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#9: Park on a Hill

When I was writing my dissertation I was part of the PhinisheD community, and there I learned the concept of “parking on a hill.” The idea is to not end your day’s work with the completion of a task, but rather to end it with a task started, ready to move on the next day. Much in the way that gravity will help you get started if you park a car in a hill, the gravity of having a task in progress can help you get started when you park a project on a hill.

This is a technique I could use more of in my life right now, so I am going to record some of my thoughts on this technique here. Right now I am working on a paper that I think I’ve been writing for three years. I’m very slow. This is a “back burner” project which means I often go for days or weeks without touching it. So if I can be sure to have it set up with something that will move me forward whenever I leave it then I think two things will happen. First, part of my brain will already be engaged in the next idea or task, which may push me toward getting back to the project and may help good ideas to percolate in my brain. Second, if I have jotted down something that will help me get started I may find it easier to remember and reconnect with the project the next time I sit down.

Here are some ideas for parking on a hill:

  • Write half a sentence to give yourself a jumping off point. This can produce some anxiety — you probably have an idea of how you are going to finish the sentence, but what if you never get that idea back? But the fact is that leaving openness allows something new to come into your work. If you over-plan your next steps you may miss the exciting accidents and new ideas that come to you when you least expect it.
  • Briefly outline the thing you want to do or write. Don’t over-plan since that won’t produce energy or excitement, but do be sure you have a next job that is easy and fun to dive into.
  • Ask a question. For instance, I am working on a developing some materials for a class this fall, so I might end my work day with this question, “How can I refresh student’s understanding of percentages without talking down to my students and ignoring the understanding they already have?” Then I can start my day with some freewriting in response to that question, which may help me set up the activities I want to develop of the class.
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