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Oct 24, 2012 by Dr Sally
For most writers, the key to productivity lies in changing behavior. While many of the psychological aspects of writing are not easily quantified, the time spent writing and the amount of writing produced are tangible evidence of writing behaviors. Tracking changes to your writing behavior as well as the results will help put your writing in perspective and reaffirm the success of your new writing routine.
To begin, keep track of your work schedule for a week. If you are typical, an accurate accounting of your work day will show you that you spend less time working than you think (Boice, 1989). Recording what you do during your work day also will show you what you spend your time doing, or not doing. At the end of the week, review your record to look for places where you can schedule regular writing time. You may find that you can add a half-hour a day to your work schedule for focused writing without sacrificing anything else.
In addition to tracking how long you spend writing in your work week—which will indicate if you have been successful in sticking to your writing schedule—you can track your writing by how productive you are during these sessions.
Two common ways to track productivity are to keep track of how much you have written or to keep track of which tasks you are working on or have completed.
Many studies of writing productivity measure output in terms of the number of pages produced each week. Boice (1989) found that unproductive faculty who engaged in infrequent writing binges averaged one-half page of writing a week, while highly productive faculty who wrote daily averaged three-and-a-half pages a week. This equates to 26 pages a year for the unproductive writers versus 182 pages for the productive faculty. Just a small increase in the number of pages each week can make the difference between an unproductive scholar and a faculty member who meets or exceeds expectations for publication.
Some coaches report success with having their writing clients keep track of the number of words generated. This larger number provides a sense of accomplishment and yields a noticeable increase for the effort. This also is an effective tracking system for those writers who do not write in a linear fashion. Writers who “skip around” in drafting a manuscript—writing a paragraph or two, then moving on to a different section—will have a measure that does not depend on completing a page.
Many approaches to developing a writing habit urge authors to break writing into short assignments more easily completed, rather than thinking in larger terms, such as writing the entire manuscript. With smaller assignments, writers are better able to organize both their approach to writing and the content of their writing. As an alternative way to track progress, crossing off each short assignment or task completed allows the writer to see how much he or she has accomplished.
Another advantage to tracking shorts assignments versus page output is that some tasks related to writing, such as reading relevant research or editing your manuscript, cannot be measured by page or word output. These tasks are as valuable as time spent writing, but writing may take on an artificially high priority if these other chores are ignored in favor of tracking writing productivity.
Those considered to be “binge writers” tend to be overly optimistic about how much they will accomplish in the time remaining before a deadline. Tracking how many hours of writing it takes to complete a task (for example, the literature review for an article) provides a benchmark for future articles and allows the writer to plan more efficiently. Obviously, no two pieces of writing are the same, but as a writer establishes regular writing habits, he or she will get a good sense of what can (and cannot) be accomplished in a given week.
At year’s end, a writer can summarize productivity by where the manuscripts are in the publication process. Most academics have articles at various stages: drafting one article while waiting to hear about a second article that has been submitted to a journal. Perhaps a third article has been accepted for publication, but the next issue of the journal doesn’t come out for another few months. Some scholarly writers refer to this as the “pipeline.” It is important to keep track of what is in the pipeline so that the writing keeps flowing at an even pace.
Boice R. (1989). Procrastination, busyness and bingeing, Behaviour Research & Therapy, 27, 605-611.
1. What measures of writing productivity will work best for you?
2. How might you measure your writing productivity on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis?
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