Tips from the NCFDD Monday Motivator: May Edition

by Daina Tagavi, Professional Development Peer
Tuesday, May 05, 2020 8:15 AM


Are you feeling like this just wasn't the year to be truly productive? Are you hoping to turn things around with your writing this summer? Read on for tips from the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity (NCFDD), an independent professional development, training, and mentoring community of over 71,000 graduate students, postdocs, and faculty members​. 

To take advantage of this amazing resource (free for UCSB students!), you must register with your UCSB account (see how to register here). Once you ​register, you are automatically subscribed to the Monday Motivator -- your weekly dose of ​positive energy ​and actionable steps to increase your productivity and motivation. This week's Monday motivator focuses on seeking advice from others and working toward creating solutions that will help you work smarter

It’s worth saying out loud: this was not the typical academic year. Never in ​this lifetime have people dealt with a global pandemic. Our families, communities, campuses, and students are dealing with unprecedented difficulties. Typically, this is the point in the academic year when we'd be thinking that summer writing season is right around the corner. Or maybe summer writing is the last thing on your minds right now (totally understandable!). ​Meeting summer writing goals are hard enough, even without a global pandemic on our minds every hour of every day. But if there’s something the Monday Motivator has learned from talking to academics who have dealt with devastating losses and life challenges, it is possible to find your center with writing.

As we head into summer break, the Monday Motivator wants to motivate you to use writing as your strategy for re-centering and recalibrating in these uncertain times. To that end, this summer’s Monday Motivators are designed to be your week-by-week support system for your summer writing and productivity.

Summer Writing Challenges
So many of you are yearning for the summer, a reprieve from what has likely been the toughest spring term of your career. You had to make all of your courses virtual in a matter of days, you had to suddenly homeschool your children, you had to assist students dealing with economic challenges and emotional hardships. Summer will certainly give us a much-needed break from our academic year responsibilities—teaching, committee meetings, and advising—and this can create the illusion that we have lots of time. Imagining that we have infinite time can lead us to procrastinate and/or belabor tasks unnecessarily. To be real, it might not be that we are merely procrastinating; rather, we may be coping and recovering from spring term. Plus, the many challenges associated with COVID-19 will continue well past the end of the academic year. All of these factors can heighten the expectations and pressure to write. Perhaps you’re thinking you must complete a year’s worth of writing in 12 weeks.

Childcare poses yet another challenge to summer writing. Perhaps in the past you’ve been able to sneak in writing because of childcare and summer camps. This summer, parents will have to balance childcare and a writing schedule. As mentioned, some of you are simply exhausted from the intensity of this very unique academic year and, more than anything else, you feel the need to address all the neglected areas of your physical health, social life, and personal relationships during the summer months. In this moment, this is especially important.

It is so important to acknowledge the challenges academic writers face during summer breaks. Even with these challenges, it is still possible to get writing this summer, if you hold on to a few key strategies: 1) knowing what you need as a human being and what you need to accomplish as a writer and researcher, 2) creating a realistic plan to meet all of your needs, and 3) connecting with the type of community, support, and accountability that will sustain you through the summer months. Each term or semester should start with a plan, so for this week I want to encourage you to set aside 30-60 minutes, grab your calendar and a piece of paper, and develop a clear and concrete plan.

How to Create a Summer Plan
When you have a plan for your writing and personal goals this summer, think of it like the blueprint you need to make progress on your important projects. ​There is a big difference in the output (and anxiety level) of academics who proactively and consciously scaffold their research and writing activities as compared to those who take a more laissez-faire approach. A summer plan allows you to define your goals, identify the activities that will help you achieve them, and provides you with the confidence that when August rolls around, you will have accomplished all the things that are important to you and your future success. Given everything happening with the pandemic, you should set up a summer plan that prioritizes your self-care and recovery as much as your writing. 

Step #1: Start With Your Goals 
Start by writing down all of your personal and professional goals for the summer. Make sure all of ​your goals are SMART goals. In other words, state your goals in Specific, Measurable, Attractive, Realistic, and Time-Framed statements. So, instead of listing "make progress on my book" and "learn how to cook" as goals, you can write "complete the first ugly draft of chapter 2 by July 1st" and "take one cooking class each month." Listing your goals is the fun part, so enjoy it. ​Academics have a tendency to overshoot their goals, but consider relaxing the usually high expectations that you have for yourself. Overshooting your goals, especially during a pandemic, can become counterproductive very fast.

Step #2: Outline The Tasks That Are Required To Achieve Your Goals 
For each of your end-of-summer writing goals, determine all the tasks necessary to achieve the goal. For example, if one of your goals is to submit that R&R that's been sitting on your desk all year, then ask yourself: What specific tasks do I need to complete in order to revise and resubmit my manuscript? Your list could look something like the following:

  • Read the editor's and reviewers' comments.
  • Cry a little.
  • Create a list of necessary revisions.
  • Read for revision.
  • Re-analyze data.
  • Revise the writing and update tables.
  • Submit to a professional editor.
  • Draft a cover letter explaining how you addressed the reviewers' comments.
  • Submit the revised manuscript to the journal.
  • Celebrate the submission. 

Each of your goals will require specific tasks in order to be accomplished by August. If you’re a visual person (as opposed to a list-maker), then try mapping out a flow chart for each of your goals. Some will be simple, and others will be complex; the main point is that if all you're doing is setting goals without identifying all the small steps that are necessary to achieve them, you are unlikely to finish the summer with much progress or productivity.

Step #3: Map Your Projects Onto Time
Here's where it always gets ugly. ​Your body might still be recalibrating to a very new orientation toward time (especially coming off of March where every week felt like a year!). Take a long hard look at your calendar and make sure you have blocked out all of your summer commitments. ​Most of your conferences have probably been cancelled, but you still have to account for childcare, summer family activities, virtual talks and meetings, and weekly socials on Zoom. What is left is the time you realistically have to complete all the projects necessary to accomplish your goals. Use your best estimate as to how long your projects will take and find specific weeks in your calendar when this work will get done.

This is where things get ugly because inevitably you will have more projects than will fit into 12 weeks. In the even we are still under shelter-in-place, you might have to dedicate part of your summer to convert your fall courses into a virtual format. The summer break may suddenly seem shockingly short! The point of this exercise is not to stress you out more, but rather to force this realization in May (as opposed to August) because now you can proactively make decisions about the work that doesn’t fit into your calendar by scaling back your goals, re-negotiating deadlines, requesting additional support, prioritizing, delegating, and/or letting some things go. Whatever you decide, you will feel far more empowered making your decisions in advance then simply hoping you'll meet all of your goals and then ending another summer disappointed and frustrated over all the work that didn't get done. 

Step #4: Execute The Plan On A Daily Basis 
Once you have a plan for your summer activity, it's up to you to actually do it! Sit down at the beginning of each week to review what writing tasks you have planned for that week and figure out what specific day and time you will complete them (aka The Sunday Meeting). We are all motivated by different things, so try to figure out what motivates YOU and build it into your daily life. It feels a bit weird to say this right now, but it’s so important to treat yourself whenever you finish a daily writing goal. The treats don’t have to be expensive or extravagant; but it’s especially necessary to create reward systems and little moments of joy, even while living through this global pandemic. 

Step #5: Create Support And Accountability 
Summer is a time when you will need extra support and accountability because the structured activities of the academic year (events, classes, and meetings) cease. We are all learning how important staying connected is, not just for our projects, but for our overall mental health. This is an ideal time to start a writing accountability group, create a write-on-site group, join the monthly writing challenges in the NCFDD Discussion Forums, and/or join the next session of our Faculty Success Program. Whatever you do, don't try to go it alone! There are many wonderful communities of support that already exist, and you have the power to create them in your own local environment.

As always, adapt these steps to fit your unique circumstances and personal needs. And once you have a plan, the Monday Motivator encourages you to share it with your mentors to get their suggestions, feedback, and ideas. This way, no matter how the academic year ended, you (and your departmental mentors) will know that this summer, you are a scholar who can persevere through this difficult moment.

The Weekly Challenge 

This week, the Monday Motivator challenges you to: 

  • Take 30-60 minutes to sit down and construct a plan that provides all the rest, fun, support, and community you need to be productive this summer.
  • If you need help creating your summer plan, register for our May core curriculum webinar: Every Summer Needs A Plan.
  • Find or create a community of support that will keep you motivated throughout the summer months.
  • Share your summer plan with at least one of your mentors for feedback.
  • And if you wanted to participate in our Summer Bootcamp but missed the deadline, consider registering early for the fall session.

The Monday Motivator hopes that going through the process of making a summer plan will help you to identify your priorities, clarify how all of your personal and professional needs can get met, and energize you for the summer months. Again, it may feel a bit odd given what we are all experiencing, but if there’s something we can learn from our predecessors who endured the most difficult of times, it’s that the human spirit is resilient.