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Hofstadter’s law for writers

My top ten time management tips

I’m blogging about my top ten time management techniques to celebrate the launch of the new edition of The Small Steps Guide to Goal Setting and Time Management. You can catch up on any you’ve missed by starting here. In my last tip, I talked about Hofstadter’s law or the planning fallacy. Here’s how to apply those ideas to the writing life.

Hofstadter’s law and the writing life

The only way you can tell how long it will take to do something is to look back on when you’ve done it before. That’s why the pomodoro + number of words strategy is so powerful. It enables you to work out (deliberately) how long your writing takes on average. It doesn’t really matter – within reason – how long each chunk of time is or how many words you write in 25 minutes, or whatever. What matters is that you’re armed with this knowledge based on previous experience.

Practical steps and resources

  1. If you haven’t done so already, have a go at the suggestions in the post on pomodoro + number of words.
  2. Look back at a writing project you’ve undertaken before. When did you start? When did you finish? What were the challenges? Write it down.
  3. What were the different aspects of the project? It’s a misnomer that writing is only about drafting words. For example, writing a novel could break down into establishing a writing habit, learning how to write a novel, idea generation, research, planning, drafting, redrafting, structural editing, proof reading, pitching, connecting with readers, marketing and selling. However, without considering the implications of Hofstadter’s law, we may not think about all of these different parts of the task, and therefore underestimate the time it will take.
  4. If you have never undertaken a long writing project before, look back on similar types of work or ask people who have completed one successfully.
  5. In a recent article in i Weekend, Amantha Imber, who wrote a productivity book called Time Wise, suggests the iceberg technique for dealing with the planning fallacy. Consider all of the hard work (and tasks) required to finish the project – what’s beneath the tip of the iceberg? I find that writing out the name of the project then breaking it into subcategories or small steps – again in writing – enables me and my students to work this out.

More soon. Until then, happy writing,

Lou xx

P.S. The next post in the series is here – about a hidden time management snag that affects us all.

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