Academic research, like MLB batting averages, can hit a summer slump. Through the end of may into June, you’re making great progress and hitting the reasonable goals you set at the start of the summer. Consider this akin to batting over .300. Then July hits and you find yourself on the interstate. The Shit Academics Say Twitter account gets it.
My slump has a few predictable stages. Once I start to fall notably behind and miss milestones, panic sets in, which is followed by disappointment. None of this is good for productivity. It’s like I’m treading water–but without the health benefits or cooling sensation.
The first step in getting through the slump (and hopefully preventing next year’s slump) is to figure out how it happened. When the spring semester ends, I map out my available time to do work. I conservatively budget about 20 hours of work per week in the summer. That gives me time to exercise, pick my kids up early some days, run errands, garden, and maybe complete some house projects. This year I estimated I’d have 10 weeks of work for a total of 200 hours.
I set specific goals with specific deadlines and estimates of how long each project will take to complete: drafting focus group analysis (June 30, 20 hours), polishing two spring conference papers for journal submission (June 15, July 15, 20 hours each), and drafting a literature review (June 1, 40 hours). The drafting happened on time, but the journal submissions aren’t out on time.
If you’re not meeting your goals, it’s important to consider how you miscalculated. My self-analysis reveals three main causes:
- Most of the goals I want to accomplish take longer than I estimate (especially journal submissions).
- I forget about budgeting time for out-of-the-ordinary household tasks (such as cleaning out the pantry, which will never get done during the school year).
- I don’t count on the time to do service work (e.g., committee collaboration and advising) that continues through the summer.
How to Get off the Interstate
Once you figure out where you miscalculated, you need to revise your plan and get rid of the guilt. The kids (in New England, at least) are barely out of school. There’s still so much summer left.
I have three main strategies going forward:
- Acknowledge the important progress already made. I didn’t get the journal submissions ready in time, but I did take notes on 20 additional articles that will make my work stronger.
- Revise the goals to be more realistic. I can send out one article before August 1 and one before September 1.
- Push to the goals by “finding” new time. I’m taking a trip with friends and didn’t account for that time flying by myself. I can work in the airport and on the plane, but still put work away and enjoy myself once I get to the vacation.
It’s most important to remember that it’s OK if you don’t write all of the things this summer. If I just write some of the things, I can also grow some of the flowers, drink some of the margaritas, paint some of the rooms, go to some of the movies, and swim in some of the ponds.