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.
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.
You are at the beginner level if you:
- Do currently write for 15 minutes at least 4 times per week (if not, first work through my article: “How to Establish a Daily Writing Habit from Scratch”)
- Don’t currently schedule your writing sessions for the upcoming week
- Have never tracked how your energy levels and focus fluctuate during the day
At the beginner level, you will focus on:
- Scheduling your writing sessions for the upcoming week
- Reviewing and reflecting on your previous writing week
- Tracking your energy levels throughout the day
You are at the intermediate level if you:
- Write at least four times per week most weeks
- Schedule your writing sessions for the upcoming week
- Have a good sense of when you are naturally most energetic during the day
At the intermediate level, you begin to optimize your schedule at the weekly level by:
- Fitting your writing to your peak energy times
- Noticing the stumbling blocks that derail your writing sessions
You are at the advanced level if you:
- Have scheduled your writing sessions in advance for at least four weeks
- Have kept at least 75% of your scheduled writing appointments
- Are sure your current writing sessions are scheduled at peak energy and focus times
- Know what stumbling blocks derail your writing sessions
At the advanced level, you continue to optimize your writing by:
- Setting a guiding week’s product-focused goal and breaking it down into concrete action steps
- Developing process-focused action plans to overcome your own stumbling blocks
- Experimenting with parallel writing rather than serial writing
Beginner Weekly Writing Review
If you’re already writing for 15-minute sessions 4-5 times per week, adding a beginner weekly writing review (one hour once per week) will set you on the path to writing more consistently and for longer. Here’s what to do.
Step 1: Commit to a Weekly Writing Review
To make sure this habit sticks, you first need to commit to it. Copy down the following paragraph, sign it, and place it in a prominent place. Put your weekly writing review on your calendar.
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].
Step 2: Your First Weekly Writing Review
- When your scheduled weekly writing review time comes, open your calendar of choice to the upcoming week.
- Block off all non-negotiable commitments.
- Block off any days/times you choose not to work (weekend, evenings, etc.)
- In the remaining time, identify one 15-minute block on at least 4 days when you commit to writing. Put these as appointments on your calendar. State when and where you will write. Decide how you will make yourself accountable for that session. Will you meet a colleague? Text a writing partner?
- Develop your opening routine and read my article on closing routines.
Step 3: During the Week
During the week, track whether you kept your appointment or not.
If you fail to keep your appointments, follow the steps in my article, “How to Start a Daily Writing Habit from Scratch.” Once you are able to keep daily 15-minute appointments for a week, add a beginner weekly writing review back in.
Track your energy levels throughout the day this week. The easiest way is to write down times when you feel a “dip” in your energy. A more accurate but labor-intensive way is to write down your energy level (from 1-10) every hour.
Step 4: Reflect on Your Week & Schedule Your Upcoming Week
From now on, every weekly writing review will begin by reflecting on the previous week. Over time, you will start to see patterns emerge. Answer 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?
Then, return to step 2 to plan your upcoming week.
When & Why to Move on to Intermediate Weekly Writing Reviews
Beginner weekly writing reviews are meant to cultivate two habits:
- Reflecting on how the week went and scheduling writing sessions in the week ahead
- Writing for at least 15 minutes 4 times per week
But in the beginning weekly writing review, you fit your writing in where you can.
This works when first establishing a writing habit, but it’s ideal for longer writing sessions and large writing projects.
Instead, you need to be proactive and, when possible, schedule writing to fit your focus and energy levels.
Intermediate Weekly Writing Review
If you’re already writing consistently and scheduling your writing sessions for the upcoming week, an intermediate weekly writing review will help you extend your habit and match your writing times to when you’re naturally most focused. Here’s what to do.
Step 1: Block Your Writing Times by Energy and Focus
Now that you have a better sense of how your energy and focus fluctuate over the course of a typical day, you will use that knowledge to reserve your writing for your personal “peak.”
Read my article “Are you Making Scholarly Writing 20% Harder? How to Maximize Your Focus and Productivity” to learn why you should schedule in this way.
Open your calendar for the upcoming week.
Block off any non-negotiable commitments and times when you will not work.
In the remaining time, identify 30 minutes to an hour each day when you are most energetic and focused. Schedule your writing session for those blocks and state where you will write and how you will make yourself accountable.
If scheduling your writing in this way means you schedule writing time when you would normally be doing something else (like class prep), schedule that other activity during the day so you know when it will get done.
Step 2: During the Week
At your designated writing session times, note your energy and focus levels.
During each writing session, monitor any stumbling blocks that appear.
Throughout the day, monitor how your energy and focus fluctuates. Again, the easiest way is to write down times when you feel a “dip” in your energy. A more accurate but labor-intensive way is to write down your energy level (from 1-10) every hour.
Step 3: Reflect on Your Week & Schedule Your Upcoming Week
Answer the following questions to reflect on the previous writing week. Over time, through these reflections, you will start to see patterns emerge.
- 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? (see the “Troubleshooting” section of “How to Start a Daily Writing Habit from Scratch” for ideas)
- What times of day are you most alert? When does your energy dip?
- What stumbling blocks seem to trip you up the most?
Now, return to step 1 and start again for the upcoming week.
When & Why to Move on to Advanced Weekly Writing Reviews
Intermediate weekly writing reviews move you in an important direction: they help you dedicate your most valuable time–when you’re most alert and focused–for your academic writing, a challenging intellectual task.
If you’re consistently doing intermediate-level weekly writing reviews, you’re already doing enough to keep academic writing sustainable in the long term.
But, there are a few more things you can do to be as intentional as possible with your writing. Advanced weekly writing reviews build on this solid foundation, adding three key components:
- Break your project down into a week’s worth of product-focused weekly goals and action steps (rather than just one small goal each session)
- Tackle the stumbling blocks that derail you
- Experiment with balancing multiple projects at a time
Advanced Weekly Writing Review
If you’re already writing consistently and scheduling your writing time for when you’re most focused and alert, then you’re 80% of the way there.
What makes the advanced level different is that you can choose to add on supplemental activities that will take your productivity even further. Pick one to start; over time, you can adopt more, as they work for you.
Core of an Advanced Weekly Writing Review
The core of advanced weekly writing reviews remain the same as at the intermediate level. Reflect on your previous week and schedule your upcoming week matching writing to your “peak.”
Advanced Add-On 1: Product-Focused Weekly Goals and Action Steps
Up to this point, you’ve been setting a small goal for the upcoming writing session in each closing routine.
But now that you’re consistently scheduling your writing in advance, you can also take a more global perspective on your writing project goals, as well.
My post “Set Product-Focused Weekly Goals to Boost Academic Productivity” will help you set a tangible goal for the week. Then, it will show you how to break it down into action steps and prioritize them.
Advanced Add-On 2: Process-Focused Weekly Goal
Now that you have a good idea about the stumbling blocks that trip you up, check out my post “Remove Your Writing Roadblocks to Increase Productivity.”
It shows you, step by step, how to set process-focused writing goals. Doing so will help ensure your writing process continues to become more efficient.
Advanced Add-On 3: Scheduling Multiple Projects
While I was writing my first book, I found that I rarely had 6-12 weeks of uninterrupted time to work consistently on only one project. Instead, working on at least two projects at the same time worked better for me.
I typically scheduled two writing sessions per day–one in the morning and one in the afternoon.
Each of these sessions had a different purpose.
My morning session–when I am most focused and alert–was for my drafting project: usually an upcoming conference paper that I planned to expand into a journal article.
During my afternoon session, I worked on my revising project: usually an article that had received an R&R decision, or one of my book’s chapters.
Scheduling separate drafting and revising sessions each day meant I was able to continue to make progress on my book (the extremely long-term project) while finishing shorter-term projects like conference papers and articles.
Try it and see how it works for you!
If you’re regularly scheduling your writing week by week and want to develop a more regular weekly template, check out my introduction to what I call the “container routine”: Container Routine 101.
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