Thursday, May 5, 2011

How to Be Productive and Achieve Tenure by Writing for Two Hours a Day

You can be extraordinarily productive by writing two hours a day, five days a week. Many writers find my suggestion ludicrous and instead aim to write eight hours a day. Unable to write for eight hours, they berate themselves and spend lots of time thinking how much less productive they are than other writers.

I have tried many different ways of convincing writers that it is so much better to write for two hours a day and move on to other things than to try incessantly to write all day without success. The former leads to feeling accomplished and productive on a daily basis, whereas the latter leads to burnout and less productivity. It may not make sense, but it is true: writing for two hours a day is a much more effective long-term strategy than trying to write for eight.


In this post, I will try again to convince readers (and writers) that this is true, using myself as an example. This past semester, I wrote every day, Monday to Friday, for two hours. I did lots of different things during those two hours, but I mostly drafted new text, revised old drafts, and took notes from books and articles. Between January 1 and May 1, in four months, I drafted a total of about 42,000 words of new text. That is the equivalent of four articles. It took me about 80 working days, so that is an average of about 525 words a day.

The Caveats: Drafting, Revising, Editing, Reading,...

Now, for the caveats. These 42,000 words include writings I have done before and pulled together. Much of my work is based on interviews, so I write up summaries of my interviews after I do them and place those summaries directly into my drafts. So, let’s be conservative and say I drafted the equivalent of three 10,000 word articles this semester. This is a conservative estimate because I also wrote 15 blog posts, revised two articles, and did a 2500 word book review essay that I am not including in the 42,000 word estimate.

The other big caveat is that those 42,000 words need editing. I estimate that it will take me another four months to get those 42,000 words into shape and ready for submission. It often takes me as long to revise an article as it does to write the first draft. So, that’s three articles in eight months. Of course, that writing is based on reading that I did during this semester and have done previously, and includes some earlier data analysis. So, let’s add on another four months for data analysis and reading, although keeping in mind that I also write daily while analyzing data and reading. All told, it seems as if writing two hours a day, five days a week for one year is enough to analyze data the data for three articles, draft those three articles, and revise them for submission to a journal.

Submitting three 10,000 word articles a year certainly fits into my definition of prolific. Of course, articles are rarely accepted on first submission, so let’s put in some time for revise and resubmits. If we suppose you will have two revise and resubmits for each article, that adds on two months for each article before it is accepted at a peer-reviewed journal.

The math: 525 words a day = 3 articles a year for 4 years = 12 articles

If you submit three articles each year for four years, you would have submitted twelve at the end of four years. If you leave two months per article for revision, that adds up to twelve accepted articles in six years – enough for tenure in many top research institutions. It adds up to twelve sole-authored articles in six years by writing two hours a day, five days a week!

The trick is to start writing two hours a day every day from the moment you begin your tenure-track position. The good news is that many people are revising articles on the basis of their dissertation and thus already have data collected and analyzed, and drafts of articles ready to submit, making this process go even more quickly.

If you focus on writing every day, you can’t help but be productive. Trying to write more than humanly possible will lead only to frustration and burnout. The best way to be productive and stress-free is to write every day for two hours a day on a consistent basis.


  1. Do you adopt the same writing strategy in the summer?

  2. Yes, I usually write for two hours a day in the summer as well. I find it hard to do more than that on a consistent basis. So, I use the summers to analyze data in addition to writing and reading.

  3. Love this! Tried it this week and so far, so good. Thanks!