Phew! I survived AcWriMo 2012, a month long initiative of focused academic writing (more information here).
My pledge for AcWriMo was to write 100 minutes every day and to produce 6 specific outputs, including revising and resubmitting one paper, writing a book review and working on other articles.
In the end, I wrote an average of 70 minutes per day. There were several days with no writing, some days with short writing spells and a few more with lengthy blocks of writing (see figure 1 below). As for the 6 outputs, I achieved 2, partly achieved 2 more, and made no progress on the final 2.
Figure 1. Minutes of Academic Writing per day
In addition to the dedicated writing time and the outputs, there was something else I gained from this experience: I was able to reflect on how I write, what helps me and what hinders productivity. Here are some of my conclusions.
Having limited time to write is great for productivity
Often I had to fit writing around other commitments such as a meeting or the school run. Knowing that I would need to stop writing at a particular time, and that I would not be unable to work on the paper for several hours (or even the rest of the day), meant that I become very aware of how I was spending my (scarce) writing time.
Ambitious goals help with productivity
At the end of the each day, before switching off my computer, I listed what I was going to work on the next day. For instance, I might set a goal of reworking 2 sections of the paper. Sometimes, the goals were very ambitious, sometimes they were quite comfortable. Either way, I usually achieved my goal… but I rarely surpassed it.
It is great to have co-authors
I have been working on some co-authored papers and some sole-authored ones. No prizes for guessing which papers moved during the month and which ones didn’t! Co-authors help me improve the output by spotting gaps or flaws in what I write, by suggesting a reference or angle I did not consider before, and by not being impressed by how much work I have done (only what I produced).
Moreover, co-authors keep the paper moving when I can’t (e.g., because I am teaching). Also, the meetings or phone calls that we schedule to discuss progress work as a kind of deadlines, which also helps with productivity.
Have several projects on the go
If I have several projects on the go, while my co-author is working on one of the projects, I can move on to the next project and keep productivity up. In fact, I can still benefit from working on several projects simultaneously when I am the only author when papers are at very different stages of writing – e.g., drafting vs. editing.
There is a place for binge writing and a place for snack writing
Binge writing is when I have a big block of time to work on something. This type of writing is essential to move forward with the project. But snack writing – where I fetch 20 minutes here for a quick read of the paper, 20 minutes there for an edit, 20 minutes more to jot down some ideas, etc – is important, too.
Snack writing keeps the paper moving, it is not daunting and keeps the argument fresh in my mind. Also, the breaks (i.e., the time in between the ‘snacks’) give me a chance to think through the issues I picked up during the quick read or quick edit or writing attempt.
Inspired by jenn’s studious life, I created a spreadsheet to record how much time I spent doing what. Keeping a record of my writing time was really useful. It helped me to see how much time I was investing in academic writing (or not, as was often the case!). It also helped me realise how I use my writing time. Moreover, it made me stop before I did non-writing tasks in my writing time (e.g., check e-mail) – much like keeping a food diary, makes you more aware of what you are putting in your mouth and may encourage you to make healthy food choices.
Effect of conditioning
Frustratingly, I can write in certain places but not others. Sure, it might have something to do with the writing environment but I suspect that conditions are not the whole story. For instance, I mostly write at home and find it incredibly difficult to focus on writing when I am in the office. However, I can get lots done in a café or a busy airport lounge. So, when I need to progress with writing but can not avoid going to the office, I use the time to browse a journal database, check submission deadlines, etc.
The good news is that I am carrying some of these lessons into December. What about you? What helps your productivity (writing or otherwise)?