‘That time of year thou mayst in me behold’: Summer goals and PhD productivity


‘That time of year thou mayst in me behold’ 

The main topic for the last week has been summer goals. I’ve had some interesting discussions on Twitter with various people.

To summarise the main points:

  • What are summer goals? And how do they differ to normal goals?
  • How does one get themselves in the frame of mind?
  • How do you ‘stick’ to your summer goals?
  • How do you divide up the summer period?
FINALLY, the most important one: how can we maximise summer productivity?
For me, summer is a strange thing. It’s out of term-time, routines tend to dissolve a little, there’s no set structure to your weeks. As a self-funded student, I obviously still work over the summer, but there is a distinct loss of direction.

Reasons for implementing summer goals

  • As this may actually be the final ‘full’ summer of PhD writing (hoping to submit next July), I want to make sure that I extract every last inch of productivity and creative work that I can;
  • Hopefully through introducing this concept, this may help other PhD candidates instil a sense of order in potentially wobbly summers;
  • To kickstart my own productivity by announcing these goals and setting up the #summergoals hashtag on Twitter. I’m locked in an unbreakable contract now. Have to do it.

What are summer goals?

This is basically a term for a feeling, well an urge, I experience most summers, where I feel compelled to *make* this summer a great one. I’ve tried to get ahead of the game this year by publicising this idea on Twitter, get my summer goals mapped out and by getting myself in the geared up mindset. I honestly feel super-excited to crack on with the summer!

From ‘when’ to ‘when’?

I should probably clarify what I mean by ‘summer’. It’s in no sense a seasonal thing…. I’m not writing new material when it’s sunny, and editing when it’s raining. That would be a little weird. (Maybe next year…) My definition of ‘summer’ is this: it begins the week commencing the 9th July, and ends on the 21st September. Why these dates? Well. Students in University Halls move out on the 7th July; the 9th is the Monday immediately following. The 21st September is the Friday before Freshers’ Week. Of course, these dates are based on University of Chester move-out and Freshers’ Week dates, so undoubtedly they’d change depending on different HEIs’ structures.
 How can this [specified] period be divided/structured?
A number of people contributed useful ideas on Twitter, including breaking your goals down into ‘priorities’ and ‘extras’. For me, I’m operating under the umbrella term of ‘editing’: by the end of the summer, I’ll have two beautifully edited chapters. As I’m working with two chapters, this is mainly split into two sections, with further subsections or ‘goal-lets’, as I like to call them, integrated within these subsections. I’m on a firm promise to not do anything extra in the final year of my PhD. I have a tendency to get over-excited, and sign up for everything. This is on my ‘ignore list’ (discussion to come soon, and idea borrowed from Kathryn Paterson (@KathrynPaterson)), to not think about things I think I *should* do, but focus on what I *need* to do.
I like to see this section of time as a blank canvas. It’s a lovely, clean, calm, untouched expanse of space rather like a field  covered in snow before peoples’ Doc Martens clomp all over the snow, and make muddy, grass-smeared imprints.

That’s just my vision. It could also be a desert. [Insert your own metaphor for summer here]. 

Why differentiate from normal goals?

My supervisor asked this question, and it’s a hugely valid one. To be honest, there is no tactical or organisational difference. They are still goals, or a series of goals.
For me, the summer can be a bit undifferentiated, and a little wobbly. In establishing a sense of purpose, a raison d’etre, I think this helps to mould and shape your summer. Essentially, the most important thing for me is having a sense of control.
Teaching has finished for the year, and my student support stuff is winding down. I just have work and the PhD to contend with. There are so many demands on peoples’ time these days, and summer is such an appealing expanse. There’s also the idea that a new academic year can begin in October with you having a real sense of achievement, and less reason to panic about the amount of work to do.
In a nutshell, summer goals purport to be a method of structuring specifically tailored for University ‘breaks’.

How to get in the frame of mind: tools and techniques

Here are just a few of the ways in which I’ve got myself into the right frame of mind to ‘take on’ summer 2012, and make it my most successful summer yet!
  • A short ‘free-writing’ exercise. This is a technique established by leading authors of ‘PhD self-help’ type books. This is a really effective way of delving into your unconscious and ‘word-vomiting’ what’s on your mind. You can set up a leading sentence, such as ‘The main obstacles to my writing are…..’ or, as I tried, ‘What I’d like to accomplish this summer is…..’. Once you’ve written for between 5 and 7 minutes, sift through your notes  and extract the key points.
  • Use the information gleaned from free-writing and construct a mind-map. It should still be rough at this stage. Plenty of time for honing ideas and using coherent sentences later!
  • Try to evaluate what you’ve done, and set up a reflective tool. What I’m doing is to write a 300-word abstract of the chapter I’m editing before I edit it, identifying what I think the chapter does at present. This was quite tricky in the case of my first chapter, as I hadn’t looked at it for almost two years. Once I’ve finished editing it, I will then write a new abstract for what it now does. As a short reflective exercise, compare these two abstracts, and see how your writing/editing has taken shape and generally firmed up. I’m really looking forward to doing this! This will also help you to stick to your goals. In locating an obvious improvement or an important breakthrough, you will get an immediate confidence boost, which which reaffirm your dedication!
  • Stationery! As a self-confessed stationery-addict, it seems only logical that I buy new post-its and notebooks for this task. It also helps with productivity, for some reason. (There’s an anthropological study in there, somewhere…)
  • Publicise your goals. Use Twitter or Facebook or a blog to publicly track your progress. In announcing your intended goals and how you work on them helps to cement a sense of purpose. If social media isn’t for you, maybe keep track of your progress in a new notebook. Keeping track is important, as well as staying organised. Of course, I’d love people to use the #summergoals hashtag on Twitter, both to see how my first attempt at establishing an academic hashtag goes, and also to learn about your processes/successes/problems, etc.

These are just some of my musings at present. As noted above, I’ll be tweeting my progress and new thoughts that occur to me throughout the summer. Good luck to everyone working over the summer, and may you all achieve your goals! I hope to hear from people on Twitter :)

*Disclaimer: these are only starting point trains of thought! All feedback and suggestions welcome*

*Major thanks go to the following: @MsFloraPoste; @JoParsons; @AmberRegis; @cemathieson; @EMMAREES. Your feedback was enormously appreciated!!*

(Tweeting at @AnnaFMackenzie: check out #summergoals hashtag) 

About shakespearescholarinprogress

Did a PhD on gender and genre in Shakespeare! New Dr. Not yet a Time Lord. Blogging to share useful postgrad information, featuring musings on PhD issues, alt-ac career routes, reading (I can do that now!) and the use of social media. May also include play reviews and tangents into anything, really. Doctor Who obsessive, also interested in research into body modification and identity, planning research into DW and Shakespeare post-PhD. Sometimes dabbles in the eighteenth century; likes women writers, marginalia, travel-writing and editing processes. View all posts by shakespearescholarinprogress

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