A Weekly Writing Review: One Hour You Can’t Afford Not to Spend

So many junior scholars quickly find themselves in research “survival mode.” You might find yourself saying “I don’t have time to write, especially on teaching days! I barely have enough time to prep, teach, grade, eat and sleep!” Or, you might find yourself in an extreme cycle: you write intensely to meet a deadline, then crash after. You vow things will be different going forward. You commit to writing at 9am every day, but quickly find yourself back in the same cycle. It’s time to break out of survival mode! How? Committing one hour per week a weekly writing review.

I hear your objections. Spending one hour to do a weekly writing review, when I could be spending that time writing? Planning? Scheduling? I just need to write.

Here is my promise: spending one hour to do a weekly writing review will give you more time to write during the week you didn’t think you had. It will also help you ensure that the time you write is optimum for your focus and energy. Ultimately, academic writing is a marathon, not a sprint, so setting up your weekly writing review now will pay dividends over your career.

The Weekly Writing Review: Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced

If you are in survival mode, your first instinct might be to change everything all at once. I think this is the wrong approach. It might be sustainable for a few weeks, but as soon as things start to get hard, you will go back to your old routine.

Instead, you need to honestly assess where you are now and make your weekly writing review as easy as possible, especially in the crucial first weeks.

To minimize overwhelm, and to make your academic writing sustainable for the long term, each stage does a different version of the weekly writing review. Beginners focus on making writing reviews routine, fitting writing into their existing schedule, and tracking their energy levels. Intermediate level readers begin to optimize their schedule to fit their energy levels and track their focus during sessions. Advanced level readers continue to optimize their schedules, practice their opening writing ritual and closing writing ritual, and match their product-focused academic writing goal‘s action steps to their sessions.

What Does a Beginner Weekly Writing Review Look Like?

You should start at the beginner stage if you:

  • can’t find the time to write more than twice per week
  • you say you will write at a particular time, but you end up doing something else
  • don’t currently review your upcoming weekly commitments and decide when and where you will write

What Steps Should Beginners Focus on?

The most effective thing beginners can do is to practice intentionally scheduling their writing sessions for the week by doing a beginner weekly writing review. Because I want beginners to see early success and gain momentum, I offer a piece of advice that goes against what most people say. At this stage, fit your writing time around your other commitments.

Why?

At this point, it’s not really about the writing. Instead, it’s about the habit of planning your week. Once you have developed that keystone habit, you will absolutely begin to optimize your writing times. But for now, one step at a time.

Before You Do Your First Weekly Writing Review

Before you actually do a weekly writing review, you first need to make your commitment to doing it. Choose a one hour non-negotiable block that will be your “writing review appointment” each week. Make a recurring appointment on your calendar, telling you when and where your writing review appointment will be.  I like to schedule mine for Sunday evenings.

People tend to follow through on things more reliably when they make a formal commitment. Write down a commitment to yourself by copying and completing the following statement. Place it in a spot where you’ll see it. Bonus points if you take a picture and set it as your phone’s wallpaper.

I, [NAME], commit to doing a weekly writing review every [DAY] at [TIME] in [PLACE]. I am making this commitment to myself because [YOUR MAIN REASON]. I will keep myself accountable by [ACTION]. 

Beginners: Your First Weekly Writing Review

  1. Start your writing review appointment by opening your calendar of choice.
  2. Block off all the commitments in the upcoming week whose times cannot be changed, like sleeping, teaching, eating, office hours, commute, committee meetings, medical appointments, social events, etc.
  3. Block off any days/times you choose not to work (weekend, evenings, etc.)
  4. Next, make a list of your things you must do in the upcoming week whose times you can control. Estimate the amount of time each will take. These include professional things like lesson planning, grading, and emailing and personal things like exercise, cooking, family time, etc.
  5.  Now, put the tasks from #4 onto your calendar.
  6. Review how much time is left over total and when the remaining slots are. If you have none, review your to-do list and make sure everything needs to be done this week. Or, consider whether you can get help to take some of those responsibilities off your plate.
  7. Identify a 15-minute time slot you will commit to your writing project. Try to shoot for at least 4 days, if possible.
  8. Make an appointment on your calendar for these writing sessions. State when and where you will write.
  9. Decide how you will make yourself accountable for that session. Will you meet a colleague? Text a writing partner?

Ta-da! You’ve done your first weekly writing review! Now, proceed with your planned week.

During the week, monitor:

  • How often do you keep your scheduled writing sessions?
  • If you miss a session, why? (Note common reasons and think about how you might be able to prevent them in the future).
  • What times of day are you most alert? When does your energy dip?
  • What activities energize you? Which ones drain you?

Beginners: Adding in Reflection to Subsequent Weekly Writing Reviews

In each subsequent beginner weekly writing review, reflect on your previous week by answering the following questions:

  • How often did you keep your scheduled writing sessions?
  • What were common reasons you missed sessions? How can you prevent this from happening in the future?
  • How did your individual sessions go?
  • What times of day are you most alert? When does your energy dip?
  • What activities energize you? Which ones drain you?

How You Know You Are Ready for an Intermediate Weekly Writing Review

You are ready for the intermediate stage if you:

  • Have done four consecutive weekly writing reviews (whether or not you have kept your writing appointments)
  • Write regularly at least four times per week consistently (whether or not you have done weekly writing reviews)
  • Have a good sense of when you are naturally most energetic during the day
  • Know what activities energize you and which drain you

If these criteria describe you, congratulations! You are ready to begin the intermediate stage!

What Should You Focus on in Intermediate Weekly Writing Reviews?

In the beginner stage, the main focus was developing a weekly planning habit and scheduling writing to fit your existing schedule. In this stage, you will flip your priorities: you will optimize your schedule for writing and fit your other tasks around it. You gain momentum in your academic writing projects by intentionally scheduling your writing sessions for times when you do your best thinking.

How to Do an Intermediate Weekly Writing Review

I have written this post to help scholars move from beginner to advanced. So,  if you are starting off at the intermediate level, you should read and complete the “Before You Do Your First Weekly Writing Review” section above.

  1. At your scheduled “weekly writing review” appointment, open up your calendar of choice.
  2. Block off all the commitments in the upcoming week whose times cannot be changed, like sleeping, teaching, eating, office hours, commuting, committee meetings, medical appointments, social events, etc.
  3. Block off any days/times you choose not to work (weekend, evenings, etc.)
  4. Highlight or otherwise mark your peak energy times, including periods after activities that energize you.
  5. Highlight or otherwise mark your low energy times. These include times immediately after activities that drain you.
  6. Schedule four writing sessions (minimum 15 minutes; maximum 3 hours) during your peak energy times on different days. Write down when and where you will write, and how you will be accountable.
  7. Next, make a list of your things you must do in the upcoming week whose times you can control. Estimate the amount of time each will take. These include professional things like lesson planning, grading, and emailing and personal things like exercise, cooking, family time, etc.
  8. Now, put the tasks from #5 onto your calendar. Try to schedule low energy tasks (like emailing) or tasks that reenergize you for your low energy periods.
  9. Review whether you have enough time to complete what you must do with your writing schedule. If not, review your to-do list and make sure everything needs to be done this week. Or, consider whether you can get help to take some of those responsibilities off your plate. If neither of these is an option, you can shorten or eliminate writing sessions as a last resort.

As you go about your week, monitor:

  • How often do you keep your writing appointments? Are there common reasons for missing them?
  • How easily do you begin each session?
  • How focused are you during each session?
  • Do you get interrupted frequently? If so, why?

Intermediates: Adding in Reflection to Weekly Reviews

After your first intermediate weekly writing review, you should first reflect on your previous week and brainstorm how you can make this week more successful before doing your normal review.

Answer the following questions:

  • How often did you keep your writing appointments? Were there common reasons for missing them?
  • How easily did you begin each session?
  • How focused were you during each session?
  • Did you get interrupted frequently? If so, what interruptions happened?
  • How did matching your writing appointments to your energy levels work out?

How You Know You are Ready for an Advanced Weekly Writing Review

You are ready for the advanced stage if you:

  • Have done four consecutive intermediate weekly writing reviews and have kept 75% of your appointments
  • Are confident that your current writing sessions are scheduled at peak energy times
  • Can reliably accomplish all your other weekly tasks in the remaining time
  • Have a general sense of how focused you are during your sessions and some common interruptions that derail you

What Should You Focus on in Advanced Weekly Writing Reviews?

In intermediate weekly writing reviews, the main focus was optimizing your weekly schedule to ensure we could save your peak energy times for writing, while still getting all your tasks done. In advanced weekly writing reviews, we will add in one final layer of complexity. You will focus on planning not just your week, but each writing session, to make sure you save your precious writing time for actual writing (not deciding what to do). You will also focus on beginning each session with an opening ritual, ending each one with a closing ritual, and setting product-focused goals for the week.

How to Do An Advanced Weekly Writing Review

Because I have written this post to help scholars move from beginner to advanced, if you are starting off at the advanced level, you should read and complete the “Beginners: Before You Do Your First Weekly Writing Review” section above.

  1. At your scheduled “weekly writing review” appointment, open up your calendar of choice.
  2. At the advanced level, I assume that you already have a minimum of four scheduled writing appointments per week that you keep with 75% regularity. If this is the case, block them off on your calendar. If this is not the case, consider returning to the intermediate stage.
  3. Make your to-do list, and put those items on your calendar, or block off times for your week’s responsibilities (grading, prep, etc.)
  4. Set your product-focused weekly writing goal.
  5. Break your product-oriented weekly writing goal down into actionable steps.
  6. Prioritize your actionable steps and determine your “big 3.”
  7. Assign your actionable steps to individual writing sessions. (What, specifically, will you accomplish during that session?)

During the week, do the following:

  1. Begin each writing session with an opening ritual. Write down the date, time, project name, and actionable step(s) you will accomplish during that session.
  2. End each writing session with a closing ritual. Write down the end time, what you accomplished, when you will write next (date and time), and what actionable step(s) you will tackle.
  3. Monitor what types of tasks (drafting, structural editing, copyediting) seem easiest in which contexts and at which times.
  4. Track how long different tasks take, and how much you are reliably able to accomplish in 30 minutes.

Advanced: How to Add Reflection to your Weekly Writing Review

Each subsequent week, you should open your scheduled writing review by reflecting on the previous week. Answer the following:

  • Did you accomplish your product-focused weekly writing goal? If not, was the problem with the writing or the goal?
  • What challenges did you face in your writing sessions? How can you avoid these problems in the future?
  • What did you learn about how much you can reliably accomplish in 30 minutes? How will you use this information to recalibrate your scheduling in future weeks?

Your turn…

Did you make it all the way from beginner to advanced? Or, are you interested in giving weekly writing reviews a try, but haven’t started yet? Have a question about how this all works? Let me know by email or in the comments below!

Have a friend or writing partner that could benefit from a weekly writing review? I’d be so grateful if you’d share this post with them using the buttons below.

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