A quick glance at the Oxford English Dictionary gives us a glimpse at the language used when so many of us pledge a New Year’s Resolution, especially when we pledge to research and write so much. They write:
The capacity to make decisions; free will; the fact of having decided to do something; deliberateness, intentionality. Later also: a decision; a settled intention, a resolution, a purpose; (occas.) a plan of action. Obs.
These are all positive words and intentions. We all, I think, make a ‘plan of action’, and have ‘a settled intention’ when we write down our lists of things to do. It’s a start, and the list looks lovely in our brand new Moleskine Notebooks. The early-career researcher nods sagely as they sip a flat-white in a coffee bar that plays smooth jazz. They have ‘a purpose’. They feel smug and consider having a piece of cake.
The trouble is this is where the rot sets in, and, to me, researchers are sometimes their own worst enemy on the road to frustration. The lists are just too big. How often is this bigness encouraged by the academic echo chamber of Twitter?
I looked at my Moleskine and here is my list for January. This list was clearly written under the influence of too much coffee and smooth jazz :
- Write conference paper
- Plan lecture
- Write blog (not this one)
- Research gender
- Write book chapter
- Research that biography
- Source adult-education vacancies
- Update CV
That is about 20,000 words, possibly more if I am telling Twitter about it. Over a generous 3 day research week it’s 5,000 words a week, or, 1,666 (and a bit) words over a day. If I put by a generous five hours a day to writing that’s 333.2 words an hour, or, about 5.55 words a minute. I haven’t even done any thinking, reading or redrafting. This is a very ample research week. Many only get one research day a week. Put another way, I have written a to-do list that is the equivalent of writing a master’s dissertation in one month.
Is it any surprise early-career researchers become disheartened? No wonder they have no time for themselves and others. Plus, at some point, they have to earn a crust. Early-career researchers often ‘make’ themselves too busy with their lists.
So, in the end, I am resolving to be slow and steady. To produce, but on my own terms. Learn when to say no, and, above all, ignore academic bigness on social media.
When I write my future lists I will ask: Is it doable? Will it be of good quality? Will I, in all honesty, have time to do it? Is it a contribution to the academy? Can I conference it? If I publish, how many revisions are likely?
I know my big list looks great on the new page of my new notebook, but maybe I also need a new eraser to go with it.