The P.O.W.E.R. Life Vest (By Tracey Hodges, P.O.W.E.R. Consultant)

The P.O.W.E.R. Life Vest
By: Tracey Hodges, P.O.W.E.R. Consultant


Sink or swim. Every new semester poses challenges that have academics questioning their success. One day, we feel as if we are being pulled by the current, barely able to catch our breath. Other days, we feel like a dolphin jumping gracefully in aerobatic stunts, reaching new heights from all our success. The constant ups and downs can be difficult, but thankfully we have the P.O.W.E.R. principles to serve as a helpful life vest. Even on the days we are being pulled under the water, we always have the security the life vest provides.


This semester has been a great challenge for me. Between research, classes, and teaching, there just doesn’t seem to be enough time. Constantly, I feel like I am battling the rapids – and most of the time, I’m barely staying afloat. Pre-P.O.W.E.R., I had no idea how to handle all of the responsibilities and tasks, but my P.O.W.E.R. life vest has come to my rescue more than once!  


Through the past few months (how is it really already November??), I have had to fine-tune many of my writing to learn skills to a) get everything done and b) learn a great deal of new material without losing my mind. Listed below are three strategies I have used to keep my head above water while truly enjoying all of the new learning curves. :)


P.O.W.E.R. Life Vest Number 1 - Keeping Track of Multiple Projects via the Writing Log

My writing log and I have rekindled our bond. For a while, I became very anti-writing log. In fact, I didn't log most of my hours during the month of August. I just wasn't into it, and it wasn't motivating me. Well, I'm back at it and rejuvenated from my time away. 

To help keep track of my writing activities, I color-coded the writing log. The top of my log includes a legend to remind me what each color represents. As I work, I fill in the cells that correspond to certain projects with that particular color. Quickly, I have a visual representation of my work!

When I started color-coding, I was not sure that it would help me manage multiple projects. However, after the first three weeks of trying this technique several things became obvious:

  1. Mondays are generally spent working on my “Writing Self-Efficacy Study” (this makes sense because I meet with my team on Tuesdays).
  2. Tuesdays are mostly spent preparing for my class and grading.
  3. Wednesdays are spent working on projects for the ERC or preparing assignments for my courses.
  4. Thursdays are dedicated to collaborations.
  5. Fridays serve as a catch-all day focusing on whatever needs to be done for the week.
  6. I hardly ever write on Saturdays.
  7. Sunday evenings, I work on collaboration stuff and reading/matrixing.


Before I started color-coding, I thought I was completely sinking. Each of these revelations became the reassurance that I am doing something right! (Below is a modified copy of my writing log. Click link to see.)

Writing Log With Color Codes Example


P.O.W.E.R. Life Vest Number 2 - Matrix Everything

When I first entered the doctoral program, a fellow [P.O.W.E.R.-trained] colleague showed me The Matrix, which I quickly scuffed at and dismissed. After Dr. Goodson re-showed me the matrix, I fell in love. Matrices now run my life.


Doctoral students are pulled in many different directions, and it can become overwhelming to keep track of all the new information coming into our brains on a daily basis. Here, the matrix can swoop in and save the day! I have a matrix for every class and every project I am working on. Every article, book chapter, website, or other source of information that I read goes into the appropriate matrix for the topic. Each matrix varies slightly to be appropriate for the task, but all include a place for the text citation, key points, questions I have after reading, and ideas for future research.


From each matrix, I can quickly pull information for writing papers, proposals, presentations, or ideas. My research agenda is continually growing because I constantly have new ideas for extensions on research I have previously read. Best of all, I only have to read things once. Twice if it is really interesting or important.

Matrices encourage my semester of writing to learn by saving time finding texts later, and when someone (like a committee member) asks me to type up a “quick” page-long literature review of my research, I can do this task effortlessly.


P.O.W.E.R. Life Vest Number 3 - Journaling

P.O.W.E.R. definitely encourages journaling, and this writing practice has been part of my life for a while. However, I never used journaling for projects. As part of my writing to learn mission, I decided to give it a try.


Each project that I am working on has a journal (which is a fancy way of saying a Word document). At the beginning of each writing session, I open the journal that corresponds with the project I plan to work on. Before I begin writing, I reflect on what I did the last time I worked on the project. This allows me to pick up at the precise place I left without struggling to remember where I am or what I want to do.

As I work, I document what I do. This includes statistical analyses run on the data, edits or revisions, searching for research, who I get feedback from, or my thoughts on the work I did that day. The journal is a running record of my progress and thinking. Over time, I am able to see how my thinking changes and why I made certain decisions.

I anticipate that this document will serve me well in the future as I prepare proposals, presentations, and manuscripts from the research. Currently, I feel I am spending less time off-task and am able to be more effective and efficient in my work time.

Challenging. Overwhelming. Difficult. These words are just a few I would use to describe this semester. Due to the principles I have learned in P.O.W.E.R., and the constant encouragement to improve my writing, I would also say it has been a great learning experience. I can boldly say I have learned more about myself as a writer than I ever have before. My ability to manage multiple projects and learn a great deal of information has surpassed my expectations and kept me motivated through the busiest times of the semester.

This semester could easily be described as a “sink or swim” situation. Thankfully, I’m swimming with the help of my trusty P.O.W.E.R. life vests. Grab your life vest and dive in with me!