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Not long ago, I opened an email from my graduate advisor and felt a jolt of nerves as I read:
“I’m concerned that you’ll be working to complete a long, ambitious project in quite a short amount of time. Our deadline is fast approaching.”
I had just changed my Master’s thesis topic and now had a monumental task ahead of me. I had to research and write a 30-page article in three weeks. This wasn’t my first project of this length but it was my first time completing one with such a tight turnaround while also working full-time.
I knew I couldn’t afford to wait for inspiration to strike, so I set out to approach the project in a systematic way. Spoiler alert: I finished the thesis on time.
This article is the first in a series that will cover strategies and tools for completing ambitious writing projects, like articles, proposals, white papers, and essays.
First, Set An Observation Period
Writing is often considered a creative or even artistic process that’s largely intuitive. But in the early stages of writing—especially something lengthy, complex, or time-sensitive—your job is to be a scientist. By setting a period of observation at the beginning, you’ll gather essential data about how to finish and how to do it on time.
This scientific approach won’t dampen your creativity. Far from it. You’ll create conditions that encourage your creativity without making you feel helpless when inspiration doesn’t hit like a bolt of lightning. (It rarely does.)
Depending on the length of your project, your observation period might be a couple of hours or a couple of days. The key is to divide your time into equal blocks that are easy to analyze.
Before you start working, set a goal for each time block. Don’t overthink this; just note what you hope to accomplish in a given time. For now, it doesn’t matter if you hit each goal. During your observation period, you’re simply trying to track your actual rate of progress against what you think you’ll get done.
Write In Short, Consistent Increments
Keeping your work sessions short is key: you’ll be able to set more accurate goals, you won’t get burned out, and it’ll be easier to avoid distractions (more on that later in this series). To start, I recommend the Pomodoro Technique, a time management method that breaks up your work into intervals of 25 minutes, with 5-minute breaks in between. Though simple, the method is deceptively powerful, and I’ve been using it for years. (Pro-tip: It’s helpful for any difficult task that you dread doing—like cleaning your house!)
Twenty-five minutes might not sound like long enough to make much progress. But don’t give into the temptation to work through your break if you’re on a roll. Instead, finish out your thought, leave yourself a note about where you’ll pick back up, and then step away. Working through your breaks will burn you out quickly and damage your future productivity. Instead, do something easy, different, or enjoyable, and you’ll feel refreshed for your next Pomodoro.
Create A Log And Assess Your Rate Of Productivity
This next step will give you priceless insight into your own process: take note of how much you accomplish in each time block, and quantify it as thoroughly as you can. Your notes should look something like these: produced 400 words of freewriting; edited 2 pages; skimmed 15 pages of an academic article.
Compare what you got done to your original goal. Did you write two pages in 25 minutes but edit four pages in the same amount of time? Are you constantly interrupting writing time to do more research? Do you tend to set goals that are too ambitious? Too conservative?
Now you know how to calibrate your goals for each session, and you’re armed with critical data about your own process that will give you a realistic hypothesis for how long it will take you to complete your project. Instead of hoping you finish by the deadline, you’ll know how long it will take you—give or take unexpected obstacles along the way.
In the next article, I’ll discuss using the data you gathered from your observation period to create a road map for finishing your project. To read the rest of the series, use the blue follow button at the top of the article near my byline.
The post Up Against A Deadline? Tips For Writing Your Way To The Finish Line appeared first on WorldNewsEra.