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On the importance of routine in academic writing

Because of the pandemic, I am now shuttling between Aguascalientes (where I live) and Leon (where my parents live). Any kind of inter-city movement should be stressful enough. What keeps me more or less grounded is that wherever I am (and have been – including Paris, last year), I always have more or less the same routine. For life and for work.

Routines work for me.

They may not work for everyone, but they do work, for me.

Desk at my home office in Aguascalientes

Routines provide regularity and stability.

The idea I quote above is not something I invented or devised – it’s the very foundational concept of institutionalism and institutional theory. It’s also the very basic unit of analysis of evolutionary economic theory (Becker 2004, as per Nelson and Winter 1982)

During this pandemic, having stable routines has kept me relatively sane. Every morning, I wake up, make my coffee, make my bed, wash my face, brush my teeth, and organize my desk to start my day. I also set up my (or my Mom’s) dining table for whenever she wakes up, I can have breakfast set up already for her. My morning routine includes making coffee for my Mom and bringing it to her room when she wakes up, along with a copy of the day’s newspaper.

Routines have a stabilizing role, in the same way that institutions provide stability around human interaction.

I have been writing a lot lately. Out of excitement, on the one hand: I am healthy now, after 2.5 years of struggles with chronic pain, chronic fatigue, eczema/psoriasis/dermatitis. Out of fear, on the other hand: I am 9 months behind on ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING, and because I had agreed-upon writing commitments, I’m now cranking up the writing as much as I can.

Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced me to stay at home (either at my house in Aguascalientes or my Mom’s in Leon). I have fully functional home offices in both homes, so I can write at leisure. I’ve got decent internet access, and can log on to my remote university library connection to download articles and books quite easily, for the most part.

Working in the dining table

The COVID-19 has reshaped my personal and collective dynamics

During the pandemic, I’ve joined two online writing groups: Dr Amanda Bittner‘s (Monday through Friday, 9-11 am Eastern Standard Time) and Dr. Mirya Holman‘s (Fridays, 2-5 pm Central Standard Time). What I have noticed by participating in both of these online writing groups is that routinely writing as part of a collective REALLY WORKS FOR ME.

As most of you who follow me on Twitter or read my blog know, my writing practice starts at 4:30am – from 4:30 am to 6:30 am – I know, it’s ridiculously early and well, what can I tell you, that’s how I am used to work – I am a morning person and I am not really functional past 3pm.


Since joining these two wonderful writing groups, I now have 23 hours worth of writing on my calendar and in my schedule.

This does not mean that I can actually write that much (I would love if I could do it all the time, and when I am not teaching, nor travelling, I can often achieve this goal). But at least I have the time slots (and I can use that time to write, or it can also be runway time or grunt work time).

I have always had a writing routine. But what I have noticed by participating in Amanda’s and Mirya’s writing groups is that repeatedly joining writing groups (on a regular basis, trying not to miss any meetings) actually is very helpful in strenghtening my writing practice.

I wrote a Twitter thread on this very issue a few days ago. Having a structured routine and routinely writing and responding to Revise-And-Resubmits (R&R) or edits from book editors does help me because now I write responses-to-reviewers-and-editors much, much, much faster than before.

I always tell my students and research assistants that it might be helpful for them to develop and maintain a structured daily routine. I know this is hard to do even more so during these pandemic times, but I find that structure makes my life much easier.

Hopefully you’ll find value in routines too.

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Posted in academia, organization, productivity, writing.

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