One of the way’s I’ve used to track my writing–as a general source of information for me, and as a self-monitoring device–has been using a daily/weekly schedule. (See graphic at right.) This was especially effective during the MFA years, specifically the final year, because I had an idea–after the first residency semester–the amount of time I needed to cover all of the bases of the MFA writing life: writing, reading, critiquing, planning, etc.
Simply put, I devised a schedule of necessary activities by dividing available time into blocks and each time block was dedicated to one of the ongoing tasks I needed to accomplish. As the week went by, I checked off the completion boxes beside each scheduled activity. It was a more-rigid method of tracking my progress than just using a “to do” list, but it had built-in flexibility. If I missed time to blog on Monday morning, I could make up for it later. If I wrote more than three hours on Tuesday afternoon, I could check off additional boxes and move things around. Thursday (not pictured) was a “free day” where I could make up for having lost a day to substitute teaching or, if I had kept up with the schedule, I could head out to Anna Maria Island, take the kayak for a spin, or throw my arm out casting unappealing bait into Sarasota Bay.
The benefit was two-fold: I pre-planned the sorts of things I needed to do, and the time I would need to do them, ahead of time and, more importantly, I could gauge how well my plan was working. (Or, in more corporate lingo, how well I was “working my plan.”) At the end of every week, I could see how successful I had been and if I had maintained a balance attack on the work at hand. I could see, for example, if I’d spent too much time reading and blogging, while neglecting the actual work of writing stories and revising my work.
An alternative method–one I’ve been using since I graduated–is less of a schedule and more like a daily activity sheet. It is a log of activity, not a calendar. The daily sheet is based on my desire to continue a balanced and active creative life, even without the pressure of deadlines and instructor expectations. I came up with several categories that reflect the five areas of emphasis necessary for maintaining a creative rhythm, as described in Todd Henry’s book, The Accidental Creative. (I’ve mentioned that book before, and I’m likely to do so again and again.)
This activity log contains all of the writing-related (or, creative-related) activities I want to continually address. I have 150 of these sheets bound together and as I make notes on the tracking sheet, I can monitor how often I am addressing each of the areas. Looking back over a week or two at a time, I can see where I’ve made progress and where I’ve neglected my goals. When I notice deficiencies in my work habits, I can make changes to address them.
The activity log method is much less structured than the weekly/daily calendar I used to use. So far, I’ve found the extra “wiggle room” to be a hindrance to staying “on task”. The more structured approach was much more straight forward, even in its rigidity. As the next few months unfold, I hope that the new method will settle in, but, I am open to returning to the calendar method.
There are a number of ways to track your progress, but I do believe it is important to find SOME method that works for you. Making a plan, attempting to accomplish that plan, and tracking the progress is an important part of a sustained, prolific creative life.