Many of us, I’m guessing, are taking advantage of the combination of some form (however brief) of winter break and the advent of a new year to assess and recommit to various projects. My dilemma is a perennial and common one: finding adequate time for my own research and writing. Over the years I have tackled this problem in various ways: writing a certain number of words each day, setting aside a day of the week devoted to these tasks, and, more commonly, bemoaning the fact that I can never make as much headway as I want to (the last one, admittedly, is not really a solution).
Chances are I’ll be writing a similar entry this time next year, but for now, I’m putting my faith in momentum. I have decided that I will do something/anything related to my current research project every workday (now that I’m “administration” and putting in longer hours on campus, I try to protect my weekends more). The something/anything can be reading secondary works, taking notes from primary sources, writing actual text, tracking down a source–as long as it contributes to my project, it counts. This will, I think, be better than a daily writing challenge. I’ve benefited from that previously, but it measures productivity in only one form: words on a page. And frankly, that’s not how I work. I’m always writing a bit, running back to a source, writing some more, being reminded of a secondary source I read a long time ago, writing some more–you get the idea. This approach will also be better than setting aside a day a week. Doing that makes it hard to keep my head in the game. I’m always trying to remind myself where I left off and what I was thinking the last time I sat down to work on things. And it should be obvious why the daily something/anything approach is better than the third option, noted above, of simply bemoaning.
I tend to think of momentum solely in terms of movement or progress forward, but it is also, of course, a force that becomes more powerful with greater mass (hey, I’m a historian, not a physicist!). So the something/anything approach should also make the project grow, giving it greater heft with each passing day, thereby contributing to its forward movement. I’ve deliberately not quantified something/anything in terms of time or words. If I get on a roll and work for 45 minutes, great. If I get to the end of the day and realize I have to squeeze something in before I go to bed and all I do is order some books from interlibrary loan, so be it.
An implicit part of this plan, then, is to set reasonable, achievable goals. Because I’m pretty sure that setting myself up for failure would be the opposite of momentum. I’ll let you know how it goes.