Monday, 24 August 2015

3Ps to turbo-charge my writing: A response to Kearns

While I write this post I am sitting in a Hugh Kearns seminar on turbo-charging your writing. Hugh is a captivating, entertaining presenter. His points, stories, and many analogies resonated with the participants, whether doctoral student or published academic. It is obvious that Hugh is very familiar with the psychology of writing and the typical habits of writers who procrastinate, doubt and avoid writing.

Check out some of Hugh’s work here
Here is an example 
OR follow on Twitter 

A timely session, on the first day of ‘teaching recess’, this session could kick-start some new productive habits for me. Promptly on the heels of my professional goal setting and at the start of a break from online teaching, my main goal is to write more often. Writing more often is a matter of self management and establishment of specific habits. And indeed, an underpinning theme throughout Kearns’ seminar is self managing procrastination and perfectionist tendencies.

In many ways, a motivation workshop, Kearns deals with good habits of writing, exposing negative thinking and blocking strategies, applying cognitive-behavioural psychology to challenge the blocks and lift performance.

I recommend attendance at Hugh Kearns' seminars, as time well spent. I've read a couple of the very accessible articles he has co-authored with Maria Gardiner. I look forward to following Hugh and Maria on Twitter.  What follows is not intended to represent Kearns’ seminar, but rather to offer some responses to his ideas as I seek to apply them to my writing in my context.

Here are my three key take-away messages, in the form of 3Ps:


Everyone is busy, and I really dislike it when people go on about how busy they are! We all have 24 hours in a day and multiple competing demands to juggle and choose between at any given time. In Kearns' words, to prioritise writing we need to focus on landing planes.

If writers are air traffic controllers, and writing projects are airplanes, think about which we should land (or finish) first. Logic suggests that we should land those closest to the ground, and avoid letting new planes take off when the airspace is already crowded.

With this in mind, I will work out which writing projects (journal articles) are closest to completion, and work on finishing them. 
While this sounds simple, it does clearly identify a place to start, is not driven exclusively by deadlines, and means I can have a continual focus for regular writing leading to greater productivity. In the meantime, I also need to carve out writing time that is free from displacement activities, or avoidance tactics, even when these are cunningly disguised as productive work in order to reduce guilt (Kearns & Gardiner, 2011)


While listening to Kearns this morning, I was constantly reminded of the threat of perfectionism. So many people suffer from this most overrated of traits, and it is increasingly clear to me that perfectionism, like the cult of busyness, is a disabling condition, and most definitely NOT the virtue or badge of honour it is sometimes made out to be.

In practice,  perfectionism means it is never the right (perfect) time to start and nothing is ever finished because its not good (perfect) enough.

Pursuing productivity makes far more sense. Interestingly, this realisation keeps returning to me whenever I think and write about workload, as in past posts about smart teaching

I vow to try out snack writing

Instead of waiting for time to binge, I will try to apply the "little and often" mantra to writing. I'll mix in a little other advice I've gained from other sources and try to shift location to increase my focus and productivity. Just this morning as I walked past our student centre, I admired the building and fondly recalled how I escaped there to proofread my thesis some years ago - with minimal distractions and in a fresh and studentesque environment. 

I'll be there tomorrow, armed with a resurrected draft of an unfinished article and a plan of attack, formulated in Kearns' nano-steps. I'll write what I know, and then I'll write about what I don't know, to signal my next research direction.

Will update you in a future post, and I'm very much looking forward to Hugh Kearns' next seminar on Friday.
More details via WMIER

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