Monthly Archives: March 2014

Stepping away from the noise – My #AcWri monthly ritual

LinkedIn thought I should read this article, by businessman James Caan, on the importance of strategic thinking.


Caan says:

(F)or me, the most important two hours of the week is the time I give myself away from what I call the ‘noise’. This is the nitty gritty of the business; the day to day things which can take up so much time that managers are unable to think about what is important for them – the strategy of the business.

I think we can all recognise this feeling, even if we are not running a business empire. Running from one fire fight to another. Feeling that we have lost sight of the big picture because we are drowning in meetings, report write ups, marking, class preparation…

This is how Caan stays focused:

Every Saturday, I am in the office at 10am and spend the next two hours reviewing all the activity of the previous week (…) I also use this time to plan ahead and set targets.


He adds:

I have been doing this religiously for the past 30 years and find that those two hours, just on my own thinking about the challenges that the business faces, are absolutely invaluable.

 Of course, the format and the timing is not necessarily the critical thing here. Every individual has their own way of doing things. The key, whether you’re in small business or a larger organisation, is to step away from the noise and think strategically.

My ritual

I don’t sit in my office 2 hours every Saturday morning – those are usually spent taking the kids to and from extra-curricular activities, and getting the laundry done. But I do have a sort of ‘stepping away from the noise and thinking strategically ritual’. This is how mine works:

  1. I have a recurring event on my calendar. At the end of each month – yep, every single one of them – an alert pops up on my screen with the following message: Focus on what is important for your future.
  2. When I see this message, I grab my laptop (which is never too far away, anyway) and go through my research journal reviewing how I used my time that month and what I achieved. I also set up my goals and to do list for the next month.
  3. Finally, I update my research pipeline (see picture) and, if relevant, the publications section of my website.


Sometimes I really don’t feel like doing this exercise. It isn’t nice to see how much time I have wasted, or how little progress I have made. But, I always go ahead and do it. I tell myself: ‘Just do it, Ana. Your future self will thank you for it!

I find this monthly reflection really, really valuable. It helps me stay focused on what really matters for my professional development and it has helped me see the difference between being busy vs. being productive.

What about you? How do you step away from the detail of everyday life and get a sense of where you are going and how you will get there?

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Blogging as intellectual exploration

Three very different articles about writing have caught my attention today (possibly because I am avoiding tackling an important piece of work, but that is for a different posting). Even though they are very different in source and focus, they are actually complementary, and made me feel a little bit lot less guilty about blogging.


First, I came across a blog post from the Dead Good website, a community for writers of crime fiction (don’t ask!). The post compiles writing tips from 13 crime authors, who seem to agree that, to write, you need to… well… write. A lot. And enjoy the process.


Later, when I was catching up with my RSS feeds, I read a post by Mark Carrigan on the Impact of Social Sciences blog. In this post, Mark reflects on the nature of writing – what it is and what it entails – and the role of blogging in academic writing. Mark talks about the mechanical aspects of writing (e.g., sitting down to work on a manuscript for 2 hours a day, every day) vs. the creative aspects of writing. The former is a necessary step to produce typical academic outputs, but is unsatisfactory from an intellectual perspective. Blogging, on the other hand, offers him an opportunity to develop the latter, less structured aspect of writing. Blogging helps him externalise his developing ideas.


In academia, as in crime fiction, it is important to write a lot and regularly. Sometimes that means sitting down and writing mechanically – x hours per day, everyday, to whip a manuscript into shape. But other times it means exploring what is in your mind – an idea that is not yet ready to be structured into paragraphs or sections in a document. And blogging is brilliant at the latter.


The thought of blogging as part of the academic writing process, leads me to the third article – this one. It has a neat visual summary of bloggers’ most popular concerns. While the third article is not about academic blogging, it echoes the idea presented in Mark’s piece of blogging as intellectual exploration. Points 1 and 3 are particularly relevant for this discussion and they advocate blogging about what we are learning and about the journey to a particular intellectual output.



So, there you go: enjoy blogging. Guilt free. It’s all part of the academic writing process.

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