Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Working habits

Mr Zero's back with some thoughts on work habits, echoing, if memory serves, some of Second Suitor's thoughts at the previous venture (too lazy to look). --STBJD

So, there's been a bunch of discussion (here and here) about the work habits of philosophers. This discussion is of particular interest to senior grad students, who are balancing teaching duties with dissertating, and VAPs and junior TT people, who are balancing teaching way more than they did in grad school with writing quality articles for publication so they can stop getting their asses handed to them on the job market or get tenure or something. It's serious business.

I am notorious for my time-management problems, but I seem to have constructed a way of striking the balance that works well for me. For starters, I get my teaching out of the way early. I find that it's bad to try to write before I teach for two reasons. One, I find it hard to concentrate when the specter of public speaking looms in the immediate future. Two, I might nevertheless manage to get into the zone, space out, and work straight through class.

Once I'm done teaching, I need some wind-down time, so I eat lunch, read the blogs, and fart around. This takes about an hour. Then I write until dinner time. Somewhere (I forget where; might have been PEA soup or something) I read about a couple of motivational strategies that have been helpful. The first comes from Jerry Seinfeld, who recommends getting a big calendar that has a full year on one page. You write a red 'X' over a day in which you write. Pretty soon, you get a chain of 'X's going. Your job is, don't break the chain. Write at least a little every day, and your project will get done.

The second comes from Isaac Asimov, I think. It's called the Martini Method: If you write a thousand words, you get to have a martini. If not, not. For some reason, and I hesitate to speculate about why, this seems to work really well for me. I don't think the "thousand words" thing to be immutable or anything--it's especially poor for representing work done during the editing and revising process, and I sometimes find I've worked all day on formulating some argument or principle in just the right way, so it does exactly what it's supposed to, but maybe having less than100 words to show for it. I do enough work to feel as though I've accomplished something, and then at around dinner time I knock off and have a martini. A martini seems special, somehow.

I almost never do any work in the evenings. After dinner I try to relax, decompress, and get ready for tomorrow. Sometimes I've got something I have to do, but I try to treat it in a 9-to-5 kind of way. One of the perks of this job, of course, is that it's not a 9-to-5 gig, but if I don't treat it like one, I never get anything done.

What do you do? Any tips, strategies, etc?

--Mr Zero


Second Suitor said...

For the days when I can't get anything done.. which seems to be happening a lot more recently.. you got to go with the tried and true timer method. Set it to a time that doesn't seem that imposing (I usually go with 25-35 minutes) set it and go. Automatic break when it goes off no matter what. Usually it gets me to focus at least for a while. Google 'download timer' and you can spend a lot of time finding just the right one.

lebensphilosoph said...

I also use the timer. I also use the reward system. I'm Pavlov's dog.

I'll work for a few hours and then take a break. I'll work for a few more hours and take another break. In the evening, assuming i'm not teaching and whatnot, I will treat myself to a movie or perhaps a martini.

Here's some more advice: C-Span Writers on Writing

g said...

the reason why there are so few comments? it's the need to register. it isn't very straightforward, and from the reader's point of view, not entirely clear why it's necessary at all.
btw, i have a blogger id, and half the time i try to publish a comment, the system gives me trouble, at which point i give up. i bet i am not the only one.

Anonymous said...

Since I, thanks god, no longer need to have some silly account to post, call me "How's Annie."

I find that the best motivation for getting work done is remembering a) my brief period in the real world, b) the amount of student loans I have, and c) how my income will likely double once I have my Ph.D (I'll go from taking home less than a janitor to taking home more than a janitor, but having to pay off my student loans).