How to Organize Your Writing Project for the Summer

in Articles from our Newsletter

“How does a project get to be a year behind schedule? One day at a time. “
— Fred Brooks

Summer is on the way.  It’s time to assess and improve your level of organization, so you can accomplish some writing!  Today I describe one nifty solution for organizing yourself.

Does this sound like you? 

jugglingIf you’re a professor: You can’t work on your long-term writing project during the school year, with all the demands of teaching prep, students, meetings, etc.  But then summer comes, with longer stretches of time for writing, and you’re overwhelmed. 

If you’re a graduate student: You have endless pages of notes, millions of file folders, little sense of intermediate deadlines, and a general feeling of overwhelm.  Even when you have lots of free time, you don’t use it well.

If you’re a post doc: All of the above, in addition to the need to track your job search activities.

If you’re a principal investigator or a collaborator on a research project, article, or grant proposal: You and/or others are confused about who’s been assigned to do what, whether tasks have been done, and what the deadlines are for the various stages of the project.

Don’t Make it Even More Complicated

Some organizational systems are just plain overwhelming.  Have you ever bought a book on organizing, such as David Allen’s Getting Things Done, but then realized that getting organized is just too daunting a task?

I’d like to tell you about a simple, f*ree project management application I’ve discovered (and I’m using enthusiastically), called Basecamp.* Although Basecamp is intended for project collaboration, you will also find it useful for your solo needs.  You can use it to organize your writing project, coordinate projects that you’re working on with others, track your job search deadlines, or just keep all the balls that you’re juggling in the air.

When you sign up, you will be given your own password-protected url that will be called  You can then access it online from anywhere. 

Basecamp Functions

To-Do Lists: Create unlimited editable to-do lists (See my newsletter articled on action-item lists).  Just check off each item in a list when it is completed (it will still show at the bottom of the list unless you decide to eliminate it).  What’s also useful is that if you are on a team, anyone in your group can create or edit the lists.  To-do’s can be assigned to anyone, but it is possible to see a list of just your own to-do items.  

Milestones: So many people have complained to me that they never have a sense of a deadline – especially intermediate deadlines — as they work on long-term research or writing projects.  Milestones help with this problem — they are to-do items to which you have assigned a deadline.  Thus, you copy an item from the to-do list, and then add it to Milestones as you decide when you’d like it completed.  You can opt to be sent an email reminder 48 hours prior to each milestone’s due date. 

The Milestones page shows you both a calendar with tasks due within the next two weeks and a half year of monthly calendars with the dates of the upcoming milestones colored in.

Milestones can be assigned to anyone.  It’s easy to check what has been accomplished — there is a list at the bottom of the page showing completed milestones.  Also, Milestones that are past their due date are listed prominently at the top of the page.

Writeboard: The writeboard functionality is like a wiki – you can work on a document alone or with others, and others can edit it.  But don’t worry if you think that you liked a previous version, or if you wonder what kind of changes your team has made.  All versions are saved, so you can compare any version with another.

Messages: You can send email messages to any email address in your group.  The advantage is that all responses are saved under that message as comments, allowing you to track conversations about the initial topic.

Tours: You can watch the excellent, short video tours for each Basecamp function. I suggest checking these tours out if my description of Basecamp catches your interest.

Start Your Summer Out on Top of Things

You’ll find that when you use a project management system like Basecamp in conjunction with a “Remember Everything” system like Evernote, you will feel more on top of things and less like a chicken with your head cut off.  Start your summer out right by organizing yourself!

*Note: the f’ree version of Basecamp is a little hard to find.  Look in the light blue area directly under the three paid versions on the signup page – there is a sentence in small font that contains the link.


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