Monday, June 27, 2011

The Challenge of Multiple Projects

At the Colony workshop last week, I was asked to devote the next (and final) workshop to the difficulties of managing multiple writing projects. I quickly decided to frame this in terms of 16-week challenge, and when I went back to my last post on the subject, what did I find? Matt's question about "working on multiple projects at once"? The challenge is precisely both a question and an answer.

Planning is all about appreciating your finitude.

Let's assume you are going on vacation at the end of June and that you'll be away until mid-August (counting a few summer conferences and workshops, etc.). By mid-to-late August you want to start up again. My advice is to make a plan to that effect. Use the fall break as a midway point. In Denmark that's week 42 (October 17-23). Count off eight full weeks before and eight full weeks after the break. That's August 22 to December 17. You've now got two limited periods of intensely planned (not necessarily intense) work. On how many of those days will you devote three hours to writing? On how many, two? On how many, only one or one half? What about those days where you can't give your writing even 30 minutes? Can you give it 15? 10? 5? Try resolving to write five days a week for eight weeks, and to do this twice between the summer and Christmas.

Write all those writing sessions (from 5 minutes to 3 hours) into your calender, well aware that you might have to move some of them around a bit, and even reduce some, in order to accommodate your other activities.

Now you can start making some goals. How many writing projects do you have going right now, even in the very early "just ideas in my head" stage? Make a list of them, starting with those that have substantial parts drafted and outlined, and stop when you're really just jotting down loose ideas as they come to you.

Then pick, say, three projects for the first 8 weeks. They don't have to be your most developed ones, but if there is one project that you think you can realistically complete within those 8 or 16 weeks and send off for review, it can be a good idea to choose that one. Perhaps pick another that you're just trying to start up. And a third that you want to send to someone to read and comment on.

The important thing is really that you think of the "project" not just as "the paper" but the process of bringing the paper from one stage of development to another. Outline the project's current state, and then outline it's desired end state (i.e., at the end of the 8 or 16 weeks). And then imagine what you will have to do to get it there.

Now go back to those writing sessions you've planned and begin to put the tasks into your calendar. The more often you take this challenge, the better you will get at cutting your work out for yourself.

Update: I just noticed that Tanya recently posted on this subject here.


matt said...

I can certainly say that the strategies you've proposed here, and your response to my comment a while back are/have been effective.
I finished up my prospectus, a conference paper, and a journal article during the second half of the spring semester while following your advice!

Thomas said...

That's great to hear. And good idea with that new blog. I'll have a post/link to it soon.