Are you active in academia and feel constantly pressured to remain up-to-date on emerging research and to publish insightful contributions in your field? The stress experienced by graduate-level writers, post-doctoral researchers, and early-career scholars can be draining and seemingly impossible to overcome. All you need to do is increase your productivity, right? We’ve created a list of strategies, based on our experience with academic publishing, that will guide you towards engaging in effective writing sessions and developing beneficial work habits.
Tame Your “Inner Critic”
A mindful attention to detail can truly differentiate a sloppy paper from a polished manuscript. But, how do we know when to utilize our perfectionist tendencies, or the “inner critic,” and when it begins to slow down and hinder the writing process? Here’s the key; don’t obsess over the little things. We can always cut away content, right? So, just get down your key thoughts and organize your ideas as you go, but know that your writing will go through rounds of peer review and revision before it’s expected to be publication-ready. The notion here is that decent writing takes time. Don’t overly critique or neurotically edit until you’ve produced your first draft. Get the draft finished so that you can receive feedback and begin enhancing and then revising.
Remove All Distractions
Distractions come in various forms, from technological to emotional. In order to really maximize the time you’ve allotted for writing, it’s crucial to eliminate all interruptions. Do you really need your email alerts turned on? Can you turn off the cell phone for just a few hours? Moderating distractions from technology can make a huge difference. Similarly, if your personal life is causing you stress, consider meditating or listening to calming music before you dive into your writing projects. This will also help alleviate restlessness and maybe even insecurities. Also, distractions can come from others. Confront those around you, and explain that your writing time needs to be respected.
Some of us have been conditioned to believe that we actually work better under pressure, yet procrastination can have significant repercussions if it persists as one’s scholarly career grows more and more demanding. The first step in overcoming a predisposition to procrastinate is recognizing that it is indeed a problem that’s negatively impacting your life. Then, by eliminating distractions and practicing effective time management, you can become both productive and proactive with all current and forthcoming research projects. It starts with commitment and ends with clear priorities for the future. By maintaining momentum with scheduling that’s consistent and reliable, you’ll hit milestones early on that will help surmount any anxieties with your next scholarly mission.
Develop a Daily Writing Routine
Contributing within your academic community, industry, and beyond takes discipline. Becoming a prolific author will be next to impossible unless you establish some sort of writing routine. The trick? Don’t even allow yourself to give into your hesitations and deviate from your routine. Set up a timeframe, or even an amount of content, that serves as your goal for the day. Like the saying goes, “One thing at a time,” you will begin to chip away at your writing tasks by completing chunks of your writing projects at a time. It helps if you have deadlines, self-imposed or otherwise mandated.
Stay Mindful of Your Progress
Remain optimistic, but realistic. Keep track of your schedule of activity over a few days or a couple of weeks. By evaluating your progress to-date, you may realize that it takes less time than you expected to make some headway. Reviewing your approximated time log can help you notice a pattern and/or various factors that may have led to a more productive or fruitless writing session. Maybe you were more productive by writing for two, 30-minute time periods, or perhaps you experience less “writer’s block” during the early hours of the morning. What’s more, even though keeping track of progress helps to iron out a fitting schedule, it also helps by simply keeping you aware of certain times when you may need to muster up more focus. After all, the key to remaining a productive scholar is by holding yourself accountable to your goals. The idea is that by sticking to and accomplishing small writing goals, planning out and completing writing projects will become less worrisome and more exciting.
It’s widely recognized that you can measurably increase your productivity by using keyboard shortcuts rather than relying on your mouse to navigate through and use different functions in computer programs. For instance, if you need to identify all of the times you used the word “Conceive” within your document to make sure that it’s spelled correctly, simply type “CTRL + F” and type in the word. These shortcuts were created to help you avoid wasting time selecting with your mouse. If your work involves showcasing formulas, use MathType, and learn the keyboard shortcuts for different symbols, fractions, roots, brackets, Greek letters, etc. Over time, you’ll experience that using keyboard shortcuts becomes an almost subconscious action, and you’ll write more productively with less effort. Here are a few common shortcuts:
- Ctrl s: Save
- Ctrl x: Cut
- Ctrl c: Copy
- Ctrl v: Paste
- Ctrl f: Find
- Ctrl a: Select all
- Ctrl p: Print
- Ctrl o: Open
- Shift F3: Change between all-caps
- Ctrl i: Italic
- Ctrl b: Bold
- Ctrl u: Underline
- Ctrl n: Open new document
Participate in Collaboration
Two minds are greater than one: a cliché, but applicable to many situations, academic writing especially. Asking a colleague or professional with similar research interests to co-author a paper with you can be difficult if you want to retain ownership of the idea, but it will be rewarding in the long run—and will surely increase productivity. Just send the scholar a cordial email summarizing your ideas, interests, plan-of-action, and an official invitation to collaborate. Since you are initiating the writing project and will act as the lead correspondent, you will be listed as the main contributor. Also, you will build a reliable community of contributors—and a hefty CV—if you incorporate the recruitment of qualified contributors into your approach with every research writing project.
Carry on After Rejection
It’s easy to say, “Stay positive. Don’t be discouraged. Try again.” But, scholarly work takes an incredible amount of time and energy, and when rejection happens, we’re usually hurt, confused, angry, and embarrassed to the point where it can be paralyzing. Our advice? Realize that rejection is only an organic part of the publication process. Take any criticism, and learn from it. It may be wise to consult a colleague and ask for help, which will give you something to build off of and look forward to rather than focus on your feelings of ineptitude. Don’t allow the rejection to push you to retract your flawed work for good. If you believe in your research project, then make revisions, and carry on.
All in all
Stop waiting to write. It can prove onerous to try and remain productive when feeling uninspired or sluggish, but there really is no time like now. Keeping these few tips in mind about how to become a productive scholarly author will foster motivation and momentum.