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haha I wish I could write for two hours at at time! My writing strategy (not kidding) is writing for 10 minutes, then checking blogs and facebook for 20. I can't focus for more than that. I really wish I could get ADD drugs, but it is surprisingly difficult. Alas, I do manage to get quite a bit done this way.

Anyway, I'm curious Marcus, is this a recent change in how you do things? I remember you saying before that you hardly do any research during the year, and you did it all in the summer. But from what you said, you seem to do quiet a bit of research time each day.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Amanda: ;). I know a lot of people like that. I only check blogs (including this one) a few times throughout the day, and am otherwise pretty able to focus on things. But I know people who do have trouble focusing for long periods of time, and have heard that there are some useful apps for limiting web time.

Anyway, good question. Yes, I've changed things around a bit this semester. In part, I got lucky with a Tuesday/Thursday schedule, as well as with a course load of three courses that I have mostly prepped before. This has left me with quite a bit more time to do research than I typically have during the school year--which is really fortuitous since I have some important deadlines coming up in several months!

In any case, though, even during semesters where I don't have much time to do research, I still use the partitioning strategy. In those semesters (when teaching and service are most of what I do), I find its useful to partition my teaching and administrative/service duties in a similar manner to those described in the OP!


Thanks Marcus! I see. Yes that schedule makes a big difference.

Michael Barkasi

I am really bad at shifting focus and keeping to a schedule that's not imposed on me. Of course, I take the advice to not dismiss it until you've given it a serious try.

Still, I think I avoid the pitfalls of the big-goals/more-immediate (BG/MI) strategies. My strategy is not to use my rational faculties to *directly* curb my appetitive compulsiveness for BG/MI strategies (and other general time-wasting). Instead, I try to do a really good job planning out my obligations, so that, e.g., I simply don't end up with enough immediate needs to consume all my time and so I always have a pressing immediate obligation which keeps me working on the big project. So, I *indirectly* curb my destructive appetitive tendencies by structuring my external environment and obligations in a way that constrains them. Example: Need to get that big project done? Volunteer to give a work-in-progress talk at your department on one of the chapters, or decide that you're going to submit a 3k word version of a chapter to the upcoming APA meeting. Too many small things taking up your time? Start saying "no" more, let some of them go, etc. Once you've turned that big project into (just other) bite-sized immediate obligations like giving a talk, some of the other day-to-day "immediate" needs suddenly seem less pressing.

Trevor Hedberg

It's also worth noting that you can partition at the level of your weekly schedule rather than your daily schedule. I recall completing my MA thesis primarily by designating Thursdays and Sundays as writing days. I work on the thesis for 6-8 hours those days and do virtually no other work. This was a very effective way to lock down on that project since I found it difficult to make any substantive progress in 1 or 2 hour blocks. Obviously, this kind of partitioning is harder to do after graduate school (when you often have a heavier teaching load), but if you luck out and have all your teaching scheduled on just 2 or 3 days a week, then it's still possible.

happy grad student

I use a similar partitioning strategy and it does wonders for me. The only change in focus I make is that instead of breaking up my workload in terms of time, I break it up in terms of tasks. I make to-do lists every day and make sure I get a little bit of work done on each of my projects. Of course, I may prioritize urgent tasks and spend much more time on them on some days (perhaps spending several hours on a looming deadline and only spending 20-30 minutes on a long-term project), but I still make steady progress on all my projects. This has the benefit of both feeling that I've accomplished more each day, and reducing overall stress levels (I rarely feel like I'm drowning under the work I have to get done).

I am still a graduate student and don't have as much on may plate as junior faculty members, but this strategy has been instrumental in keeping me on track. I have made steady progress on my prospectus and dissertation, have been able to publish an article (and have several more in the pipeline) and keep up with service tasks and lesson prepping with minimal stress. I've gotten to the point where I can reliably take weekends off and spend more time with my family.

list lover

I also use a variant of the partitioning strategy (and started doing so about a year before finishing my PhD). It completely changed my approach to work. I don't have particular hours of the day set aside for projects (though I do tend to put research projects early in the day and teaching late, if I can manage it). I decide each week what I'm hoping to get done, and check in with that list each evening to make a plan for the next day. I also use a timer (Toggl is great!) to keep track of how much time I actually spend on different projects (including teaching). This allows me to check up on myself on the end of each week and see how much time I actually spent on a given project. If a project is stalling, it's probably because I haven't given it enough consistent time, and I'll take that into account when making next week's plan, e.g. by giving the stalled project higher priority.

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