Think of the times when you sat down and just started whacking away at a paper you had to write. Compare those with the times when you devoted a few moments to planning your research and your argument. I’m going to guess that planning has paid off for you more often than not.
I promise not to claim that, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. First of all, plenty of people who aren’t particularly planful land jobs anyway. That said, planning can remove a lot of the stress of the job search, and it can keep you from spinning your wheels on tasks that aren’t likely to pay off. (Flexible planfulness also helps your overall career development, as David Lindskoog’s excellent blog points out).
You’ve probably read advice to think of the job search as a full-time job. And you may well already have a full-time job or its equivalent. Planning can help you squeeze more out of the few hours per week that you have to devote to your job search. And a lot of advice that applies to planning your research works for the job search, too.
One tip comes from Paul J. Silvia’s How to Write a Lot. Silvia points to the crux of planning when he says we should forget about finding time, and focus on allotting it, regularly. He suggests getting started by scheduling four hours a week for your work, and to putting that time right in your calendar. You devote that time only to the task at hand: you use absolutely none of it to make coffee, tidy your desk, put rice on the stove, or answer the phone when it rings.
Go further and break that job search time into distinct activities in your plan: researching employers, contacting employers and other people who could be useful in your job search, writing or editing applications, or whatever else is important in your job search right now. Because searching online postings can eat up time like no other job search activity (and it has a dismal success rate to boot), make it the last thing you do in your allocated job search time.
Finally, plan for things not to go as smoothly as you’d like. For example, Joan Bolker, in Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day, suggests using “messy writing” to unstick blocks. Messy writing isn’t supposed to be high quality; it’s supposed to be ugly. You will never show it to anyone. Instead, its purpose is to turn the struggle to find the right words into a chance to capture your ideas, however badly they’re phrased. You can then distill those ideas from your messy writing, and worry about wordsmithing after you’re satisfied that you’ve gotten down the salient points. Some dedicated messy time would be a great way to start a block of time dedicated to writing job search documents or working through what you’re going to say when you call up a networking contact.
And heck, while you’re working on the job search, you might end up finding a few tricks to increase your research output.