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What gets measured gets done

Some time ago, I read an inspiring post on DoctoralWriting SIG about tracking research. The author, Dr. Abigail Winter, was inspired by Paul Silvia’s “How to write a lot”, who mentions that he uses a simple database to track his writing each day, as one of his strategies for writing a lot. Winter then started tracking her reading and writing. She adds: “in the first six months of 2016, I read 281 articles or academic books, and wrote 36,477 words towards articles, submissions, applications and reviews” and shares the tool she developed online.

Upon reading this article, I decided to start tracking my reading and writing. I had been tracking my writing between February 15th 2012 and May 22nd 2013, mostly to track my word count on my PhD thesis. At that time, my log functioned mostly as a diary.

In November 2016, I started tracking my writing again, and in January 2017 I started tracking my reading as well, as I vouched to read 365 papers in 2017. For my writing, I am now tracking my progress per project:

My reading, on the other hand, is more a continuous log:

In total, since tracking my words (between November 2016 and April 2017, upon writing of this post), I have written 455767 words. My writing has been productive, since I am drafting two book projects. I average 2675 words a day, also taking into account the days on which I don’t write (weekends, conferences). This word count will drop down drastically as I start to revise and edit what I wrote before.

Since tracking my reading (between January 2017 and April 2017, upon writing of this post), I have read 150 articles. I’m not doing too well with the “read an article a day” – I tend to read multiple articles together, and then carry out research over a number of days based on what I read. As pregnancy has been slowing me down in 2017, I have not been able to schedule much time for reading, and postponed it mostly to my weekends – where sometimes it simply doesn’t happen. I don’t need this log for realizing that I am running behind. However, seeing my logged number of articles read makes me feel a bit better: even though I feel like I’ve been behind on reading, I am actually “on track” with reading on average a paper a day.

If you want to have a better insight in your reading and writing habits, I strongly recommend that you start to track your progress. Set goals for writing a certain amount of words a day, track your writing (for example with the PhDometer), and keep a daily log of how your writing progresses. The same holds true for reading: set a goal for the number of papers you want to read, reserve time for reading, and log the number of papers you’ve read.

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