I am currently working with multiple clients through my service The Productivity Pipeline. In this post, I am going to give you concrete examples of what that coaching work looks like, what my clients are learning, and the benefits they have received. My work with my clients is confidential. Therefore, this description is not of one particular client, but rather a summation of my work with multiple clients – more of an ideal type than case study.
The work of productivity coaching can seem mysterious. Is the coach just telling you to write more? How do you measure your work? What’s the benefit of one-on-one work? I’ve described my general coaching philosophy here. Below, I hope to demystify my approach and give you the nitty-gritty of what it’s like to work on developing a regular writing habit and accomplishing your publication goals.
My approach to working with clients is informed by my training as a sociologist. Generally, I take a mixed-methods approach, combining quantitative and qualitative measures to not only measure and track progress but also understand how my clients are reacting to the writing process – what strategies are working, where frustrations arises, how they deal with obstacles, and so forth. First, I measure, measure, measure. I have clients track everything they do over the course of the day. While some writing advice ends at “map out X amount of time for writing each day,” I believe that you can’t successfully do that unless you first analyze how you use all of your time. Once my clients track their days, we analyze the amounts of time spent in various ways – on teaching, research, administrative duties, personal time, etc.
Laying a Foundation
Here is an example of how I put my approach in action during client work. Client B has met with me twice so far. We had a 75 minute initial meeting, then the first of our 30 minute bi-weekly meetings. In the first meeting, we covered a lot of ground. We discussed every single project B is working on, and every project B wants to work on from now until B goes up for tenure. Even though my work with B is set to last 6 months, one of the goals I want to achieve is to prepare B to continue work on projects in progress, or begin new projects with a steady foundation and consistent writing habit beyond that time period. Also, knowing B’s entire trajectory helps to establish realistic timelines for each project. For instance, B needs a book in press before going up for tenure. Even though B aims to submit that book to editors in two years, we will discuss what they can do in the next 6 months to move that book project forward. In that case, it means short free writing sessions to generate material for the book, with longer writing sessions devoted to projects with closer deadlines.
In our discussion, we identify first what stage the project is in and, second, what work remains to complete the project. Once that is done, I make a list of the projects, ordering them from most to least complete. Why do I do this? Because the work for each project varies, will require different amounts of time (obviously), and most importantly, will require different types of intellectual energy. Cleaning up a bibliography, for instance, is rather routine work that can be done in short bursts. Crafting an introduction, on the other hand, takes a longer amount of time and much more focus. That knowledge is useful when it’s time to schedule writing and research time. I then create a list of all projects, ordering them by earliest to latest deadline.
Once we have discussed all the projects, we create a timeline. That timeline includes every project that the client will be working on in the next 6 months, even if the project will not be completed in that time period. The timeline is based on the work remaining for the project along with any external deadlines like submission deadlines, conference presentations, workshops, etc.
Establishing Quantitative and Qualitative Measures
When the timeline is complete, we begin to create a schedule. We establish daily writing tasks and weekly goals. Here, I work to be as specific as possible. A weekly goal may be something like “finish introduction for article.” The daily tasks may include, “integrate X literature into introduction,” or “reverse outline draft of introduction to identify weak spots.” This schedule also includes an estimate of how long each task should take and the time of day that the task will happen. As we continue to work together, we assess whether the weekly goals are being met.
To complement the weekly schedule, clients fill out a writing journal. The journal has 4 questions: “What are you going to write today?” “Did you complete your writing?” “What was rewarding/frustrating about your writing session?” and “What will you write in your next session?” The responses help us make sense of a client’s progress. For instance, if a client is constantly distracted during writing sessions, we can try to figure out the source of the distraction. At this point, we can make changes, which might include changing the location of your writing (many clients get distracted writing in their campus offices), revising overly ambitious goals (it’s common for academic writers to want to complete projects VERY QUICKLY), or even changing the time of the writing. For instance, one client discovered that they enjoy writing in the evening, despite their belief that it’s “better” to complete their writing first thing in the morning. With journaling, this client sees, on paper, that their morning writing sessions are not as rewarding or productive as their evening sessions. That “proof” is often necessary to justify making an adjustment to one’s workflow. In my opinion, it’s not possible to make sense of the quantitative data without the qualitative client reflections. I might see that a client is writing consistently on Tuesdays but never completing a task on Wednesday, but without the writing journal I’d have no idea why.
Revision, Revision, Revision
Finally, we constantly revise and tweak the writing plan and schedule. Through bi-weekly meetings, we catch up on the client’s progress and talk through any obstacles that arise. We talk about the minor issues (for instance, a rescheduled faculty meeting that disrupts a scheduled writing day) and the major issues, like being asked to teach an additional course. I then give my clients ideas about how to adapt to both expected and unexpected changes. In one case, a client struggled with keeping a co-author on track. I worked with the client to create a series of internal deadlines to share with the co-author. We also decided that the client would prioritize other projects and put the collaboration on the back burner if the co-author couldn’t (or wouldn’t) meet those deadlines. While much of the work is logistical, an essential part of effective coaching is working with clients to enforce boundaries, protect their writing time, and recognize that changes to their writing plans are in no way an indictment on their ability to successfully complete projects.
The work I do is iterative and customized. While clients share similar goals and even similar jobs, they also have unique personal and professional contexts in which they do their work. For me, this is why I coach one-on-one as opposed to coaching a group. I believe that my clients really benefit from having a person to work with and confide in who knows their goals, trajectory, and work conditions. I also know my clients really appreciate the data that I collect for them – an undertaking they don’t have the time or desire to complete on their own.