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I am Brian Sigmon, and This is How I Work

Today, I am interviewing Dr. Brian Sigmon for the “How I Work” series. Brian O. Sigmon is acquisitions editor at The United Methodist Publishing House, where he edits books, Bible studies, and official resources for The United Methodist Church. In this role, Brian is editor of the Daily Christian Advocate and managing editor of the Book of Discipline and Book of Resolutions. He has a Ph.D. in Old Testament Studies from Marquette University, where he taught courses in the Bible and theology. Brian finds great joy in thinking deeply about the Christian faith and helping people of all backgrounds deepen their understanding of Scripture. He blogs about the Bible, theology, and the universe at Starstruck Christian. Brian lives in Kingston Springs, Tennessee with his wife Amy and their two children.

Current Job: Acquisitions Editor at The United Methodist Publishing House
Current Location: Nashville, TN

Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?

I currently work outside academia as a book editor at The United Methodist Publishing House, a Christian publishing company based in Nashville, Tennessee. My Ph.D. is in biblical studies, with a focus on the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible. I became an editor out of a desire to reach and teach people in churches rather than in college and university classrooms. In my current role, I edit books and Bible studies that help people grow in faith. That includes working with videos, which I’ve had to learn entirely on the job. I also edit our official denominational resources for The United Methodist Church, a role I didn’t anticipate when I began working here, but which I very much enjoy. The United Methodist Church is a worldwide Christian denomination of 12 million members, as well as the second-largest Protestant denomination in the United States. I oversee the production of materials that support our General Conference, the denomination’s legislative body that meets once every four years to shape official teaching, policies, and practices. I am currently involved in a project that will move these support materials (about 3,000 printed pages in 2016) into an all-digital publication. So I’m having to learn about web design and user interface in addition to my work in books and videos. My work involves a little bit of everything, from writing and editing to theology and project management.

I have also recently started a side project, totally unrelated to work, where I’m writing about the intersection of theology and space exploration, to understand the theological implications of space exploration and what it means for human life and faith. This is just getting off the ground in the form of a blog, but I hope eventually to publish academic papers and start some conversations with others about these topics, which are important and timely, and which people of faith don’t seem to be talking about very much.

What tools, apps and software are essential to your workflow?
Most of my day-to-day work is in Microsoft Word, which creates documents that feed into Adobe InDesign, an industry standard in terms of publication software. I also do a fair amount of proof review using PDFs in Adobe Acrobat. We have specialized software unique to our company for content management and project workflow. I also use Frame IO and Vimeo to interact with our producers on video projects. Finally, I use a proprietary legislative management program designed for The United Methodist Church in my official church work, to track delegates and legislation in our denomination’s legislative process that creates policies for our Church.

What does your workspace setup look like?
I have a small but efficient and well-organized cubicle at my company’s headquarters, together with the rest of our publishing unit. I have a laptop and 2 monitors, a small filing cabinet which mostly goes unused (we’re largely paper-free), and some shelf space for books I use frequently.
We have a beautiful patio overlooking a pond, and I usually work there for a few hours a week just to change the scenery. I do not have a dedicated home office, but do work from home about once per week at my kitchen table.

What is your best advice for productive academic work?
Find a routine that works for you and stick to it. I wasn’t the best at this during my Ph.D. program, and I probably would’ve been more efficient and productive if I’d had more of a daily and weekly routine. In my work now, I have a routine that works very well, and it helps me get a lot done and also balance my work with home life and hobbies. Routines and habits, if they are good ones, take a lot of the thought and work out of scheduling and planning your day, freeing your mental and physical energy for the work you truly care about and need to get done.

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?
Old-fashioned paper and pen! I keep a running to-do list for today and the next 2-3 days, which I update as new projects and tasks arise, tasks are completed, and priorities shift. This has always worked well for me—I’ve been able to adapt some version of this for my work throughout college, my master’s program, my Ph.D. program, and now my work. We also have a weekly production meeting with my team, where we talk about current and upcoming projects. That weekly get-together is critical to assure that we’re all up to date and know the most urgent tasks.

Besides phone and computer, do you use other technological tools in work and daily life?
Not really, unless you count a television and DVD player to review videos.

Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?
I a high-level thinker who prefers to address the big picture rather than get bogged down in minutiae. That helps me set ambitious goals and develop projects with end results in mind. I am also drawn to ideas and positions that differ from those of others—I like to “zig” when everybody else “zags.” That often leads me to creative interpretations or deeper insight that I wouldn’t have come to otherwise.

What do you listen to when you work?

I usually work in silence, which I find very relaxing and centering—it’s really hard for me to focus when there’s any sound other than background noise. When I was writing my dissertation, I used to listen to classical music some, but even then I worked in silence as often as not.

What are you currently reading? How do you find time for reading?
I am always reading! Lately I’ve been reading a lot about physics and space exploration, popular books as well as textbooks, all of which is deeply fascinating. I love the way these fields stretch my mind and force me to think in different ways from how I typically do.

I also continue to read theology, though at a much lower rate than I did when I was completing my Ph.D. And, of course, I read the books I edit! My coworkers laugh at me because I’ll edit books all morning, then read for fun during my lunch hour, then back to book editing in the afternoon. I just love learning, and books are a great way to do that.

I find time to read mostly because I enjoy it. I’ve found that we are able to make time for things we enjoy and find important.

Are you more of an introvert or extrovert? How does this influence your working habits?
I’m most definitely an introvert, which goes well with the nature of my job because it’s a lot of time working on your own. That allows me to engage with people productively when it matters, such as in meetings and interacting with my authors. So it’s a balance that works well with my personality.

What’s your sleep routine like?
I usually get around 6.5-7 hours—lights out around 10 or 10:30 and awake at 5 am. Naps are extremely rare.

What’s your work routine like?
Pretty much 9-5 every day, though I put in extra time at home as needed when a project is in the works. That’s almost always after 8 pm when my wife and I put our kids to bed. I start each day with a workout, because physical health is important to me and I’ve found that unless I do it first thing, it’s too easy to skip. When I’m at work, I prefer working on editing and anything that requires a high level of concentration in the morning, and I do my best to respond to emails at set times during the day. At the end of every day, I spend a few minutes planning for the next day so that I can be productive right away. I find that spending a little time addressing emails in the evening is a great way to ensure that I don’t get off track the next day, but can start right away on the work that’s most important and urgent for me.

What’s the best advice you ever received?

It’s not about how little you can get by with. It’s about how much you can do.

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