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Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Weekly Report

Every Monday, I meet with a group of researchers and then with a group of PhD students. The purpose of the meetings is to talk about our writing processes. Everyone makes a report that answers three questions:

  1. What/when did you plan to write last week?
  2. What/when did you actually write last week?
  3. What/when have you planned to write this week?
Each report ideally takes under five minutes to make. A weekly plan normally consists of zero to five writing sessions with one to three writing tasks. What you really did in each session is a cold fact, not a deep psychological question. Notice that none of the questions are about the future; they are not about what you will or intend to do. They are about a what you have done (or not), and what you have planned (or not).

After each report we spend a bit of time on the question of why last week didn't go as planned (or why it did) and what lessons from this experience have been carried into this week's plan. That sometimes gets a bit deeper, but the solution is normally one or another stupid trick. Plan more realistically. Start on time. Stop on time. Have a clearer idea of the claim(s) you are writing to. Shorten the sessions. Plan to start them a half-hour later. Etc.

It's good to do this in a social setting and, if done right, there's a good feeling in the room, a "tough love", if you will, that makes us better people. But a weekly report like this can also be useful if done alone. If you take the Sixteen Week Challenge, for example, resolve to make sixteen reports. It will help to keep you focused and make your planning more realistic as you proceed.

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