Once upon a time I had a really productive semester. I made a schedule for myself and stuck to it, getting up at 8 a.m. every day and working on my writing in the mornings (or teaching prep on teaching days) and going into the office in the afternoons/evenings. I wrote a long article that had been commissioned for a book project and submitted it in late February. I made significant progress on another research project. I also taught my courses (which were all repeats, to be fair) and did a fair amount of departmental service. My apartment was neat. I went to the gym six days a week. My life was orderly.
Sometimes now I look back on that semester and wonder if I will ever reach that smooth level of productivity again. Now, another story of that time in my life would emphasize the fact that I had broken up with my then-girlfriend two months before and spent that semester depressed, lonely, and sad. I was in therapy. I was planning a life of celibacy.
A few months after that semester ended, I fell in love with my current partner. We moved in together a few months after that. I became a dog mom. And ever since, my life has been much richer emotionally and much less organized. I think that's a good trade-off -- I know I'm happier in deep ways that really matter to me. But there's also that little voice in my head that says I'm a bad academic, that I could be more productive if I just tried harder.
I'm not saying that there aren't things I can do to improve my workspace, my time management, and my attitude. I know a lot of strategies that work well for me. That's not really what I'm getting at.
One of the most important things I learned a few years ago was to stop saying or thinking "I have to do X" -- that acknowledging to yourself that everything you do is a choice reduces some of the resistance or ambivalence: "I choose to...grade, clean the bathroom, etc."
So: I choose to spend time with my partner. I choose to spend time with our dogs. I choose to make our home clean and comfortable. I choose to practice yoga. I choose to be a productive scholar. I choose to be a motivating and generous teacher. I choose to be a responsible member of my department and profession.
It's not a prioritized list. Even as I typed that paragraph, I had to resist the urge to put scholarship and teaching higher in the list, so as to persuade you of my seriousness. Quite frankly, I think my primary relationship and the family we've created comes way before my academic work. Probably keeping the house clean is further down the list. Where's yoga? where's service? I don't know. That's part of my job to figure out this semester, so I can make up some new sort of plan that will work for my new life. I can't go back, and don't want to go back, to my depressed & lonely but article-publishing schedule. Can I be happy and still publish? enough?
(In the interest of full disclosure, and to make it clear that I am in no way suggesting that relationships necessarily reduce one's output: I have published several articles and a book in the years since I've been with my GF. But I've been stalled out for the past year and so find myself looking back to past periods of productivity to see what I can learn.)