Seeing as this is a place to help each other, I figured I'd throw another call out for tips you've all learned. The topic du jour is research. What sorts of strategies have you found helpful for getting good work done? I'm curious to hear what you all have to say.
Here's my story. My dissertation supervisor once told me that there's a "transformation" one undergoes during one's first few years as a professor. He told me that it is very hard to describe, but that it is rather wonderful. I am beginning to understand what he meant. I used to spend several months putting papers together. I really labored over them. I thought this is what it takes to put something really good together. In some cases, I still think this is true -- it can take time for a paper to really round into shape -- but one of the things I'm learning is to trust myself and get drafts out quick. I mean real quick. The last several papers I've written each popped out over the course of a week or so. No, the drafts are not always (or not even usually) awesome, but I've found it is much more efficient to get stuff out on paper quick, and only then go back in and get all of the details right. I can't stress this enough. To whatever extent I've experienced "the transformation" my advisor spoke of, I understand it this way: it is a matter of trusting oneself, of becoming confident. I think it is largely a matter of not having to answer to anyone. Once you're a prof, there is no advisor to satisfy, no faculty to impress (perhaps I am fortunate to have gotten a job in a very small department).
Now, maybe it takes time as a prof to go through this. I'm not sure. But if there's one thing I would advise to anyone reading this, it is that by trusting yourself, at least you get stuff done. No, that was not a joke. Think about it this way. For my part, I still have some trouble discerning my good ideas from the bad. I don't think I'm alone in this. If history is any indication, most smart people have more bad ideas than good. It stands to reason, then -- and it has at least served me well -- that you should just get stuff out of your head and see what happens. As Steve Jobs said, "Real artists ship." I agree. If you get stuff out of your head and onto paper -- and then send them to conferences (and then to journals) -- you'll find out which ideas are good and which are bad real quick. Indeed, I can't emphasize this enough. Getting stuff out is a great way to cut one's losses. There have been at least a half-dozen papers that I spent a good deal of time on that I've cast to the scrap-heap. I learned -- mostly through the review process -- that they were no good. If only I had spent less time on them. I would've had more time to pursue other ideas. And this is what I've learned. The more ideas you get out onto paper (within reason, of course -- one should always be discerning!), the better the odds. For every five or ten mediocre ideas, you'll likely happen upon a couple of good ones. Just get them out. Let the world help you separate the wheat from the chaff.