): complete all the primary-source-analysis-based writing for the article (in other words, a full draft, but one that may still need some fleshing out in the places where my ideas intersect with existing scholarship. I don't think I have time to read up on that in the next few weeks, and I do think I can fit it in -- to my schedule and to the article -- later).

--Goal for this week (on the light side, to allow for a few days of true R&R): write for 2-3 hours on 2-3 mornings.

--Goal for the first 3 weeks of January: write for 3-4 hours on 4-5 mornings a week.

The rest of the day in January will be devoted to logistical/life maintenance activities, writing syllabi, *and* revising and obtaining permissions for a second, provisionally-accepted article due Feb. 1. I'd love to say that I'll just leave all class prep until week 3 of January (the week before classes start) and squeeze it in then, but that's not realistic or wise for several reasons. But I'm determined to keep such work out of the writing times outlined above, and think I can afford to mostly ignore it during the first week of January. By the third week in January, I may need to cut back to 2-3 hours on 4-5 mornings, partly to leave more time for prep, and partly to get back on a schedule that I hope to sustain (at least at the 2-3 morning rate) during the term. 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). And like many people (including those who work in offices/ are bound by a strict time clock), I'm not tremendously productive in the early afternoon, though I can get some less-mentally-taxing work done then, and sometimes get a second wind in the late afternoon/early evening, especially if I've exercised in the afternoon. The trick then, of course, is to stop and get myself to bed in time to wake up early the next morning.

Speaking of which, I'm trying to work myself back to a bedtime that will sustain that schedule, so I'll sign off now, with thanks, again, for an incentive to stay on track.

Ink said...

Thanks, DEH. Your response, as always, is both reassuring and kind.

I just turned grades in on Thursday, so technically (factoring in the holiday), I'm just kicking off the break this week. It's helping me stay focused on the prize (making writing time happen) to read what you all are doing, so thanks to everyone.

JBC/CMW said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SwallowingSoul said...

I think it's a great idea to cultivate mindful inflexibility. I'm doing this by scheduling email time in the coming quarter. I've made a daily schedule that includes time M-F for emailing and I will not check it during other times--not even on my phone. I hope this helps.

SwallowingSoul said...

P.S. My quarter starts next week--long before most of your semesters, probably--so I'll let you know if I have any email-scheduling advice once the ball gets rolling and I see how well it works.

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

Cassandra, I think the topic of transitions will need its own post. I too find them hard, and I bet we're not the only ones. Your plans are very thoughtful.

Sitzfleisch, I love the term "mindful inflexibility." I also schedule e-mail checks, and try to do things that matter to me first, before getting into what other people want.

Elizabeth Anne Mitchell said...

Lots of wonderful insights here. Ink, I love "mindful inflexibility"; Dame Eleanor, the idea of doing what I want before getting into what other people want is so important. I do think that academics, and perhaps female academics especially, are socialized into what ADM called the Professional Good Girl.

I had an on-campus interview a week ago, and am waiting anxiously by the telephone, which wrecks my concentration. However, I am getting up one hour early every day to work on the lit review for this group before visitors awaken this week. I have to go back to my job next week, so the juggling will take some more work then.

Rented, I hear you about having to justify fiction writing. I love writing in all its forms, but fiction is my secret. A very small group of close friends know I write fiction; my co-workers barely accept my academic writing, and would be horrified at my writing fiction (which is a large part of why I'm on the job market).

Sisyphus said...

Ok, I put in at least one hour a day last week, with one day (wed?) being a very long and productive all-day citation style changeover. That was until Friday when the first of the out of state guests arrived at my parents' house, and I have had no alone time to work on the article since then. Until today. Except I don't feel like working again now.

In the next week, I need to:
-tame the content footnotes
-smooth out conclusions (of paragraphs, sections, the whole thing)
-refer to another historical figure (fix that page)
-fix the "while other scholars have claimed X..." lit review type section.
and then move to editing at the sentence/phrase level.

How to do this when all I want is to play that video game my niece left???

Luo Lin said...

I just pulled out my revision-in-progress, which I haven't touched since 12/2. Some of that time I had other things to do, but mostly the problem has been letting myself procrastinate. Making a schedule and falling behind is better than drifting without a plan, but making a schedule and ignoring it does not help.

My change will probably be to work more at home instead of at a cafe. I can procrastinate at home too, but at least I'll save money on meals. I'm not sure whether that counts as a big change or a small one.

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

Sis and Luo Lin, it sounds like it's time for small steps. Do one little thing, or work for just 15 minutes, and then REWARD yourselves. You want to encourage work, rather than discourage it, so focus on the positive.

EAM, I hope you get good news about the interview soon!

Today's score: two days of 9:15 to 1:15 work (yeah, so, I tend to come in a little late, but then I stay a little late to make up). Progress on various fronts. Time to get away from the computer and do other things now.

rented life said...

Elizabeth, exactly! "real life" people who know are far and few between, and I could dount them on one hand. I'm looking to leave teaching all together so that fiction writing will be my only writing!

Anonymous said...

Wow -- I will have to think about this a lot. One of the things I was talking to my therapist about recently about how I wish my life were more proactive instead of always reactive and crisis management mode. I really want to audition for a choir, and that means having to fit an obligation into my schedule that is at a fixed time. Aaaand, I just realized that I scheduled the lab for my class across from practices for both the choirs I want to join. Idiot.

Anyway, I think I will start small. I will try to set aside at least one day a week(end) when I do nothing for the teaching/service part of my job. If I want to read or write, that's fine, but nothing to do with prep or grading.

Finished my grading on the 22nd, went to a party, am now madly revising with what is some sort of throat/lung infection, I think. But my report is that I'm revising and have to turn the thing around. So for next week, I want to have an ILL book (in German) read, and perhaps also have the review of Modern Medieval's book done.

Luo Lin said...

Just checking in to say I did get down to work today, and am catching up with unmet goals from the Another Damned Notorious Writing Group. As Dame Eleanor (and The Now Habit) suggest, just get started with a short writing session. It's just that then I get going and don't stop (good) and run out of time for rewards before day care closes (in 13 minutes). Short-term rewards that is. I know the long-term rewards.

undine said...

This is a helpful post, Dame Eleanor. My timing has been all messed up because of Christmas and family, but really, that's just an excuse; they'd leave me alone to work if I would just settle down to it.

Good Enough Woman said...

My goals this week were to read 50 pages of primary text, read at least one chapter of secondary text, and write for 15 minutes three times. The only thing I did was to read about five pages of a secondary text. We're still traveling, and we've spent the past week visiting friends (who have a five-week-old baby*) and my MIL. With all of the scheduled holiday activities, it was very difficult to get anything done, especially since my grades weren't finished until last Thursday.

Tomorrow, we're heading up to a cabin for several days. I should be able to get a bit of work done, but I also need to start prepping for next semester. And, it's also really important to the kids that I play in the snow and sled and ski with them, sooooooooooooooooo, we'll see.

I find it very hard to maintain "mindful inflexibility." One of the challenging things for me lately is that I have 30% reassigned time for service work. That time helps with the grading, but I am at other people's beck and call (to a much greater degree than I am with teaching), and I have a lot of meetings. It seems that every time I want to spend a couple of afternoon hours researching or writing, I end up having meetings to attend at the last minute.

Something I did a couple of times last semester was to sneak over to the library for 45 minutes between classes to get some grading or reading done. That way, I was away from e-mail messages or colleagues who want to chat. Maybe I should try to find a few slots for library time each week, even if it's just 20 minutes.

But, for now, I have to figure out how to get work finished over the next week. I guess I'm going to have to face my children's disappointment when I tell them I have to work instead of playing while we're "on vacation." And I hope Hubby will support me in grabbing a few hours here and there. I don't feel like I have a lot of control over when I do the work, but I'm going to try to put in six hours between now and next Monday.

*We were asked to be godparents!

Anonymous said...

Did it, then fell off wagon, now recommitting.

Anonymous said...

P.S. I favor the inflexibility mode. Always did. Do not think academic schedules are actually flexible. Could expand on this.

Anonymous said...

Profacero, I want to hear more (because I tend to agree about them not being super flexible)!

Jodi A. Campbell said...

I'm so behind! Family drama = next to no writing done, but I'm finally safely ensconced at home and getting back on track. I think I actually wrote maybe two hours this whole week, rather than two hours a day. Shocking.

I think the "mindful inflexibility" is the perfect idea. I need to implement a schedule and not get sidetracked. I'm always sidetracked. This semester coming up will not allow for being sidetracked, especially not if I actually am going to defend this summer.

My favorite thing about the end of the year is actually planning out the next semester. I spend a good amount of time planning when I need to finish projects, when I need to start them, and goals along the way. Usually, despite all evidence to the contrary this semester, I meet those goals, but I think that's largely due to the amount of time I spend thinking about what I can realistically accomplish in a certain timeframe. If only life leaves me alone this semester!

WTG Homesteader said...

Small changes can be good, but sometimes I need the BIG COMMITMENT to get my butt in gear.

This week was one of those weeks when I had to just completely let go of any of my hopes or ambitions. My car's transmission was declared terminal, with the engine not far behind. So all free time (whatever that is) was taken up with car shopping and worry. So my one page goal this week? Well, I did do some brainstorming on the article one morning before Toby, who is home from school all week, woke up. That has to count as okay. Sometimes schedules have to move over for life.

But I really liked this post. Thanks, Dame Eleanor, for doing this.

Elizabeth Anne Mitchell said...

@Rented life, best of luck moving into the writing life; I wil try not to be overly jealous, lol. I cannot manage that yet, so my quest is for a job that doesn't impinge as much on the rest of my life.

@Good Enough Woman, seizing moments to be elsewhere is often my only hope. As a librarian, my "office" has no walls or door, so I have to hide to get things done.

Also, while short bits of time can be frustrating, they can also add up to be very helpful. You're quite smart to seize what you can.

@Dame Eleanor, thank you for the good wishes. I got a job offer this morning. Now to keep my writing/mindful inflexibility going while packing and moving!

Good Enough Woman said...

Congratulations, Elizabeth! That's fantastic!

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

Yes, congratulations! That's good news. Good luck with the packing!

Elizabeth Anne Mitchell said...

Thank you both!

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