Faculty: do you plan to use this summer to make headway on your writing projects? Have you fantasized for months about all you’ll finally be able to write once your classes end? Did you (or will you soon) finish the semester stressed, burned out, and needing time to recharge? If so, you might be tempted to take a few weeks completely off from writing. However, this might not be the best strategy because it can lull you into cycles of procrastination.
Instead, harness this “clean slate” moment to start your summer off right. Begin the way you want to work at your peak–just scale it back.
Why Clean Slate Moments are Crucial
Each summer is a mini “clean slate.” “Reset” or “clean slate” moments such as moving, starting a new job, or beginning a new life phase are prime opportunities to get rid of old habits and start new ones.
Clean slate moments are powerful because, as their name implies, they are opportunities to start fresh. Normally, we are surrounded by “cues” that trigger our habits. New environments (or new daily routines), however, lack those same cues.
Clean slate moments are also tricky, though, because during these times we establish our new routines, often without any deliberate thought. For instance, imagine it’s the first week of the semester. You hadn’t anticipated how hungry you would be after a long day of teaching, so you didn’t think to bring a snack. So, on your way home, you stop and pick something up. Without knowing or desiring it, you have begun to train your brain to expect this behavior: a teaching day means I stop to grab food on the way home.
How to Hack Your Summer Clean Slate
If summer break is a clean slate moment, then how you begin it trains your brain for what to expect later on. Taking a few weeks completely off sets your brain up to expect more of the same for the rest of break. Starting the summer in this way launches a cycle of procrastination that is difficult to break later.
Instead, I recommend that you treat the start to the summer as endurance training for your writing habit. Start exactly as you ultimately hope to work at your peak, just work less intensely and for less time. Here’s how:
- Revisit your macro summer schedule, time map, and summer start date.
- Review when, where, and how you will write and how you will track your progress.
- Take your full swing summer time map, and decide on what your scaled back version will look like. For instance, if you’ve decided that you plan to work for 3 hours every morning when you hit your stride, perhaps you might decide that for the first 2-3 weeks you will work for one hour every morning. Or, you can scale back word-based goals.
- Identify your lead domino when it comes to writing productivity–the one habit that will make all others irrelevant or unnecessary. Is your main problem starting first thing? Is it not doing anything else during writing time? Quelling your inner editor? Keeping your butt in the chair for a set period of time? Decide carefully: your goal will be to start the summer with 100% accuracy in this area.
- On your own pre-identified summer start date, write at your scheduled time in your scheduled location for your identified period. Prioritize 100% accuracy on your lead domino.
- Celebrate your success and show up the next day.
When the Clean Slate Moment Wears Off
If you start your summer off deliberately, you will likely find that not only do you write more, but you will hit your stride more quickly and easily. Especially if you are recovering from a difficult semester, your goal should be to create the habits that foster sustainable academic writing. Focusing on small goals (such as starting first thing) and limiting your time in the beginning will set you on the right productivity path. You will also find that your writing routine takes less and less effort to initiate and sustain over time.
How and when to “ramp up” your writing routine from your initial schedule to your full swing one is quite personal. However, you might consider adopting one of the following methods:
- Increase your time or words by 25-50% each week, starting immediately. An aggressive ramp-up schedule would look like this: week 1, one hour per day; week 2, 90 minutes per day; week 3, 2 hours per day; weeks 4+, three hours per day.
- Give yourself 3 full weeks on your scaled-back schedule, then increase your time or words over 2-3 weeks.
What will be your lead writing domino this summer? What questions do you have about implementing the clean slate method? Have other tips and tricks for setting yourself up for a productive summer? Want to share summer writing successes? Leave a comment below or email me!