In previous posts, I outlined how to publish more articles by tracking your writing, how to use opening rituals to make each writing session productive, and how to use closing rituals to set yourself up for success in your next session. But those posts left out one key piece. How do you set actionable product-focused weekly writing goals? In this post, I break down goal setting for academic writing into manageable steps. Use the framework to make your large academic writing projects more manageable.
Why Should You Set Product-Focused Weekly Writing Goals?
Academic writing projects are large and are not necessarily linear. The most powerful thing you can do to make your academic writing more sustainable is to set product-focused weekly writing goals. They are more effective than time-based goals for writers who are struggling to write regularly because they
- break your large project down into manageable steps
- force you to ensure that the research you do is in service of your own writing
- As Pat Thompson (author of Patter) outlines, junior scholars often spend too much time researching for researching’s sake
- are significant enough to give you a regular sense of accomplishment
- are not so significant that it makes course correcting difficult
Below, I walk you through setting product-focused weekly writing goals.
How to Set Product-Focused Weekly Writing Goals for Your Academic Writing Projects
A product-based weekly writing goal is a commitment to yourself to produce a specific part of your overall academic writing project. It will help you focus on the most important tasks and selectively ignore other pieces until later. Your goal should identify a product you can print and hold in your hands at the end of the week.
You should set aside one hour per week to set your product-focused weekly writing goal.
To set your product-focused weekly writing goal, finish the following prompt:
By the end of the week, I will have written…
To make your product-focused weekly writing goal as strong as possible, you should:
- Define the part of your larger piece or specific item you will produce (abstract, introduction section, close reading of a particular text, etc.)
- Identify the quality of writing you will produce (free writing, first draft, polished, etc.)
- Quantify your goal (500 words, two paragraphs, etc.), if applicable
What Are Examples of Strong Product-Focused Weekly Writing Goals?
By the end of the week, I will have written…
- a first draft of my paper’s introduction section
- a final abstract of my conference paper
- rough close readings of scenes A, B, and C in novel X
- 500 polished words of my chapter’s section on [topic]
- a summary of 3 articles, laying out how my paper builds on or extends them that I will use in my lit review
Why Should You Break Your Product-Focused Weekly Writing Goal Down into Actionable Steps?
Setting product-focused weekly writing goals helps boost academic productivity because it puts the emphasis on producing writing, even if it is not polished. But sometimes we set goals that are not realistic for the amount of time we have in a week or the shape or stage your academic writing project is currently in (rough v. copyediting). Breaking our product-focused weekly writing goal into actionable steps can reveal contingencies—other tasks we need to do first, before we can achieve our product-focused goal. Additionally, breaking our product-focused weekly writing goals down will reveal any bottlenecks in our system.
Step 1: How to Break Down Your Product-Focused Weekly Writing Goal into an Unranked list of All Actionable Steps
In this step, your goal is to simple. Break your product-focused weekly writing goal down into all of the actionable steps you will need to accomplish in order to produce that piece of writing. In the beginning, you should try to be as granular as possible.
As you write down each action step, you should ask yourself: “Could I sit down and start working on this thing right now?” If not, there is probably a contingency hiding in your actionable step. So, you need to break the actionable step you just wrote down into multiple steps.
For instance, imagine you have decided that your weekly product goal is to write “rough close readings of scenes A, B, and C in novel X.” You write down your first actionable task: “reread scene A.” Then, you ask yourself “could I sit down and start working on this thing right now?” You realize your book is packed away, so before you can reread, you must “find novel X.” Or, maybe you want to produce a final abstract of your conference paper. So, you write down “write abstract.” But then you realize that you must first reread the conference CFP.
As you write down each step, you should also ask yourself: “Must I do this task before I can do something else on my list?” If so, this task is a bottleneck. If you find a bottleneck, write an easily identifiable symbol (such as “[B]”) next to it. You will use these to help you prioritize your list in step 2.
Examples of Actionable Steps for “Rough Close readings of Scenes A, B, and C in Novel X”
Here is an example of how you might break this larger product-focused weekly writing goal into actionable steps. You might think that these steps seem trivial. In the beginning, though, it is crucial that you break your product-focused goal down into such small steps. Doing so will help you identify contingencies and bottlenecks and prioritize your weekly tasks. It will also give you a concrete list of things to do every time you sit down to write. You will no longer waste your precious writing time deciding what to do—you can just sit down and do it!
- Reread scene A, noting the visual language [B] (I cannot do later steps without doing this one)
- Make list of key themes or words/phrases
- Write out interpretation of key words and phrases
- Summarize findings on scene A, writing full sentences and incorporating textual evidence
- Reread scene B, noting aural language
- Make list of key themes or words/phrases
- Summarize findings on scene B, writing full sentences and incorporating textual evidence
- Write paragraph comparing findings on scene A and scene B and think about how I will transition from one idea to the other in my essay
- … (you get the idea)
Step 2: Choosing Your “Big 3” for the Week and Prioritize Your Remaining Actionable Steps
Don’t worry if step 1 was a bit overwhelming. This step is about figuring out what’s important and making a realistic working plan.
No matter how much we plan, sometimes things happen and we aren’t able to do as much as we’d hoped.
In this step, pretend that you can only do three of your action steps this week. If that were the case, what would you choose? Try to prioritize bottleneck tasks above all others.
It seems counterintuitive, but choosing your “Big 3,” and deciding that your writing week will have been successful if you accomplish your Big 3 can help make writing seem much more manageable. It can also help you write much more consistently. All you have to do this week is three small things (even if these steps do not add up to your total product goal!).
Finally, make an ordered list of all your other action steps for the week. Hang your product goal and actionable steps up in a place where you can see it while you work (or, better yet, save it to your computer’s desktop or as your phone’s wallpaper). When you sit down to write, simply pick up with the next actionable step, and get to it! At the end of the week, you can choose to roll any remaining actionable steps over to the next week, or to go in a different direction!
Step 3: Reflect on Your Writing Week
At the end of the week during your scheduled hour to review how you did and set a new product-focused weekly writing goal, answer the following questions:
- What did you produce this week? Did you accomplish your product-focused weekly writing goal?
- Did you get your Big 3 done? Why or why not?
- What did you learn about your academic writing process?
- What did you learn about your product-focused goal setting process?
Then, head back up and set a new product-focused weekly writing goal for the upcoming week! Over time, you will find that your academic writing project is really the sum of weekly product-focused writing goals and their actionable steps.
Do you currently set a product-focused weekly writing goal for your academic writing projects? If so, how is it working for you? If not, why not? I would love to hear from you in the comments or by email. Or, if you know someone who could use this structured step-by-step approach to setting product-focused academic writing goals, I’d be so grateful if you would share this post using the buttons below!