Planning is essential for creative work, but we often struggle to do it. It's difficult to think ahead, let alone act in ways that prioritize our future selves over our present anxieties and desires. Conversely, we often make plans that cause us to feel worse because we can't live up to our own expectations or the expectations of others, both real and imagined. Sometimes planning can backfire and feed into our anxieties. Rather than helping to work through them, planning can lead to blockages, either because those plans are not fluid enough or because the expectations of one's own productivity don't line up with the realities of time and the tasks required of the work.
This speaks to the very notion of what it means to be "productive." How is it defined? Who sets the standard? The underlying principle of productivity and planning in the context of academia and our broader society is one that we challenge. We want you to complete your dissertation so you can graduate with your Ph.D., start a new job, and get your research and writing out in the world.
However, we don't subscribe to the sense of scarcity that takes the forms of "never enough time" and "working all the time." This mindset feeds the internalization of guilt. (We speak from experience.) Instead, we promote an approach that at its foundation is about sustaining the conditions needed to live a full life as a creative and intellectual person who wants to contribute to society. It is not a perfect system. You will constantly deviate from it which is expected. It accounts for change, setbacks, bad days, and all the ups and downs of the creative process without claiming to cure them.
There are three complementary elements to the planning process. Please keep your time-based plan and task-based outline together on one document inside your writing folder along with your Unschedule. Your calendar should be configured on your own and adapted to your personal workflow.
Please complete the first two parts of the plan by August 26 and begin to implement the daily writing and time-blocking strategies. Deanna will schedule a time to discuss the plans with you after you turn them in. Keep a journal, ideally daily or at least weekly, that reflects upon your writing process. We will discuss how things went and go over the third component of the writing program (support) during the Fall Institute.
1. TIME-BASED REVERSE PLAN
This is a long-term plan that gives you a realistic timeframe to complete your dissertation as well as a better sense of how much time you have versus how much time you need. It helps you structure and plan your time to meet major goals and deadlines while keeping your advisors and mentors aware of what you are doing and when. It is expected that this document will change A LOT every single week and month. It's supposed to.
How to create the plan:
1.) Work backward from your defense date: we recommend that you try to schedule your dissertation defense ASAP and ask your advisor when they need you to submit it to the committee in advance of the defense. Then notify your committee of both dates. Next, create an outline with key deadlines for each chapter, revisions, and other major events that will be happening in your life, such as the job market, moving, holidays, breaks, etc. Start broadly with estimates based on the work you already completed and then break it down into weeks. Use your Task-Based Outline to help you (you might want to work more on that first, if you need to break it down more). You should be working on the plan and outline together, adjusting as you go along and get deeper into each chapter.
2.) Update this plan at the beginning and end of every week. Reassess your plan and task-based outline accordingly. You will start to get a better idea of how long things take as you reflect on your work and revise your plan. We tend to underestimate how long things take, so be somewhat generous. This will also give you some flexibility for the changes in your schedule that will inevitably occur.
3.) Share your Plan to Completion with your advisor and get the timeline approved, ideally scheduling a defense date that you can work with far ahead of time.
2. TASK-BASED DISSSERTATION OUTLINE
This outline transforms a massive project like a dissertation and its chapters into tasks and chunks of time while keeping track of what you have already completed.
This is a fluid document that you should use for planning long- and short-term goals and deadlines. You will update it frequently as you write and come to better understand how much time things take and how much work you have to do. In doing so, you are planning future work and accounting for what you have already done at the same time. The tasks on this outline will become more detailed for each chapter and section that you are working on, so it's okay to start with broader tasks first and then become more specific when you get to that chapter. However, we do want you to try to break it down as far as you can now because that gives you a sense of how long each chapter is going to take you to write and how much time you should allow in your Time-Based Outline above.
Most importantly, by completing this outline you are shifting away from the abstract goals of "writing a chapter" and breaking it down into manageable tasks that you will eventually put on a calendar. This document will grow as you move along, becoming increasingly detailed as you move along and write more. The goal here is that you are not just sitting down to write, you are writing with goals in mind and realistic tasks you can accomplish in a small chunk of the day (between 30 minutes and four hours).
How to create the outline:
1.) Start with the outline that you made when you submitted your application and that you revised in anticipation of this workshop. If you already have a writing and research outline for your dissertation, they should match, meaning, we should see each section and subsection headings (but not detailed content).
2.) Go as deep as you can so you can better understand how much work you have to do moving forward and how "writing" translates into clear tasks and concrete, specific goals.
3.) If you're stuck and not sure about what you need to do for your chapters in progress, go back to your writing outline (if you don't already have one, we highly recommend it) and re-read whatever you have for an upcoming/current chapter (including notes or research), making a list of what you need to do to complete each section the chapter. You will then input these into your task-based outline as concrete tasks.
4.) All chapters should be broken down into subsections, and you should have a general sense of what you need to do to complete each one (research, reading, notes, writing, revisions, etc). The tasks will become more specific and detailed as you are working on that particular section. The outline should grow substantially over the course of the year.
5.) These outlines are for you but they are also incredibly useful to share with your support network. We will be requiring that you submit these to your IUPLR directors (twice during the fellowship year when you update them on your progress) as well as your mentors. We also recommend that you share this document with your advisors.
3. THE TIME-BLOCKED CALENDAR
At this point, you should have a solid sense of what you need to do and when you can plan to realistically do it. Now you are ready to move tasks into your weekly calendar, which we recommend doing at the beginning of the week (on a Sunday) or after a rest day before your work week starts. This is a very important step in developing a daily writing habit and staying connected to your writing goals and deadlines. By time-blocking, you are avoiding the pitfalls of making lists or sitting down with the abstract goal "to write chapter 4." Instead, you allot yourself a particular day and time to work on a specific task that you will then cross off your outline. This also helps you to plan your days around the Unschedule. By supporting "deep work," you can flow with a clear start and end and avoid writing in marathon chunks that quickly lead to burnout, illness, and resentment.
How to complete the calendar:
1.) Complete the first part of the writing program and enter into this plan with a clearer awareness of your writing process, challenges, and needs. Make a commitment to write at least five––but no more than six––days a week for at least 30 minutes or a maximum of 4 hours per day. Be prepared for things to not go as planned; be kind to yourself and adjust your calendar as needed.
2.) Have a "Sunday Meeting": At the beginning of your week, take 30 minutes to plan your week, ideally the night before your work week starts. Look at your Unschedule, revise it for the upcoming week, and translate it into your digital and/or analog calendar.
3.) Then, look at your above plan and outline, revise them, and translate writing tasks to your weekly calendar. Ideally these tasks are time-blocked, meaning that they are completed during a chunk of undistracted, deeply focused time that catches you at your best (for most people this is in the morning). If you have children or other commitments, this may be more scattered and less predictable, but try to schedule it the best you can and then shift it accordingly. Again, time-blocking for daily writing is recommended to start at 30 minutes but not exceed 4 hours. We suggest starting with 1 hour as you get use to this system and then stretching it out. In order to be effective, you must have no distractions and know exactly what you are working on. You must also know when to stop and incorporate a few minutes for some kind of closing ritual (e.g., journaling, cleaning your desk, organizing calendar for the next day, etc.).
4.) Finally, schedule the things that are non-dissertation and non-work related, such as email and job market prep, for after you write in another non-interrupted, time-blocked session. (Those tasks are not priorities----although you will convince yourself that they are----and they can easily get unfocused. Limit your time to less than an hour per task and try your best to stay focused.) When the job market gets busy or if you have an interview, you will have to prioritize that work over writing; however, your daily writing practice will allow you to take writing breaks or minimize writing time to as low as 15 minutes a day during these times and still stay connected to it. Remember: the writing plan is structured for setbacks.
5.) Be prepared to change things around every day as you learn more about your process and if the work day changes (which of course it should and will!). You will never get this "just right," and you will have good and bad days no matter what. If you think of your workflow as a lifelong PROCESS that is always changing, rather than a strict schedule that controls you, it becomes something you will learn from and even come to enjoy––at least some of the time.