It’s summer. Days are sunny, breezy, the scent of lilacs and irises fills the air, and I want to spend my time in the garden, or swimming, or sitting around drinking at noon and pretending that I’m in France or Italy.

But of course I’m an academic, and summer is when we get a lot of our research done. Why don’t I work on something that would take me to Italy or France? I enjoy my trips to England, but they’re not exactly filled with sunlit piazzas and wine from a vineyard within walking distance.

Anyway. Concentrate. The desk is spread with calendar, books, research journals present and past, print-outs of drafts, and the new to-do list. New not just in the age of the items on it, but also in its layout.

Three columns. One for the thing to be done, one for the immediate reward for doing it, one for the big-picture motivation.

Example: notes on 1000 lines of text. 10 minutes reading blogs. Have specific elements to look for in next encounter with manuscript.

Or: format footnotes in Article That Took Too Long. Half an hour’s walk. Submit draft to friend/editor to help her sell the collection to publishers.

Having the motivation down in front of me really helps my focus. The task may be dull, but this is how it helps me meet longer-term goals. It’s like ticking off progress on a map. I may have progressed only a few blocks in a journey of many miles, but I can see that the trip is underway.

The trick is to identify what really will get me moving. “Enjoy feeling of accomplishment” won’t do it. Sometimes the motivational column has a notation that doesn’t discredit me, like the examples above, or one which, though selfish, invokes scholarly interests: “get money from funding body so I can go to Famous Library.”

But in all honesty, the entry most likely to help me avoid the siren song of sunlight and irises is something like “avoid humiliating self in front of colleagues” or “prove to Sneering Doubter that this is viable research.”

Yes. Apparently I have not outgrown exchanges (at least internal ones) of “Am not/are so/your mama.” The urge to “show them” remains with me. If showing them means keeping seat of pants stuck to seat of chair, I can do that! You watch!

Or don’t. You and the grown-ups can go drink wine in Italy, and my childish hang-ups and I will stay here in time-out.

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