Of the many people out there who try to help academics get over themselves and just write the darn thing already, the forerunner of them all, and in many ways the founder of this field, is Robert Boice.
(Note: This advice isn’t just for academics. It works for anyone trying to do something like writing. In fact, Boice has a book or two just for writers and one about getting over procrastination. His style tends to be a bit repetitive and boring, but if you couldn’t finish Getting Things Done even in the bathroom, he’s got a very different tone. They’re pretty expensive (except Professors as Writers), so check them out from the library or Interlibrary Loan if you can. We’re affiliated with Powells, but it looks like Amazon has Advice for New Faculty Members at an affordable $25 rather than the usual $50+. If you’re a grad student or new faculty, buy it!)
Herein is an extremely abbreviated summary of his advice:
Work in brief daily sessions
Start before you’re ready
Stop before you’re ready
Do the thing you’re avoiding (usually writing) first in the morning (ow ow ow; I hate mornings)
He’s got some other gems that help for teaching, like: Let others do the work for you.
Here is how we do it:
We set up a Google Site where we poke each other. It links to a google calendar for each of us. When we’re rolling (i.e., not during breaks or the first week of the semester), we each update our calendar every day with how much writing we have done. The other person checks in and we prod each other if we haven’t done it. On the site we each have a list of projects in progress (so we have a place to put handy-dandy checkmarks and feel good about how many writing tasks we have checked off). There are countdowns in the sidebar: time to end of the semester, days until tenure binder is due. There is also a place set up on the site where we congratulate each other when we do well. I have taken this method a step further by inviting a few of my family and friends to share the site, too, in order to add to the accountability. Otherwise it is private (not world-accessible).
Accountability seems to be key for me/us.
(#2 says: I like the accountability on this blog.)
Sisyphus has some excellent blog posts on the writing and publishing processes here.
Something I have not seen on other writing sites is an interesting technique that I discovered while working on my dissertation. This technique probably won’t work for anyone except me, but it got me over a real hump in the writing process.
I call it WTF: Writing Through Fury. I don’t know how I psyched myself into this, but it seems awesome. One night in grad school I was watching my friend’s baby while she and her husband went on a rare and well-deserved date night. The baby was asleep and I was alone in an unfamiliar house. I had brought my dissertation stuff to work on. I was also really mad at someone that night. Not a friend or partner, but someone else; I honestly don’t even remember why I was angry. I thought, “That jerk! I’ll show him! I’ll write my methods chapter!” I channeled my rage and pounded out most of that chapter before my friend got home that night.
I realize this strategy makes no sense (especially as the so-called jerk had nothing at all to do with my dissertation), but you may wish to give it a try anyway if it appeals to you.
#2 I do not write through fury… but my placement on the job market did cause many of my graduate school professors and fellow students to think less of me as a researcher. (Never mind that I solved the two body problem … that just means I’m a less serious researcher, obviously. Plus I had that kid.) So much of my ambition has been to SHOW THEM, though I have to balance that out with the extra stress and misery that actually showing them would bring. So in the end… I’m not sure if it spurs additional productivity or not.
ETA: Get Rich Slowly’s post today is on exactly this topic. In the past I think JD has done exactly what Boice recommends never doing: Binging and collapsing. People *think* they’re more productive when they work in big lumps, but they’re really not. Getting bingers to move to brief daily sessions increases their productivity and has no effect or a positive effect on things like citation rank, etc. Turns out they’re just as creative when they let the subconscious do the heavy lifting when they’re in the shower rather than when locked in an office.
What do you do to keep yourself from procrastinating? Did you have as much trouble as I did reading Getting Things Done? Academics– did we do a reasonable job summarizing Boice? Are you willing to convert to a Boice lifestyle (or at least read his research on productivity)?