Helen writes: #AcWriMo productivity vs procrastination

Writing Skills Advisor Helen Williams continues her occasional series during #AcWriMo with her thoughts on ways to deal with a tendency to procrastinate.

I recently read this column in The Guardian on procrastination – most likely when I should have been doing something else – and started thinking about the relationship between productivity and procrastination. When I speak to students about procrastination, they often seem to think they need to change a lifetime of habits, how they approach their work, and even the type of person that they are. Of course, this in itself becomes a mammoth (and impossible) task. Much more effective, as the article says, is to start changing the smallest possible habits that you can. If you’ve been taking part in Academic Writing Month (#AcWriMo), you may already have started to form a few new habits that can help with productivity, but if not, here are a few suggestions.

Baby steps: start by making small changes to your habits
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Taking Part in #AcWriMo: Reflections and Responses

November is Academic Writing Month (#AcWriMo) and in this post, Liam Knight, a PGR in the Department of English Literature and a Westmere Scholar, reflects on his experience of participating in last year’s event.

Back in 2020, I took part in AcWriMo, a month-long writing event in which people working within academia set themselves goals to accomplish over the month of November (e.g. write X000 words, collect X amount of data sets, read X number of papers, etc.) and then use their local and online academic communities to keep themselves accountable and supported and ensure that they reach those goals (or come as close as is reasonably possible)!

Join the University Graduate School for Shut up and work sessions every Tuesday (09:30-13:00), Thursday (13:00-16:30) and Saturday (10:00-12:30) during November 2021, Academic Writing Month.
Details of this year’s #AcWriMo at UoB, hosted by your Westmere Scholars
Continue reading “Taking Part in #AcWriMo: Reflections and Responses”

New year, new lockdown

Happy New Year! This isn’t where we’d hope to be at the start of a new year, but there is relief in having got through 2020 and in knowing that vaccines are on their way. While we wait, 2021 will have to be about being kind to ourselves, leveraging the self-knowledge we have gained in 2020 to cope with local restrictions, protecting our mental health, and taking steps forward with our work.

A family in a house cradled between hands, surrounded by coronavirusEngland is in the process of entering a third national lockdown. Those of us living on or near campus must stay at home except where necessary (necessary activities include work, grocery shopping and exercise). We’ve done this before, and the familiar rhythms of daily exercise, meal planning and Zoom calls are already established. Think about what worked and what didn’t work for you during previous periods of restrictions and use that knowledge to get through this one as best you can. If you’re not in England, check your local restrictions.

Continue reading “New year, new lockdown”

Tips for Working from Home

Building on our previous post on working from home, Rachel Sargeant, a full-time, distance-learning PhD student in the Film and Creative Writing Department, draws on her experience to give some advice.  An adapted version of this post also appears on her personal blog.

Rachel's latest book, The Roommates.Although I only commenced my studies in January, I previously completed a distance-learning masters and have been working from home for over a year since I became a full-time author. This is what I’ve come to realise:

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Happy and productive 2020!

Happy New Year and welcome back.  Or just welcome, if you’re starting your research programme this month.

2020 balloons

It’s traditional at this time of year to make (and perhaps break!) a few resolutions.  The media is full of articles about diet and exercise, but what about resolving to make lasting improvements in your research processes?  It’s easy to say “I will do more” or “I will do better” but what exactly does that look like in practice and how can you make it stick? Continue reading “Happy and productive 2020!”

Fighting procrastination

Oh, how easy it is to put things off, especially if those things are difficult, ill-defined or repetitive.  Or if your deadline isn’t for a few years yet.  Unfortunately, that’s a pretty good description of postgraduate research, so a postgraduate research degree is fertile ground for a tendency for procrastination to flourish.

procrastination, n. The action or habit of postponing or putting something off. [OED]

Let’s learn a little bit more about procrastination and why it happens, but note that procrastination can become a habit for lots of reasons (or a combination of reasons) so if you are struggling with persistent procrastination, you may want to explore some of the counselling options available to you via the Mental Health and Wellbeing Service.
Continue reading “Fighting procrastination”

Helen writes: getting started

In the first of a new occasional series, Writing Skills Advisor Helen Williams gives advice on getting started with your thesis writing.

In 2018 I started at the University of Birmingham as a Writing Skills Advisor, and when asked to contribute to this blog I considered the hardest part of writing my own thesis.

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Helen Williams, Writing Skills Advisor, Library Services

Fittingly, ‘getting started’ was often the toughest task for me, which also felt apt for a first blog post. Preparation is essential in drafting effective writing, and there is a lot that you can do encourage this process before putting pen to paper. So, to start, here are four tips for getting started. Continue reading “Helen writes: getting started”

Advice? Take it or leave it.

As a PGR, you are no doubt receiving plenty of advice from many different sources, not least (I hope!) this blog and any development workshops or online courses you are completing.  I’ve recently seen this excellent post by Amber Gwynne on The Thesis Whisperer blog, and it’s got me thinking about giving and receiving advice.

Amber gives a number of really good suggestions for contextualising advice and deciding which pieces of advice you should take or leave.  I would recommend you read her post.

[T]here’s an awful lot of advice out there. And then there’s just awful advice. So, how do you separate the wood from the trees … ?

Her advice (!) can be summarised, in my view, as a two-step process: contextualise the advice from the giver, and be highly self-reflective when considering whether it can usefully apply to you.  It’s this second point that I want to pick up in more detail. Continue reading “Advice? Take it or leave it.”

Writing productively during #AcWriMo

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Image credit: Raul Pacheco-Vega

November is Academic Writing Month or #AcWriMo.  Set an academic writing goal, and work alongside the online #AcWriMo community to achieve your goal.  We have talked about setting an appropriate goal for #AcWriMo in a previous post, so this year, we’re going to look at being a productive writer, to help you reach those carefully set goals. Continue reading “Writing productively during #AcWriMo”

Give yourself a break

August.  Somewhat surprisingly, the last few weeks have been hot, like summer is “supposed” to be.  Campus is quiet, eerily so, at times.  Lots of colleagues are taking annual leave, and there aren’t as many e-mails flying round as usual.  The days are long.

For some, this is a time of fewer distractions, and an opportunity to focus on their research.  For others, motivation is low as the hot weather induces lethargy and the beaches/mountains/meadows seem so enticing.  For others still, deadlines loom large and all these external things are irrelevant.  How can you ensure that you make the summer work for you? Continue reading “Give yourself a break”