Three things

I am on sabbatical again. That means, for the third time in my career I have an extended period of time in which I am in completely in charge of my own time, which also means that for the third time in my career a vast abyss in space and time has open up in front of me, completely terrifying me.  (The first two times being my dissertation fellowship period and the first time I was on sabbatical). But that’s not the three things of my title. I will get to that. (Side note: The Third Abyss would make a great band title. Punk? Metal? Norwegian Death Metal? Anywho…)

Everyone keeps asking me how sabbatical is going (after less than a month!) and I’m all like: https://giphy.com/embed/Qz8sdl0fslT5S (Darn, that gif showed up itself in the editor. Oh well. Click on the URL — it’s worth it, I swear!)

Last time I was on sabbatical, I had a kind of concrete list of stuff to do, because I spent it tracking down every instance I could of a particular variety of Middle English verse that I was interested in. Originally I had wanted that research to tell me what exactly it was going to turn into during that first sabbatical, but mostly all of my time was taken up with the “data gathering.” And since gathering that “data” meant going to manuscript libraries all over the place, that’s mostly what my sabbatical consisted of: making lists of possible “verses of interest” (groan…I read too much detective fiction and like puns too much), making plans to go see them, traveling to see them,  then transcribing a ton of manuscript pages, and then organizing what I found.

It took a long time for that bunch of information to start to turn into something interesting, so here I am seven years later looking at forming that raw material into my second book. Eek! Do I even remember how to write a book? My last one came out ten years ago! And its genesis was *twenty* years ago — gulp! (Duuude, I am old.) A book that’s just an idea is such an amorphous thing, a big, gaping hole that I need to fill. *Shudder*

I’ve got another project I have to finish this summer, too, and it’s a little more concrete — the edition of the York Corpus Christi Play that I’ve contracted to do and really should have finished last year, but got an extension on because it’s taking me much longer than anticipated. As concrete as it is, it’s somewhat tedious work, and thus causes me to procrastinate and get distracted. So while I should be able to edit a page in an hour, sometimes all I accomplish in a day is editing two pages and ordering shit on Zappos and SocksAddict (because the perfect shoes and socks *will* make your life better, right?).

Clearly, I need some kind of system to a) give a graspable shape to the abyss and b) to focus the work of the edition to get through it more quickly and efficiently. Those are two different problems to solve, so it wasn’t clear that one system was going to solve it, but I finally chanced upon one that I think will help. At least it helped me make a plan.

The system is the “three things” system — Notorious Ph.D. actually talked about it awhile back — hence my post title. I’ve also seen it called “The Rule of 3,” which I like because of its nod to all sorts of aesthetic and mnemonic and cultural rules of threes and thirds. And hey, 3 is a Magic Number, right? Anyway, according to the productivity gurus who invented or use this system, you’re supposed to start with the day and make a to-do list of three things to accomplish that day, and *then* move to bigger units of weeks and months and years. While I understand the concept of “one day at a time” for some things, that ain’t gonna work for a book project and a sabbatical. So, instead, like Notorious, I started with the time left on my sabbatical (which technically started in mid-May, but I took some time to ease into things), which is from now until mid-August, 2018.

So here are my “three things” for sabbatical:

  1. Finish the edition of the York Corpus Christi Play.
  2. Revise a big 45-minute presentation that I gave — and also workshopped elsewhere — into an article and the first chapter of my new book project.
  3. Do further research for and draft Chapters 2-5 of the new book project. (OK, I suppose that’s 4 things, but collectively it’s “research and draft the rest of the book project.”)

Then, with that list in mind, I got out academic calendars for the rest of this year (this summer) and next year (fall, spring, and summer), and apportioned weeks to the bigger specific tasks that needed to be done for each of these things. So for Thing 1, I’ve got weeks for editing the remaining play texts themselves, writing introductions, editing contextual material, and so on. I also counted how many pages of editing I have left, and figured out how many pages a day I need to finish to reach these goals. For Thing 2, I still have some details to work out, but there’s a much-neglected action list from earlier this year that I can turn to for that. The work on it is going to be simultaneous with finishing the York edition. For Thing 3, I had 45 weeks of my calendar left, so I gave each of the chapters 9 weeks and saved the final 9 weeks for further research, revising, and writing.

And then I opened up my planner — yes, I use a paper one, in a lovely red leather zippered case, because handwriting helps me remember — and wrote down my daily “three things” for tomorrow, Thursday, and Friday on their respective days in the planner. Tomorrow’s three things are 1) Edit three pages of “The First Trial Before Pilate,” 2) Revisit “action plan” for article project and update it, and 3) Begin reading the secondary material listed on that action plan. And I will continue to make a “three things” daily list from now on, at the beginning of each week (or maybe each Sunday night — a friend and I were at one point using the “Sunday Meeting” method, which I might still use here), and update/revise it as needed as the week progresses.

And yes, there are more than three things I usually have to or want to do in a day — but the “Rule of 3” method is about prioritizing those three things. Everything else goes on the regular “to do” list and gets done after that.

OK, that was all a bit boring, but really, this is just an accountability post. It will be interesting to me to go back to it later at various points in the sabbatical.

How do you manage your time when you have vast, unstructured amounts of it (and I count summer as vast)?

Hello again!

I thought I’d write another update to the blog, and I’m thinking about possibly getting back into regular blogging. (Maybe. We’ll see.) I’ve had it with Facebook and I never really got into Twitter, but I feel a little isolated without some social media interaction, especially as I’m on sabbatical again, and working on my own. I’ve also been inspired by Notorious Ph.D., who restarted her blog about a year ago. So I know it can be done!

Anyway, a couple of quick and largely happy updates. First, I wrote another thing inspired by my blog, this time an op-ed piece in the Chronicle on getting over a post-tenure funk. You can read it here. Btw, I did NOT choose that headline. (Writers rarely do.) But anyway, that’s *two* publications that came as a result of this blog (the other of which I mention in the post below), which I never expected. They’re non-scholarly, but I see them both as a kind of service to the profession, which was always how I thought of this blog, too (well, when I wasn’t writing about running or dogs or such).

Second, and related to an update in the post below this, I broke two hours in that half-marathon I ran last year — 1:59:24! Woo hoo! I trained again in the fall, but repeated minor injuries and a busy schedule kept me from doing a race. And then a really busy semester in the spring kept me from running entirely — d’oh! But I’m getting back into it now, and I’m planning on training again for a fall half-marathon, and depending on how that goes, maybe training for a *full* marathon in the spring, a thing I haven’t done in 10 years. A sabbatical year is the only time I’ll be able to fit it in, so it’s now or never.

Thing the third: a very happy doggy update. In the post below this, I reported the sad news of Pippi’s passing. Right after that post, we began fostering another Brittany named Benny, who a year ago found his forever family. And then we took a summer off from pets and fosters. I realized that as I worked at home every day while Bullock went off to the office (he’s chair — he has to be on campus) that the house was an empty and sad place without furry energy to fill it. It took some time to convince Bullock that we really needed another dog, and we may have moved a little fast for him, but on October 1, 2016, Æþelþryð Matilda Wigglesworth — or more simply, Audie — joined our pack.

Audie today

Æþelþryð Matilda Wigglesworth — Audie, for short. (You see, Audrey is the Anglo-Norman version of Æþelþryð, also spelled Etheldreda, and Audie is the diminutive of Audrey. She came to us named Molly, so I was looking for a name that sounded similar to that and landed on Audie.) That box on her collar is the invisible fence receiver. She’s a fence-climber if there’s a squirrel on the other side. (Photo by Bullock. Not to be shared or reproduced elsewhere without permission.)

No, she is not a Brittany. She’s an English Setter. It’s kind of long story how we ended up with a Setter instead of a Brittany, but the short version is that I fell in love. Anyway, since she’s English, I named her for an English saint and an English queen, and gave her a fake English last name (she *is* very wiggly). But I should have named her Wynnie, after the Old English “wynn” or joy, because she is SO full of joy — don’t let her serious look in this picture fool you. Just about everything makes her happy: walkies, treats, her Kong, the toy tied onto the end of a horse whip that we spin around for her in the back yard for her to chase, supper (she dances for it!), sleepy time, car rides, cuddling with her people, being with her people, her people coming home, people putting on shoes (because that could mean walkies!), the nice people who take care of her at boarding (though she’s even happier when her regular people come back to get her), nice doggies she meets, new people she meets, and so on. When you give her the “place” command to get on one of her beds, she *spins* in the air in a full circle as she leaps into the dog bed (because what comes next usually involves a treat).

The only thing she doesn’t like is her crate, because that means the people are leaving her alone and she can’t go anywhere — she’s much better left on her own in the family room with a Kong filled with treats, then she doesn’t mind being alone because she can look out the windows and lie on soft things that smell like her people, so she doesn’t feel so lonely. This is just one of the many ways that she’s different from Pippi, who loved her crate as a chance to be “off duty” and sleep. Pippi was territorial and barked at everyone who merely walked by the house. Woe to you if you were the UPS delivery person! Being in her crate was a vacation from her self-appointed job. Audie doesn’t have a territorial bone in her body, except where squirrels, chipmunks, birds, and cats are concerned. They’re the only creatures she barks at (well, and at us when she thinks it’s time for us to get out of bed). People coming to the door are potential new laps to sit in. (Oh yes, she’s a 35-pound lap dog. That’s also very different from Pippi.)

These differences from Pippi — including the different breed — are good things, I think. Because she’s so different, we’ve gotten to know her on her own terms. I think if we’d adopted a Brittany, we’d constantly see her or him as Not Pippi. Audie is just Audie. She’s her own fur-person. And the joy she brings is also restorative. Plus, I have a great office buddy — she loves to lie at my feet or in the upholstered chair in my office while I work. But right now she wants to go out, so I’ll wrap this up now. If I do get back to blogging, I promise more pictures of Audie — and I’ll make her her own page, too, just as Pippi has.

So what’s up with you since I last blogged?

Three weeks in…

…and already I feel so very, very tired.  But happy.  I’m glad to be back in the thick of things.

Today’s supposed to be a writing day, but I had an early morning meeting, followed by an hour and a half spent at a health care facility getting poked and prodded and giving the world’s longest personal health history (long story — may blog about it later), and then I called my sister to tell her some news, and now I’m too tired to do the hard writing.  So I shall write this blog post and then do some grading and service-related work and that will do very nicely today, since I actually already met my week’s writing goal anyway. So there!  (Woah, I just turned into Dr. Crazy there — I *never* use the verb “shall.”)

Anywho, I’m now three weeks into my first semester back from sabbatical and I have to say: I’m actually happier than I was during sabbatical.  Tired, but happy.  Seriously, I do not do well mentally in the slough of despond that is the isolation of sabbatical (or dissertation fellowship or whatever), at least not when it’s a whole year long and I don’t have a major project to *finish*. Don’t get me wrong — I got a lot accomplished over sabbatical.  I did the major chunk of the initial research for the still-inchoate second book (or whatever — it might not turn out to be a book, exactly, but it’s big) I’ve started; I edited most of my half of a co-edited anthology of primary texts and co-wrote its introduction; I drafted 15 pages of an article (ideally one I should’ve finished this past year, but which I’ve put off until this year and next summer to finish); and I read three books in the field of historical English linguistics to help make me a better teacher of Old and Middle English linguistics courses, and maybe more prepared to teach History of the English Language if we never get a line to replace our retired historical linguist after the VAP line we currently have runs out. Oh, and I also did a lot of preparatory reading for the brand new early medieval lit class I designed because I had never previously read all of The Tain or Grettir’s Saga, etc.  I did not get as far in my plan to re-read my undergraduate classical-to-renaissance great books syllabus (in prep for *another* new class next year), but I did at least re-read The Iliad, the Homeric hymns, and all of Sappho’s poetry.

So, I got stuff done.  But.  Even so, I felt like sabbatical kind of sucked. I think I might have done all of those things more efficiently with just a semester off.  Or maybe not — it did take me almost all of the first semester to remember how to organize my own time, and planning and preparing for the six-week research trip to England took a lot of time.  But still, I’m a lot happier with a lot of different tasks on my plate.  And I’m even making more headway on a couple of other writing tasks than I was making on them over sabbatical. (Good thing, too, since they’re due in November and December — though I can get, and will probably need, an extension on the November deadline.)  Check out the meters I added over in the sidebar of my homepage.  The first one is the one I’m working on now, so expect it to grow this semester more than the other one does.  The second one is the one I made headway on over sabbatical, but then stalled out on; however, as it’s related to a talk I’m giving in the spring, it might start to grow a little, too.  I also joined ADM’s and Notorious’s awesome bloggy writing group to help spur me to keep up the progress on number 1.

I think that I’m just a lot happier with multiple tasks going on at once, and with the adrenaline that juggling gives me. As tired as it makes me, it works for me better than the quiet contemplation of a year of reading and research.  However, *perhaps* if I’d had a discrete (but large) project to *finish*, I would’ve felt better about sabbatical  My second dissertation fellowship year was a *hell* of a lot more productive and satisfying than the first, but that’s because I had the dissertation all mapped out and just need to write the damn thing down.  I had a writing group of sorts, then, too, with the screenwriter across the courtyard from me. (Have I never told you that I spent my grad years in Melrose Place?  I kind of did — different address and no pool, but movie industry “aspiring types” and plenty of drama.  Beside the screenwriter across the courtyard and the costumer downstairs, one of my neighbors was this actress.) Anyway, the screenwriter guy decided that one page of my dissertation was about ten pages of his screenplays, and so we’d each try to write at least that much every day.  Some days I’d come out with ten pages (really!) and he’d be all like, “No way! I’d have to write a whole script to keep up!”  Hells yeah!

So, in short, I like structure, and sabbatical didn’t give me any.  I tried to *make* some for myself, but it never felt right.

Sabbatical was really good for me in some ways, though: in addition to the work I did get done, and which I couldn’t do during the school year (e.g., do manuscript research in the UK), the break from teaching alone did wonders for my morale and the teaching part of my job.  And it gave me a clear break from being grad director, since I wasn’t around for students to say, “I know this isn’t your job any more, but could you just…”  And man, was I burnt out from being grad director!  Teaching, too, though I think that may have been colored a lot by being grad director.  I like my professional distance and compartmentalization, and as grad director (which also means instructor of the intro to research course for the first year grad students), I saw some students way more than I might have liked — in class, in my office, in their exams.  Too much!  And that’s true of the easy students as well as the needy ones.  As the person teaching Old and Middle English, which a buttload of grad students take (both courses) to satisfy various language-related requirements, I still see a lot of the grad students, but outside of the bounds of the course, they are not my problem any more.  And since this is the first I’m meeting them, I also don’t have any history with them.  Clean slates are *awesome*.

But if I had to do it all over again — or in ideal circumstances, anyway — I might have waited to take sabbatical when I had a clearer long project to finish, some more concrete, anyway, and I might have taken only a semester.  Oh well, something to keep in mind in another seven years, if they haven’t done away with sabbaticals altogether.

Panic!

OMG!TheSemesterStartsMonday!SabbaticalisOVER!Ack!Panic!Freakout!

That’s how I feel right now. Plus, I’ve got worse than normal “first day of school” butterflies. I *always* get a little nervous as we get closer to the start of a semester, especially in the fall, but this year is worse than normal because it’s been 15 months since I’ve been in the classroom. Ack!

Lucky for me, I’ve had my classes prepared — syllabuses made and printed, all assignments designed and put up on Blackboard — for about a month now. So there’s that.

But still.

OMG!GettingUpinFrontofStrangersisSCARYbutThat’sWhatI’llBeDoingonTuesday!Ack!

Just thought I’d share that with you all.

I need to work. I can’t work. I need to work. I can’t work.

I have a number of things on my plate that are due in the next few months or sooner: that companion piece chapter I mentioned awhile back, a book review essay (on not one, but two books, one of them a collection of essays), the texts I’m re-editing (that is, going over someone else’s editing, doubling checking everything in terms of house style, format, and philosophy) for an anthology for which I am the co-general editor, not to mention class syllabuses and blackboard sites.

But oy!  Ever since I got back from London (where I worked really hard, but I’m still not sure where that damn project is going! ack!), I’ve had the hardest time getting back in gear. I’ve done that fake productivity thing where I clean and organize everything (though that was a legitimate goal for my sabbatical year, at least) but I’ve nearly run out of things to do that with. In my home office, I now have six file cabinets of gorgeously color-coordinated files in jewel tones with neatly typed labels on both the file folders and the hanging folders. And I’ve weeded out my closet and one of my dresser drawers, put my huge collection of t-shirts (now used for dog-walking and hanging around the house) in cubes on a closet shelf, and carted off car-loads of stuff to resale shops and Goodwill. All that’s left are my sock drawer (oh. my. god. what a crazy mess of mostly black socks!) and a big pile of teaching-oriented stuff at the office (where I have promised myself I will not redo the color scheme of the freakin’ files). And even this new blog space is part of the organizing frenzy (as is my recent reorganization of how I do e-mail which is way too deadly dull to explain to you). Oh yeah, and Bullock and I are redoing the main bathroom (damn, should’ve taken before pictures! Well, I’ll take in-progress ones), which necessitates weeding and organizing there, since we’ll have less storage space after.

But I need to do some actual work-related work! I’ve got deadlines and people depending on me! So what’s with me? Got any helpful hints to help kick-start my scholarly self? What says the hive mind?

>Sabbatical makes for boring blogging

>Sorry for the radio silence lately, but there just hasn’t been much to talk about, really. *However*, I’m leaving today for six weeks in England, so maybe I’ll have more to tell you about from there. The flat I’m renting is in a celebrity-rich part of Belsize Park, so I’ll be sure to tell you if I have any star sightings. 🙂

>RBOC – Gray winter day edition

>Blogging bullets:

  • You may have noticed that I have no blog roll. That’s because it was a Blogrolling blog roll, and Blogrolling has ceased to exist. That’s a shame, because it was a handy system (though the ads on it in the last year or so of its existence were annoying). But I cut and pasted the blogroll before that happened, and when I get the energy for it, I’ll repost an updated version of it.
  • I’m thinking of changing to WordPress. Those of you who’ve made the move, how hard is it to move the archive of the blog? What do you like/dislike about each platform?
  • I’m also thinking of claiming my blog as service/outreach when I do my 5 year post-tenure review or when I go up for full professor. Any opinions about that?
  • My partner has been known as Bullock on this blog because I named him in our Deadwood-watching phase, during which time he grew a Seth Bullock-style mustache and goatee. But Deadwood is long gone and my man is clean-shaven. Plus, even though “bullock” meant “young bull” in Middle English and that’s one of its meanings today, it also can mean a castrated bull, which is not the association I wish to project for my Bullock. (Though it is kind of a funny pairing with Virago.) But it would be confusing to rename him. I’m thinking maybe of just putting a “cast of characters” in the sidebar and explaining the origins of the name. Any other ideas?
  • I have been remiss in telling Pastry Pirate fans that she has long been blogging elsewhere. First she was in New Zealand, working and exploring, and now she’s working in Antarctica. No, really. I kind of think “Baking in Antarctica” should be the title of the blog, but since it started before her life on the Ice Planet Hoth (as I like to think of it), it’s called Stories That Are True.
  • Hey, cool, I managed to blog more than in 2009. Not exactly an awesome accomplishment, since I was really lame in 2009, but still an improvement. What should I blog about next?

Work/Life bullets:

  • Our Christmas tree is up, all the Christmas shopping is done, and all but one present is wrapped (because it hasn’t arrived yet)! Hooray!
  • On Thursday, I wired the deposit for the studio flat in Belsize Park. It’s non-refundable, so this makes it official. I’m going to be living, however temporarily, in a flat in London! I’ve never lived in a flat in London before! Heck, I’ve never lived in a flat before (American apartments, yes). How cool is that?!
  • The one-week rent for the studio flat in Belsize Park (the amount of the deposit) is just over my one-month rent in my awesome two-bedroom Rust Belt Historical District apartment and only about $175 less than our monthly mortgage payment. I’ll never be able to live full-time in a big, expensive city again — I’ve been too spoiled by the low cost of living here in Rust Belt. But hey, now I can afford 6-week jaunts there! So, I may live in Rust Belt, but I can better afford life in the big city in small doses. This is what I keep telling myself, anyway.
  • OMG, my sabbatical is half over!!! Ack!!!
  • Something I realized at the various holiday parties this week: asking me “So, how’s sabbatical going?” is as crazy-making for me now as “So, how’s the dissertation coming?” was for me once upon a time. Also, faculty on sabbatical don’t want to talk about work issues. Come on, people, surely we can talk about something else!
  • Bullock is grading finals. He just said to me, “It must be Christmas time, because a student just spelled Commerce Clause like Santa Claus.”
  • Bullock and I are going to BullockLand for the holidays (with Pippi). I spent Turkey Week in Cowtown with my side of the family and starting this year we’re alternating where we go for Christmas so that we don’t have to do the crazy-making hurryhurryhurry to get to one place and then the next. That makes my going out to LA to visit Virgo Sis and go to the MLA much less stressful (so does going to MLA just to go). Of course, so does being on sabbatical, because otherwise I’d be doing MLA back-to-back with starting our Spring semester.
  • Speaking of holiday plans, in case I don’t blog again before we leave:

>Disconnecting from the social network / looking forward to social networking

>I deactivated my Facebook account today. Deactivation isn’t permanent — my profile and all its contents are still there, somewhere, but those of you who are my FB friends can’t see it. In fact, a lot of you now probably seem to be talking to a ghost in many of your threads.

I plan to return to FB Jan. 1 or thereabouts. I just got a little freaked out about how little time was left in the first half of my sabbatical and how much time FB was taking, despite all my leechblocking. See, the thing is, I have an iPhone, and on that phone is a Facebook app, and there’s no Leechblock for the iPhone, alas. And I have no self-control. I’ve been tossing around this idea for awhile now, but last night, as I was curled up on the couch with a book, a glass of wine, and Pippi, while Bullock was at a job candidate’s dinner, I realized how nice it was to slooooow doooooown and read for a good long time. And since I was reading a book set in Los Angeles, with many scenes in a neighborhood I knew intimately, I realized that there were other ways of being connected to the world than through Mark Zuckerberg’s way of doing it. Even though what I was reading wasn’t high art (it was detective fiction — though its author’s work has been promoted from the “mystery” section to the “literature” section of bookstores near you!), it felt more like a Forster or Woolf way of being connected — like the “only connect!” motif of Howards End or the thin thread of Mrs. Dalloway. Both are vulnerable, fragile, abstract connections, of course, but that’s what makes nurturing them and recognizing them important. It’s not that FB prevented me recognizing these threads or of slowing down, but the moment made me realize that I could leave FB for a little while and not feel outcast or at sea or unmoored from the world or from my past. (I haven’t thought this all the way out–it’s really just a feeling, a hunch now–so my writing about it is a little flabby and cliche-ridden. For a blogger, I’m strangely not very good at writing about our socially networked world!)

Of course, as some of you know, the irony of all this is that I took a photo of that moment with the dog and the wine and the book (and fuzzy slippers!) with my iPhone and posted it to Facebook! Of course, I think there’s something fitting that that was my last post before my hiatus. And it is just a hiatus, I promise (especially to Sisyphus, who is looking forward to beating me in our currently suspended game of Scrabble). In the meantime, most of you know where to find me at my real life, university e-mail address, and if not, there’s my Dr. Virago g-mail address (see sidebar).

Meanwhile, I’m planning to go to MLA to do some old skool social networking, the face to face kind. Virgo Sis lives on the east side of the Cahuenga Pass, so I’m going to stay with her (and arrive and leave a few days before and after the conference) and take the Red Line subway from Universal City into downtown. I’ll be going to all the medieval panels and to any meet-ups y’all want to plan (just let me know!), and presumably to my grad school’s party, if I can find out when and where it is (it’s often a big secret). I haven’t looked at the program yet, so there’s probably other stuff (besides the book exhibit of course!) that I’ll want to go to. And I promise I’ll start up Facebook again before that for easy contact. 🙂

And one other thing: I’m kind of hoping that less Facebook will mean more blogging. We’ll see if I’m right.

>Hacking sabbatical

>I didn’t really think of my sabbatical starting until the Fall term started up, in part because I’d had such a busy summer of professional activities that would have happened whether I was on sabbatical or not. So, for me, sabbatical started August 23. And it took me the last two months to finally figure out how to manage my time and to get into a groove. Thank dog, then, that I took the whole year, despite the reduction in salary.

My problems in getting started were threefold: 1) the major project I’m working on is in its very amorphous beginning stages and the immediate tasks at hand were and remain super dull and tedious; 2) I’d forgotten how to manage so much unscheduled time; and 3) ZOMG! The Intertubes! Let me explain point 1 and then I’ll talk about how I harnessed technology (my university’s admins love to throw around phrases like that) to deal with points 2 & 3 and at least ameliorate the issues in point 1, and also how I actually added to my goals for sabbatical to paradoxically make it more likely that I’ll complete those goals.

Even before we get to the issues with my major project, there was another task I had to take care of by a September 15th deadline, and that was the editing of a handful of medieval texts for an inclusion in a student anthology, along with writing the introductions to them. I learn a lot from such projects, and they’re one of the most important things we do as scholars, I think, even though at most places they don’t count as much as original peer-reviewed research, and so I’m happy to do such projects in that sense. But, ZOMG!, it is tedious work. And I think that tedium got me off to a bad start and in bad habits. I’d edit a stanza of text and then check Facebook. Then I’d edit another stanza and play 5 games of Mah Jong. Then I’d edit another stanza and read blogs. And so on. I let it drag out until mere days before the deadline, so poof! there went a month of sabbatical.

The thing was, I was totally using that editing job as a way to procrastinate on my own research. I could have been doing both all that time, but I didn’t. But finally I got that job out of the way and it was time to move on to my own research — no more excuses. But the first problem with this project is that it’s so early in its development, it’s hard to know what it needs and where I should be going in terms of textual, historical, and theoretical research and reading. I’m not even sure what the size of the project is; though I proposed it as a book project in my sabbatical application, I’m starting to think it might be a Speculum-length article. Or maybe a couple of articles of shorter length. And the working thesis/argument I have now may totally change as I continue to do the primary text research. God knows that happened on my first book, which started as a project on class and economics and a specific body of literary texts and morphed into a project on gender and those texts. And before that, I just wanted to write on those texts because there hadn’t been any book-length works on them in a long while and I thought I had interesting, newish ways of looking at them. That’s also kind of how this project started: I kind of fell into finding my primary material, realized it was both understudied and yet potentially significant, and then started thinking about it more. But that makes it harder to know where to go with the stuff because you’re not entering a widely populated critical conversation; instead, you’ve got to find ways to introduce it into the conversation by relating it to conversations already going on. But the question is, which ones? In practical terms, that means: which existing scholarship is going to help me figure out what’s going on here? What should I be reading to help me think through this?

Meanwhile, the one task I know I need to do — find and catalog for myself all the instances of the literary phenomenon I’m working on — is a slow and tedious one. See, the stuff I’m working on is what I think of as an obscure subgenre of 15th and 16th century poetry, and so I have to find it by combing through reference works like the various editions of Index of Middle English Verse. I go through a reference work like that one entry after another, looking for texts that might be the kind I’m trying to study and define and then entering them into a Word file I made (so I can search it electronically). And then I’ve got to track down the available editions of these poems (which sometimes means getting my hands on articles in obscure 19th century German journals!); and after that, in the Spring, I’m going to look at the manuscripts of texts without editions or whose editions don’t tell me enough about the manuscript contexts (and that part means another longish trip to England – so yeah!). But right now, I’m in the most boring stage. I’m only up to M in the New Index of Middle English.

As you can imagine, that work is about as interesting as reading a phone book, and so it’s also a task prone to procrastination and distraction. In fact, I really should have done it a little bit at a time last year when I was teaching, because it’s totally the kind of task you can work into a busy teaching year with just a few minutes a day. But I am teh lame and did not do that. And now I have to Get. It. Done so I can effectively use sabbatical time for that trip to the manuscript libraries in the UK and here in the US, too, especially since that’s how I justified the necessity of my sabbatical in my application — I said I needed to do “literary field work.” But trying to do hours of that kind of work — or heck, even one hour — at a time is going to create diminishing returns on productivity, because the more mind-numbingly bored I become, the more mistakes I’ll make and the more I’ll procrastinate with those games and Facebook and so on. And furthermore, I can’t spend my whole sabbatical doing work that dull. I’ll go insane.

So. What to do? Well, here’s how I “hacked” sabbatical to help me make better use of my time and be more productive, both in terms of what this longer-term project needs to get off the ground this year and also in terms of having something to show for my time next year. As I said above, I actually added some additional goals to my sabbatical besides this maybe-a-book project (which is the only thing I mentioned in my application for sabbatical). I had already planned to finally get to writing an article I’ve had brewing for a couple of years. It has its problems and roadblocks, too, but it’s much further along than the nascent book project, so at least it has some shape. I also took on another editorial job, related to that one I mentioned above. I know, I know — more tedious work. However, I think I’ve figured out how to deal with that, too, which I’ll get to in minute. I also accepted an invitation to write a chapter in a forthcoming multi-volume guide/companion/introduction to British literature on the same genre of text as the texts I’m editing and have edited and that the article project is on, so those projects are all interrelated and will aid one another. Plus, along with editing texts for either scholarly or student editions, I think the scholarly guides to literature are another really important feature of what we do in the profession. (So next time some fool is dismissing scholarly research as something no one reads, mention a Norton Critical Edition or a Cambridge Companion to said fool and ask him where he thinks such works come from. But I digress.) Those are the projects that will go under my “professional activity” section of next year’s annual merit report. But I’m also doing things for teaching, for pleasure, and for well being — including, for instance: re-reading a bunch of the classical, medieval, and renaissance texts from my undergrad great books core curriculum; reading lots of detective fiction; trying to get back in shape; and reading introductions to English morphology, phonology, and syntax, to make me a better teacher of Old and Middle English — and these are all part of my daily schedule.

Now, it might seem like I’m being over-ambitious, but here’s why I think more tasks will help me. Remember how boring I said some of my work is? Well now, if I get bored with one task, instead of playing Mah Jong or reading Huffington Post, I just switch tasks. If I get stuck on a problem in my article project, instead of checking Facebook, I switch tasks. If I’m frustrated with all of my own projects, I can read The Illiad or about the Northern Cities Vowel shift and still feel professionally engaged in some way, but give my brain a rest. And if I’m sick of all the brain work, I get on the tread mill or on my bike, or I chase Pippi around the yard. (She doesn’t play fetch; she plays keep away.)

And here’s the hacking part. I’ve incorporated two apps to help me achieve these things. The first one is an iPhone app called Daily Deeds. I’m pretty sure I learned about this from ProfHacker, so I’ll give them general credit. Anyway, it’s a simple little program that lets you enter a list of tasks that you want to accomplish daily (or at least in a recurring way). And if you accomplish said task, you check it off. You can then e-mail yourself reports to show you how much you’re doing something each month. In my own version, I’ve entered a whole bunch of tasks and sub-tasks related to all of the above (so, for instance, I have an entry that says “catalog stuff from the NIMEV,” another that says “read some Classical/Med/Ren lit,” another that says “read some criticism and take notes” (so it serves for *all* my projects), and one that says “run, ride bike, or walk Pippi” (to account for all physical activity in a low-pressure way, just to help myself make it a daily routine, no matter how hardcore or not). I can’t tell you how satisfying it is to check something off! And it doesn’t matter how short a time I spend on something — if I do it, I get to check it off. This ‘carrot,’ combined with allowing myself to switch tasks the moment I get bored or frustrated, means I now — finally — spend at least 6 hours a day actually *working*.

And there’s the other tech tool that has helped me do that. I don’t have the best willpower when it comes to things like Facebook or blogs or other online distractions, but I need the web for some of the work I’m doing (using the MED and OED, for instance), so I can’t use Freedom and turn off the internet entirely. So instead, I use the Leechblock extension for the Firefox browser, which allows me to select the sites to block and the times to block them. So now, from 9am to 5pm each weekday, I cannot access Facebook, HuffPo, the real estate sites around here, Blogger or WordPress blogs, or all the other things I routinely tend to want to distract myself with…”just for minute,” I’ll say…and which end up sucking hours of my time each week. And often, I move downstairs with one of the books I’m reading by about 4pm, so I’m away from the computer when I’m allowed back on the sites.

So this is how I’m “hacking” sabbatical: counter-intuitively adding more tasks to make more progress on each of them; switching tasks often; rewarding myself for activity on tasks by chalking up check marks on Daily Deeds; blocking myself from my biggest online time-wasters; and now, telling you all about it so that I stick to it! Let’s see if it continues to work.

>Sleepy sabbatical

>One thing, at least, that I’ve finally figured about sabbatical is that I can sleep in. Of course Pippi sees to it that one of us is up by 7am at least (earlier in the summer when the sun is up earlier), but usually that’s Bullock. I think she’s figured out that he wakes easier than I do. I don’t sleep much longer — I’m usually up by 8, though today it was nearly 9 before I woke up — but to me that seems almost decadent, since there are people on our campus with classes and meetings at 8am.

Now, you noticed that I said “finally figured” out. Yes, that’s right. Given the ridiculous guilt-anxiety cycles that we academics make for ourselves, plus the conventions of the Monday-Friday work week in the white collar world in which I was raised, it took me quite some time to allow myself this sleep. (Yeah, I was forgetting that the word sabbatical is related to the word sabbath.) At first I had dreams of keeping some crazy schedule where I was up by 6 and exercising or walking Pippi by 7. Yeah, right. Now I realize my schedule can be what I want it to be (well, Pippi has to be walked *some* time by 9 or 10 am) as long as I’m still doing what I need to do.

There are other things I’ve finally figured out, but Pippi actually hasn’t been walked yet and it’s my day and she’s letting me know that as I type (her chin is on my lap and she’s looking up at me with her puppiest puppy-dog eyes). Time for walkies!