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First: care

One of Merlin Mann's injunctions for professionals is, first and foremost, to care. This cuts at the heart of many of the troubles foe graduate students and academics: we want to write, publish, and contribute, but the siren call of distractions gets in the way. There's always one more book to read, one more conversation to have, one more free summer for proper for writing and research. If you are of the nerdy persuasion, there is perhaps that new software to twiddle with and learn.

Merlin's solution is simple and brilliant: first, care. He doesn't mess with prioritization, environment, time management, or any other productivity distraction. If you care about the project, everything else will fall into place. There are numerous real world examples, of course: the single mother J.K. Rowling desperately writing in coffee shops and in her kitchen, or Trollope writing during his train commute to his full-time job. People who truly want to create something find and make the time.

Once I was into the thick of my dissertation, I wanted to work on it, it was absorbing and a pleasure to engage it daily. I cared, and cared enough to see it to the end, and it was far less of a task than the daily chores we all face.

This dovetails nicely with a book I am reading, Advice for New Faculty Members, by Robert Boice. Boice instructs new academicians to start before they feel ready on projects such as class preparation or professional writing. Start early, start before you are ready. The reasoning is similar, I think; we must get into the project, and care about it, so that it becomes a priority all its own. No more excuses, as this is what we want to be doing.

The trick, of course, is making the time, actually starting and creating that desire to care. It can't be manufactured, but sometimes simply starting, or re-starting a stalled project, can get the interest going. Sometimes a random idea comes into one's head, and pursuing that idea can rekindle the desire for the project. Whatever tricks you may employ, the hope and goal is to care. From there it all comes rather naturally.

On the Ground

In praise of dropbox, the devolution of text files, and the growing insignificance of Microsoft Word