Friday, July 01, 2005

work process (chapter 3)

Although I mostly agree with Hall's main points, at times I find his language frustrating. For instance, his claim that planning out his writing goals by using his calculation of his average speed is a way of "textualizing" his work. I mean, yes, I agree, making explicit plans or contracts with yourself is incredibly useful, perhaps even necessary for most of us. But I dislike his use of that term. It seems to be making something more out of this chapter than what I think it is -- which perhaps goes back to our conversation about his Introduction, and his need to address the anxiety or disdain with which many intellectuals view self-help or time management books. I see that tension in this chapter particularly, since he wants to recommend some concrete steps yet distance himself from the typical advice handbook.

Me, I'm a big believer in time management strategies and have used different ones at different stages in my work life. I'm well aware of areas in my process that could use improvement, so I'm always interested to learn of new methods. Some of what Hall has to say about subdividing the writing task and combining that with a realistic time estimate in order to map out goals reminds me of The Clockwork Muse, which I recommend if such a system appeals to you. I'm not quite there yet -- though I'd like to be someday.

Mostly, I have to confess, because I have a very inaccurate idea of how long it takes me to write a page, revise a page, or even to read different kinds of texts. Although I'm pretty good at managing my day-to-day and weekly commitments, much of my writing has been performed under the pressure of deadlines. So now, in a new post-tenure world with fewer deadlines (and less scary ones) I can envision trying to figure out what my slow & steady pace might be. But I'm still trying to break the power of the deadline as a motivation.

So, my question to everyone: name one strategy, habit, trick, that you do that has really helped your productivity -- whether it's time management, writing habits, or some other area.

For me, I felt a real shift during my 2nd or 3rd year in my job, when I started defining clear blocks of time when I would be on campus & available for meetings, and other clear blocks when I would not be available. It's so often difficult for junior faculty in particular to say no to a meeting -- especially since many of us have a fairly high degree of autonomy over our time. But once my weekly landscape could be partitioned off, it really helped me not get so scattered among service obligations and the like. Sometimes you have to be flexible, of course, for really high priority things. But it was incredibly freeing to simply tell the Chair's secretary "I'm available to meet on Mondays or Thursdays" and let her work with that in scheduling committee meetings. (Because you know that the senior divas in your department, whoever they are, simply say "I can meet at X time" and assume others will work around them.)