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A no-failure perspective on #acwrimo

It’s November 1st, a day of many happenings. A day of Apple releasing a new iPad, of Starbucks starting their festive ‘red cup‘ drinks for the year, of shaved faces for Movember, and for Academic (and National Novel) Writing Month.

Twitter is atweeting with the hashtag #acwrimo. At this point, almost 550 academic writers have declared their goals on @mystudiouslife‘s accountability spreadsheet, and tweets are flying thick and fast about goals set and tasks completed.

The tweets are also coming through from people who haven’t achieved the tasks they set, who perceive this as failure.

But is it, really? What is #acwrimo if not a time to figure out what works best for you?

I propose an iterative approach to Academic Writing this November. In a previous series of posts, I talked about setting tasks, scheduling them, and reviewing your progress. In the posts, I suggest doing this weekly, but why not do this daily?

Here’s a quick recap:

1) In your initial task setting, make it very clear what your ‘measure for success’ is.

2) Make a backup, for the ‘least amount of work’ you’d need to get done to feel satisfied.

3) When you’re reviewing your tasks, make a record of what goals you achieved, and which you didn’t. And more importantly, try to think about WHY you achieved/didn’t achieve those goals. Is it because of interruptions? Did you underestimate how long something would take? Were you cold? Hungry?

4) Revise your tasks for the next day (or week, depending on how long a period til your next review) in light of those things.

Try it! And let me know how you get on in the comments section.

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My study ‘spot’: Exclusion criteria for thesis writing

Earlier in August, Cally Guerin penned an interesting post about where she works best. I’d been thinking of writing something about my working environment, so I was delighted to read her post.

The title of this post is a (slightly adapted) reference to The Big Bang Theory, where one character – Sheldon Cooper – is notably possessive over one seat in his flat. It’s the perfect seat for him. It is where he rests, and is very different to where he works (his desk). The concept of eating at his desk or working in his ‘spot’ is completely alien to him.

The ‘spot’ I refer to in the title is my equivalent of Sheldon’s desk, which may be confusing. It’s where I work, but it’s not a desk. Honestly, I don’t work well at desks.

Rather than talking about where I do study well, it works better to describe where I don’t work well. Call these exclusion criteria, if you will…

  1. Somewhere without a power source for my Macbook
  2. At a desk
  3. Somewhere extremely noisy (but much worse is the following…)
  4. Somewhere with lots of people, but total silence
  5. Somewhere where I am likely to be interrupted

So what do we have there? The power source criterion is fairly self-explanatory. I work well at a computer, and I need it to stay alive. The desk thing is just me – I have always loved to work on a sofa. Cross legged, with a computer on my lap, is perfect. High noise levels aren’t really a problem for me, unless they’re really high. But low noise levels drive me crazy. If I’m alone, that’s fine. But if there are lots of people around, ALL BEING QUIET, that pushes some buttons for me. Mainly, I think it’s because I’m happiest in casual situations, where I don’t have to worry about doing something wrong. The fear of coughing, or having to unzip a bag is too great for me to work well in these situations. And as for the interruption – I expect this is common to most people doing jobs that require sustained thought.

Where can I work? Not the library, that violates criteria 4 and 2. Not our school computer lab (we don’t have offices), as that’s criterion 4 out of the window. Cafes are my friend. As is my study at home.

I’m lucky enough to have a study (or as I like to call it, a room with a sofa, a piano, and lots of books I have yet to read. There’s not even a desk anymore). And it is the perfect place to work. No-one interrupts me (I’m working with my other half on that one). There’s no oppressive silence. I have, like, 8 power points. And there’s a beautiful, comfy sofa.

Even better (this is a plus), I have an extra computer set up, connected to an external monitor, where I often play music or episodes of TV shows (this helps me focus more than almost anything else – a post on this will appear at a later date).

So that is my ‘spot’.

What are your exclusion criteria for a productive working environment? Have you found your study spot? Let me know in the comments!