Thursday, 1 November 2012

My AcWriMo Goals

Avoiding obstacles and interruptions.

I've been meaning to start an academic blog for a while, but wasn't sure where to start. AcWriMo seems like an excellent opportunity to dive write right in.

I learned about AcWriMo from Twitter. I'm a Twitter novice, given that I joined less than a month ago and have barely 10 tweets under my belt. I kept seeing #acwrimo pop up among those I follow, and finally followed the trail to this great intro by Phd2Published: Announcing AcWriMo.

To participate, we set higher-than-normal writing goals, based either on number of words or amount of time per day (or week). Then we hold ourselves accountable by sharing those goals and tracking our progress via social networking (blogs, Twitter) and this spreadsheet (I'm currently row 296 but it changes from day to day).

AcWriMo is appealing to me when I think back on the positive experience I had while writing up my MSc. My advisor, Dan Mennill, strongly pushed us to write 1-2 hours per day, every day, first thing in the morning. I adopted this strategy around the time I finished the analyses for my third chapter. Around this time, I also implemented a strict daily schedule with time slots for data extraction, statistical analysis, and very short email breaks. These two habits combined with music and Dan's excellent "quiet hours" policy, created a seemingly magical recipe for efficiency. I was able to finish my thesis, submit manuscripts for two of my chapters, create a poster, and head to a week-long conference while still giving myself enough time to prepare for my defense in advance of the two-year deadline. In other words: writing every day works.

<Through various obstacles mostly related to vast amounts of time dedicated to data acquisition management, refining my R coding skills, and preliminary analyses, I have yet to implement this strategy during my PhD. Although I began analyses this past July, I have not obtained results that are polished enough to write up in manuscript format. As such, I was a bit hesitant about taking on this challenge: was I willing to trade 1-2 hours per day of data analysis time for more writing time? Wouldn't that ensure that my analyses lag behind, leaving me with nothing to write about?

Ultimately, I decided if it was intended to be easy, it wouldn't be called a "challenge". Plus, this gives me extra motivation to push the analyses along as well. So I signed on and made myself some goals. I have 4 on-going research projects, plus this blog - there will definitely be enough for me to write about. I've prioritized the projects such that I start with #1 and work until I'm no longer productive (mentally fatigued, not enough material, etc) and then more onto #2 and so forth.
In general: Time-based goal of three 27-minute pomodoros per day (with 3-minute breaks), on the following projects:
  1. Manuscript (or Chapter 2 of my thesis). By the end of the month I hope to have a detailed outline of the key points in each section, including key citations. Also, a good start on the methods and a list of the main figures and tables for the results.
  2. Supplemental material for MS #1/Chapter 1 of my thesis. Preliminary analyses forming the basis of decisions in Chapter 2. I hope to finish writing it (which requires finishing the analyses first!).
  3. Preliminary report on a side project I have taken on. I'd like the report to be finished by the end of the month (again, this requires finished analyses).
  4. Database report. In late 2011, I started a report summarizing the contents of the publicly-available dataset I make use of. My progress on this report has gone stagnant in favour of more "exciting" projects, but I should really wrap it up. I might not create all of the figures, but I'll write the majority of the text and create a list of required figures/tables.
  5. Blogs. When I have nothing else to write (which I imagine will be rare), I'll write a blog. I'd like to have a new blog up every week.
Some links:

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