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6 Tips for a productive summer break

Time managementSummer vacation can be a great time for academic writers to get ahead on their writing projects, but all too often professors and graduate students find themselves scrambling to get something—anything—finished as summer comes to a close, and wondering how the summer slipped away from them.

Your summer vacation doesn’t have to end that way. Noah Shusterman, assistant professor at Temple University and author of the Chronicle of Higher Education article “Planning a Productive Summer,” and Tanya Golash-Boza, associate professor at the University of California, Merced and author of the blog post “How to Have a Productive Summer by Working Four Hours a Day,” offer the following six tips for maximizing your writing productivity over summer break:

  1. Plan your writing projects ahead of time. Golash-Boza suggests making a list of all the writing projects you want to complete over the summer and then estimating how much time each project will take. If you find yourself in the common dilemma of having allocated yourself more tasks than you will have time for, prioritize your projects and tackle the most important work first.As part of the planning process, Shusterman recommends spending some time in the spring to set goals that are achievable, meaning that they are within your control to accomplish, in order to maximize your effectiveness over the summer break. For example, a goal of writing a set number of words per week or a goal of finishing an article for submission to a journal are achievable goals since they depend only on you. In contrast, a goal to have your article published in a particular journal is not under your control since you do not have power over the timeline of the review process or the selection of articles for publication.
  2. Finish off your school year as soon as possible. Before you can start your summer writing regimen, you need to wrap up any lingering tasks from the school year, such as grading. If you’re feeling burned out from the spring term, Golash- Boza suggests taking a brief break from academic work to recuperate, so you can leave the previous term behind you and start in on your summer writing goals as fresh as possible.
  3. Schedule your time—and stick to your schedule. Golash-Boza recommends scheduling no more than four working hours each day during the summer to better maintain your focus and mental acuity while you’re working. “Limit your working hours,” she urged. “Find out what your limits are and then stick to them. I don’t feel bad working four hours a day when I know that’s the limit of my intellectual activity on a daily basis.” Another aspect of sticking to your schedule is accepting that some days will end up being more productive than others.If you have an unproductive day, Shusterman cautions academic writers against trying to make up for that lost productivity the next day—if you keep trying to make up for previous days, your goals will become a moving target that become more and more difficult to achieve.
  4. Have something to show early on. To avoid a panicky feeling come August or September, Shusterman strongly recommends that writers focus on completing something in the early days. “Have something to show for May and June,” he said. “That is the best piece of advice I could give.”Being productive early requires focusing on high-priority projects rather than pursuing other intellectual interests and not relying on catching up on everything later in the summer.
  5. Stay motivated. To stay inspired, Shusterman advocates choosing summer projects that interest you as much as possible; another strategy is to rotate through different motivational tactics, such as setting short-term goals to reach each day or week, to find out what works best for you and keep things fresh.For Golash-Boza, focusing on rewards works well. “If my summer is focused on writing, what keeps me going is the knowledge that once I get done with my 4 hours of work, I can do something fun,” she said. “I make sure to do something enjoyable every day and not to work on the weekends. The relaxation time serves as a reward.”
  6. Protect your vacation time. Both Shusterman and Golash-Boza are adamant that academic writers must take vacation time during summer break to stay productive and avoid burn-out. “A major pitfall for academic writers is to not take any break at all,” Golash-Boza said. “If you’re feeling stuck during the summer, take a real vacation, even if it’s a short one and even if you just stay at home, because it’s very important for your long term success.”Sushterman advises academics to have a clear distinction between work time and relaxation time. “The important thing,” he said, “is that when you do take vacation time, you actually have a vacation. If you take a vacation and you spend it with a pile of books that you’re barely reading, you’re not getting work done, and you’re not completely relaxing either.”

With these tips in mind, you can achieve your writing goals this summer while also maintaining a healthy work-life balance, and you can return to teaching in the fall with the peace of mind that comes with a list of successfully completed writing projects and a restful summer break.