Blogging Boice

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)?

14 Responses to “Blogging Boice”

  1. Everyday Tips Says:

    I try to tackle the things I hate most first. I then feel such a sense of happiness knowing that is no longer hanging over my head. However, I do have to be in the right mindset to tackle the really boring things.

    For chores and such, I do those at the same time as phone calls. It is easy to catch up with a friend while unloading the dishwasher (not vacuuming of course). If it is a serious conversation, I obviously just sit and listen.

    As far as writing goes, it is almost like I need to wait for the inspiration to hit. For me, that usually happens when I am exercising. So I like the exercise first, and then write.

  2. frugalscholar Says:

    Oh, this is so right, but no one wants to believe it. These books didn’t exist when I was struggling in grad school–or at least I didn’t know about them. My husband, who does all the “right stuff”–really saved my life. Interestingly, my students still don’t believe it!

  3. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    ET– Those are great tips! I also do something I call productive procrastination. I can be pretty good at attacking my to-do list when there’s some other work that I’m *supposed* to be doing but don’t want to. It isn’t good for my blood pressure, though.

    Frugalscholar– The faculty that Boice experimented on didn’t believe it either. People really think that to write they have to be inspired or the quality goes down. But really it’s best if you spend small amounts of regular time working on something and let your subconscious be creative in the off time. I like to think of it like you’re giving your subconscious something to chew on in those brief daily sessions and it works better if you do it in small regular amounts rather than stuffing yourself all at once.

    It’s hard though. Something I’m definitely still working on, especially with all these random external demands on my time now that the school year has started again.

  4. Z Says:

    What I don’t understand is how people get through college without the Boicean “lifestyle,” let alone further academic work. I find him superficial. If I can’t work, and I try to say it’s a time management problem, or a problem starting, I just get more confused; I have to figure out what the problem really is.
    But I think this is because I’m a time manager and an early starter and a good organizer from way back; if one hasn’t already figured out the things he has to say for oneself, he’s good. It *really* is true about the frequent short sessions and letting your subconscious work on it the rest of the time.

  5. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    I dunno, back when I was a lurker on the CHE forums many moons ago, everybody was spouting some sort of Rousseau? (not my field… one of those free form types) theory of creativity where the only good work comes from intense bursts of creativity. They’d recommend blocking off one day from interruptions to just write. So apparently a lot of PhDs get through school without learning Boice. Whether they survive or not is an open question.

  6. Sandy L Says:

    Writing does not come naturally to me. I really do have to be inspired by something. Often it’s another interesting person or blog, that gets the gears turning. The other wierd productive time is in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep and lots of thoughts are rolling around in my head.

    I find it’s the same with being funny. Sometimes I’m a lot funnier when I’m with funny people because we just feed off each other.

  7. J.D. Says:

    Yes, in the past, I’ve binged and collapsed. Working on my book was a terrible, terrible thing because of this. I forced myself to sit at my computer and work all day, every day, and very little came of it. It sucked.

    I’ve since learned that I need to take breaks. I’ve had a lot of trouble getting back into the flow since returning from Africa, for example. I just can’t get anything written. So, I’m taking breaks. Since I slept late this morning (and skipped my workout), I packed up mid-day when I wasn’t being productive, and went to the gym. Now I’m back home and being productive again. It’s nice.

    And, as I tell anyone who will listen, I do my best work while mowing the lawn. No joke. For some reason, whenever I go outside to mow, something happens and I’m flooded with great ideas. I’ve learned to carry a notebook and a pen!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Wow! Our first JD comment!

      You would totally love Boice– he’s got a book for writers that is awesome.

      The work while your brain relaxing is actually a known thing… you have to do the hardthinking groundwork first, introducing your brain to the problems, and then let your subconscious work on the problem. Using a method like Boice’s allows you to maximize the time your subconscious is working on a problem.

  8. Pondering productivity, and trying to hack it « Grumpy rumblings of the untenured Says:

    […] We’ve had several posts about hacking our productivity in the past.  Obviously it is a work in progress. […]

  9. Small change is ok | Grumpy rumblings of the (formerly!) untenured Says:

    […] or inspiration, and sometimes it leads to an entire paragraph.  Boice is all about this with his daily sessions.  15 min of writing is better than none and leads to greater […]

  10. Pondering productivity, and trying to hack it | Scientopia Guests' Blog Says:

    […] We've had several posts about hacking our productivity in the past. Obviously it is a work in progress. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: