I love Fridays. Ever since I was a kid in elementary school I knew there was something special about the day before the weekends. On Fridays, the possibilities for the weekend are endless, like creating something new on a blank slate. Which is the reason, I always compose these blogs on Fridays (except for the last few weeks, when I was MIA due to moving, I am sure you understand).
On Fridays, people go home early, the emails suddenly stop flooding my inbox, and life slows down in general in around 2 pm. This gives me a perfect excuse to keep working on Friday afternoons. Why? Any of you who have ever tried to write a manuscript know that somehow there is never time for it. In addition to the tasks associated with research itself, there is usually an avalanche of emails we need to attend to. On Fridays afternoons the emails usually come to a halt or at least slow down considerably (discounting the personal IM's related to the weekend activities, but that's another story altogether).
I was not born a writer. I excelled primarily in math at school, not language skills (not to mention that I am Hungarian, and English is not my first language). But, I had to learn "writing ethics" to publish manuscripts and write my doctoral thesis. I learned that in order to write well, one must practice every day. In fact, most experts advise students to write at least 2 pages a day when they are working on their dissertations. Of course, this is easier said than done when writing is not our primary function at work. I found this advice tough to follow in graduate school when I just started writing scientific publications. I could not even think of what to put on 2 pages on one day, let alone every day.
Then came a quiet Friday afternoon, when I had analyzed most of my high priority data. There was nothing pressing to do, and it was 3pm. As I cleaned up my desk, I found the articles I had collected for a review article I was writing. I had made some notes here and there but there was no cohesive piece yet. Should I work on it now? I was going out to dinner with friends that night, but only around 6pm. I had time to stay another hour or even just 30 minutes. Reluctantly I sat down, telling myself that I'll devote just 30 minutes to this.
The first 5 minutes were like an uphill battle, trying to find my notes and files from weeks ago. Then, I casually began writing, and in 15 minutes I had a cohesive paragraph. In 30 minutes, I had consolidated all the files I had written previously into one, and pasted in my new writing. While it was a small step, it was significant progress in just 30 minutes. I decided to stay another 30 minutes to review my pile of articles, and I organized by category. Finally I made a plan of where to pick up next. (By the way, if you are in the middle of writing a long piece, you should always plan where you will start next to get you over a possible writing block). When I left work at 4 pm I was not only glad it was Friday, but I was actually looking forward to the next week.
Writing, like many other activities (packing for a move comes vividly to mind right now), is hardest during the initial 5-10 minutes. It is especially challenging when there are so many other responsibilities commanding our attention. In our busy schedules, one hour can be hard to find to give us a jump-start at a project we have been procrastinating. But a little push of even just 30 minutes on a quiet afternoon (be it Friday, Wednesday or Saturday), might just do the trick.
Wishing you the best,
Dora Farkas, PhD, Founder, PhDNet