Tips from the NCFDD Monday Motivator: January edition

by Chava Nerenberg, Graduate Programming Assistant
Monday, January 11, 2021 8:15 AM


Are you feeling like you just can't get anything done with everything that has been going on recently? Read on for an article 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: January 4, 2021
Every Semester (or Quarter) Needs a Plan

We don't know about you, but the term has already taken off for most of the grad students, post-docs, and faculty we know. It’s only a few days into 2021 and we keep hearing from people who feel overwhelmed by class schedules, writing deadlines, and a cascade of service requests. This term, the Monday Motivator will focus on the biggest errors we see made that exacerbate stress; suggest strategies to avoid those errors; and challenge you to take a few small steps forward to start gaining some control over your time and productivity. Our hope is that pinpointing these errors will be helpful to everyone, no matter where you are on the academic ladder. And let's be clear from the get-go: we’ve made every one of these errors, so there’s not one ounce of judgment in our writing about them. Instead, our purpose is to identify the common errors so that you can avoid them and become highly productive in your academic career.

The beginning of a busy term is a great place to start with the first error many make: applying time management and writing strategies that worked in the past to your current career stage.

Large blocks of uninterrupted time are unusual for faculty (and graduate students) who more often find themselves scrambling to prepare new classes, attend departmental events and committee meetings, manage RAs and TAs, settle into a new community, and make a positive impression on their colleagues. You are expected to participate, perform, AND be productive. But without a proactive strategy for research and writing, productivity is often the first thing that suffers.

In order to accomplish all of these things, it’s important to get clear about what work needs to get done to move your research agenda forward, and you must be vigilant about making time for the one thing that matters most to your promotion, tenure, and mobility: WRITING. If you work at an institution where publishing research isn’t part of your formal evaluation, or you're currently working in an administrative capacity, please know that what we are really talking about here is not getting lost in the daily chaos. Instead, we’re talking about strategically creating the space each week for activities that contribute to your long-term success (whatever those may be in your institutional context). In other words, busy terms/semesters/quarters can easily fly by without much progress towards your long-term goals unless you do three things at the outset: 1) create a clear work plan, 2) commit yourself to daily writing, and 3) connect with a community of support and accountability.

Three Steps to Spring Success:

Step #1: Develop A Clear And Realistic Strategic Plan

Before the term gets into full swing, set aside 30 minutes to develop a strategic plan for the next 15 weeks (or however long your term, quarter, or semester lasts). Creating a strategic plan is easy and enjoyable -- just start by listing your writing goals for the term and the projects that are necessary to meet them. Then map the projects onto your calendar so that you know which blocks of time you will devote to each one. There's a finite number of weeks in the term, so it's critical to determine what specific weeks you will devote to each project on your list. A strategic plan will help you to clarify WHAT needs to be done and WHEN you will do it. 

Step #2: Commit Yourself To At Least 30 Minutes of Writing EVERY DAY

We know we sound like a broken record on this point, but we have seen so many academic writers experience explosive breakthroughs in research productivity by simply committing to daily writing, blocking that time out of their calendars, and showing up every day. If you haven't tried it, all we can say is that daily writing will not only consistently move you towards the completion of your writing goals, but it will also reduce your anxiety by aligning your daily schedule with your institution's promotion and tenure criteria. 

Step #3: Connect With A Community of Support That Will Keep You MOTIVATED And ACCOUNTABLE

While it is critical to have a clear strategic plan and execute it by writing every day, the most important factor for success during a busy term is connecting with a community of support and accountability. Too many of us try to do everything alone and expect ourselves to be perfectly motivated and disciplined at all times. This is not only unrealistic, but it's also a recipe for isolation, alienation, and frustration. To be honest, sometimes we feel like writing, but most of the time we don't! That's because writing is not always the most enjoyable thing to do in a day. We also know ourselves well enough to realize that we thrive in a community where we’re motivated daily by others and where people care enough about us to hold us accountable to our goals. There are lots of different ways to create accountability structures for your writing and research.

The Weekly Challenge

This week, we challenge each of you to: 

  • Create a list of your writing goals (and the tasks necessary to complete them) for the spring term
  • If you are resistant to this task, gently ask yourself "why?"
  • Map the writing tasks you need to accomplish onto each week of the term
  • Go through your calendar and block out at least 30 minutes at the beginning of each weekday for "writing time"
  • If you don’t have a calendar, stop reading and go get one
  • Write every day this week for at least 30 minutes (just try it!)
  • If you're not clear how to create your strategic plan, join us for our popular Core Curriculum webinar Every Semester Needs A Plan

We hope this week brings each of you the clarity to define your writing goals, the persistence to write every day, and the joy that is found in true community!