How to keep yourself productive

michael_longinow_facultyBy Michael Longinow

Department of Journalism & Integrated Media, Biola University

Productivity is hard — for everybody. Let’s just put that out there up front.

But some people make it look easier. This article will suggest ways the best of you can do it better; those of you wondering how to get started might find new insights.

The first point to remember is that floating is bad. A key principle of survival swimming is that you’re better off moving than bobbing in place. Sharks, it’s said, will die — in most situations — if they stop swimming. The same goes for academics. So to keep active, don’t just shelve those AEJMC journals. Skim them. Mark them up. Check out the literature reviews and what’s new in how authors come at topics you enjoy.

If you’re at a stand-still, a trick for jump-starting yourself for scholarly writing is to review scholarly books. Some advice, though: don’t waste your time with reviews of stuff unrelated to what you teach or are researching. Pick reviews that will launch your own spin-off studies.

And look for bang on your buck. A wise colleague told me once that if you don’t show up professionally in ways people notice, nobody’s going to announce you. Profile matters. But beware artificial noise-making. That does more harm than good. What’s better is when what you’ve published, contributed to, or shown up in was simply unavoidable. Get your work into the right academic neighborhood — in high-traffic areas of intellectual inquiry. You know what those journals, trade publications and other media are for your discipline.

Some journals (like the AEJMC quarterly) get catalogued in EBSCOHost and other academic databases. Hint: that includes some scholarly book reviews.

Edited anthologies aren’t a bad idea either, if it’s a prominent university press or scholarly publisher (Oxford University Press comes to mind). By writing a chapter or two, you keep the wheels rolling (or the flippers going.)

Another suggestion: mark your calendar for personal writing deadlines. It helps with academic guilt. (Yes, we all feel it at times.) Some of us are swamped during the year. Come clean with that — it’s okay. Live in the moment, enjoy your teaching (more importantly, get better at it,) and take some bike rides or runs by the lake.

Pick a deadline that you know will keep you grinding through summer — your optimum time period. If you have a light fall or spring coming up, aim at a paper call that lands just after that term is over. Take a black marker and write up that wall calendar. If you’re a digital person, create pop-up reminders for yourself. By ticking off benchmarks, you keep the research and writing on track. If you’ve got scholar friends (and if you don’t, make some) get them to ask you how it’s going. Talking about your projects helps you figure them out and keeps them from stalling.

Yet another suggestion: collaborate. There are colleagues at your school or at another institution who share your passion for a research topic. That colleague might have better access to a data set or an archive than you do. Pick a topic over coffee, at the back of an AEJMC session, or even in a strategic Skype call. Nail down who’s doing what, set some benchmark deadlines for yourselves, and get rolling. A key to collaborative research is communication. Put chat sessions on the calendar and make sure you don’t miss them. Joint projects die fast when parties aren’t talking or when one person thinks something’s done and it isn’t.

Finally, multi-task. When you start one project and it’s near completion, you should have another project ready to go. Get that next one started before you’re done with the one you’re completing. Research and writing projects in overlap mode have a way of fending off the lethargy that comes when you’ve stopped swimming.

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