Writing and short todo lists

This week, which has been one of my more productive research weeks in quite a while, I’ve tried to focus by doing three things.

  1. Writing every day. If I’m going to get through my first draft, I need to write. And I also know that the more I put it off, the easier it becomes to keep putting it off.
  2. Eating the frog (as referenced in my last post) early. Generally, the “frog” has been writing. And my goal has been to get to it first, before too much time has past. Preferably well before 10am.
  3. Making a short todo list.

The short todo list has been particularly useful. Usually, when I make a todo list, it’s long. It’s a brain dump of everything I need to do, whether it’s today or sometime this week. And includes things that I know I’ll get to (like getting groceries). This can feel good, because it means there’s something I can cross off, but that good feeling usually comes at the expense of actually doing what really needs to be done.

So this week, in the morning, I make a list of what needs to be done today. Usually it details what writing I’d like to get done (like Chapter 5 – results), and just a couple more tasks. I’m finding my tasks are usually something that will take between 30 minutes and a couple of hours to do. So three tasks should be at most 6 hours of work (which is actually a fair amount), and this week, they haven’t usually been that big, with most of them being under an hour.

Being able to cross of everything feels really good. Wednesday had a pretty brutally long one, and it definitely made for a much harder day, and emphasized that picking just a few important tasks can make a day feel productive but not overwhelming.

For writing, I’m finding it incredibly helpful to give a specific task, instead of just the open ended “write.” First off, if you’re focused on writing a specific chapter (or subsection of a chapter), the dissertation doesn’t seem quite so big of a mountain (Do you remember the saying? “The way to eat a whale is one bite at a time.”). It also means I know when I’m done for the day (not to say I can’t/won’t do more, but that I can feel comfortable (and more important, not guilty) stopping when I’ve reached my “done” point.

I’ll see if I can keep this habit up next week, and see how well it serves me.


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