March 22, 2010

The Importance of Planning: Taking Charge of Your Writing Success and of Your Career

While I was writing my dissertation and during my first year as an Assistant Professor, I got my writing tasks accomplished. However, there was no method to the madness. I felt as if I was traveling down a river in a raft, keeping afloat, but not really in control of my progress or my direction.

I had heard people talking about writing groups and writing strategies, but did not think those were for me. I was getting my writing done, and had an article accepted my first year on the tenure track. I figured I was doing just fine.

My second winter in Kansas, however, I found myself feeling a bit isolated and not very motivated. It was the first winter where my husband and I hadn’t taken a vacation to somewhere sunny since we met, and that wasn’t sitting well with me. One day, sitting in my gloomy office, I got an email from Kerry Ann Rockquemore inviting me to join an online writing group. I decided to give it a shot.

In the online writing group, each person states their goals for the month and reports their progress daily on the forum. I enjoyed the support and community of the electronic forum, and found that my relationship with my work slowly was beginning to change.

Once I began to write every day, report my progress to the writing group, and keep track of my writing goals, I began to feel as if I was in the driver’s seat. Achieving tenure became something I consciously was working towards, instead of something I simply hoped I would be able to achieve.

By keeping track of my progress each day, week, month, and semester, I learned how much I could expect of myself. At the end of a semester, I could look back over the semester and see how much I had accomplished. I found that I can draft a new article over the course of a semester, in addition to completing a Revise and Resubmit. Keeping track of my progress allows me to set and achieve reasonable goals.

Once you know how much you can produce in one semester, and once you become familiar with the average timeline for publication, you can develop reasonable expectations about what you can accomplish during an academic year or, if you are on the tenure track, within the time you have left before going up for tenure.

Now that I know my rhythm, my pace, and my average productivity, I can set reasonable goals for myself for each semester, each year, and over the course of the next five years. I can look at that plan and see that achieving those goals will put me in an excellent position in terms of tenure.

Doing this takes out a lot of the uncertainty, worry and self-doubt that plague many academics. It allows you to be in the driver’s seat, and to be in charge of your productivity and of your career. Keeping track of what you can accomplish in a day, a week, a month, a semester, or a year allows for you to plan in the short and long term.

I find that planning for success takes out a lot of the anxiety over success. I know what I can expect of myself and what standards I can hold myself to. In my case, it turns out that those standards are in line with what my university expects of me.

What about you? How much can you expect of yourself? For those of you on the tenure track, how do your own standards for productivity line up with those of your university?

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