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how to organize a productive summer

12 June 2012

Academics see the summer as a period to get (research) work done — for graduate students, this might mean writing a qualifying paper or dissertation prospectus, and for faculty, this likely means getting manuscripts under review at journals/presses or grant applications to foundations. Summer is an ideal time because there are fewer (or no) commitments to teaching and service. Nonetheless, it is not uncommon for scholars to find themselves scrambling towards the end of summer to complete projects and wondering where the time went.

“end of summer calendar” by zappowbang shared with cc license via Flickr

In an effort to provide haba na haba readers with some helpful tips on how to organize a productive summer, I have gathered here ideas generated by my colleagues and me at a recent NSF ADVANCE Writing Workshop at TAMU, led by Pat Goodson.*

First, it’s useful to think about your goals, both abstract and concrete. Use these to generate a list of tasks you would like to complete by summer’s end. Prioritize the different tasks on the list. How many working papers do you have that need to get under review by summer’s end? What deadlines do you have in summer and early fall for funding proposals or conference submissions? What, if any, teaching updates do you need to get done? And which of these projects is most important to you, given your goals? Then, be realistic about what can be done and what might have to wait for fall semester or winter break.

Use a calendar to identify and devote periods of work to each task. Create deadlines. I find it easiest to have the entire summer laid out before me as it keeps me realistic about what I can accomplish. I recommend downloading a free 12-week calendar PDF with the dates already filled in (the site has other great calendars, too).

In setting up your summer calendar, I strongly recommend you first set aside time to rest. If you don’t reward yourself some vacation time, and instead work the entire summer through, you run the risk of burning out early into the fall semester. You don’t need much time or an extravagant trip to an exotic locale — just give yourself a period to decompress from the previous academic year and rejuvenate your brain cells to see your projects with a fresh perspective.

On the 12-week PDF, I write the three tasks I’ll be working on for each week and the Friday submission deadlines for the different projects. Before I ink any co-authored projects into the schedule, I check in with my colleagues to make sure the time I’ve reserved for them to work on a project fits with their schedules as well.

I also generate a weekly calendar that is more specific (I take care of this on Sunday evenings). I set aside chunks of time to each of the three projects I’m working on during the week. I don’t let stop-and-chats interrupt my work since I can point to my schedule and say, “I have an appointment in the next five minutes.” That appointment is usually with a paper that I want to get under review.

Keep your schedule somewhat flexible to handle any pressing tasks that come your way (i.e., an invitation to revise and resubmit a paper under review). I typically do this by assigning only two tasks per week in the later parts of the summer.

What did I miss? What tips do you have for organizing a productive summer?
* The participants included Adrienne Carter-Sowell, Phia Salter, Carmen Gomes, Alice Villalobos, Rachel Smallman, and Sherecce Fields. Though I thank these colleagues for sharing their ideas, I take full responsibility (and blame) for the views expressed here.

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