Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Time Management

My last entry reminded me of this topic: time management. In my 20 years of teaching graduate and undergraduate students, I have observed that the students with the best time-management skills were most often the best writers. These students were organized and scheduled their time, work first, fun second. More importantly, these students understood that good writing takes time. It takes time to well and fully research a topic, to search deeply and not be guilty of a "premature closure of inquiry" (that is, picking the first bit of info you happen on and using it in a scholarly work). It takes time to read and understand scholarly sources (and this includes time to reflect on what you read and re-read for clarity and confirmation of your original understanding). It takes time to analyze the resources you have collected. It takes time to formulate your ideas, and to organize them. And it takes time to write, edit and rewrite a paper.
So, what time management strategies can you use? One that works well for me (and that I get into trouble if I skip) is to start work well in advance of the project. The way I "trick" myself into doing this is to tell myself that all I have to do is a half hour of work. This is usually enough to get me going on the project, because it alerts me to all the work I need to do to write a great paper. In addition, I will often schedule work and a reward for doing that work (that is, an hour of writing, followed by 20 minutes of reading a novel, or looking at a fun web site or a small treat)- BUT you must make sure that the work comes before the reward and the reward does not stretch out too much (I had a friend who worked for an hour, then rewarded herself for 2!). Another strategy is the "elephant" strategy, that is, break the work needed down into smaller parts, schedule each part, and check it off as it gets done. Sometimes just the process of breaking the task down into its components is motivating in and of itself.
There are other, more elaborate strategies, like story boarding (a huge chart with the task categories pinned on it, and columns like to do, pending, done) or using a spread sheet for the component tasks, but I find the more elaborate the strategy, the more time it takes away from the work itself, the more it can be used to procrastinate and the less likely it is to be helpful.

Keep writing!

(related posts: multi-tasking, information versus knowledge)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Information Versus Knowledge

I recently had a discussion with my students about the difference between information and knowledge. We have all heard that we live in an information age. Information is readily available to most of us, all hours of the day or night (though the quality of this information is open to debate, given the explosion of the internet). So, what is information? Information is represented by facts, definitions, data, and details. Information differs from knowledge, however, and knowledge is what you strive for in your scholarly writing. Knowledge is based on information, it is taking all those bits of information, plus concepts and theories, and examining them as a whole. It is more "depthful" than mere information. Knowledge is more than this, however. Knowledge is developed over time. It is the process of taking in all the information relevant to a topic and reflecting on it, examining it for patterns, and analyzing and evaluating it. You cannot do this in one day and this is part of the reason procrastination is a real problem- how can you write a scholarly, knowledgeable, analytical paper if you have not spent the time and mental energy to find and review information, relevant concepts and theories, and formulate ideas, reflect and analyze? Think about it.

Keep writing!