Five Ways to Stay Motivated

In my last post, I tackled five ways to stay productive despite heavy teaching and service loads. This post follows up with, perhaps, the harder task: staying motivated to work on and complete your own research and writing projects when you have a heavy teaching and service load. Because let’s face it: when your research counts towards tenure and job retention, but not as much as your teaching; when you’re expected to research and publish but your university doesn’t have the resources to support your work; when there’s no funding for conference travel; when you’re managing 4 courses a term, 5 courses a term, up to 6 courses a term–it’s very hard to muster the energy and enthusiasm to sit down and do several hours of research, or revise (or, frankly, even open) an article sitting on your hard drive waiting for attention. Maybe, you’re tired, you’re frustrated, you’re burned out, you’re demotivated–and who can blame you?

But, then again, you’ve got this research degree. You have, or have had at some point, ideas worth pursuing, worth researching, worth writing about–if you just had the time or the motivation or both, to do it. I talked about ways to free up some time in my last post; now let’s look at ways to get, or stay, motivated to push through the hurdles and get something into print.

1. Take a page out of the writer’s playbook: submit, submit, submit!

Many scholars, especially early career scholars, especially early career scholars worried about their scholarly reputation and critical reception, make the mistake of not submitting their work to journals or edited collections “because it’s not ready” or “because they’re not sure it’s good enough.” Really, though, if you are just sitting on a completed, article-length piece, or a conference paper that was well-received and just needs some expansion and editing, you are doing yourself a disservice. Revise it for obvious errors and written expression, and send it out. The worst thing that can happen is a rejection, often accompanied by reader’s reports that can help you figure out what it needs in order to be publishable. You might also get a revise and resubmit, or a revise and publish. None of these will happen if you don’t send it out at all. Here’s where, as scholars, we can learn from (successful, publishing) non-academic writers: they write regularly, they send their stuff out regularly, they do not agonize over whether or not it is good enough, when it is rejected they revise and send it back out immediately or replace it with another piece–they perform the work of writers. Now, I’m not advocating sending everything you have out–if it needs work, then you need to do the work. Don’t send half-conceived scholarship or partially-revised work out for review, because that really will ultimately hurt your reputation. But really, if you have a complete, revised article that is reasonably-argued and solidly-researched, send it out. Sometimes, the act of having something in the pipeline is enough to spur you to want another one, and another, and another…. productivity tends to breed productivity.

2. Don’t agree to work on something you aren’t really invested in.

Sometimes, especially as early career researchers, we eagerly jump on every opportunity offered to us, because it will be a publication and we need those. In my experience, yes, it’s a publication, but is it how you want to be spending your time and energy? There’s nothing harder than forcing yourself to sit down to work on something you don’t actually care about, just because it needs to get done because you said you would do it, when you are exhausted from teaching and committee meetings and all of the regular duties of academia. Those projects will often languish, dragging out, making you feel a little guilty, even, as the deadline comes and goes…. But, on the reverse, when you have a project you are super invested in, there’s nothing you would rather be doing than working on that whenever you have the chance. Make it a point to say “yes” to the things that are truly meaningful to you, and let your enthusiasm for the work see you through when you are feeling unmotivated.

3. Never underestimate the power of carrots.

I mean, yes, the orange vegetables, which are a great source of vitamins A and K, Potassium, and B-6. But also, the carrots you dangle in front of yourself for working on or completing a project. I routinely dangle something I want over my head when I’m feeling lazy or unmotivated–a book I want, a pair of shoes I’m lusting over, a hike in the woods, a face mask, an item of clothing–and even though “If I do x, then I can have y” seems pretty juvenile and basic, it works just as well for me as an adult as it did when I was a kid.

4. If you are stuck, crowdsource.

When I am feeling particularly stuck, or unmotivated for research reasons–my library doesn’t have the resources I need, or I don’t have the time to hunt down a citation or reference, or I can’t think of a text I read a while ago and need to find again, or I can’t think of texts to read or assign to my students, or I have a sort-of, kind-of interesting idea but I am not sure if it is a thing, or if it could be a thing, or if it has any merit as a potential thing–I’ve long since stopped relying on just myself, because that usually means the idea goes gently into the dark night, never to be recalled again. Instead, I turn to social media–most often, my Facebook page, but also sometimes Twitter–and ask the Hivemind for advice, suggestions, and general support. It never fails that the dozen or so minds that come together are better than my one, and I never fail to end up with what I need and ask for. Sometimes, we feel overwhelmed and alone; we’re not, at least not when it comes to resources. Reach out and make use of your academic community online, as well as in person.

5. Another way to use the Hivemind: accountability

I’m a person who does not like to let other people down. So, if I think or imagine that someone, somewhere, is counting on or expecting me to do something, I will make that thing happen. I have taken to posting my “to-do” list or a statement of what I’m currently working on from time to time to my Facebook page, where all those “like” and Gif posts that come from my friends and acquaintances are sure to spur me on to complete the things I posted. And the “likes” and Gifs are motivating, but it is even more motivating when someone posts a comment like, “that sounds awesome, I can’t wait to read it!” or similar. Sometimes, it’s just the act of committing your intention to writing that you need to spur you to do it.

What about you? What are some of the ways you stay motivated when you’re feeling overwhelmed?


About Melissa Ridley Elmes

Professor and writer; Unrepentant nerd; chaotic good. Author of Arthurian Things: A Collection of Poems. PhD, MFA. She/hers. Views my own.
This entry was posted in Academia, New Faculty Experiences, Time Management, work-life balance and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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