Tips from the NCFDD Monday Motivator: November edition

by Chava Nerenberg, Graduate Programming Assistant
Monday, November 16, 2020 3:00 PM


Are you feeling like you just can't get anything done with everything that has been going on recently? 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 strategies to help you get through the end of the quarter.

Monday Motivator: November 9, 2020
The Last Stretch

Without a doubt, this past week was a difficult week in an already difficult semester. We acknowledge too that we are all still in an academic term that has yet to end. As counterintuitive as it may feel at the moment, we want to encourage you to maintain some of the practices (like the Sunday Meeting) that we know can help quell some of the anxiety you’re feeling, whether election-related, semester-related, or both. Beyond the Sunday meeting, here are some other tips to help jump-start things for the last stretch of the term.

Develop Attainable Writing Goals 

One of the most difficult time management skills to learn is how to develop writing goals that are attainable in a specific period of time. The problem is that many of us create writing goals based on what we hope (or even dream) of accomplishing in a given time frame. This is commonly done by pulling numbers and deliverables out of thin air without the slightest idea of how or when we will do the work to achieve our lofty goals.

As yet another manifestation of academic perfectionism, we often set audacious writing goals because making reasonable ones seems so small and uninspiring. But when we create unrealistic goals, we set ourselves up to feel disappointed, discouraged, and demoralized. We see people set unattainable goals all the time and they tend to result in negative outcomes. Some faculty set such big goals (i.e. "finish my book") that they never start writing because it seems far too enormous to tackle in 30 minutes a day. At the other end of the continuum are people who manage to stay productive. But because they set goals that are literally unattainable, they don't meet them. Then they end the term with feelings of failure and frustration, despite having made significant progress on their writing projects.

Consider a PLAN B That Connects Your GOALS to TIME 

We encourage you to start your Weekly Planning Meeting this week by reviewing your goals for the term. We know it's difficult, but let's take an open and honest look at our goals without criticism, judgment or guilt. Instead, start by appreciating the optimism that you felt when you wrote your goals and acknowledging all the work that you have completed this term. We are inspired by the progress many of you have made by:

As you revise your goals for the remainder of the term, try to move beyond just listing your goals by figuring out how you will accomplish the goals and when you will do the work. In other words, apply the same process you would use to create a strategic plan for your next 30 days. 

Step #1 
Go through the next four weeks in your calendar and block out all of your existing time commitments: classes, meetings, daily writing time, etc. Block out extra time for rest and recovery opportunities too.

Step #2  
Take a long, hard look at your remaining goals and try to figure out the steps that are necessary to complete them. We like to use a flow chart or mind map to do this because sometimes it’s hard to fully understand what tasks will be required to complete your goals. This clarity is essential if you are going to begin accurately estimating your time. 

Step #3 
Go ahead and map the actual work tasks onto your calendar. For example, if you planned to draft a new article, figure out what specific tasks need to be completed to finish a first draft. Then block out time in your calendar to complete each of those writing tasks. (Pro tip: Keep your goals modest. It’s always better for your momentum and morale to exceed your lower expectations than fall short of expectations that are too lofty).

The value of this exercise is that it will force you to take the abstract idea of a writing goal, break it down into its constituent parts, and connect that work with time. The ugly reality is that if you are unable to find the time in your calendar to complete the tasks that will get you to your goal, then you are unlikely to achieve the goal. If you are not sure how long it actually takes to complete various writing tasks, take your best guess and then multiply that guess by 2.5 (the average factor by which most people we work with underestimate how long writing tasks take to complete). Still can't find time for all the work necessary to complete that new article? It’s OK. You can add move it to the next academic term. Maybe you won’t finish a complete first draft of the article in 30 minutes a day, but you could realistically complete a first draft of the introduction and literature review sections and create an outline of the methods, findings, and discussion sections. We know it's painful, but adjusting your expectations and planning the work now sure beats feeling like a failure at the end of the semester. Why? Because you will feel better having scheduled and completed several tasks that move you closer to drafting the new article than you will by avoiding the whole thing and starting a new year with no progress on that article you’ve been promising yourself you would write for the past year. For now, just try to gently ask yourself: what can I realistically accomplish in the next 30 days? Then carve out the time in your calendar to accomplish the tasks that will move you towards reaching your goals.

This is your Plan B, and we will be very proud of you for accomplishing it!

The Weekly Challenge 

This week, we challenge you to: 

  • Hold a Sunday Meeting.
  • Review your writing goals for the term. If you still haven't written any, then go ahead and take the time to draft goals for the last 30 days of the term.
  • Honestly ask yourself: can I complete these goals in the next 30 days?
  • If the answer is "no," patiently revise your goals based on what you CAN realistically accomplish in at least 30 minutes of daily writing.
  • Go through the remaining weeks of your term, block out your daily writing time and specify what tasks you will complete during that time.
  • Try paying yourself first by writing in the morning before you do anything else.

We hope that this week brings you the courage to assess your goals, the creativity to revise them, and the discipline to write every day!