Part Two: Time Management and Putting the Summer into Perspective
The question of time management arises because, assuming you aren’t teaching or doing administrative work, you have more time in the summer. You not only don’t have to devote time to course prep, teaching, and grading; you potentially have whole blocks of time for dedicated research, writing, and course design. Woo hoo!
How might one organize one’s days or weeks in the summertime? The general consensus among writers (and I tend to agree) is that writing is best done in the morning and research and reading best done in the afternoon or evening (depending on your family needs). Summer is therefore a great time for getting up earlier because it’s brighter and warmer in the morning. Also, it is probably better to do some writing every day than to wait or hope for stretches of enormous productivity to balance out long periods of inactivity.
Speaking for myself, I feel better if I steadily chip away at projects during the whole summer. But this is a general rule. I also enjoy having dedicated time of non-academic activity in the summer together with equally lengthy periods of high productivity. (Ideally, these are scheduled.) These extremes may also correspond to personal or family considerations.
As many of you know, there are unscheduled episodes with extended family, housecleaning, allergies, hospitality, car or home maintenance, or other distractions from academic projects. Go with it. Be thankful that you don’t have to juggle your classes too. Your career won’t end because of a few bad days or distractions in the summer. Along those lines, capitalize on those fits of productivity that may happen late at night or when you’re at your in-laws. Again, you don’t have to answer to the usual routine. Take advantage of that flexibility and charge ahead…
…Or not. Failure to progress on a major academic project can drive you crazy. But it isn’t an excuse for driving others crazy or neglecting your other duties and vocations – especially when you may not be obliged to teach classes as usual. If professors are supposed to be dispensing wisdom, we need to be about the chores and graces of everyday life. If you are looking for insights into wisdom, then all your attendance to family and other commitments will come around full circle into your teaching and writing. Take advantage of the summer to have a cap gun war with your kids or take a road trip to visit dear friends who won’t be around forever. This is important, too. Will your family ever really cherish your books or articles on Whiggism or nous? Or are they more likely to remember that great road trip or waterfront cottage? Hmmmm…
Also, just because you don’t feel like you’re actively thinking about your research doesn’t mean that your brain isn’t still processing it. This is why you can have insights while mowing the lawn, waxing your car, sitting on the beach, of having a cookout with friends. Don’t hesitate to launch these activities without guilt. Your brain never sleeps; it’s always working. Learn how to do things that require a different kind of thinking or, better yet, encourage active but free contemplation. Learn from time spent well with others. All of this will enrich your teaching and writing. Take a cue from the principle of Sabbath rest. You’ll come back to your projects better than you left them.
Summer can also be a good time to explore something new or overdue. Your decision to launch your own personal John Ford film festival, travel, or read outside your field can generate new ideas for writing or teaching. New specializations may sprout, so don’t hesitate to branch out. Likewise, summer can enable you to stray a bit from the subject at hand and explore the periphery. Explore a new timeframe for your subject or a different school of interpretation, for example. This scholarly wandering can provide excellent ideas for research or teaching on the margins of what you are doing now.
Don’t forget to keep your summer in the context of the rest of the year. The only thing worse than an unproductive summer is an unproductive academic year. Therefore, see your summer as an opportune time to launch projects that will keep you productive during the rest of the year. Design a course that will be more enjoyable to teach in the fall. Write those quizzes now so that you can keep your research consistent during the regular semester. Use the summer to draft a prospectus or submit a manuscript whose next step will keep you busy during the school year. We are no less obliged to master the seasons of the year than we are to master the seasons of our lives. This requires the kind of architectonic thinking that Aristotle prescribes in his Nicomachean Ethics.
The best advice for summer is advice that holds for your whole life. Whether you type a chapter or have a squirt gun war tomorrow, take the advice of Ecclesiastes and do it with all your might. Others will have to decide whether we truly work for a living, but we must live with thankful hearts that the academic calendar can afford both a restful and a productive summer.