At the end of every semester I find that there are several things that I want to file away as important lessons for the future. I don’t know that I’ll use a categorical breakdown in the future, but I have broken down my list this semester into general lessons, lessons about teaching, and lessons about writing. They are, for lack of any better scheme, in alphabetical order. Here is my list for this semester:
- Don’t be discouraged when you fall short of your expectations – accept any degree of improvement. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t able to live up to your initial ambitious plans. As long as you are doing better, to any degree, then you are successful.
- Focus on setting up good systems, not just having goals. Goals are fantastic and useful, but they can also become a myopic focus that causes you to miss other great opportunities. It is just as important to know when NOT to use goals as it is to know how to set good goals. Often, it is the system you set up to achieve the goal that is actually important.
- Have projects build on one another. I have used similar strategies in the past, but this semester really underlined for me how important and beneficial this can be for students, especially in classes like presentational speaking.
- Detailed emails are a waste of time – put that information somewhere other people can see it. The information that you would put into an email, while potentially accessible forever, is almost certainly destined for obscurity. If what you are saying requires a lot of detail, then you need to find a better place to put it.
- I work best when I write in big chunks, AND ALSO write a little bit every day. I find that writing a very small amount on my active project (dissertation) every day complements the writing that I do on dedicated writing days. It keeps the paper fresh in my mind and makes the big days much more productive. It also doesn’t hurt that these small days add up over time to real progress.
- Being determined can be an obstacle to success – give up and work on something else. If I am having trouble writing on one section of my dissertation, the worst thing I can do is keep bashing my head against the wall trying to force it to work. It’s OK to not be ready to work on a section yet. Just pivot, pick a different part of the problem, and drive on.
- Define an actual writing process and framework. Some writers tend to be verbose, I tend not to say enough. I became much more productive when I set a word-count goal for my dissertation. Then I had to figure out how to budget those words into chapters. Within each chapter I have had to budget it into sections. Defining a structure and targets as a framework has made me much more productive, because it lets me know that, even if I feel like I am done, I’m not done yet. In addition, I now have defined stages of the writing process that I track for each section. Now I know that my paper sections will go from “To-Do” to “First Draft” to “Revised Draft” to “Final Draft.” I cannot stress enough how important these features have become to my writing process. They are especially important tools for me when working on other projects in collaboration.