It probably should not come as a surprise to me, but being a successful scholar — broadly defined to include research, teaching, mentoring, and service — requires a great deal of self-discipline. To a surprising extent, accomplishing some rather difficult feats — like finishing a dissertation and securing a job — require both pushing one’s self, and pushing others to respect your time and decisions. Unfortunately, an academic can be pulled in so many directions, so one runs the risk of placing the lowest priority and energy into the things that are most important (especially for tenure and promotion; i.e., research). So, books like The Black Academic’s Guide to Winning Tenure — Without Losing Your Soul and other resources constantly remind scholars that they must proactively guard and control their schedules in order to be successful.
In the past few days, as the new academic year is gearing up, I have seen a few scholars openly discuss creating a clearly defined schedule for their week. For example, following Dr. Tanya Golash-Boza‘s advice on starting the semester off with a plan for one’s typical week, “Jan In The Pan” created her own schedule for the new semester.
I guess it cannot hurt to share my own, as well!
I started by blocking off class time and office hours. And, then I put 1-2 hours of time for writing and editing papers first thing in the morning. Although others have mentioned making time for writing, I am not certain whether they are implicitly including other aspects of the research process in that time: searching for and reading articles, analyzing data, etc. I am aware from past experience that anxiety about writing will sometimes let me procrastinate by looking for even more articles or running even more supplemental analyses. So, I have set a specific time for those parts of the research, with a time just for writing and editing.
This will be my first time teaching two courses at the same time, including one new prep (Research Methods). So, I tried to force myself to be efficient in preparing lectures, but also gave myself a bit of wiggle room in the event that I have understimated the time it will take. I have sprinkled time for grading throughout the workweek to minimize the likelihood that I will have to stay up late into the night grading.
I make no apologies that this is an 8am-5:30pm, Monday through Friday schedule, with lunch breaks. I am aware that days may run later than I am planning at this point. But, unionists and workers rights activists worked too hard for the weekend for me to work on Saturdays and/or Sundays. And, I am forcing myself to take a proper lunch break so that I am not exhausted or overwhelmed with work throughout the day. (It sounds quite strange to say one has to force a break.)
Of course, there will be meetings that I cannot force during the four hours available for office hours. Certainly, I cannot ask colleagues and administrators to “come see me during my office hours!” So, like Dr. Golash-Boza, I will do my best to push those during late afternoon times late in the week. Or, I am happy to turn my lunch time into a lunch meeting (you’ve got to eat anyhow!).
This speaks to the external aspect of self-discipline — in essence, we must gently push others to respect our time so that we may maintain our productivity. There are simply too many people with varying schedules, with different needs (some that demand more time than they actually need, some not enough). One’s entire week could be booked with meetings, the rest of the time interrupted by surprise visits. I work best in my office, so this may mean that I will have to close my door during scheduled work times, and gently remind any visitors of another time that we may speak at length.
I do not like the idea of being so rigid about my schedule. But, thus far, the times that I have been most successful were when I held myself to a schedule with little room for negotiation. I would love to have unexpected visitors to fill my need to be social and have deep philosophical conversations — to leave for a coffee break whenever I wish. I could easily catch up on current events, and get the itch the blog — stopping only to prepare for teaching.
Though I see all of these as part of my broader understanding of myself as a scholar, and being an active member of an academic community, I am well aware that I will be evaluated primarily on teaching and research, followed by service. So, you will even notice that I did not schedule time for blogging or community service; these will have to occur on weekends or evenings. And, no form of service is included in the schedule (hopefully kept during open times for meetings) — and I certainly aim to avoid taking on any service that includes weekly obligations or meetings.
So, it begins tomorrow. First day of classes! For my own benefit, and hopefully for others, I will offer occasional updates on the effectiveness of this rigid schedule and on my level of productivity.