Productivity can be a fleeting idea: sometimes you can have the best intentions to do this and that, finish those revisions, make these edits, etc. But it can be hard- when office neighbors decide to drop over for a quick question. Or a student wanders into your office for guidance. Or everyone decides this is the day we’re going to have loud hallway conversations outside your door. It can be extraordinarily difficult on campus to have a 2-3 hour session for writing and thinking with optimal research conditions.
Over Spring Break, I facilitated an experimental research retreat sponsored by the SSRC for a group of Assistant Professors from DePaul University. The idea was simple: get professors out of their offices for three days and foster research productivity by having accountability sessions interspersed with intensive writing sessions.
The SSRC wanted a remote location within a reasonable drive from Chicago- in order to eliminate some of the distractions that come with being in bigger cities. In the end, we settled on the Madison/Evansville, WI area, because its proximity to Chicago meant that travel to and from the site would take 1.5 hours each way. After arriving to the historic Cooksville Farmhouse Inn and getting down to business- the group started with a 15 min planning session, where each member detailed what they wanted to achieve during the upcoming writing session. Part of the process involves thinking very critically about what can be done in the amount of time you have. It is a strategy that is central to the LP Accountability Group, one that we borrowed from the Paul J. Silva’s How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing. Make smart, measurable, doable goals and DO them. So part of the retreat was about breaking big projects into smaller, manageable tasks and then turning intense focus and effort on each of those tasks in turn.
Overall, the four professors who made the trip accomplished a lot. The general sense was that multiple accountability meetings per day was useful- it kept tasks manageable and doable- but also provided a sounding board for members who were struggling with some aspect of their project. There is something to be said for leaving an office behind with an autoresponder set, to head out to the country for three days where all you do is write, eat, drink, and sleep. Something indeed.