You need to track your writing progress even on the days you don’t show up. Especially on the days you don’t show up.
If you track only the days you work on a writing project, and for one reason or another, you don’t work for a day or two, your tracking document will remain blank. Two days away can stretch into three or four, and you get hazy about how long you’ve been AWOL.
The only way you can ensure you won’t get to the end of the week (or month, or longer) and suddenly realize how long it’s been since you gave your writing the time and energy it deserves is to track what happens with your writing practices every day.
If you write “zero minutes” for Product Time (aka writing time) on Tuesday and then again on Wednesday and Thursday, you can’t really be surprised when Sunday rolls around and you haven’t put in the five 15-minute sessions you intended.
How I Track
My Product Time commitment has been the same 15 minutes a day, Monday through Friday for years. It’s engraved in my consciousness, so I no longer need to record that.
NOTE: Students in my Brain Science for Writers class receive tracking forms as part of their class materials. You can find both pdf and Word file versions of two tracking tables (one for tracking the three habits of Process, Self-Care and Product Time, the other for tracking more details about Product Time) on the Around the Writer’s Block Forms page. Feel free to adapt these to suit your needs. If you don’t want to track as many details about Product Time as I do, don’t. If you want to track more, go ahead.
On Monday mornings, I fill in the columns for my intended start time, my target time and what I intend to work on for each day of the week. (Let me clarify: a commitment is what I do No Matter What. A target is a stretch goal, but not something I’m committed to. If I hit the target I’m aiming for, great; and if I don’t hit it, also great.)
When I start a Product Time session, I record my actual starting time. As soon as I finish a writing session, I track the time I stop, the amount of time I worked, what I worked on. I often make notes about how I felt about the day’s writing, how I rewarded myself and what I want to do in my next session.
At the end of the day, I compare my intended and actual starting times, my intended target time and how long I actually worked, and what I intended to work on and what I actually worked on. Small deviations don’t worry me. Simply observing the daily intentions and actuals keeps me on track.
An unexpected emergency or intense resistance might make me miss one day’s Product Time in a year. If it does, I know it immediately and take corrective action.
So if I spend an hour writing and posting a blog, I record “1 hour blog” as Product Time. If I spend 45 minutes reading while I’m on the treadmill at the Y, I record “45 minutes research” for Product Time and “45 minutes exercise” for Self-Care as soon as I get back to my office.
When I go on vacation, I enter 0 minutes as my intended target time for each day I’ll be gone and make a note that my commitment is not the standard 15 minutes, but 0 minutes. When I return from vacation, I record 0 minutes for each day and have the satisfaction of knowing I honored 100% of my 0-minute commitments.
If you want engrained writing habits, you need to track what you do — and what you don’t do — every day. You’ll find more Tricks of Tracking in my next post. You’ll find accountability, support and encouragement in my Brain Science for Writers class.