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February Writing Challenge: what to do on Feb. 1

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Are you writing? If so, that’s what you’re supposed to do today. Keep going and come back to this later!

Is your day totally off the rails? If so, head straight to 5 things that count below.

What you do today depends on the arc of your next several days.

Over the next few days, we’re hoping you’ll do a couple of things involving coming up with a Plan. Or rather, three plans:

1. When are you going to work on your scholarship this/next week? Block out times on your calendar.

We usually start here because if you can carve out time over the week, you can leverage that to get a handle on the other timelines. Try setting up a standing weekly meeting with yourself to preview the next seven days and block off times on your calendar. We recommend doing this on weekends, and preferably Sundays, and ideally Sunday evening. (And we’ll be posting tips along those lines every Sunday.) Try doing it this weekend.

Keep in mind: the point of blocking off this time is to create scheduling pushback and give you the space to do your stuff. What it is NOT for is giving you something to feel crappy about not doing well enough.

2. What are your goals for February?

We assume that, if you went “I’m in” about the idea of a February writing challenge, you have at least some kind of general goal-ish intentions.  But we also encourage you to think about your affective goals, or what we’ve talked about as Approach B or Plan B.

To the extent that you want to achieve substantial research progress during this month, you should probably chunk it out into smaller goals and begin distributing them across the month (frontloading as much as you can so you’re not set too far off course by illness, polar vortices, etc.) Then you can send those smaller goals into your weekly plan as described above.

3. What are you going to do when you have no time to do anything?

If you’re trying to do something every day this month, come up with a couple of things that will count but that don’t take much time. Including an option or two that takes like one minute.

We say “try to give your research some love every day” or “touch your research every day.” That can do wonders to (a) keep your research feeling alive on a day-to-day basis and (b) combat the fear / avoidance / resentment that can start to fester when you’re not getting enough time to get to it.

Laura here, with a quick story about having no time: I’ve been in Facebook 30-day meditation challenges where we started with what seemed like a low bar—5 minutes a day—but then had some days where we could not keep up even with that. One thing I learned was that just stopping myself a few times a day, taking a deep breath, and spending literally about 2 seconds picturing my mind in meditation mode was enough to reduce my stress levels all day. I think there’s an analogous situation when you feel like all of your commitments are crowding out your research: all it takes is brief daily glances to keep your work percolating in your brain.

5 things that count as having given your research some love on days when you have no time

  1. Pull out your calendar and carve out 30 minutes for a more focused “date” sometime in the next couple of days or week.
  2. You know that gratitude exercise where you think of 3 or 5 things you’re grateful for? Think of 3 or 5 things you love about your research. If you’re feeling cranky about your research, think of things you love about writing, or being an academic. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. This is one of those places where if the bar is hard to jump over, you should lower the bar.
  3. Think of a time when you felt really productive. What was working then? Wallow in nostalgia until you remember an aspect of it that you can reproduce now (or when you’re next working on it.) Plan to do that.
  4. Look ahead to a time when your mind won’t have specific demands placed on it: your commute, a walk, a shower/bath, etc. Plan to think about your work during that time. (If you’re likely to forget, set reminders on your phone for around that time.) If you need to, narrow that topic down: think about a problem you need to solve, or just fantasize about where you’re going to publish it and how satisfying that will be.
  5. One thing that has absolutely been shown to increase productivity is working with others. Get in touch with someone and make a writing date. Be explicit about how you plan to balance socializing vs. working. Bring earbuds so you can avoid temptation when it’s time to lock in.

How will you kick off your challenge? If you can’t decide, we suggest #2 on February 1 and #3 on February 2 (or vice versa—some people need to start by thinking expansively about small steps!) From there, follow your energy and make it your own.

This is one of three posts in our February Writing Challenge startup series. The others are February Writing Challenge 2022 and More on Plan B.