What Are Your Productivity Secrets?

We're almost two weeks into the semester--just long enough for that initial "Maybe this is the year I really keep a handle on things" feeling to come, and then go! But it is possible to maintain good writing, research, and life habits while staying on top of your work as a teacher. I'm going to share some tips and link to some resources that help me. Sound off in the comments about your productivity tips, and I'll feature them in future blog posts!

  1. Grading is a series of sprints, not a marathon. Grading, especially written work, is ... maybe not the most joyous part of the job for most of us, and so I tend to want to do a lot of it on one day so as to "free up" other days completely (for writing, or just for a Stranger Things marathon). But you don't do your best work that way--and, for a lot of us, you take longer too. Think about it: if you tell yourself you're "grading" for the next seven hours, you'll take more little breaks between one paper and the next, and you'll find your attention wandering between pages. (Facebook never looks more attractive than when you're seven papers deep into a seven-hour grading shift.) If you tell yourself you're going to rip through a few papers every day for several days, you really do move through each set of papers more quickly and efficiently, and you often bring a higher level of attention and engagement to each individual paper. At least, that's how it works for me. Bread-crumb it throughout the working day.
  2. Combine lesson planning and exercise. A lot of us struggle to find time to exercise, but a lot of us also get our best ideas when in motion. So before your daily jog or walk, glance at your syllabus for the week (or even the readings) and see what ideas get jostled loose by exercise. Then jot down a rough draft of your plans immediately afterward.
  3. Think like a parent. Everyone knows that parents of very young children face terrible challenges to their productivity. And academia, like many other fields, still unjustly penalizes women especially for having children, in ways both formal and informal. But studies show that working parents are more productive on average than their peers, once the kids are school-age. (This only makes the discrimination that they face more unconscionable.) Why? I've asked several parents I know, and this is what they tell me: They've stopped being perfectionists about process. They seize every scrap of time, rather than worrying about having the "right" set of conditions for writing, thinking, or whatever. They charge ahead and get done what they can. Over time, that means they beat out those of us who have no children, but who, say, stress out so much about workflow and productivity that we write blog posts for our union about it.
  4. Reward yourself. Did you finish those revisions? Write that grant proposal? Rec those twelve students? That all counts as work, and it's worth a little self-recognition, even if that's just meeting a friend for coffee.

Jo VanEvery is a writing coach in Canada who specializes in working with academics; her blog is always worth checking out. Matt Might has an especially helpful rundown of his own productivity "hacks" (though God, do I hate that word; we're people, not programs). It's long. Maybe save it for Fall Break!

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