The harsh truth about academia is that once you finish graduate school, there is really no formalized system of professional development. You can seek out support from individual mentors, and you may be lucky enough to land at an institution that offers a pro-seminar of some sorts for incoming faculty. There might even be some internal funding available for you to hire an editor. Beyond that, there is very little structured support. It’s sink or swim, and you’re left to pursue a hodgepodge of strategies to keep your writing on track amidst all of your other personal and professional obligations.
So what do you do? Writing is essential to career success – without it, you won’t get promoted and certainly won’t get tenure. Yet, going it alone is, well, lonely.
The Value of a Productivity Coach
A productivity coach can provide both structure and support. Your writing will feel less lonely, and you’ll have a system to maintain focus along with steady progress. Working with a coach creates accountability. Consistently reporting your progress pushes you to stay on top of your projects. That accountability goes both ways. A coach is also accountable to you. You’re not waiting for a mentor to clear a spot on their calendar. You’re not depending on the kindness of a colleague to help you strategize how to grade more efficiently in order to find more time for writing. You are instead working on a regular basis with someone who is invested in your success and available help you deal with the obstacles that come your way.
A coach also provides a listening ear, so you can talk freely about the challenges you face in ways that you might hesitate to speak with a colleague or mentor. After all, some of your barriers are internal, based on your fear of failure or feelings of impostor syndrome. Some of your fears may come from your understanding of the climate of your institution. These barriers and fears are not easy to conquer. Speaking confidentially to someone who has coached people with similar experiences (and in my case, experienced it myself) can assure you that you’re not alone while also directing you to strategies to deal with your frustrations.
You may be skeptical. After all, if you can’t get your writing on track yourself, productivity coaching probably won’t help. You’ve already tried everything, so why would letting someone else do the same things be successful? You might also fear that asking for help signals incompetence. You can’t understand why you feel like a failure when your peers are experiencing success. Both of these fears are based on a romanticization of the solitary writer. That writer does not exist. Most good work is based on collaboration of some sort. If you’re in doubt, then just look at the acknowledgment section of any manuscript. Further, you might be a fine writer but struggle with time management, goal setting, or maintaining focus. That’s nothing unusual or shameful about that.
Importantly, working with a productivity coach takes the guesswork out of productivity. You can spend a lot of time researching best productivity practices yourself (which can become it’s own form of procrastination). Your time is precious though, and likely best spent writing – not worrying about writing.
The Process of Working With a Productivity Coach
Here’s how I work as a coach: I start small, to reignite excitement about writing. This means that we schedule short, non-negotiable writing sessions. I do this so that writing becomes routine. Further, once you’re writing regularly, you’ll begin to generate more ideas. In time, you’ll become more excited about your writing. When you look forward to your writing, rather than dreading it, you are more likely to protect your time to do it. Similarly, when writing becomes natural, avoiding it will no longer be an option. While you’ll become more excited about your writing, that excitement will not be a necessary prerequisite for a successful writing session. Your writing will not be contingent on your feelings. In short, I strive for a combination of excitement and discipline. I believe that for most clients, either one can help them in the short term, but for long-term sustainable writing, a combination of the two is best.
The are also more practical aspects of working with a coach. For instance, I will assess your current habits, identify your obstacles, and plan backwards from your big goals. I will then work with you to create external accountability so it’s not just you trying to enforce your writing plan in isolation. That may come in the form of having you send me your work, meeting a conference deadline, or signing up to present at a workshop. The important part is that you set deadlines. To learn more about my process, read this post.