What happened to my 2021 done-diary?

At the beginning of 2021, I wrote about ‘not forgetting everything you did last year‘, and then I updated how I was still using my ‘done-diary‘ in June. As 2021 draws to a close, I went back to see what happened after June.

In July, I had kept records of what I was doing in the diary section, and I had an index card with notes for the list section tucked into the relevant spot. But then I turned the page, and … there were two entries for August. One said “Lockdown 6.0” and one said “Curfew”. And that was the end of my diary.*

[* For people outside Melbourne, or reading this in the distant future, Melbourne spent a lot of 2020 and 2021 in COVID-19 lockdown, some of the longest and some of the more stringent restrictions in the world. August to November 2021 we could only leave our house for 5 reasons (including 1 hour of exercise, or essential groceries) and had a 9pm curfew. It was a tough, cold, grey, boring, isolating time.]

It wasn’t the end of the things I did, of course. I submitted a co-written article in August; and my chapter on ‘5 ways Hogwarts helps us understand Foucault’s “Docile Bodies”‘ was published. In August, I also rejoined La Trobe as an academic in the Research Education and Development team for a couple of days a week, and became Chief Editor of The Chief of Staff journal. I submitted the big co-authored academic book in September; and an anthology piece ‘Have you read much Woolf?’ was published. I started a new yoga teaching course in November with Yoga for Humankind and submitted a poetry commission.

As restrictions eased in late October and through November, I caught up with friends and family. Booked some overdue health and wellness appointments. Ran errands. Went to a jazz show and a public lecture. November was Academic Writing Month and we ran a writing retreat at La Trobe. At Melbourne, we finished the academic year for undergraduates and graduates.

It wasn’t even the end of me recording what I did. I’ve been working with my colleague Peta Freestone (my co-author on Your PhD Survival Guide) to write a monthly reflection throughout 2021, so I made notes each month and wrote them up and shared them with her regularly. You’ll have read my quarterly round-ups if you subscribe to my newsletter (and a new newsletter is due to go out early in January if you want to sign up before the next one!)

I don’t think this was necessarily a bad outcome. The diary helped me to have a way to record what I did for a whole 6 months, which was hugely helpful. And having had the diary, and openly talked about it, means that I went back to write this post and so identified all the things I did in the second half of the year. It turns out there was a lot!

In fact, in writing this post, I’ve gone through, and added the relevant events back into the diary. A done-diary is completed after the fact, so it doesn’t matter if you do it daily, monthly, quarterly, yearly or just whenever you feel like it. It’s never too late to update your done-diary.

I’m not making any commitments about whether I’ll keep a done-diary again next year. As Peta and I reflected in our October meeting, we have so much respect for people who undertake those ‘I did X for a year!’ projects. It’s truly tough to keep going consistently for so long. Now I have lots of useful data from 2021, I might analyse it next year. Or I might try to find a less time-consuming way of capturing the information. We’ll see.

To be honest, the main feeling I have reading over my six-month recap is: Did I really do all of that?

Two and a half years ago, I decided to dedicate more of my time and focus on my writing, and that has definitely paid dividends in terms of getting a lot of publications out. But I’m also finding that each book and article makes the next one easier.

I have a book chapter due soon, and the lit review reveals that some of the main people who write about this topic are my co-author and me, and the others are our favourite scholars whose work we know really well and who we cite all the time. That chapter is going to be really fast to write. I know all my co-authors really well now, and we have our rhythms down pat. I have just pitched my first single-authored book, but it’s with a series editor I know well and a publishing house I enjoy working with.

I guess writing is like any activity, as you persist, it slowly feels quicker and easier (even if doesn’t actually get simpler!)

This is worth remembering if you are reading this as a PhD candidate, or someone getting back into writing after a break, or whose working from home set up was less supportive for focus than mine. Remember that becoming an insider for academic writing takes time and effort, but being an insider gets easier and easier, though we need to become insiders, again and again, if we move fields or jobs or networks or circumstances. Building up your writing pipeline means that eventually you can get to a place where things keep on being produced, even though your process probably still isn’t smooth or linear (mine isn’t!)

It’s okay to take your time, it’s definitely okay to fail, and it’s okay to be proud and happy about what you’ve produced.

In this post, I’ve talked about being late, I’ve talked about a failure. As I’ve said before, that article I submitted got rejected and the big academic book took nearly a decade to complete. And I’ve talked about some things I’m delighted to have completed.

Another thing I am thinking about for next year is whether to go back to a fortnightly posting schedule. This blog turns 9 in February, about the same time we’ll hit 250 posts. Over the time I’ve written tiny snippets and huge 3000 word essays; I’ve written weekly, fortnightly, monthly, and sometimes not at all for months. Maybe there’s still lots to say, maybe there’s time for more silence.

Whatever the next steps of the journey look like, thanks for being part of an amazing community of readers! It’s you who makes this blog worth writing.


Succeeding in a Research Higher Degree

Doing a Research Higher Degree (like a PhD) is hard, but lots of people have succeeded and you can too. It’s easier if you understand how it works, this blog gives you the insider view.


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