Since August 1st, I've officially been on research leave to work on my book project, American Presidents and the History of Photography from the Daguerreotype to the Digital Revolution. My work this year is being supported by a National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship, for which I'm so, so grateful.
Different chapters of the project are in various stages. Some I've given as talks, while others are more substantive drafts and still others are just an odd collection of folders of PDFs, Evernote notes, and image files. It's all over the place right now. But in a good way. (I think.) Mainly, this year my job is to follow my curiosities and see where they take me. And to write my butt off.
What's giving my work structure right now is my daily tomatoes. Tomatoes, you say? For those of you unfamiliar with the Pomodoro Technique, I encourage you to check out this informative piece from ProfHacker. The Pomodoro Technique derives its name from the Italian word for tomato. Remember those old red plastic kitchen timers that looked like tomatoes? No? Well, in the dark ages that's how people kept time. With a red plastic tomato that ticked away the minutes. The Pomodoro Technique posits that we can work productively if we divide our work into 25 minute chunks, separated by 5 minute breaks. Then repeat as many times as you can, given your schedule or inclination.
I've been writing using tomatoes for several years now, and it's the single best practice I've adopted as a scholarly writer. It's hard to admit this because academics are supposed to be motivated purely by intellectual gratification, but I'm someone who is often more motivated by externals. Yes, I could just get up and run early in the morning, and maybe 82% of the time I will. But I'm more likely to show up 100% of the time if I know one of my friends will be showing up at my house to join me. For me, the Pomodoro Technique offers that external framework that keeps me on track. I've found that the 25-minute time frame works for helping me get started when I'm just not feeling it. No matter how unmotivated I'm feeling, or how busy I am with other things that day, I can usually do at least 25 minutes of something. In addition, the end of that 25 minutes serves as a good break point - I don't have to worry if my brain starts wandering over to thinking about Facebook or Twitter or email because I know that soon enough I'll have that short break to do that stuff. It also helps me set parameters and realistic goals based on other things I have going on: "Today I will do X number of tomatoes, but tomorrow I will only do Y number because I have Z going on." Finally, as a faculty member who usually has multiple research, teaching, and service commitments happening at any one time, I've found it's good for keeping track of the amount of time I spend on various parts of my job. It helps me not to let certain kinds of work overbalance others.
Research news, commentary on visual politics, and a few old blog posts given new life.