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Trevor Hedberg

This reminds me a bit of Cal Newport's material on this subject. (He teaches computer science and runs the popular blog "Study Hacks".) Cal is also a big advocate of structured daily planning. Here's one representative post about the subject: http://calnewport.com/blog/2015/09/29/deep-habits-three-recent-daily-plans/

Personally, I've never been able to hold fast to a rigid daily plan, but I certainly endorse the first two features of goal-setting that you mention. Vague goals that are very far off in the future don't tend to be motivating. They need to be concrete (so that they have clear conditions for failure and success), and they need to be relatively short term so that you don't keep putting off progress. I will add that imposing artificial deadlines (for example, by targeting a CFP for a journal or conference) can aid in staying on task with various projects in the absence of a rigid daily schedule.


I don't necessarily disagree with any of this. but wanted to note that my own "strategy" is quite different. I have no goals, and only vague plans (for example, write a book before tenure). Goals and plans cause me a lot of anxiety, because I then feel pressure to achieve/follow them. For me it is easier to simply just write the best that I can and as much as I can. I don't really have a schedule, but I do have a pattern of mostly doing work at the same time each day. It has worked out for me, although I am happy to admit I might be an idiosyncratic case. I suppose I could also be wrong, and perhaps I would do even better if I implemented this type of strategy. But I tend to think for people with my disposition (a lot of "natural" discipline, but a lot of goal-related anxiety) this type of path might not be the best.

A Non-Mouse

I'm like Amanda. I have nothing like the sort of plans discussed. In fact, when I have a paper to write, it nags at me and preoccupies my thoughts to the point at which I use all my available time to read or write until the paper is finished.

Marcus Arvan

Amanda and A Non-Mouse: Thanks for sharing! I definitely think different things can work. I used to do what you two do, and it didn't work for me. Since I found the planning thing works for me, I figured it might be good to share it as a possibility to try for those who struggle getting stuff done.

I also wonder whether what works depends on context. For example, I'm curious: do both of you work at R1 institutions? Here's why I ask. In my first job, which was at an R1, I did what you both do--mainly because I had more or less all day to sit around writing (though it didn't even work all that well for me then). At my current institution, though, this just isn't an option. I have *so* many different things to juggle--a heavy course load, chairing, committee work, multiple paper and book deadlines, etc.--that simply sitting down dedicating all of my available time to a single paper just isn't an effective use of time: doing that would necessitate me missing deadlines that I need to meet.

Marcus Arvan

Thanks for sharing, Trevor - I'll check out Newport's stuff!

A Non-Mouse

I'm at an R1. But I've had to juggle a heavy load of responsibilities, similar in some respects to what you describe. My non-research responsibilities almost always suffer at least a bit (and sometimes a lot). I tend not to let things get in the way of my research.


I work at an R1 - but only recently started here. Before I was at a teaching school, and before that I had a heavy adjunct load while in grad school. My strategy has always been like this. When I had heavy teaching loads I almost never did research/teaching in the same day. Some days were all research and some days all teaching. Also, perhaps this is just idiosyncratic - but I have way more service work at my R1 than I had at my teaching school.

Marcus Arvan

Amanda (and A Non-Mouse): interesting! Yeah, I’ve heard some people say my strategies wouldn’t work for them. It’s cool to hear that different things work for the two of you. My hope is that sharing different strategies may help people who are struggling with their current strategies consider possible alternatives. So thanks to both of you for sharing!


Marcus, I agree. Grad students should try out various work-habit strategies and do what works best with them. The key is to try something new if what you're doing isn't working.

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