Editor’s Note: We welcome another member of our faculty cohort today to reflect on the art of goal setting. Thanks, Darwyyn!
By: Darwyyn Deyo
“I am not at all in a humor for writing; I must write on till I am.” (Jane Austen)
As I outlined my summer research plans, my primary concern was that I would assign too many projects to myself. I usually have so many research ideas that my approach requires minimizing how much I commit to at once in order to make steady progress on each project. As of this post, two of my summer projects are close to being finished; one is at a mid-way point; and the last is in the first glimmers of possibility. My strategy this summer has been to apply behavioral economics to my writing goals and to stagger my process out over the course of the summer.
Instead of trying to complete drafts of all the articles I would like to finish, I created stepping stone points for each project that would mark out my progress over the summer. I am supporting this process through the Summer Research Group in the College of Social Sciences and by participating in Write@SJSU. In addition, I have organized a weekly virtual meet-up with other women in economics on the tenure-track in order for us to write together and hold ourselves accountable on our goals. This virtual meet-up proved very effective in its first iteration. We were also all surprised by how quickly the time went and how productive we were. The old rule holds best: always use the buddy system.
My productivity strategies are partly informed by prospect theory. It is easy to aim for Point A and end up disappointed at Point B because we become overwhelmed by how much we have to do, or because other commitments arise over time. However, if we aim for Point C and end up at Point B, we can better internalize our productivity as a success. We end up at Point B in both scenarios, but in the former case Point B is contextualized as a failure whereas in the latter case it is contextualized as success. Even if we only reach Point C, we can still recognize progress as success. The tenure-track requires self-motivation as well as self-discipline and I am practicing strategies which foster that motivation, especially in a time when we are all facing additional stress.
In addition, I am pairing strategies for self-motivation with strategies that protect my time. Research can be done at any time, which means it can happen all the time and take over our lives in negative ways. Research can be done at any time, so it can also be delayed in favor of more pressing demands. Hyperbolic discounting means people often choose a small reward in the short-term while delaying a larger reward in the long-term, and research certainly represents a large reward that takes a long time. Holding an accountability meet-up makes it easier to commit to writing and protect our research time. I also find that marking a day in the calendar for a specific project can make it easier to focus on that project instead of trying to switch between many different mental tracks in a day. Projects can be divided into smaller pieces per day, and that can also help to effectively identify roadblocks. I have also found it useful to stop myself while I’m on a roll because I am then more willing to return to a task with a positive association in my memory, as opposed to returning to a difficult task that has a negative association in my memory.
As a faculty member, I have many research projects on my plate as well as teaching and service commitments. I have had to learn my best process for managing all my commitments and test different strategies to see what worked best. What worked best as a doctoral student no longer fits, but by setting achievable goals, employing the buddy accountability system, and siloing each day for its own purpose, I have found that my productivity has gone up. Even better, I have made more progress on getting my research pipeline out the door and importantly, under review.