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With the standard academic year complete, grad students and faculty alike tend to turn their attention to their research. Sure, research can’t be completely ignored during the academic year, but for those of us who aren’t teaching in the summer, research takes over our minds and schedules. Summer shouldn’t just be all about research, though. Relaxation and fun needs to play a role in our plans, as well. Here are a few ways to create a summer research routine that works for you.
Lists, Charts, Maps
Before you start your research, plan your research. This means creating different types of lists, mind maps, and/or charts. Coming up with a game plan before diving in helps insure you don’t wade around in the open waters of research without any idea of how to get to dry land. So, here are a few tips for finding your way to a successful summer research routine.
Before you decide which of the following approaches work for you, complete this step first:
Brain dump all the projects you want to accomplish over the summer. Highlight the ones that need to be completed during the summer due to external deadlines. Focus your attention on those until they are complete. Then you can move on to others on the list. If no projects have external deadlines, then I suggest picking your top 1-3 projects to focus on, before coming back to this list and planning the next batch.
Ok. Now on to the different approaches you can take to organize your summer research routine.
- Create a list of tasks for each of your chosen projects. Don’t worry about organizing them yet. Brain dump first. Once you have them all on the page or screen, organize them into a chronology that works for you. You might want to use a digital tool like Trello, or you can create these project plans in a notebook. Once everything is in order, you can decide that you’ve planned enough and start knocking these tasks off the list one by one. Free Collection (in Resource Library): Trello Boards for Academics
- If you want to keep planning, though, I suggest creating some sort of chart for your task list. Let’s say you are using a spreadsheet with all your tasks listed in one long column. In the row at the top of the sheet, you can add labels like “final deadline” “date begun” “date completed” “date revised” “date submitted.” By using these types of labels, you can get a sense of how long it’s taking you to complete certain types of tasks for a project. This information can help you plan accordingly for future projects with similar tasks. It can also give you the motivation you need to speed up (or even slow down and rest).
- If charts aren’t for you, you might consider project mapping instead. For example, create a map that includes the data points of June, July, and August. Map out how you plan on keeping yourself on track for each month. Get a sense of what your research pace needs to be once you see all your tasks laid out according to each month. If you’re in the early days of a project, you might map out or outline your idea for the project first, since you need to know that before you can start listing specific tasks to complete.
Once you have your project plans detailed out, you can move on to actually completing the tasks. By the way, this post is all about the research phase. My next post will be about the writing phase. So, what’s next for creating a research routine that works?
Resource Library Alert: I’ve created a 2-page “Summer Research Routine Checklist” to help keep you on track!
Schedule, Schedule, Schedule
OK. You’ve chosen your project, you’ve created your project plans, and you are ready to start reading and taking notes. Don’t forget, though, that summer months tend to fly by. To really optimize your research routine, you need to actually create a scheduled routine to follow on either a daily or weekly basis.
Things to schedule out:
- Will you research 7 days a week, or only on certain days? Or, does the amount of days not matter as long as the tasks scheduled for that week are completed by the end of it?
- Will you be researching at a certain time of day? For a certain length of time? Or, will you just assign specific tasks to a day and you can complete them at whatever time of day you want?
- Will you create certain personal deadlines for different tasks or projects? Add them to your calendar and then work backwards to plan out how your tasks need to be divided by day, week, or month to get them done.
- Are you co-writing any projects? What deadlines have you created with your writing partners? Add them to your schedule and plan your routine accordingly.
- Are you going to batch different types of tasks for different days? For example, researching for new resources on Monday, reading and annotating on Tuesday and Wednesday, and summarizing or synthesizing your research on Thursday.
Personal Tip 1: Once you get to that point of your project, pick your most energetic times of the day for writing rather than finding sources or reading. You’ll need that extra energy. I love Cathy Mazak’s take on this approach, which she calls finding your “tiger time.” Here’s a video with some time management strategies to help with your planning.
Personal Tip 2: Write out your tasks for the week on Sunday night or Monday morning. Each night of the week, cross off any completed tasks and plan out your tasks for the next research day. Writing it all down makes it easier to remember just where you are in the process.
Search, Read, Annotate
Ok, you have everything planned and scheduled out. You might tweak your research routine once you get a feel for what works and doesn’t work. But, for now, it’s time to actually start the research portion of the routine.
Here are the three areas to focus on and some tips for each element:
If you’re starting a project from scratch, you first need to find resources to read and potentially cite in your project. Perhaps you’ve already accomplished this part of your research routine during the school year. If not, head over to your library, library databases, and bookstores.
If you do have plenty of resources saved and ready to be read, I still suggest searching all your files and organizing your research for easy navigation. I have a whole post about organizing your digital files, but you can also keep it simple at this stage and just make sure that all the relevant files you’ve saved across your devices and applications are now in one place.
Read (or Watch):
Your books, articles, and other research materials are just waiting for you to start reading them. Picking the order in which you read is of course up to you. If you have research materials that need to be returned to the library or to someone you’ve borrowed it from, I suggest starting with them. Otherwise, there’s no time like the present to start reading.
Personal Tip: I tend to pick which resource to read depending on time. If I have two hours to devote to reading, I pick a longer reading to start on. If I’m reaching the end of my allotted research time, I pick a short article instead. If I’m having trouble focusing on my research that day, I read a series of short articles so I can take natural breaks in between. If I’m in the zone, I pick longer or denser readings.
Of course, this step takes place alongside your reading or watching of your research materials. I have a whole video linked below about the annotation tools I use and how I use them in print and digital forms. In general, though, I suggest color coding your highlighters and page flags. Create a key on a post-it note or Google Doc so you know what each color stands for and you can access it quickly and easily.
Personal Tip: If this project is going to take a very long time (months or years), make sure your shorthand annotations aren’t so short that you won’t remember the meaning of your annotation much later on. Trust me, this is very annoying.You can plan all you’d like, but if you’re like me, you work best with external motivators. #gradstudent Click To Tweet
You can plan all you’d like, but if you’re like me, you work best with external motivators. My suggestion is to find someone or many someones to help keep you accountable. Perhaps you can join a writing group. Or, post your intentions on social media and tell your followers to follow up with you about whether or not you’re staying on track. Maybe telling your mom, brother, spouse, or best friend is enough motivation to keep you on track.
If you’re not likely to keep a research routine promise to yourself, find someone else to make it to.
Here’s a public Trello board you can copy onto your account that’s designed with accountability in mind. I created it and added some tips on how to use it. Just keep in mind that it’s designed for a group rather than one person. Here’s the video where I show how I created the board, and also where I go over finding an accountability group and ideas for tracking your progress.
There’s no one way to create the perfect research routine. Routines are rarely static, in my opinion. But not having one at all is a recipe for incomplete projects. For your summer research routine, take the time to start off on the right foot. Next time, I’ll have suggestions on how to create a writing routine that meshes well with your research routine, so make sure to head back in two weeks.
P.S. If you’re teaching your first college course this upcoming academic year, I highly recommend signing up for my email newsletter below. I’m hard at work on a 5-week series just for you!
Comment Below: What steps do you take to maintain a strong research routine?
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Important Note: If reading this blog post is giving you tons of ideas and you’re looking for one digital place to put all of them, a digital journal can serve as a great home for all your ideas and plans.