Tuesday, August 04, 2009


While on vacation, I met a guy that was preparing to run a marathon later this year, and I was pleasantly surprised to learn that he was using a 16-week training program to get into shape for it. I also know of at least one business coach who presents budding entrepreneurs with a "sixteen-week challenge". It got me to thinking: is there something magical about that number?

Probably not. It's just in the right range of what we might call "finitude". While say, one year or half-a-year or one semester are all finite amounts of time, they either don't suggest divisibility or only an infinite kind of divisibility.

You can carve up a length of one (or one half) in any number of pieces. But a length of 16 suggests, well, 16 pieces. A 16-week running program will normally imply 64 runs. It's much easier to imagine progress (say, 5 kilometers the first day and 25 the last) over such a concrete number than committing yourself to runnning "four times a week until Christmas".

As a point of departure for a writing plan, I suggests 5 "working" pieces (weekdays), so about 80 pieces altogether (of 3 hours each). The idea of getting, say, two papers written during 80 writing sessions is simply clearer than devoting "next semester" to "getting something done". It is therefore easier to put into practice. 48 (3 times a week) or 64 (4 times a week) gives you less time but produces the same experience of finitude.

So that's the lesson for today: a writing plan should give you a sense of the finitude of your task. We don't all have to run a marathon this year. But we do all have to make some progress.

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