Rules for a Successful Research Leave: Create Artificial Structure

One of the most important choices that I have made during my research leave was to create artificial structure in what was otherwise an open canvas of time. I call it artificial because I do not technically have to be anywhere at any particular time. Because I am completing my research leave in a different city than where I live and teach full-time, I have literally no commitments here besides to my writing, and my relationships. In order to create structure in my day, I instituted a strict 8:30am "leave the house" rule which I have kept nearly every working day of my leave.

Many people may not need to leave the house in order to write, but I have found that it is easy for the day to never officially "start" when I stay home. For others, it may just make sense to institute a start time that one attempts to meet each day, even if one works at home.

Reasons why I find it useful to LEAVE THE HOUSE first thing in the morning:

1. I write when my mind is the freshest and has done the fewest other tasks.

2. I prioritize the writing by doing it first; it does not get crowded out by other activities.

3. The deadline has implications for many other activities. With my self-inflicted start time, I know by when I must get up, take a shower, get ready, eat breakfast and leave. This also protects me from the "I never got out of my pajamas" syndrome that so many suffer from during one's leave. Does one write the same in a button down shirt that one writes in pajamas? I don't know, but just in case, I chose the former.

4. I remove distractions. I have two cats, both of which desire constant attention. When I leave the house, I avoid any wasted time from playing with them. My partner and I do have a set time when we play with them every day though. By setting a specific time, I do not feel guilty at other times when I have to tell them that they need to occupy themselves.

5. The deadline is an arbitrary measure of success. Sometimes, the writing does not go well, but if I have left the house at 8:30, I can still claim that I had a minor success that day. This may sound silly to someone who is not on leave, but I find it to be true. If you have only one goal, and you struggle to meet it, you may want something else (anything else!) to be proud of as you struggle through the writing.

Where do you go?

I chose to do my writing at a local coffee shop. I did not chose the shop with the best coffee, I chose the one with the best combination of location and working environment (and rewards program!). I have found a stool that faces a wall (again, limit distractions) near a plug that I sit in virtually every day. The space has different energetic properties for me. When I arrive to my writing spot I do not face the same kinds of online distractions that I face at home because I have trained myself that that stool is where I work on the book. After I get my drink, I sit down and immediately begin working - no email, no Twitter, no anything else. I tend to stay for between two and three hours.

(Etiquette alert: My rule is to buy a coffee at least every 90 minutes, though I end up getting one every hour or so. With the reduced price of refills, this is not as expensive as it may sound. But even if it was, my book would still be worth it, and so is yours).