Skip to this page's content

Time and Place

According to a great book I've been reading, Dissertations and Theses from Start to Finish (Cone & Foster, 2006, if you are writing a dissertation check it out on Amazon) it's very important to write at the same time of day in the same place everyday, because your brain will start to associate the environment (light, temperature, sounds) with productivity.

Being the instant-gratification sensation that I am, I immediately had fantasies of a large sunny study in our house with a few blooming orchids, maybe a zen garden, big oak desk and swivel chair and floor to ceiling bookshelves. All books leather-bound, of course. (Eh?? What do you think, husband??) In this room, I would suddenly churn out 50 brilliant pages per month, and have my dissertation done by summer vacation.

All hyperbolic fantasizing aside, it isn't just the brain association that made this jump out at me, but actually how little I actually separate the different tasks in my life. I write Christmas cards while making chili to freeze for weeknight meals. I read articles in front of Big Bang Theory reruns in the tv room. I write emails while importing contacts into my phone. As I write, I have 9 tabs open on my browser.

Now a certain amount of multitasking is necessary and productive. But with multitasking comes the risk of losing intention. I am the kind of person who mulls over a topic for a week before actually putting things down on paper. I have some of my best ideas in the shower or the car. (Brain association at work??) To simply sit down just to think seems a little silly to me because it feels like I could be heightening my productivity by thinking while doing something else that needs to be done. But that makes it feel that working through something important in my head is sort of an afterthought. Instead of intending to think, it sort of just happens while I'm driving on route 2, or cleaning fingerprints off the bathroom mirror. But how often do you walk into someone's office to find them thinking with no other physical action involved, such as taking notes, doodling, writing emails, etc.?

You know how people say "when you're truly ready, it will happen" to people who are agonizing over finding love, or a great job? It may be sort of an obnoxious thing to say (I'm guilty of saying it over and over), but it's a sort of simplified statement of intention. When we have the intention to show up with our best, that's when things seem to fall into place and our best work happens. I know I only have control over so much (pretty much nothing) but I certainly do have control over showing up. And having the tv on in the background, balancing a laptop on the couch, and checking facebook every five minutes is not showing up. That's mailing it in. I'm not just talking about schoolwork either. How many times are we on the phone with someone, and have the radio on in the background, or a tv show, while giving ourselves a manicure and paying bills? Are we really listening to what they have to say? There seem to be so few hours in the day that we need to do a million things at once. I think it comes down to prioritizing which things we need to show up for, and which things we can mail in (for example I do not feel bad about paying my cell phone bill while cleaning the kitchen and making a dentist appointment). But there are more than a few things that I can prioritize in my life so that I am doing one task and nothing else. Zen garden optional.

Now here's a recipe for popovers. If you read any other entries, you'll notice I'm rather fond of popovers both in my metaphors for life and my kitchen. Eat them with intention.

Recipe for Popovers
Although I've never learned to make them taste as good as they do in my Aunt Irene's kitchen.

1 cup of flour
1 cup of milk
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon of salt

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees
Grease a muffin tin (6 cup)
Mix ingredients until blended, do not over-mix
Fill cups 1/2 full
Bake for 20 minutes and then reduce temp to 350 and bake for an additional 20 minutes. DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN DOOR! This will cause the popovers to sink and resemble bricks in both taste and texture.
Remove from oven and enjoy immediately with jam.

Posted by Nastasia Lawton on January 6, 2012 1:02 PM

Leave a comment

Non-Degree Option

If you are unsure about enrolling in a graduate program, or just want to advance your educational experience, non-degree study at Simmons is the best option for you. As a non-degree student, you may enroll in up to two graduate-level courses (eight credits) before formally applying to a degree program. Learn More »

Offsite Options

Simmons collaborates with other academic and cultural institutions throughout the Northeast region to offer several offsite graduate programs. Learn more »


The Admissions Office is here to help »