Academic Writing Hacks Part 2: Batching your tasks and conquering your schedule

N.B., all the posts in this series were planned prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Your priority at this time should be staying safe. If you happen to have time for writing, then these tips may help. If not, bookmark this and come back to it later when the world has calmed down and we have conquered this virus.

In my last post I recommended the book by Paul J. Silvia’s “How to write a lot”. Now I’d like to touch on some other points that could help you focus on your writing.

What is your chronotype?

There is a plethora of research out there that tries to describe chronotypes. A chronotype essentially asks you to define yourself in terms of what time of day you are “most active”. Are you a night owl or an early bird? (Or, as I usually joke a “permanently exhausted pigeon”). Some people go deeper and say there are four types: Bear, Lion, Wolf, or Dolphin. Feel free to fall down this rabbit-hole.

However, my main point here is to work out when your brain is most focused (especially for writing) and when it is not. For example, I know that (after some experimenting) my best writing is done between 10am and 12pm. Whereas, after lunch, my brain is mush. So if I have the freedom to organise my day, this is what it might look like:

  • 9am – emails and admin
  • 10am – writing time
  • 12pm – lunch time
  • 1pm – meetings or a more monotonous task (such as replying to emails or data entry)
  • 2pm – coffee time (perhaps chat to colleagues/friends about current problems and brainstorm solutions)
  • 3pm – something creative (e.g., designing a new experiment or following up on an interesting idea in Google Scholar)
  • 4pm – emails and admin

We don’t always have the luxury of a free day to organise as we please (for example, teaching classes or grading assignments or intense data collection can get in the way). But sometimes, some things have more flexibility than others.

If it’s possible, try and block out your writing time. Keep it as sacred and schedule meetings outside of that window. But the most important thing is self awareness. When are your best hours for writing? Is it 11pm? 6am? Then work around that. Also, experiment with this. Perhaps you always assumed you were a morning person, but try writing after lunch or in the late afternoon. 

Time Blocking or Day Theming

A lot of the productivity gurus talk about time blocking or day theming . I visualise it as batching something or meal prepping. Why spend 40 minutes every night cooking dinners, when you could make a week’s worth of dinners on one night in 2 hours. It’s much more efficient.

It’s all about blocking similar tasks together rather than switching between tasks. So, have a set time to respond to emails, perhaps twice a day (I still need to get the hang of this one. I’m addicted to my inbox). Or have one or two days a week when you schedule all your meetings. If you can cluster all your teaching on one or two days (or half days), then try and do that. So your week could look like:

  • Monday AM: Emails, planning the week, prepping for meetings
  • Monday PM: Meetings
  • Tuesday AM: Teaching
  • Tuesday PM: Teaching
  • Wednesday AM: Writing/Data collection
  • Wednesday PM: Teaching admin
  • Thursday AM: Writing/Data collection
  • Thursday PM: Meetings
  • Friday AM: Writing/Data collection
  • Friday PM: Writing/Data collection

Of course, this is an ideal schedule and life doesn’t always lend itself to this. But aiming for this (i.e., proactively tackling your schedule) is better than just simply reacting to everything in your life. This way you feel more in control of your life.

Have you tried batching your life? What time of day is best for writing for you?

— Alessa Teunisse

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