This is part 3 of our four cornerstones of writing more series.

Here’s a common writing mistake to stop making now: Putting projects on your to-do list instead of tasks.

If you’ve been writing “finish article” on your to-do list, then you’re guilty of this.

You’re also setting yourself up for failure as you keep moving that project to every day’s to-do list and never checking it off.

Instead, you need to break that project into tasks and put your tasks on your to-do list.

Sounds simple, but almost everyone struggles with this part.

So many of the academic women I coach having been writing for years but still can’t put accurate time estimates on how long it takes for them to do writing tasks. They don’t know if their tasks are too small, too big, or how to fix their ability to estimate tasks size.

In this blog post I propose an exercise that you can do to dial in your ability to estimate the size of your tasks.

It starts with this: Tasks should take less than one hour

Yikes! Less than one hour??

Yes. Here’s why: By putting an arbitrary time limit on tasks–an hour or less–I’m forcing you to start with a time limit and then fit the task to it, instead of starting with a task and guessing the time it will take.

Like all of my writing advice, I just want you to try it and see if it works for you.

Here’s how this looks in practice:

Identify a writing project–let’s say a revise and resubmit. Your first list will be a rough list of tasks. Take 30 minutes to really look at your article and the feedback and create a list of tasks that you need to accomplish.

Now fold a piece of paper in half and then in thirds, making a paper with 6 squares. Each square represents one hour. You can use as many of these papers as you want.

Take your task list and map it into the hour blocks. Some tasks will take less than an hour and so you can fill the box with a few tasks. You’ll also notice that you wrote down tasks on your first list that will take more than an hour, so you’ll need to break these up.

You don’t need to do the tasks in the order that you wrote them in the boxes.

Now you have your tasks mapped out into one hour chunks. When you have an hour of writing time, you do one box.

As you do this exercise, you check off the tasks in the box and you note whether your time estimate was correct or not. You could do this by writing “nailed it!” in all the boxes that you estimated correctly, and “try again!” in the ones that your estimate was off. You could even add a “+” or “-” to the “try again!” boxes to indicate whether you over- or under-estimated.

Of course, you don’t have to do this level of writing self-reflection every time your write something. Maybe do it once for each genre you write this year (article, chapter, grant proposal, conference paper).

This exercises teaches you your personal time estimation tendencies, and helps you self-correct them.

Would you like support in writing more? Join The Academic Women’s Writing Collective and get the support, community, and action to write and publish more. 

Academic Women's Writing Collective

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