Last semester I submitted my third-year review file. It was a tedious process, but it enabled me to take stock of everything I have accomplished so far on my tenure track journey. I realized that I tend to not look back at what I've achieved. Spending a huge chunk of my semester working on the file made me realize the importance acknowledging what's been done so far before setting more goals and moving forward. In a smaller version of this, I want to acknowledge what I do each semester also. Last semester's tally is below:
  1. Completed and submitted third year review materials
  2. Gave three presentations
  3. Progress on a manuscript
  4. Applied for interdisciplinary research grant
  5. Established in-person writing group with peers
This is coming halfway though the summer because I haven't really come up for air since the end of the semester. I've been steadily writing with my new group on a book chapter which I plan to send to my co-author by the end of the week. With people traveling for the summer, the in-person writing group has disbanded for now but I'm pressing forward with the momentum I gained from working with others earlier in the summer. There is something wonderful about meeting with colleagues at a cafe with laptops and tablets and everyone getting down to their own writing projects for a few hours each day. I guess I am more social than I realize because my productivity really peaked when the group was going strong. I also enjoyed getting back to writing in coffee shops, which is something I did a lot while I was a graduate student and postdoc but haven't done much in the last three years. I find that there's something almost mischievous about being away from my office over the summer. Writing at home works, but rarely matches the caffeinated frenzies of writing in coffee shops. What about you? Where do you prefer to work? What's your most productive summer writing space? 

Walking along

I've been going for a walk a couple of evenings each week, and I'm amazed at how just carving out a small amount of time for recreation can change the tone of the day. These thirty minutes are transformative for me. My mood and even my posture changes when I get back from a walk -- I'm not hunched over, even when I sit at the computer -- and I just feel like I can stand taller in more ways than one. Being in nature for a short period of time in the day is uplifting and rejuvenating. Seeing a ladybug crawling along, or some beautiful wild flowers blowing in the wind, listening to the birds, looking up at the sky, all things I don't get enough of. The walking itself does the body good, but there's no doubt this is good for overall well-being. I'm going to pencil in a walk at least twice a week. Its a great way to end the day, and hard to talk myself out of, since its only 30 minutes. Give it a try if you aren't already doing something like this. I wish I had sooner.

A cup to save the day

Though I am not generally a fan of flavored teas, Tea forte's Black currant tea is quite exceptional. It is a deliciously full, rich black tea, underlined with a tart blackberry flavor that compliments the tea and rounds out the flavor. I was sold on this tea by its scent alone. Even in the package, when I popped open the tin at my local grocery store, this bold and fruity black tea stood out among its peers. This tea easily stands alone but I'd recommend drinking it with lemon and honey (emphasizes tart and sweet notes). Don't underestimate this tea -- it's my post-lunch weapon to conquer end-of-semester malaise, and I can't count how many times it has literally turned my day around.

Wheel of life

I did a wheel of life exercise the other day, scoring where I am in each area of my life, and setting goals to work on priority areas for the next few months.
I'm not the least bit surprised to find that my life isn't very balanced right now, but it was helpful to see what areas I want to work on. I specifically need to pay lots more attention to recreation and friendships. I am sure this is true of most academics. Anyway, these are the minimum threshold goals I've set for the next three months:
1. Lunch or dinner once a month with key friends. In some cases, this will involve cooking, which is another fun activity I've been neglecting lately
2. Read one novel per month
3. Go for two 25-min walks each week

You can find the exercise here if you want to try it:


First, a bit of an update: The summer plans did work out. Writing all summer paid off. That article is now published! And almost as soon as it was out, it got me an invitation to an exclusive symposium at an Ivy, which I am really looking forward to attending. 

Another major milestone is the submission of my Third Year Review File. The process of putting together the file was nothing short of excruciating, especially by the end of it. I'm a perfectionist, and we have a manual that is 20 pages long describing how to put the file together! The combination of those two meant that I was in my office up until the last second, trying to get everything to look fabulous.I still have doubts about the file - have I done enough?- but, I'm just so glad that it is out of my hands.

For the next two weeks, I'm working on an article that I put down at the end of the semester, to tackle grant submissions and then put together the third year review file. Now, I can finally get back to what I really want to work on. Unfortunately, these are some very grading-intensive weeks for the courses I'm teaching. I am staring down a giant stack of essays that need grading. And we have a conference in my department this weekend. 

Time management continues to be a challenge. I want to re-calibrate my sleep patterns and get to bed earlier, to extract more time from my mornings, when I am most productive. Maybe I can start setting up the coffee maker the night before, and get into campus by 7.30am. Hopefully this will give me a boost to generate some writing in the next two weeks.

The summer that isn't

Taking a summer break seems all well and good but this year I'm trying something different. Rather than getting all amped up about summer plans, and then getting depressed at the end of the summer when I haven't accomplished anything, I'm just going to keep applying continuous energy towards my research, as if I worked in any other industry. I'm still going into work everyday, it all looks the same on the outside, I am just working on research instead of teaching. 

This might be the worst way to tackle a summer, I don't know. But last year, I didn't get it quite right. I had a sense of dread as the semester approached, and I don't want to repeat that. I'm trying a different tack this year. There's still plenty to relish about summer even while being at work full-time. I still get to enjoy my early morning, my lunch break, and evening, as long as I get to bed at a decent hour. I still get to do whatever I please on the weekends. I'm just not getting myself in and out of an intense work-mode like a yo-yo between semesters and summers. I'm not making any grand summer plans, just trying to stay on an even keel and keep pressing forward. What about you? How do you change your work habits over the summer? Or don't you? 

Writing mode

I received an email this afternoon requesting a progress report on my manuscript. It read "When the hell are you going to send this to me?" Just kidding. That's what it said in my head. It was more like, "How are the revisions going?"

I felt like I was busted. I have been taking a long break since I got my grades turned in. I was just so burned out that I couldn't even look at the manuscript. I needed some time to veg- out and have a bit of a holiday. This included lots of sleep, knitting, and Netflix. I may post pictures of my completed knitting projects soon. Now I need to get back to work! Back to writing mode.

I've been thinking about what I envision for 2014, and although I am not sure I can rise at four a.m. to write, I would indeed like to develop the kind of routine and mental willpower that Haruki Murakami describes in his Paris Review interview :

"When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at four a.m. and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for ten kilometers or swim for fifteen hundred meters (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at nine p.m. I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind. But to hold to such repetition for so long—six months to a year—requires a good amount of mental and physical strength. In that sense, writing a long novel is like survival training. Physical strength is as necessary as artistic sensitivity."  Haruki Murakami quoted in Paris Review