Saturday, August 30, 2014

Why You MUST Schedule Your Writing Time

May I share a secret from the "inside" of a faculty position with those of you who are not there, yet? (And I just "got here" - freshly minted as of two weeks ago).

You will have hundreds upon hundreds of "meetings" scheduled as faculty.
But no one, absolutely no one, will schedule your time to write and think.

Here is why, as an academic, you must schedule your writing time:

Writing is Thinking

When I taught writing, I always told my students that writing is thinking. I still believe that.

While meeting with other scholars and faculty is exciting, fun, and invigorating, you still need to have a time where you are constantly touching base with your research, your thoughts, your ideas, and your questions.

Staying grounded in your work during your writing time will allow you focus in all your "meeting" interactions with colleagues so that you can make STRATEGIC connections to your work and, of course, how your work contributes to the larger projects around you.

If you are not grounded in your writing and thinking (and constantly refining it), then it is easy to get lost in what other people around you are trying to do, even paralyzed not knowing where to go.

Writing, Even Academic Writing, Can Be Therapeutic

I spent 20 minutes touching base with my academic writing. No internet. No email. No texts. No one knocking on my door.

And I learned something new: This quiet revisit with my research fed my "research soul" which, up to this point, had been sucked dry in the midst of all the "noise" of new information thrust upon me the first few weeks as new faculty.

In summary, this time of "quiet" was refreshingly therapeutic, and I ended with a new vision and direction for my week. And it took just 20 minutes.

Writing is What is Expected

I've said this before, but I will say it again. The irony of academia - especially if you are on tenure-track and/or trying to write your dissertation to graduate - is that you will be evaluated on your writing productivity. Yet, no one will give you the space and time to write.

Writing time and space is something you must create for yourself.

So think about this:
If you know that writing = evaluation of academic productivity, then shouldn't you prioritize writing? And if writing is a priority, then, it should be scheduled or it won't get done.

Closing Thoughts

I must admit that I wrote this blog for a selfish reason: I needed to remind myself of the importance of scheduling my writing time because I had not visited my academic writing in several weeks.
But, it happened. It is never to late to start and/or get back on the band-wagon. I am living proof.

And may I add one thing? The reason I wrote for 20 minutes today was because an old writing buddy touched base with me yesterday on the phone. As I was bemoaning not having written, my writing buddy encouraged me to write for just 15-20 minutes a day, and I agreed to send her my writing log at the end of the week. So, let's also not forget the power of accountability in our writing!

Happy writing time!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Anticipation as Motivation

This past weekend, I planned a vacation. Yes, a real vacation.

This week, I have been highly motivated in some work projects I had been completely demotivated to work on.


I think not.

South Padre Island, TX
Photo copyright: Margarita Huerta
(Not where I am going to this time, but highly recommended!)
I am convinced that motivation is not something we should wait on in order to sit down and do our work.

In fact, nothing is more "motivating" that sitting down, by habit, to write at my scheduled writing time of the day.

I daily give myself no choice - or, I give myself the choice, depending on how you see it. This is when I must write. And write I do - a little bit every day. Check out my blog post which includes this idea: POWER Writing.

I am equally convinced, though, that it helps to have motivation.

Motivation is not something we can just wish to have more of, but there are things we can do in our environment to help increase the possibility of being motivated.

If you are in search for motivation boosters for completing projects - including writing projects - here are some ideas:

1) Set up a regular time to work on your project/writing. 

As I've already explained, nothing creates "motivation" like setting up a habit for working, sitting down, and just doing it! But, wait, it get's better...I promise. Keep reading.

2) Keep a log. 

On Excel, enter the time you started working on your project. Set you timer for one hour. Work. When the timer goes off, STOP. Record your stop time and have Excel calculate the total minutes and hours (set this up as a formula if you can and have it do cumulative hours - this, my friends, is awesome to see grow exponentially as you sit down to write everyday!).

In the next column type in what you worked on. In the next column, type in your next steps for the project (like what you will do when you sit down to work on in the next day).

Making myself work intensely focused for one hour, helps me accomplish more.

Making myself stop my intense work when the timer goes off and jot down my next steps, builds a sense of anticipation to get back to my project.

3) Plan something fun to do at the end of the week.

Put your plan on your calendar and/or somewhere you can visibly see it. If you plan your fun activity for the week in advance, you know that while you are sweating away on your computer or wherever, you have something to look forward to doing at the end of the work week.

4) Add kinesthetics to your "To-Do" list:

This is an idea I got from a friend when she was writing her dissertation (credit goes to Jennifer T.): Write your to-do list on sticky notes. On place them on one side of your office wall labeled "To Do". As you complete the tasks, move the sticky notes to the other side of the wall "Done".

This is an idea I got from a friend working on a long-term project (credit goes to Pat G.):
Print out a picture you like. Cut it into pieces of a puzzle, with the number of pieces being the number of items on your to-do list for a big project. When you complete one of the items, put the piece on your wall. When you complete the next item, put another piece up.

These ideas create a visual for anticipating your work and a "done wall"/puzzle to be complete.

Closing Thoughts

If you are in need for motivation, try these ideas out. While I do not guarantee they will motivate you, I guarantee they will get you started on accomplishing your tasks/projects. And that, I'd say, is motivation enough to try them.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Take a Break: The Power of "Play"

 "Play is important for creativity."
- Robert Mankoff, cartoon editor of the New Yorker (Text and Academic Authors Association Conference, Balitimore, MD, June 2014).

With Bob Mankoff, Editor of New Yorker Cartoons (TAA Conference, Baltimore, MD, June 2014)
Photo credit: TAA
Photo copyright: Margarita Huerta
The idea was striking. I don't know why. I mean, as an Early Childhood researcher, this should be a "duh" kind of statement. Yet, the statement was made in the context of a group of adults, mostly well into their careers.

I don't usually think of adults as playing. We are supposed to be responsible, serious, hard-working, relentless in our pursuit for...well, for, um...success. This is not a bad thing. But not taking a break is also a bad thing, and can actually stunt your success. Allow me to explain.

Humor, like the kind the New Yorker prints, makes associations between things one would not normally associate in creative and witty ways. For example, Santa Clause and a night club or The Garden of Eden and the World Cup. And it is funny and makes sense. This, y'all, is not easy to do.

Neither is generating creative and innovative ideas for research.  If this is true, then academics need to take breaks and play. Yes. Play. Go on vacation. Let your mind wander. Run into the waves at the beach. Allow yourself to stare out into the distance, instead of staring at a computer screen.

We underestimate the power of play. It allows or minds to relax, and - get this - taking a break will actually help you think of great new ideas for your next research project or grant idea. So, take a break, don't feel guilty, and count is as part of necessary work for generating innovative research.

Closing Thoughts:

Get out there and play, Ph.D.!

Monday, June 16, 2014

What Are You Busy About?

This week I read a post about how, in our culture, people often respond, "I'm so busy!" to "How are you doing?" I would add that our culture looks down on you if you do not express busyness. If someone were to ask me, "How are you?" and I would say, "Not busy," that would, well, sound bad.

The underlying argument of the post was that some of the seemingly least busy people are actually the most focused, effective, and productive.  Which made me think.

A quick Google search on quotes on busyness brought up the following gems of wisdom:


It's not enough to be busy. The question is: what are you busy about? 
-- Henry David Thoreau 

Have you noticed that even the busiest people are never too busy to take time to tell you how busy they are?  
-- Bob Talbert

May I never get too busy in my own affairs that I fail to respond to the needs of others with kindness and compassion.  
-- Thomas Jefferson

A lot of our 'busyness' is a way for us to avoid thinking about what is most important. There's a difference between being busy and being productive.
-- Kristen Lippincott


There are more great quotes on this topic, but I'm too busy to put more up. Seriously, you get the point. Most of the quotes are not kind to the idea of busyness. 

Busy vs. Productive

Like the last quote says, it is important to make a distinction between busy and productive.

I believe it is always good to be productive. But it may not always be good to be busy - depending on what you are busy about. May I illustrate?

This week and weekend, I was so busy that I just crashed and burned on Sunday afternoon. I couldn't move. I was laying on my back literally in pain. I'm not exaggerating. Not a good way to start the week.

Even though I have been deliberate about trying to reduce work on weekends to spend time with people, something obviously went wrong when it came to busyness. So, here is my bit of wisdom gleaned...

Concluding Thoughts

It is important to say "no" - not just to work - but to fun things as well. We all need time to relax and be alone and reflect and not have such jam-packed schedules. When we are relaxed, we can be more productive in our work. Check out my blog post for writers which touches on the same idea: Feeding the Writing Soul.

Let's get busy about not being busy.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

"I Go to Rice, I Must be Smart": What Not to Do When Trying to Find Work

I went to a college where people liked to buy bumper stickers that read, "I go to Rice, I must be smart" and then put them on the cars with the text upside down.

While this is supposed to be smart-people humor, it is precisely this way of thinking that won't help you land a job during the search/interview process - even for an academic position.

Notice I said, "during the search/interview process". I'm not saying, don't think outside the box or be creative or smart. But, learn that there is a distinction between how people in the "smart people" world of academic ideas and philosophy think and what people on the "I need to hire someone world" thinks during the job/interview process, which, by no means implies the people hiring are not "smart" - rather, they are thinking in a different way for the purpose of hiring someone. Let me try to explain.

I will admit that it has taken me time (and, yes, I blame it on my Ph.D., too) to learn what Dr. Ewing, writing for the HarvardBiz Blogger, so succinctly summarizes in his post which you can read here:

"Why Smart People Don't Get Hired"

Dr. Ewing presents important points to which I would like to agree to and enhance by stating the following two points.

If you happen to find yourself with a Ph.D. or some other form of degree (like from Harvard or something) which screams, "I must be smart," and you want to actually find work - even in an academic setting - then...

1) Do not be too wordy. On anything. Period. Learn what it means to get to the point. The bottom line.

(Why do you think I blog? This is great practice for me to learn to get to the point, and, yes, I am still learning).

I realize that in academia we use CV's which can be infinitely long (not one or two page resumes but documents that, the longer and more book-like they get, the more impressive we think we are to the world). Regardless, learn how to make your CV visually succinct - leave white space! - and how to highlight important points - underline words, be creative but professional with font and font sizes!

This goes for social media, too. Check your LinkedIn and/or any other online presentation of yourself - Ewing mentions this, too. Is your online profile so full of text that it will make a normal person's eyes get crossed? And by normal, yes, I am saying you are not normal. Realize you are not (Read Ewing on this point, too).

Also, think about how you would react if you were going through hundreds of job applications. Rather than wading through intellectual musing and accomplishments from a job-applicant, you will want to know one thing: How does this person fit the job description? Period.

For ideas on how to prepare yourself for being focused and to the point for a specific job you are applying for, read my blog post, "The Academic Job Interview Process..."

2) Do not appear humble in writing or when interviewing

 (May I add, if you are international or culturally-diverse or a woman looking for a job in the U.S., being humble will hurt you very badly).

One of the down-sides to so much knowledge and schooling is the realization that you will never know it all. Ever. Every time you learn something new, you realize there is so much more to know.

Contrary to popular belief, smart-WISE people are not like the character in the movie, Legally Blonde, at the beginning of the movie when Elle arrives at Harvard Law School and they are doing a round of introduction where he says something along the lines, "Stephen Hawkins stole his theory from my 4th grade paper." More often, the "smart" people are like the Kidney character who has a Masters in Russian Literature, a Ph.D. in Biochemistry, spent the summer de-worming orphans in Africa and is now in, Harvard Law School. Why??? Because he is obviously not ready to function in normal society, nor is he confident in what he actually knows (remember the first scene in their law class?).


When it comes to job applying and interviewing, you must see yourself and present yourself as the expert. With confidence. Not with pride or arrogance. But with confidence. Learn to take "I think that," "I guess that" "I feel that" "I'm glad that" - anything that leaves room for interpretation out of your phrases. Learn to say, "I know that," "I am" "I did" and be more direct and objective in your speech and writing.

Again, this does not mean you should be arrogant. But, if you want work in the U.S. you need to show confidence and poise. Humility is not your friend.

For a nice perspective on this, check out one of my favorite Ted Talks by Dr. Amy Cuddy from the Harvard Business School: "Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are".

Concluding Thoughts

While I do not claim to be an expert in the field of professional interviews or smart people problems, I can say that, from experience, Ewings' observations are legit.

Once we realize we need to learn professional interviewing skills, then, all we need to do is LEARN them.

After all, we classified "smart" people like learning, right? So, like everything else in life and learning, approach the realization that, if you are classified as a "smart person" you need to learn a thing or two about job applications and interviewing.

Bottom line: When it comes to presenting yourself professionally, you need streamline your abilities and skills and be confident in what you do know.

(Then, once you land your job, you get to keep learning in your new job. Hurray!).

For insight into the interview process for academic jobs and ideas on how to prepare, check out my other blog post: The Academic Job Interview Process...

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Why I Left Facebook

I joined Facebook when it was still exclusively for college students. Yup. Way back in the early 2000's when I was an undergraduate student (and, yes, this may help you guess my age).

I closed my account in Spring 2014 and I have yet to have an ounce of regret or remorse.

Photo copyright: Margarita Huerta

To be clear, I am not against social media. 

In fact, I am for social media.

More than one decade on Facebook showed me the wonders of technology. I could stay connected with friends all over the world, quickly communicate with a massive amount of people with a single post/click, and communicate in a way that involved - not just text - but images, sound, and video.

It is truly amazing. It is truly powerful.

If you want to find me, I have a LinkedIn account now and, oh, yah, this blog which is somehow connected to GooglePlus, which is social media, too (though, granted, not as cool or easy as Facebook).

Three Reasons I Left Facebook.

1) Facebook takes time to manage.

Perhaps if I was from the younger generation, I would not care if my security and privacy settings kept changing or if someone was tracking whether I "liked" something or not or whether people were questioning why I haven't posted an update or personal pictures in a while or, for that matter, checked my Facebook in-box - not that I already have to manage more than one email account!

But I do care.

You might be OK with sharing personal life/family information more openly which I am open to understanding. But I am not OK with sharing information so freely (especially since it is so linked to advertising and since I cannot really control who sees it or how my information is used for marketing and other things), which I hope you are open to understanding, too.

At this point in life, I have much, much bigger and more important things I need to manage including personal relationships around me and the work I am blessed to have. I need to be strategic where I invest my time and how I want to impact others.

2) Facebook is designed to distract. 

Think about it: They want you to stay on the site! And they are very, very, very good at it.

When I started tracking my time during my dissertation writing phase as a self-management strategy for personal productivity, I was amazed at how much time I spent on Facebook. Actually, more than amazed, I was scared of the time I was losing glued to a computer.

So, every time I logged onto Facebook to manage all my friends and updates and possible emails (from people super far away that I don't even talk to on the phone or see day-to-day - sorry, but it is true), I had to set a timer for 15-30 minutes, to make sure I did not spend more than an allotted time on the site. Later, I realized that even timing myself on Facebook was a kind of management effort!

3) Facebook has potential psychological consequences.

Facebook is a playground in which people flaunt all the good things in their lives and get "unfriended" if they share the sad things in their life. And, hey, I, too found I mainly only posted the "good stuff".

Something is wrong here, and I am curious to know if anyone is doing research on the question of reality when it comes to social media as well as the psychological effects of using Facebook.

In fact, I am concerned too many people either consciously or unconsciously are being affected by the comparison game Facebook so naturally sets up.

In addition, a quick search on why people leave Facebook has added to my concern. Notice the words they use such as "Face-book free", "addicted", "cycle", and "went back to it". Facebook, no doubt is also addictive. Oh, maybe not to you, but if it is addictive to some people (like alcohol or prescription drugs), then I would be cautious.

And...this published two weeks after this post was put up:
Facebook agreed to a study - quite controversial in terms of its ethics given its users didn't know they were being studied, but then again, we sign our rights away when we sign up - that proves this point! Read the study here:

Closing Thoughts

My intention is not to try to convince anyone to leave Facebook. And, I realize that many of you may use Facebook  and even need it for your own personal marketing. I'm totally OK with that. But, like everything there is a good and bad side. So...

My intention is to make you think about some important questions regarding Facebook such as:
  • How important is it for people to perceive your life as genuine and authentic? Is Facebook reflective of this? (My guess is no, and I by no means endorse sharing more than you should on Facebook).
  • How much time do you spend on Facebook every day? Are there more productive and fulfilling things you could be doing with that amount of time?
  • How long can you go without checking Facebook? (are you addicted to the "rush" of getting likes and friend requests?).
  • How do you usually feel when you get off of Facebook? Happy? Depressed?
  • How are you using Facebook? Be honest. Are you snooping into other's lives trying to make yourself feel better? Are you using Facebook to promoting a worthy product or cause? Are you using Facebook to encourage and lift others up or to tear them down? 

And with the last question, I must say I am open enough that I may be on Facebook again someday, but certainly not in the same way I was before and depending on how Facebook transforms. If you ever see me back on Facebook, it will be because I am promoting a book I wrote or a business I started. Until then...

Moving Tips

I decided to put down some thoughts on tips I've learned about moving, which, in my opinion, is not one of the most pleasant things to have to do in life.

The following information may be of help to someone out there having to move:

Almost all of my boxes - yes, I got rid of almost everything!
Photo copyright: Margarita Huerta


U-Haul boxes are sturdy, inexpensive, designed to make packing easy, and re-usable. I used to go hunting for free boxes. No more. I like the uniformity, ease, quality, and re-usability of good boxes.

Moving companies are expensive. 

Moving companies are worth paying if you are moving an entire house, children, furniture you care about, and perhaps even a car. If you MUST use a moving company, don't go cheap. Make sure the company is registered with the Better Business Bureau. Examples: Allied Moving and Mayflower.

Get help.

If you are moving yourself with a rented U-Haul or even with the portable PODS, hire local moving in each location - to help you load and unload. It is easy and relatively inexpensive and it may save your back.

Start fresh.

Sell/donate everything you possibly can.
Use UPS/FeEx/USPS/Greyhound to ship boxes of what you absolutely must keep to your new location. With UPS, you can schedule the boxes picked up at your home (10 days in advance) for a tiny fee. Be aware that (at least at the time I am writing this) the UPS website is very clunky and not user-friendly.
Drive or fly to your new location (excuse to get a new car! Tip: In advance, check if the state you are moving to allows you to purchase a vehicle without a license from their state. In some states, you will need to get a driver's license from them first and then buy a car = needing a rental car. But if not, why not test drive vehicles in your home state/location and buy your new vehicle online so it is ready for pick up when you arrive?).

Moving books.

If you are moving a lot of books, send them via USPS with media rate (super cheap). Have office books delivered directly to your new university office, so you don't have to lug them to campus later. Just ask your new department to please hold the box for you until you arrive.

Be organized.

Number your boxes on the outside and make a quick Excel sheet in which you list the contents of each box corresponding to each number. Why not get the box weight and record dimensions, too (great for getting moving quotes as well as shipping quotes)?

Plan in advance.

Planning in advance relieves stress.
Some ideas:
Start a running list of things you need to remember to do such as calling your utilities to cancel your bills, changing your postal address, thinking through what you are going to do about your bank, the list goes on and on.
As you think of more things, simply add to the list. Then, with time, start checking off the things you can get done when they get done.

Tip: Since I am moving myself through UPS, I have  made a list of things to buy once I arrive at my new location. This includes putting the essential furniture I need on a "wish list" online. That way, when I arrive, I can refer to my list to remember what I need to buy (and do!). 

A final thought.

Being organized allows you to make time to be with the people you love before you have to leave. Remember, things are nice, but relationships and people are what last. Don't stress to much about your stuff, but do make time for those you care about.