It’s the second week of January. Universities, workplaces and our mindsets are getting back into the swing of things. Before you get too embedded in all that, let me ask one thing: did you make any New Year writing resolutions?
Yes? Is this the year you’re going to finish your PhD? Or maybe you’re going to write that novel that’s been bouncing around your brain since 2016? Are you an academic wanting to draft an article each quarter? Or a writer determined to produce a short story each month?
Whatever shape your writing goals take, there’s one habit you can cultivate to give yourself the best chance of success. It’s not white-knuckled willpower, chaining yourself to your desk for 10+ hours each day, or cancelling your Netflix subscription (though a little discipline, desk time and box-set rationing won’t do any harm, as we all know deep down).
What is this (not so) secret weapon?
Tracking your progress.
New Year’s resolutions often fail because they were goals reliant on sustaining effort across the year, but those efforts languished by January’s end, before they could even earn their place as part of your daily or weekly routine. We tell ourselves we’ll make it up later. But then the next festive season rolls around and we look back, bewildered as to where all that time went, wondering where we veered off the resolution rails.
Tracking progress is a simple yet powerful way to keep your resolution show on the road. By checking in with yourself at least weekly, if not daily, you’ll stand a much higher chance of achieving longer term goals. Monitoring your output can also be a huge motivation boost—you get a more regular sense of achievement (I drafted 5,000 words this week! I edited 10 pages today!) rather than one big bang at year’s end.
In other words, hitting your shorter-term goals is key to fostering an attitude of habitual success. That alone can reconfigure your resolutions into more carrot, less stick. Regularly recording your progress can also help you make a writing time budget, which is another key strategy to prevent deadline stress (a very real risk to long-term writing projects).
So, all sounds good in theory, right? Right?!
Good. Glad we’re on the same page. And now, because figuring out how to track your progress can sometimes seem daunting in itself, here’s 3 of my favourite practical tools to get you started:
Pacemakers of various applications have one thing in common—they keep things ticking along (literally or figuratively) in the desired or optimum rhythm. Pacemaker for writers and students is a super handy tool for setting your writing pattern and tracking your progress against your targets. It’s free to create an account, and from there add your projects and associated goals, whether they’re drafting, editing, proofreading or more (these days there’s even tracking for exercise and other common New Year’s resolution activities).
With various options, Pacemaker can quickly tell you how long a project will take to complete at a certain rate of progress, or tell you how much you need to accomplish each day to meet a time-bound goal. It also helps you tailor your efforts to your schedule—if Mondays are always a nightmare, you can let Pacemaker know you won’t be getting any writing done that day and it will factor it into what you need to achieve for the rest of the week.
Did I mention there’s output graphs? Anyone who knows me well knows I love a good graph. If you get a thrill out of seeing lines and stats climb each day towards your goal, then Pacemaker is for you.
Another awesome thing about Pacemaker is that if you do fall behind, you can quickly get an idea of how much work you’re going to have to do to catch up. It also allows you to compare how you’ve fared with previous projects so that you can more finely tune current and future goals. Plus, you can easily share your Pacemaker projects with friends for insta-accountability. What’s not to like?
Not into numbers and graphs? Never fear! Why not try the Sticker Method to visually keep track of your writing progress? Take one wall calendar, acquire some stickers of your choice (Metallic stars! Cute animals! Sparkly rhinestones! Scratch and sniffs—just make sure they’re fairly small in size). Decide on your units of measurement (100 words, 500 words, pages edited, etc), and then add one or more stickers to each day on the calendar on which you achieve that goal.
You’ll very quickly get a sense of how you’re tracking by how colourful your calendar becomes. I know a number of people who have employed this method over the years, but prolific author Victoria Schwab gives a great overview, complete with pictures, over on her Tumblr.
Did I mention V is prolific? Yeah, there’s something in that.
Fancy having your daily goals mapped out, ready to tackle each morning? Then why not try keeping a writing journal. Or, you could go all out and invest in the progress-tracking-bells-and-whistles of something like a Self Journal, which prompts you to record and review your progress against your goals at daily, weekly and 3-monthly intervals.
The Self Journal was designed to incorporate productivity principles employed by writers, entrepreneurs and athletes in one place to set goals and track progress. Each double-page daily entry provides a template to map out your schedule, space to record reminders of your longer term goals, and a section for lessons learned and wins to brag about. Plus there’s a motivational quote, to boot!
While I love the ready-made structure and the aesthetic appeal of these journals (they’re like the accountability version of writing in a Moleskine), they’re not the cheapest option. For that reason, there’s nothing stopping you from getting yourself a plain notebook and applying the same principles—a ‘take what you like and leave the rest’ strategy. Or you could simply record your word output against each day in a standard diary, adding notes each week or month to remind yourself at regular intervals to review how you’re tracking against your goals.
Whether you choose one of these methods or another is completely up to you. But I thoroughly recommend you make this year one in which you track your progress—consistently and regularly. You’ll stay motivated, keep on top of your writing goals, and have a baseline from which to make your resolutions reality—this year and for years to come.
Looking for even more of a writing productivity boost this year? I am available for Thesis Boot Camps for postgraduate students, and workshops for students, supervisors and creative writers. These can also be delivered online, easily accessed from a home computer. Please get in touch for more information.