the grid

the grid

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Week 7: plod or push?

In last week's comments, we got on to the topic of submerging in a task vs. doing a little every day, or doing lots of small tasks rather than one big one. It's hard to unpack this topic without judgment* because since childhood we've been surrounded by various messages about how to work: smarter not harder; hard work pays off; tortoise beats hare; Romantic genius admirably throws self into work, perhaps to the point of madness, but produces masterpiece; Anthony Trollope works to the clock, 250 words every 15 minutes, for three hours a day; and I'm sure you can fill in your own examples, perhaps of people you have known and admired, or deplored, IRL. Two years ago, "In the Middle" had some posts about writing (binge or plod?) that became a book; this is one, from a pair of binge-writers.

My point is, it depends. It depends on you. It depends on the task. It depends on where you are in your life. Take moving house: if you have money but not time, you can keep living in your current house with all your things around you until the day the movers come, pack everything for you, move it and unpack it in the new house. This is expensive but effective. You can also gradually purge, pack up the out-of-season clothes, holiday decorations, and other non-essentials, saving needed kitchen items and bedsheets for moving day, and then reverse the process on the other end, going from daily necessities to the fully-equipped household. This is cheaper and also effective.

Some people grade a few papers a day till they're done. I had an admired colleague who binge-graded, so that (a) he was sure what problems the whole group should work on, and (b) he could get it over with.

I write both ways. I chip away at an article, a little at a time, taking notes, outlining, picking quotations, drafting. The MMP-1, in its first incarnation, was a tortoise-plod of writing a paragraph at a time (after I dissected it away from the MMP-2 and MMP-3). Its rejection had nothing to do with writing style or process, but "fit" for the journal. Its second incarnation was a brutally shortened version for a journal with a page limit; I admit it lacked a lot of connective tissue, but I did like the stripped-down argument. I binge-wrote the third, accepted version, starting over from scratch, because I knew the style would be smoother that way; I finally had a clear idea in my head of what needed to be there and how to connect all the bits, and I wanted to be done with it without any more distractions or delays.

So . . . when do you plod, when do you push to completion? Do you have different methods for different kinds of tasks? When have you experimented with the other approach, and how did that work?

*I'm American, influenced by Dan'l Webster. Judgement, if you speak the Queen's English.

Goals this past week; how did you do?

Contingent Cassandra
--list teaching prep & response to-dos at least through spring break (preferably the whole semester), and at least keep up
--do class reading/watching for week; 1-2 more blog posts
--walk or lift weights once (preferably both, but let's be realistic)
--make parsley pesto if time

on break

Dame Eleanor Hull
1. House: find 2 hours, somewhere, to work on this; ½ to 1 hour on mental aspects (make lists, think about approaches), 1 to 1.5 hours on actual decluttering.
2. Research: carry on with the “touch” project; try to read/note two items this week, which will complete a stack of books on my desk, and move on to free-writing about a conceptual issue.
3. Teaching: more BB updating; grade 3 sets of assignments; scan and post the story.
4. Health: exercise of some kind at least one-half hour per day; ankle rehab exercises daily; weights three times; weekend yoga if I feel like it.
5. Fun/social thing: keep doing something pleasurable and/or restorative every day; social gatherings Wednesday and Saturday.

Earnest English
still plodding?

Elizabeth Anne Mitchell
- Do rehab exercises three times daily.
- Resurrect my outlines and rework them with more detail, including time estimates.
- Figure out what I can write effectively with voice to text.
- Glory in being able to write without being interrupted by meetings.

Good Enough Woman
1) Finish conference paper by Thursday night in my hotel (this is really TRQ, I guess).
2) Don't abandon grading while I'm at the conference (as much as I would really like to).
3) Run errands Monday evening to get Valentine's balloons, etc. in order to present proper festivity for my daughter when she wakes up Valentine's Day morning.
4) Exercise 3x
5) Take guitar to conference?

Heu mihi
1. Read for kzoo (2 essays)
2. Read papers for response
3. Yoga x 2, run x 1? (Weather permitting)
4. Get on top of graduate student writing

1 Read 4x
2 Write 4x
3 Submit Scary Conference Abstract
4 Select and caption photos for rbp
5 watch film for research project

checked in but no goals set

Karen (from previous week)
1. Don't check email until after writing - start on residency application for 10 mins at the start of each work day.
2. Go to yoga class at least once, make time to focus on breathing each day.
3. Corral managerial stuff into a designated timeslot.
4. Write very short high priority list for each work day.

- get one paper submission worthy
- 3 sessions of course prep/adminfrustration
- work on research tool for other paper
- avoid email

1. Write abstract finally
2. Start writing paper
3. Submit forum essay to journal for review
4. Finish clearing desk and paying bills
5. Get back to exercise: 3 mornings a week, and also walking and/or yoga on the other mornings.
6. Keep social media under control
7. Read. No more excuses.

1. HuffPo piece
2. aging paper analyses
3. Grant methods drafted
4. Equality paper - make outline
5. Review and add to combo paper


  1. Interesting topic, and something that I've been thinking about a lot over the last year or so--since I started actually writing regularly, rather than over the summers with maybe a once-a-semester binge session. Having not only a lighter teaching load (which is hugely helpful) but also some *pressure* to publish has proven a tremendous motivator, and I find myself happiest with an almost-daily (weekdays) writing schedule. When I'm drafting and have a lot of time--like over the summer--I can produce a lot of words very quickly, but during the semester, chipping away and making steady progress makes me feel most secure and results in my getting the most done.

    That feeling of security is pretty essential.

    But, as a colleague of mine put it last year, what's key (for me) is to take the [negative] emotion out of writing. When I accept it as part of my job, and I just do it, then it isn't such a freaking big deal. Putting it off and writing everything in a big push makes it a big deal, to me, and I find that really stressful

    Last week:
    1. Read for kzoo (2 essays)
    DONE--I read 3 or 4, I think.
    2. Read papers for response
    3. Yoga x 2, run x 1? (Weather permitting)
    DONE! I ran 3 miles on Friday! Which is pretty far for me even when I've been running regularly! I then had a post-exercise tension headache until morning, but oh well.
    4. Get on top of graduate student writing
    SORT OF. I've got an MA thesis and a dissertation chapter to read. Maybe this week?

    This week:
    1. Draft response
    2. Read ch. 5 and look for Conf. 4 paper/title
    3. Read MA thesis
    4. Touch kzoo daily
    5. Regular workout schedule???
    --This is all going to be too ambitious, because Monday is a holiday and I'm going to be the primary child-care provider. But I'll try.

    1. I can totally relate to the negative emotions of writing. It was difficult to write at all when I was in non-tt jobs. Once it was expected, it was much easier to face.

    2. I am awed by you running three miles. Three miles! I used to live in a house with a very long driveway and would joke that I couldn't imagine even running to the mailbox.

    3. Writing gets so tangled up in 'stuff' when it is expected. Typical though, the minute something good or enjoyable becomes required, the more pleasurable aspects evaporate and it becomes a source of stress.

  2. Topic:
    Although I have always been a tortoise, I have done binge-writing. In the days before Netflix, I called it channeling, mostly with projects that scared me to the point that everything finally boiled into sitting down to write non-stop. For example, my Master’s program in Comparative Literature required a thesis. I read everything I could, synthesized for weeks, and agonized over whether I was smart enough to advance a reading that no one else had, for eight months. When my advisor told me I knew more about the subject than anyone else in North America, so please just write the damn thing, I wrote straight for 72 hours, ending up with a 69 page thesis. I have not repeated that high-water mark, but there are times I have written in such manner for several hours.

    Most of the time, I plod. I edit as I write. Originally, I polished each sentence as I typed it in, but I have since refined that process to writing out longhand, then editing when I type it. Then I print it out, edit in longhand, edit again when I type it in, and so on. This character trait is why I am not good at wordcounts, because it is such a two-steps-forward, one-step-back process. It also explains why I am a complete failure at NaNoWriMo. I find it nearly impossible to write a zero draft.

    Last week's goals:
    Do rehab exercises three times daily. Nope. I need to get serious about these exercises.

    Resurrect my outlines and rework them with more detail, including time estimates. Yes.

    Figure out what I can write effectively with voice to text. Partly. I have a lot of Middle English, French, and Latin in what I have been working on, which doesn’t lend itself to the voice input software that I have. I may have to invest in something more expensive and flexible.

    Glory in being able to write without being interrupted by meetings. Mostly. I’ve entered an insomniac phase, complicated by now being on over-the-counter pain medications.

    Next week’s goals:
    Rehab exercises 3 times a day, seven days a week. Seriously.
    Take the opportunity of being home to figure out the gut problem. (The tests indicate it is diet, not the gut itself)
    Dictate in English for half an hour a day.
    Type in the foreign languages for ten minutes a day.

    I’m still plodding along back here. Excelsior!

    1. I don't think I've ever written 69 pages in 72 days, let alone 72 hours! I can hardly imagine.

      I can't write "shitty first drafts" either and it finally occurs to me this might be due to the decades I spent writing poetry (I earned an MFA in creative writing before PhD). So I'm trained to write well crafted sentences, which serves me well as long as I don't berate myself for plodding.

    2. Huzzah for supervisors like your MA supervisor!

      And do your rehab, dammit! We want you to be healthy. (((((EAM)))))

    3. Re re-hab, would it help to form a TLQ break-out group with me (and anyone else doing re-hab type exercises)? I need to keep working on my ankle.

    4. humming42, I felt that I was possessed, but couldn't stop until it was all out. I lived on instant coffee and Snickers bars, and didn't leave my apartment.
      I try not to berate myself for plodding, also.

      GEW, he was so right to push me. And now I need to push myself to do the rehab. Thanks for the hugs!

      Dame Eleanor, I could certainly use an accountability partner!

    5. I completely recognise that 'sit down and write until it is done' thing! I've tried to train myself out of it but sometimes it's the urgent/important/do it or you're in trouble stress that makes me do it.

      I'm trying to be a tortoise at the moment, but my shell is a hand knit blanket ;)

  3. I do a bit of both, depending on mood, project stage, time availability...

    I've found that writing is much less of a big deal scary thing if I do something every week, but every day can feel like too much (especially given my wierd (lack of) timetabling situation). I like to engage with research several times a week, but that's often talking to a project student/grad student, reading stuff, doing refereeing or editing, setting a model running overnight, emailing someone... actual WRITING I try to get something done every week so I don't lose touch with whatever the project is, and because big binges aren't the right time to do dull stuff like getting the referencing perfect.

    One of the most useful books on writing I've read is Peter Elbow's "Writing with Power" - he really emphasises the separation of writing and editing, and argues that if you can do them alternately, you'll end up with better work from a fixed amount of time of writing than you will if you try to do both at once. He's speaking particularly to inexperienced student writers, but it made a lot of sense to ME, and part of the reason I started doing NaNoWriMo was to see if I really could ditch my inner editor for a while. I could, I did, it broke me out of a years-long sense that writing was hard and no fun, and it's definitely worth cultivating, I'd say. Writing sentence by sentence often gets me somewhere I didn't quite intend to go, too, so then I need to redo stuff anyway...

    Ooops, forgot to pop back and set goals last week.

    I did an hour or so on Ferret and refereed a paper (only a few days late), my house is still a tip, my desk is still a tip, and I'm still not eating refined sugar (grumpily, but doing it). So... mixed, but OK. Especially considering that it was a stressful week emotionally (I have a particular Thing about not being heard and being left out of stuff, and "everyone" in my group of contemporaries-I-respect, and some of the "younger ones", now have formal roles in the new organisation's committee structure except me. I'm "too valuable" doing what feels like the scut-work of running the "skills modules" at all levels for all our majors. It's a big, necessary job, and it suits my skills (and involves instructional design, which I enjoy) but I said a couple of years ago that I'd only take it on if it came with membership of the over-seeing teaching committee (so I knew what was going on) and Incoming has now said he wouldn't have promised that anyway and I shouldn't want it. FEELING INVISIBLE HERE. And sick of people who are helpfully telling me stuff they learnt by getting to go to meetings/be on mailing lists - yes, I need to know the stuff, and I appreciate them telling me unofficially more than I can say, but I FEEL SO LEFT OUT and my inner kid and teen who were always the last to be picked for sport, always had to be added to a group in class by the teacher because, sorry, "I promised I'd go with X" etc, from my so-called friends, who spent her last two years at school sitting outside on a wall because she wasn't allowed in the prefects room and all her friends were prefects and she was bullied in the 'normal' common room is really, really, really unhappy. And I can't feed her chocolate as I usually would, which is probably good for us both, but ::pout hurt feelings::

    1. sitting on a wall at every break, before school etc., I did go inside the classrooms for actual classes!

      Oh, the other thing I did last week that is mostly TLQ was to process the initial data from ProblemChildPart2, and trouble shoot some problems with it. It does look like it's turning out better than Problem Child Part 1, which is nice...

      And I meant to go to the gym this weekend but something in my back went into spasm Friday morning and I'm having trouble standing up straight, never mind anything else, despite heat packs and stretches and all that. This has happened before, I'm not worried about it (it is beginning to ease as we get to 60 hours post spasm, as usual), it's just an extra inconvenience and distraction. And means that the cat had a couple of meals via the 'kibble-manna from on high' route rather than correctly arranged in her dish and delivered the way she prefers (her dish is in an awkward place she chose, but first thing my back didn't want to bend enough to actually pick up and replace the dish).

      Goals for next week:

      This week is quite busy, as I have a lot of teaching prep to do for classes later in the semester which I can't do from home because the stupid VLE is running at the speed of a sad, lame snail from home right now, and I need to have 1:1 meetings with all my advisees, which eats a silly amount of time. Anyway, goals!
      1) another hour on Ferret
      2) allow myself to take this week off from Grant I Wish I'd Never Started whilst I wait for feedback from two internal referees, although if there's time I should work at filling out the various forms and checking numbers
      3) do a couple of hours on Problem Child Number 2
      4) do some free-writing about future grant ideas, in preparation for a workshop in two weeks' time.
      5) stick to the sugar-free thing, and try out some different options for snacks with satisfying texture, high portability and a "warm" taste (good Swiss milk chocolate exemplifies the "warm" eating experience. Cheese, especially a good cheddar or manchego, comes close at times, as does ice cream. Lettuce is about as anti-warm as you can get. Warm is just the best word I have for the set of sensations I seek, not an actual description...).

    2. Your description of your inner kid and teen is so close to my experiences, shifted to this side of the pond, I shuddered to read it. I'm still susceptible to feeling left out, too.
      Thank you for mentioning the Peter Elbow book, which I will track down.
      I hope the back spasm continues to loosen.

    3. I hope your back is better by now. How do you feel about Greek yogurt? I don't tolerate dairy well enough for more than a mouthful but it is remarkably creamy (or maybe I just think so because real cream is right.out. for me).

    4. Your post made me think about how I advise students when they are writing up and then wonder why I don't take my own advice! I usually say that you do stuff like referencing, making figures on days where you want to be productive but can't face actually writing. Then hopefully the sense of productivity that brings will spur on some actual word-on-page action. I suspect today has now turned into a formatting references and figures day!

      I also completely sympathise with the feeling of being out of the loop/left out (and agree entirely that it begins in high school gym class). I am (generally) less stressed about stuff when I know what's going on and feel like I have a means of participating. When it's denied, for what ever 'reason', it feels like a physical attack and brings back lots of nasty memories.

    5. DEH - oh yes, good idea! I have to be careful with cows milk dairy (can eat 0% fat greek yoghurt but that's not as satisfying as the normal stuff), but if I look I bet I can find the "real stuff" made with goats or sheeps milk, which I can tolerate by the bowlful rather than the spoonful...

      KJH - yes, as long as I KNOW WHAT'S GOING ON I get so much less stressed, but Incoming seems to actively resist this - I think he might feel I'm being pushy/demanding and should just "get on with my job" assuming that if I'm not told something officially I should just pretend it's irrelevant, but that's just not my nature!

  4. I set out to establish a daily writing habit for reasons related to this week’s topic. I typically end up coming up on a deadline and having to binge write when I would rather write at a steady pace. When I find myself deeply engaged with writing, I wonder why I don’t do it more often. It feels like doing the thing I *should* be doing, and yet I don’t make as much time for research and writings as I might. So I’m looking to convert from push to plod, although I might prefer pace instead of plod, Plod sounds unpleasantly slow!

    Last week I decided to let myself not read on the busy teaching days at the beginning of the week, since I only needed to read four days...and then I got a migraine and then played catch up at the end of the week. So I’m bumping up reading and research/writing because I think I need to push myself instead of simply deciding I’d rather watch TV or play solitaire.

    Last week
    1 Read 4x: 2x
    2 Write 4x: 3x
    3 Submit Scary Conference Abstract: yes
    4 Select and caption photos for rbp: no
    5 watch film for research project: yes

    This week
    1 Read 6x
    2 Research/Write 5x
    3 Draft Circus abstract
    4 Return Mars proofs

    1. I love it when I get a daily habit going. I had one for awhile, and thought it was forever, but at some point it lapsed. It does feel lovely when you get it going well.

    2. Daily habits are so satisfying. I also like pace over plod.

  5. My husband always jokes that I seem to spiral around tasks, doing little bits here and there. Every now and again I have a week where I (his words) 'go all Marine on it and finish tons of stuff'. It means I get a very satisfying week now and then but the in between times are a chaotic spiral of half-done, half- thought ideas. I think that's why I was interested in how people frame goals to see if there was the potential to work more linearly through clever goal setting. What I learned in the past week was that spiraling around things actually allows me processing time, not necessarily conscious thought but ideas pop up a couple of days after working on something that improves the work. There's one paper brewing where I have a solid data set but last week had a big idea to improve it and change the pitch, and this morning another idea popped up that I believe will make the arguments even stronger. So I guess there are advantages. I am longing for a week of completion some time soon though

    Last Week:
    - get one paper submission worthy - partially complete.
    - 3 sessions of course prep/adminfrustration - done
    - work on research tool for other paper - worked on, just needs proof read
    - avoid email - done fairly well at this!
    It was a better week in many ways and we went away for the weekend which was a nice break (nice hotel, change of scenery, family). I managed to avoid email a lot which really helps productivity.

    This week:
    - Marking (it's a chemo week and I find those are well suited to tasks with prescriptive rubrics or model answers.)
    - reading of draft student work and giving feedback
    - adminfrustration x 3
    - tackle the remains of the paper that I'm trying to get submission ready (e.g. stop fretting about it's quality and send it out for editor/reviewers opinion and stop trying to 2nd guess it!).

    1. I think "spiraling" sounds quite efficient, in the long run (maybe because it sounds a lot like what I do), though I can see how it's frustrating to have lots of things in progress and yet not finish anything. This may be a case of "figure out what works for you and then do it more," as Alexandra Gillespie recommends in the In the Middle post I linked to.

    2. It also comes with the mental image (sometimes) of spiraling around the drain or that really strange new trend of spiralising vegetables. Does anyone do this and is it any good?

    3. I briefly tried some of the spiralise veg as a pasta substitute. I probably did something wrong in cooking it - I think there's a VERY narrow line between too raw and too mooshy and I missed it - but it wasn't anything revolutionary. I often eat pasta sauce over boiled/steamed/stewed/grated veg anyway, and this was no different. And whilst it looked pretty in salads, grating the relevant veggies also worked perfectly well.

      Of course your milage may vary, but I wasn't wowed by it

  6. I tend to be horrible at multitasking - and prefer to just focus on one thing at a time - deeply. It’s heartening to read that others struggle with writing. There have been times in my life when I have written a lot more and more easily, and I wondered why I ever found it a struggle. I need to get more in the practice of doing it daily.

    Last week’s goals
    2. aging paper analyses - DONE
    3. Grant methods drafted - DONE
    4. Equality paper - make outline - NOT DONE
    5. Review and add to combo paper - DONE

    This week’s goals
    1. aging paper outline - improve
    2. Equality paper - make outline
    3. Diss paper outline
    4. Qual analyses drafted
    5. LHF grant idea found

    1. I used to wonder why it was I multitasked in grad school and can't now . . . and then realized that I regularly took incompletes in grad school. I didn't mean to, but in effect what I did was "spiral" for a bit, then focus on a single paper till it was done (and in on time), then do the next one (possibly only a week or so late), then the next to resolve the incomplete. Rinse and repeat, and that's how I got through coursework. So I never did really multi-task, or only with day-to-day reading and short assignments, which I still manage fairly effectively.

    2. Congrats on getting through with so many goals! I think it's a big step to not do a thing and decide positively not to do it (for whatever reason).

  7. How I did:
    1. House: find 2 hours, somewhere, to work on this; ½ to 1 hour on mental aspects (make lists, think about approaches), 1 to 1.5 hours on actual decluttering. NO: there was a third social thing over the weekend, plus a dentist appointment during the week, and those things ate all my Life Stuff time.
    2. Research: carry on with the “touch” project; try to read/note two items this week, which will complete a stack of books on my desk, and move on to free-writing about a conceptual issue. YES!
    3. Teaching: more BB updating; grade 3 sets of assignments; scan and post the story. YES, MOSTLY, YES.
    4. Health: exercise of some kind at least one-half hour per day; ankle rehab exercises daily; weights three times; weekend yoga if I feel like it. YES to all (but not weekend yoga as I didn't feel like it).
    5. Fun/social thing: keep doing something pleasurable and/or restorative every day; social gatherings Wednesday and Saturday. YES.

    New goals:
    1. House: make an actual plan for spring break (more detailed than just “deal with this later”). I’m going to try the Push approach, since Plod isn’t working.
    2. Put in 8 hours writing/thinking time. Try to finish MMP-1 revisions? Or at least make progress and estimate time to completion.
    3. Teaching: oodles of grading. Do try to keep up.
    4. Health: exercise of some kind at least one-half hour per day; ankle rehab exercises daily; weights three times; weekend yoga if I feel like it.
    5. Fun/social thing: get tix to play friend is in; do something restorative/pleasurable every day; social gathering Wednesday.

    (New goal #1 means giving up on traveling over spring break. Tant pis. Will try to make Actual Plan to visit family in May . . . which would mean boarding the cats if the house really is on the market . . . ugh, well, think about what to do about break, house, travel. One good thing about this group is it makes me think about the implications of plans and changes of plan!)

    1. There are a lot of YES! in that how I did list. That's got to be satisfying.
      I'm often guilty of not considering the implications of my plans and ideas...I never thought before to use this group and goal setting to prompt that.

  8. Being in "OMG the deadline is almost here!" mode means a lot of hard pushes AND constant plodding, with the occasional intense binge. Now that the thesis is behind me (and it really is--just waiting for official confirmation from my university's records office), I need to figure out how I will plod along with the occasional binge (which is probably my best way). It's important to me that I try to publish at least two of my chapters, and that I keep broadening and deepening my understanding of my speciality area. I am not required to do research for my job, so it's tempting to brush off my hands and just relax and knit while watching Netflix. But I wouldn't be happy with that in the long run.

    Last week's Goals:
    1) Finish conference paper by Thursday night in my hotel (this is really TRQ, I guess). DONE
    2) Don't abandon grading while I'm at the conference (as much as I would really like to). NOT DONE VERY WELL
    3) Run errands Monday evening to get Valentine's balloons, etc. in order to present proper festivity for my daughter when she wakes up Valentine's Day morning. DONE
    4) Exercise 3x SORT OF.
    5) Take guitar to conference? NO.

    This week's goals (even though this week is almost finished):
    1) Print out chapter one and read it to find things to cut.
    2) Walk 3X
    3) Figure out a research plan. Do I start reading in my area more widely? Do I go deeper into the themes of my thesis? Do I read only things related to the chapter I want to publish? I'm feeing rather paralyzed by these questions.
    4) Get kids' allowance back on track and get them practicing piano more regularly.
    5) Tidy the study.

    1. The temptation to knit and Netflix is a constant pull in my world as well. What if we set a goal for the next week where we will knit a specific number of stitches/watch so many episodes - would setting a goal and making it feel like an obligation make it feel less appealing and drive us back to our writing?

    2. I got mad at myself for getting overwhelmed and taking a break and taking a game on my phone the other day. But while I was doing that, I had a really good idea for a grant app. Sometimes it is good to turn our brains off (or on low) and focus on other things - it allows us to think more freely and in a more relaxed way and helps us make more creative connections.

    3. Definitely! I have LOTS of good ideas whilst blowing up little brickies or washing my hair, especially about things that I got 'stuck' on in the last official work session.