Managing your time during the long game

Swift RLF by Danny Hilton

Image credit: Danny Hilton

One of the main similarities between academic writing and novel writing is length. Novels and dissertations are long pieces of work, requiring complex and detailed content, rigorous planning and oodles of stamina. You need to play the long game.

When I led workshops on dissertation writing for undergraduates at the University of East London this year, I included a session on time management. I have never read any hefty self-help tomes or been on any special courses on the subject, but I have realised over the years that my time-management strategy is a major tool that I use to get the job done.

Many writers and students feel defeated by the task before they’ve even begun. The project seems too big even to start, and that’s where there’s a danger of procrastination and displacement activity. My response is to break the job down into manageable segments and allocate a task to each available writing session. I put my writing slots into my diary alongside going to the dentist and remembering my nieces’ birthdays.

In my time management session, I give the students a blank calendar for the next two months. I tell them they are filling in the calendar for an imaginary friend and I decide the delivery date for the friend’s dissertation. I give them other essay deadlines and ask them to block out time for writing these essays. We add lectures, paid work, social commitments and days off. Then we get down to the nitty-gritty: time for reading, planning, first draft, editing, second draft, proofreading and so on. It quickly becomes clear that although the imaginary friend will be busy, they will be able to get the task done. This exercise isn’t rocket science but it seems to work: at the end of the session nearly all of the students ask for spare copies of the calendar. I hope it’s because they want to use them to play their own long game.

31 August 2016