Making the most of the middle.


There is a natural excitement to the start of something new - a chance to do things differently, the hope and promise of a fresh start. And usually, by the end of a project, the excitement of the finish line can carry you through, even if you're tired. But how do you keep up your stamina in the middle? How do you push through the weeks or months when you just have to show up and do the work and there isn't anything structural to charge you up? Here are a few ideas about how to make the most of the middle of a project:

  • Add in something exciting: If you hit a five day streak of consistent work on your project - it's reward time! 20 day streak? Something bigger! Make your progress visible - put your word count on a post it that you can see, or fill in a sticker chart for every pom you finish! But celebrate the in between time with some extra festivity because if you don't make an explicit effort, nothing about the process will celebrate for you!

  • Build in accountability for the long stretches between submissions: Send your advisor an update weekly or biweekly so that your progress is communicated to everyone. Join a writing group and exchange early drafts with one another. But if your tendency is to hide out until something is due, building in some extra visibility can help you stay on track and work at a more consistent pace over longer stretches of time. 

  • Work with your writing process or workflow, rather than against it: Do you need a lot of drafts (I do!) or do you like having lots of deadlines to structure your time? Work those things into your timetable - how long do you want to be revising? How much time do you need to do final proofreading? Will it help to schedule a week of slush time just in case life happens? Figure out what your workflow is, or what you need, and then work around that, rather than pretending that you don't need many drafts when you do, or that one deadline is enough when it isn't. 

  • Figure out what you need to do to keep up the pace: If you can't be sustainable with your work habits in the middle of the project, away from the stress of deadlines, when can you? If you're likely to skip over things like movement, sleep, hobbies, or social time, schedule them in! Pay for an exercise class so you will feel like you're wasting money if you don't go. Make plans with friends and loved ones so you have accountability around leaving the house. Set regular work hours and keep to them! But if you can work through the middle without burning out, you're all the more likely to figure out how to push at the finish line without destroying yourself. 

Grad school, and later academic, life is a lot about making yourself a structure to contain the work because it often isn't given to us. What do you need to thrive? What do you need to feel sustained and energized in the middle of work when you need it most? There's no office culture to tell you when to come into the office, or when to be on campus, or how to take breaks, so you have to empower yourself to create that culture. But if you take the time to do it, it makes the daily practice of working easier, and that makes the middle less of a slog and more of a routine!