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3 Quick Points About Productivity and Writing

March 7, 2012, 9:30 am

This week is Spring Break, which means students get to go on vacations while faculty get caught up on work. And get caught up I did. Yesterday I set aside the entire day to focus on a single project: the completion of a draft of an article that I started in May 2011 (!), which got back-burnered last summer during our move to Michigan, and never quite made it out of neutral. The unfinished nature of that paper has been weighing on me for almost a year, so I wanted the thing done.

Rather than try to tweak and edit the existing manuscript, I just threw the whole thing out and started over again with a clearer concept, a clearer argument, and a clearer mind. Four hours later, I had completely rebuilt a 15-page article from the ground up, and I should be able to send it off to the journal by the end of the week. I’m a little shocked by this. It brought to mind three points about writing and productivity that I want to share.

1. It’s pretty amazing what you can get done when you have nothing competing for your attention. When you can put all your focus onto one thing for an entire day, the sky’s the limit. As a dad, and husband, and teacher of three courses a semester (which I consider a light load), I don’t get those uninterrupted swaths of time very often. When they come around, I tend to defend them fanatically. So should you.

2. When you are trying to write an article or some other significant piece — or even something insignificant like a blog post — and the piece is poorly structured or poorly thought-out, there’s basically nothing you can do to get the thing written. The design of the piece works against you and your best efforts. In such cases, trash everything and start over — it takes less time.

3. On the other hand, when you draft a piece that has a clear point to make and has a logical and sensible flow to it, it almost writes itself. You have to work not to get the thing written.

This all sounds like Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s notion of “flow”.

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