May 162018

My dear friend Tierney Wisniewski, this website’s cofounder and coeditor, has started up a new blog devoted to her scholarly work and how she gets it done. I love her inaugural piece, “Good Scholarly Habits.” Tierney writes with great clarity and openness. It is a wonderful gift to have in her field (and in any field). Tierney describes a back-and-forth she had with scholar Raul Pacheco-Vega regarding … time, basically, how much time is spent on reading, how much on writing, how much on thinking.

I had always struggled with getting myself to do things, and even to know what it was that I wanted to do. What I learned from my theoretical framework (self-determination theory) was that you can’t make yourself do anything. Oh sure, you can for a short while, but it always falls apart. You’ll find a way to cheat the system, as I did when I hid a book inside my textbooks to drag out my homework. You’ll skip the parts of the process that are crucial but that no one will reward you for. And you will never be happily productive.

That’s why reading productivity books never made me more productive; I was targeting the wrong part of the process. I first had to find a meaningful-to-me reason to be productive, and then I would willingly experiment and adopt whatever habits and methods seemed right for me. And I had to continually reinforce my own reasons over the “pressure trap,” which is (I realize now) why GTD [Getting Things Done] incorporates a frequent review of visions and goals.

Why are we really doing this? Surely it isn’t to get straight A’s, get into a grad program, or get tenure. Surely it’s because, deep down, we love this work and we want to keep doing it. We should start by making sure we keep the work lovable.

One thing that seems to help is the idea of prep work as streamlining, and this is what Raul was getting at with his admonition to read lots and write only as much as you have to.

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