Tag: productivity

Academia, Mental Health, and the Cult of Productivity

E’Lisa Campbell (CC BY-SA 2.0)

This is a guest post by Amelia Hoover Green, Assistant Professor in the Department of History and Politics at Drexel University

Will Moore’s death was a tragedy. To state the hopefully obvious: Will’s ferocious productivity makes his death no more or less tragic. Public tributes to Will focus, rightly, on his forthrightness, his heart for justice, his mentorship, his kindness. But productivity—as a value, as a compulsion, or both—shows up too.

In his final post, Will wrote that he enjoyed his avocations, but “[t]o feel good about myself—to be able to look myself in the mirror—I needed to produce.”

Joseph Young’s tribute to his mentor recognized that Will “had a chip on his shoulder” but “remained ridiculously productive throughout his career. He passed on this chip to his students, who are in turn productive across the board.”

Erica Chenoweth, Barbara Walter, and Young list Will’s many contributions to Political Violence at a Glance, noting that Will “did it because he loved the study of political violence, he loved to educate, he loved to produce, and because he was an unbelievably generous soul.” (Emphasis mine.)

Another of the political scientists touched by Will’s life, Emily Ritter, calls for academic environments to be more receptive to those with mental illness, writing: “I… tend to be a ‘high-functioning depressive’, in that I can still be productive, meet deadlines, give lectures, and be outgoing in social environments while being depressed, confused, lonely, and panicky internally. …There’s no gap in my CV. No one would have ever been the wiser about my dark clouds–except that I told them.” (Thank you for telling us!)

Stories about mental illness in the academy often come from people who recover, produce, and/or prevail. In an important 2014 piece on depression in the academy, Amanda Murdie wrote: “A healthy you means that you will produce more…Taking time out to care for yourself will make your work better.” Murdie is a prodigious producer of research whose post began with some context: an invited talk at her graduate school department, a secure job.

Outside political science, my Drexel colleague Lisa Tucker wrote a searing and beautiful essay about her experiences with anxiety in academia — an essay which opened (had to open, I might argue) with the news that she had received tenure. Another law professor, Elyn Saks, has written movingly about working in academia while experiencing psychosis. The blurbs, of course, lead with her work: “Elyn Saks is a success by any measure: she’s an endowed professor at the prestigious University of Southern California Gould School of Law…”

It stands to reason that personal reflections on mental illness and the academy should focus on the positive and productive, and/or should come from those who have an impregnable fortress of a CV to speak from. As Saks has written, “I did not make my illness public until relatively late in my life. And that’s because the stigma against mental illness is so powerful that I didn’t feel safe with people knowing.” Saks is now, finally, safe to discuss her schizophrenia publicly — because it’s clear that schizophrenia hasn’t affected the all-important productivity. Continue reading

Sunday Productivity Blogging: Sciral

I procrastinate by reading productivity blogs, in the hopes that the Universe will somehow find the irony funny enough to let me avoid the consequences of procrastination. (In year ten of this experiment, I can only say so far that the results are not what I initially desired.) One happy consequence of this habit is that I have picked up a few tools which do actually make me more productive. So, in the spirit of Charli’s nerd-bloggin’ Fridays, let me fill up the dead space of Sunday afternoons with some productivity pr0n.

First up: Sciral’s Consistency, the simplest and most rigorous app I’ve ever encountered.

Tasks fall into three categories: Goals you are highly incentivized to accomplish (viz., watching every episode of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer), projects you are forced to accomplish (viz., grading exams), and the vast Other Category. Into this last category falls everything that you would like to accomplish (“I’m going to learn Mandarin!”) but which require the sort of daily dedication few of us can credibly commit to (in this case, speaking Mandarin every day). In the absence of a Tiger Mother, many of us often stop practicing languages, going to the gym, or whatever long before we’ve accomplished our goal.

Consistency (the app) aims to change that by simply keeping a record of whether you’ve actually done what you wanted to do.


Given that much of academic work consists of doing exactly these sorts of daily tasks building to a long-term goal, the long-term consequences of procrastination can, ironically, be avoided for weeks or months at a time. But steady progress is preferable both emotionally and for quality’s sake to last-minute sprints to a goal.

Above is a screenshot of my Consistency pane. (I do plan to buy it, but the software works as freeware.) In my case, I’ve learned that if I don’t record my exercising, I won’t go to the gym–it’s far too easy to say that I’ve been “recently” instead of knowing that I’ve failed to meet my goal of showing up 5 out of every 7 days. Similarly, as much as I greatly enjoy quantitative work–and I do!–I have the same feeling about sitting down to actually write code that I got when, as a child, my mother would force me to practice piano scales. The same applies a fortiori to my ability to put off writing for days at a time.

The interface is simple. You tell Consistency how often you want to accomplish a task (I want to write code every day, but in practice I know that 4 out of every 7 days is a very productive week) and then each day you record whether you’ve actually performed the task you assigned yourself. Each time you do, you get a gold star. If you’re meeting your goals, the day turns green. If you’re failing at your goals (as I was in the last few days of the past week), the day is red. Yellow and blue indicate if you are getting farther away or nearer to compliance.

For such a simple program, Consistency’s results are, in fact, remarkable. (You can see that I’ve added a new task, “45 minutes with stats textbook,” to force myself to finish the Gelman and Hill multilevel modelling text.) Record-keeping is easy (it’s literally just double-clicking) and the interpretation is intuitive. Most of all, Consistency makes it tough to mislead yourself about your own progress.

Confessions of a Scrabulous Addict Afficionado

The big news story of the day seems to be the “demise” of Scrabulous. “Scrabulous is dead,” claims Slashdot. “Scrabulous No More,” begins the equivalent post at Digital Savant.

Well no, Scrabulous is not dead (not yet anyway), no matter how many laments may appear on Facebook status messages. You can still play Scrabulous, for pity’s sake, just not on Facebook. Instead, you must create an account on the regular Scrabulous site, and play there. (Or, try out Facebook’s new Hasbro-owned application, boringly named “Scrabble.”)

While Facebook users are bemoaning the loss of a popular application, some commentators are claiming this could be a good thing. Dan Drezner‘s Facebook status message today read “Daniel Drezner is confident that labor productivity will boom and the economy will rebound with the suspension of the Scrabulous feature.” His sentiment is echoed by Floyd Sklaver at Justout and Helen Popkin at MSNBC.

Well, I don’t care what Drezner or anyone else says. Scrabulous on Facebook made me more productive, for three reasons:

1) It was a fun way to keep my brain on its toes when I might otherwise have degenerated into more passive forms of online entertainment, such as watching the Clerks’ Jedi Politics YouTube video clip again, or trying to figure out Where the Hell Matt is on Google Earth.

2) It was also an incentive to take a healthy five-minute break here and there – I vaguely recall that in my old retail days before becoming a professor, employees were actually allowed regular five-minute breaks, and at least one 30-minute break, mandated by law, because this was known to boost productivity and also, just to be a really nice idea.

3) Finally, Scrabulous served a valuable professional networking function, keeping in me in touch periodically with colleagues and friends I too seldom connect with in real-space, or for anything other than work online. Those social relations are the grease in the cogs of intellectual productivity. This is why the National Science Foundation encourages grantees to spend taxpayer money on “synergistic activities” that bring together researchers in social settings – because it knows the best ideas happen when the nerds actually put the books away and sit down over drinks.

After a day of experimentation, I can honestly say, however, that the off-Facebook version will make me less productive – at least if I play by email. In this version of the game, every time your partner makes a move, it will show up in your email inbox insistently, rather than appearing quietly in a secluded corner of Facebook where it waits patiently until you happen to log in and check whose turn it is.

Also, the email version reduces the benefits while increasing the risks. It’s more distracting, so you can afford to play with fewer friends simultaneously without getting addicted. Goodbye social networking! On the other hand, being forced to play regular Scrabulous may help me network doubly well because I’m no longer limited to those friends who are on Facebook, nor must I go through the awkward process of recruiting new friends to Facebook to entice them to a game.

Anyway, as Lawrence Lessig has famously argued, architecture constitutes governance, just as do norms, laws, and markets.Today, Scrabulous did not die; its architecture was modified. How this will ultimately affect the nature of interactions that the game facilitated remains to be seen, but so far I’m adapting, Borg-like, instead of donning black.

So what’s the point of this little tirade? Sorry, I’m not sure I have one and anyway no time to explain, I see I have just received an email from one of my two lucky remaining Scrabulous partners…

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