The Writing Productivity Pipeline

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Like many researchers, I’m both interested and invested in the idea of productivity and the varying methods used to increase it. So it was with enthusiasm that I read Erin Furtak’s recent article My Writing Productivity Pipeline in which she outlined her system for documenting her manuscripts as they progressed from initial idea to published document. The article is well worth reading for Furtak’s encouragingly frank and positive viewpoint alone (e.g. ‘I always view a rejection as a revise-and-resubmit, but to another journal’), but the pipeline itself has the potential to be a real productivity hack.

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Quickly implementable in either paper or digital formats [see my version above], the pipeline has a number of compelling features:

  1. Preservation. I often want to record both ongoing and new projects in something other than a list format – the pipeline offers a cohesive archive of ideas either to be immediately developed further or to be followed up at a later date.
  2. Encouragement. The pipeline functions as a compelling visual prompt and reminder that a. you have exciting ideas that you really should take the time to develop for publication, and b. you have A LOT of exciting ideas. Better be getting on with those then.
  3. Customisation. Furtak’s own pipeline is merely a guideline, and in fact the pipeline’s various stages can be customised for both the kind of research you do, and the level of complexity necessary to get each idea worked up for publication. If you thrive on the feeling that you’re making constant progress, break the stages up into smaller levels of implementation, e.g. between ‘Manuscripts in Draft Form’ and ‘Almost Ready for Submission’, add extra stages such as ‘First Draft Edited’ or ‘References Checked’. Likewise, if you’re an art historian you might want to add a stage for ‘Image Permissions Acquired’.
  4. Identification. As Furtak herself notes, one of the key functions of the pipeline is to show where there are blockages. Tellingly for myself, (as I’m sure it is for many) this is between the ‘Manuscripts in Draft Form’ and the ‘Submitted’ stages [see below], which suggests to me that I have a good amount of manuscript drafts that I simply need to spend the time editing. Similarly, I have a blockage between ‘Draft Proposals’ and ‘Proposals Under Review’, which likewise tells me that whilst I have a number of solid ideas, they’re not yet developed enough to be submitted to a funding body. Moving forward from this, I can try to understand the root causes of these blockages, and to schedule time and energy accordingly to ensure their reduction.

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I haven’t yet spent enough time with my pipeline to assess whether it has improved my rate of productivity, although what I have noticed is that I’m suddenly very aware of what I’m project I’m currently working on and getting that project moving along through the next stages of the pipeline. It also removes a lot of the procrastination that’s tied to deciding what to work on next, as you have a clear guide of what needs doing to any project at any given point in its gestation. I’ll post an update to this blog post in a few months, by which point I will hopefully be able to see a tangible improvement in my rate of productivity. In the mean time,  I strongly recommend reading Furtak’s original article, and trying out your own writing pipeline.

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