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What's Holding You Back (in Your Research and Writing)?

Tomorrow's Research

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I find that most academics' productivity is blocked by some combination of what Julie Morgenstern describes as technical errors, psychological obstacles, and external realities.


The posting below looks at some of the road blocks to making progress on your research and writing and identifies strategies to overcome them. It is by Kerry Ann Rockquemore*, PhD, president and CEO of the National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity

[] It is from the posting of October 3, 2016 in her Monday Motivator series which you can find at:




Rick Reis

UP NEXT: Integrating Research and Teaching in Practice


Tomorrow’s Research

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What's Holding You Back (in Your Research and Writing)?


At this point in the term, it’s an ideal time to stop and evaluate your progress. I encourage you to do so this week by gently asking yourself several important questions: How is the term going so far? How much writing have I completed? Have I developed a daily writing routine? How am I progressing towards the goals on my strategic plan? and How do I feel about my answers to the previous questions?

Let me be clear -- this is NOT an invitation to beat yourself up! It's simply an opportunity to observe what IS working for you, what is NOT working for you, and then pro-actively make adjustments. I hope that you answered enthusiastically that your projects are perfectly on-track and you feel exhilarated by all of your success! But if you are like me, you've probably had some successes and some disappointments this term. Whenever I find myself unsatisfied with my progress, I pause to ask: What's holding me back?

Once I pinpoint what the problems are, I can make targeted adjustments that will help me to get back on track. I find that most academics' productivity is blocked by some combination of what Julie Morgenstern describes as technical errors, psychological obstacles, and external realities.  I've adapted these obstacles for academic writers and describe each of them below. Of course, the answer to what's holding YOU back is something that only you can answer, but personally, I find this checklist to be an extremely helpful and efficient framework to quickly identify the areas where I need to make adjustments for the remainder of the semester.

Technical Errors

The following technical errors occur when you are missing some relevant skill or technique, and they are the easiest to fix!

•    You haven't set aside a specific time for your research and writing

•    You've set aside the wrong time to write

•    You have no idea how much time a particular research or writing task takes and/or you consistently underestimate the time required to complete tasks

•    You're the wrong person for the job (but you think you have to do it all and that asking for help is a sign of weakness or incompetence)

•    The tasks you have set out are too complex (i.e., items like "finish my book" are on your to-do list)

•    You can't remember what you have to do because you don't believe in lists or calendars

•    Your space is disorganized so you can never find what you need when you need it, and/or

•    You have not created a support and accountability mechanism for your writing.

Psychological Obstacles

These are the deeper issues that underlie our resistance to writing. For now, let's just try to become aware of which (if any) of the following may be keeping us from writing every day:

•    Unrealistically high expectations

•    Feeling disempowered around research, writing, and/or your intellectual abilities

•    Fear of downtime (during which you may have to deal with difficult issues like what you really want to do with your life and/or your relational problems)

•    Needing to be a caretaker at the expense of your own needs (i.e., your helping others is out of balance so you feel resentful, unappreciated and overwhelmed)

•    Fear of failure

•    Fear of success

•    Fear of disrupting the status quo and/or speaking the truth to power

•    Fear of completion

•    A hyper-active inner-critic

•    Unclear goals and priorities, and/or

•    Extreme conflict avoidance (i.e., you spend a lot of time angry, worrying about unresolved conflicts, and feeling too emotionally drained to engage in your intellectual work).

External Realities

These are situations or environmental factors that are beyond your control. As a result, the following obstacles require lots of patience, self-understanding, compassion, and conscious planning to maneuver around:

•    A health problem limits your energy

•    The physical materials you rely on to work and/or live are in transition (i.e., you’re in the midst of moving offices, moving from one institution to another, or you’ve moved into a new home)

•    You are in a life transition (i.e., new baby, divorce, unexpected elder care)

•    You are externally forced to work in an interruption-rich environment

•    You have a disorganized person in your life who hinders your ability to write (e.g., a chaotically driven spouse/partner, co-author, colleague, research team, etc.), and/or

•    You work in an emotionally toxic environment.

I realize this is a long list, but I hope it helps you to identify what's holding you back if you are not satisfied with your progress this term. Learning to observe and name your resistance to writing is an important step forward in using your creativity to move through and around it. This type of continual self-evaluation coupled with incremental behavioral adjustments can make a big difference between hoping to write and actually writing each and every day.

The Weekly Challenge

This week, I challenge you to do the following:

•    Take 30 minutes to observe, evaluate, and reflect on your progress this term. Try using your Strategic Plan to gauge your progress.

•    Name and celebrate the successes that you have experienced!

•    Consider the list of technical errors, psychological obstacles, and external realities , and ask yourself: What is holding me back?

•    Pick one area that is under your control, and generate potential solutions. For example, if you haven’t set aside a specific time for writing, block out time in your calendar every day this week and show up.

•    Re-commit yourself to at least 30 minutes each day for your writing.

•    Join the NCFDD monthly writing challenge (in our discussion forums) if you want support for developing your daily writing habit.


If you haven't written your strategic plan, it's not too late! I guarantee that going through this process will help you to get very real about what you can (and cannot) do before the end of the term. I hope this week brings you the courage to patiently assess your progress, the joy of celebrating your successes, and the creativity to devise solutions that make sense for YOU!


Peace & Productivity,


Kerry Ann Rockquemore, PhD

President, National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity