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  • Julie T. Kinn 4:34 pm on August 30, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ,   

    Happy birthday blog: Revisiting the first post, “Start Your Own Writing Group” 

    In celebration of this blog’s one-year anniversary, I’m reposting the first item. Oh, how young we all were!


    Want some nerdy fun that can help advance your career? Start your own writing group! You have several options, including:

    • A group of random writers from a variety of disciplines. Check out Meetup to see if there are already any groups meeting regularly in a cafe near you. These are fun if your goal is to meet new folks or work on your personal goal setting. However, you may not get a lot of useful feedback on your paper about neural network architecture.
    • A group of peers at work. Good times if you actually like your co-workers (yes, I fall into that category). You can either start a formal group (invite everyone) or informal (just ask around and let it grow organically). The danger in a formal group is that if you are in a leadership position, your invitation can come off more like an expectation. No one likes feeling voluntold.
    • A virtual writing group. There’s no reason you need a group in vivo. There are scads of ways to meet online using a FaceBook page, google docs, virtual teleconferencing or even Second Life. This is especially useful if you are one of a handful of folks studying your particular fascinating fungus. If there seems to be a lot of response to this blog, maybe we can set up something in this forum.

    Okay, so you and a bunch of like-minded others have pens, paper and lattes. What’s next? Again, you’ve got some choices:

    • A real feedback group. Group members provide drafts and get constructive feedback. Not just “this is great!”. Good when you don’t have other sources of feedback.
    • A fake feedback group. Group members share drafts and are told “this is great!”. Pretty annoying if you are expecting constructive feedback, but everyone needs unconditional love once in a while.
    • A goal-setting group. This is my personal fave. Hold regularly-scheduled brief meetings (30 minute tops) to go around the group and state progress on goals and set new ones.

    Any other formats I’ve neglected? What works for you?

  • Julie T. Kinn 4:42 pm on August 26, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: project conceptualization   

    Kissy-Smoochy Research Advice 

    For the last three posts, I focused on how to complete projects you hate (accepting the hate, strategies for motivation, and strategies for survival). Today I’m switching gears to discuss projects we love. Here’s a quick question for you: What’s your favorite current writing or research project?

    If you answered right away, I hope it was an internal response because people will start worrying about you if you talk to yourself. Also, if you answered right away that’s great news; it means you have at least one fulfilling and intrinsically motivating project. Today’s post is aimed at those of you who are still struggling to identify a favorite project.

    First, let’s develop some insight into why you’re not excited about any of your work. Take a couple of minutes to sit back and reflect on the kinds of work you do, and why none of it is floating your boat.

    My guess is that most of you will answer that you just don’t have time to add on any additional projects right now, and that the ones you are working are higher priority than anything fun. I disagree on both counts. First, finding time (even 30 minutes a week) to work on a fulfilling project will help keep you fresh and happier when you are working on the rest of your piles of dung. Second, taking on an extra project that you enjoy and find satisfying will help you continue to grow professionally. Think of it as a long-term investment in your career. Maybe it’s not something your supervisor is demanding this instant, but it will likely come in handy later.

    Here are steps for finding that next great project.

    1. Make a list of projects or tasks that you really enjoyed… the ones that you got carried away with, and time just flew by. For me, I love reading new articles, so a lot of my recent favorite projects involve searching through databases for obscure papers (see graphic). I also love data analysis, so I’ll write that down. Hopefully jotting down this list will start to get your blood flowing. Just like in couples’ therapy… one of the first questions we like to ask is, “How did you fall in love?”
    2. Spend 10 minutes to brainstorm ideas. These can be based on your answers to step one, or maybe completely novel. What do you want to share with the world?
    3. Schedule 30 minutes to write an outline or a task list for one of the ideas. You don’t need to spend an entire day. Just start with 30 minutes. Think of it as a first date. Repeat.

    Let me know if this process works for you, or what else you’d add. Now go enjoy the honeymoon period!

  • Julie T. Kinn 5:23 pm on August 21, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , bribery, legos, , punishment   

    Dealing with the Project you Hate Part III: Bribery and Punishment 

    Hello Darlings! This week’s post is the last installment of Dealing with the Project you Hate. In prior weeks I blogged about owning your hate and coping with it. This week I’m bringing out the big guns: Bribery and Punishment.

    I sometimes joke that bribery and punishment are my favorite parenting techniques. For example, “please stop pretending you are shooting your sister with your sandwich and I’ll tell you a silly joke. If you don’t, dinner’s over for you.” As adults, we don’t normally need to resort to bribery and punishment in order to finish work. When we’re lucky we are intrinsically motivated to finish projects.  At other times we have excellent extrinsic motivators: paychecks, CVs that need building, tenure review. Bribery and punishment are the big guns I call out when my id is in control and my superego is out to lunch.

    For example, I recently had an annoying errand to run. I had been avoiding this stupid errand to the point that I was waking up in the morning feeling guilty about it. Not good. To force myself to complete the task, I set up a bribery and punishment scenario. I first made a list of potential rewards (Table 1). Then I emailed my best friend and asked him to call me later in the day to see if I had completed my errand. For me, knowing there is a fancy coffee waiting for me at the end of the rainbow will pretty much get me to do anything. Add in the fear of disappointing my bff, and consider the task done. Table 1.

    Take a few moments to list out potential rewards that motivate you. Maybe petting kittens at the pet shelter? A chapter in a trashy book? Perusing the Lego aisle at the toy store? Easy peasy. Now pick a small concrete task that needs doing on your hated project. Not the whole project, mind you… just one concrete goal. Just make sure you actually follow through with the reward. None of this “well, the work wasn’t really that good, so…” No. You did the concrete task, now go look at Legos. Repeat.

    Now let’s talk about punishment. First, let me say that punishment isn’t really that great a choice. It doesn’t help you become a more motivated worker in the long run, and should really only be used in dire circumstances. Also, we humans aren’t really good at doling out punishment to ourselves (back to the id). I can tell myself that if I don’t finish my task I’m not going to read my trashy book. But will I really follow through? Hell no. What do you think I was doing when I should have been doing the task? Here is a nice, easy, concrete way to dole out punishment in those dire circumstances (e.g., grad students who are about to run out of time to finish theses and dissertations):

    1. Go to the bank and get $20 in ones.
    2. Put $1 in an envelope with the address of a charity of your choice.
    3. For every day that you don’t complete your concrete goal, increase your donation (i.e., $1 on Monday plus $2 more on Tuesday, etc.). If you run out of one-dollar bills, go back for more.
    4. If you really want to get evil, make it a charity that you dislike such as a different political party.

    In closing, I want to emphasize that success on stalled-out projects really just comes back to setting small concrete goals. Hope these last few posts have helped kick-start your motivation. Just a warning…. Next week is going to be super mushy lovey dovey.

  • Julie T. Kinn 9:55 am on August 12, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , mediocrity, , relaxation   

    Dealing with the Project you Hate Part II: Tools to Achieve Mediocrity 

    Last week’s post focused on recognizing and understanding the dynamic between you and work you have come to hate. Today’s post is all about specific strategies and tools for getting work done when your heart isn’t in it. In particular I’m thinking about dissertations, theses, and papers handed down to you by supervisors. But all the advice below can apply to any avoided/undesirable activity: cleaning the fridge, exercising, getting that weird mole checked, etc.

    • Cs Get Degrees. If you have finished a higher degree, then you are probably not by nature one to do things half-arsed. This strategy is generally a good one, except when it paralyzes you. At times I’ve seen brilliant and productive writers stymied by their fear of producing sub-par work. A key lesson in cognitive therapy is that If you can’t change the situation, change the way you think about the situation. Thus the title of this week’s post… if you are wrapped up in creating something groundbreaking, perhaps you should first shoot for mediocre. Sometimes it’s okay to just put crapola on paper. Give yourself the freedom to just get started without needing to make it amazing. I’m not suggesting that we dilute the academic literature with watered-down research. Instead, make the first draft just good enough.
    • Setting the Stage. In Practical Tips for Publishing Scholarly Articles we spend quite a bit of time on preparing yourself physically and emotionally to write, including making sure you have an environment conducive to success. Putting yourself in the right mindset is especially important when you are already engaging in negative self-talk about the project. Olympic athletes know the importance of sports psychology… if you say to yourself, “I’m going to screw this up” right before an event, the outlook is pooparriffic. When I was working on my dissertation I had a ridiculous way of motivating myself to work that I can’t believe I’m about to share with the world. I used to dress in what my husband called my “Hot Grad Student” gear, go to a cafe or bar, and sit with my laptop screen facing others so that I would be embarrassed to open Facebook or watch cute cat videos on YouTube (not that I ever do that).
    • There’s an App for That. Another good way to prep for work on hated projects is through relaxation. This may seem counter-intuitive, especially for those of us who like to mainline jolts of caffeine. However, given that often the hate for unfinished projects is really covering up anxiety, deliberately inducing relaxation makes sense. Anxiety increases the fight-or-flight response, and that comes with difficulty sitting still, increased heart rate, and a generally lousy writing experience. A fantastic (and free) breathing/relaxation app is Breathe2Relax. In the interest of full disclosure, my team made it, but it does seriously kick butt. And did I mention it’s free?
    • The Buddy System. I like to work next to other people. When I’m in a room by myself, I suddenly find myself eating chocolate and researching my favorite movies on IMDb. I’ve had two buddies who have spurred on my productivity in unique ways. I’m thinking in particular of my personal writing and publishing hero, Rich Furman, who has the best attitude of anyone I’ve ever known (incidentally, he also has an excellent blog all about writing). Just proximity to Rich is inspiring. On the other hand, I would probably still be working on my dissertation if it hadn’t been for my grad school buddy Leslie who would literally yell and curse at me in the middle of Starbucks if she saw me checking my email when I was supposed to be working. It takes a good friend to embarrass me into graduating.

    Next time I’ll be bringing out the big guns in the final chapter of this three part series. Tune in for Dealing with the Project you Hate Part III: Bribery and Punishment.

    Now, seriously, please make an appointment for that mole. You’ll feel better and so will I.

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