Making the Most of the Summer: 5 Tips for Getting Work Done
A cool thing about academia is you can think of the semesters as your opportunity for an automatic reset every four-ish months (an idea my advisor first shared with me). With every semester, you get to harness the power of new beginnings and breathe fresh life into your work.
On the flip side, though, working in academia also means contending with the fact that there are no real hard deadlines (for the most part), and working around that lack of structure. This becomes more of a challenge as graduate students complete coursework requirements and transition into candidacy, or during summer months, when a seemingly endless block of three months stretches ahead of us, when we can accomplish anything we want.
Lest we fall for the productivity traps this can engender, here are some tips to getting the most out of your summer, workwise:
1. Plan your Summer
This must seem obvious, but you can never understate the value of starting your semester with a solid, well-thought-out plan. Heading in, you're inevitably going to start with more than you can reasonably accomplish, so setting a realistic plan at the beginning can help offset disappointment or guilt at the end of the summer. While you're planning, remember to factor in time for self-care and time off. If you're working on a big project like writing a paper or submitting to a conference, break it down into smaller tasks and set smaller deadlines by working backward. Dr. Sa-kiera Hudson recently shared (on Twitter) a worksheet to set summer writing goals, which I found easy to adapt for more general summer goals as well. It's a good idea to do a quick check-in with your overarching summer goals from week to week as you're setting your weekly and daily goals so that you can adjust as needed.
2. Protecting your work time
Let's be real. It's summer, school's out, the beach is calling, and there are too many temptations calling you away from work. While it can be tempting to slip away (you do have the entire summer to work, after all), guard your scheduled working hours. Block out chunks of time for work, and keep them consistent so you are mentally prepared for getting into work mode, then plan other fun activities outside of those hours. There are a plethora of productivity devices these days that help keep you going when it's hard to focus—e.g. Forest or Pomodoro. On days when it's hard to work up the motivation to get things done, I've found this advice helpful: commit to working for only 30 minutes. That's not long, and you can still accomplish something. Chances are, more likely than not, once you get to the end of the 30 minutes, you're going to want to keep going. If that's not the case, you can pause there, and that's okay too. Also, check out Sharlene's post on getting things done when you feel "meh".
3. Build yourself a work routine
Routines bring a sense of coherence and comfortable predictability to our days, and help us transition from one task to another. They can be especially helpful to bring structure where there is none. Research finds that routines like commuting to work help us transition into work mode. We can adapt this idea for our needs, whether we're working remotely or otherwise. For one, set up a designated work space, and build a routine around the time you will spend there working. It can be something as simple as getting yourself a coffee, and lighting a candle before you sit down to work.
4. Find your community (aka commitment device)
Graduate school is often a lonely journey, and when school's out, even more so. This is why writing/working groups can be really nice. They provide accountability so we are motivated to make progress, and even better, they're a great way to build a supportive community of colleagues!
5. Celebrate your achievements
I am a firm believer in the idea that you don't need to reach some arbitrary level of productivity in order to reward yourself; life is not a marshmallow test. We all deserve rest and enjoyment regardless of how productive we are. But, there is value in marking accomplishments. So, if you're able to strike off all the tasks on your weekly to-do list, or finish that project you've been working on forever, mark it with something small that gives you pleasure. As you do this, also give yourself grace for the things you couldn't get to. Life is not a perfectly planned calendar after all.
Do you have other tips or recommendations for getting work done over the summer? Let us know! Share them on Twitter and tag the Student Committee (@SPSPGSC)! Let's help each other create the summer we want, together!