Project Management for Writers: the 6+2 Week Goal Cycle (with printable template)
If you’re like me, you find the project management side of creative work to be… Wait, what’s project management? My point exactly.
For years, I’ve been trying to find a project management strategy that worked. Planning on a yearly or quarterly basis was futile because they were too long–I was constantly changing course or reconsidering things I had set out to do. Planning on a weekly basis, though, was too… Frequent and exhausting. Who wants to reinvent the wheel every Sunday night?
You’d think monthly planning would be my jam, but no. Months are weird–too long for short-term goals but too short to make sense of long-term ones.
Fast forward to a few months ago. I came across Jason Fried’s work at Basecamp, a company that runs a software platform for project managers and teams (this was the interview that first got me hooked on his approach). Fried relies on a particular iteration of the six-week project cycle that can be used to manage projects of differing scales and timeframes at once.
I began thinking of how to apply his principles to writing and creative content production. We writers usually don’t work with collaborative, corporate teams but would still benefit from this kind of cycle…
The result is a free, printable template: 6+2 Week Project Cycle for Writers
(Note: As templates go, this is probably more of an iteration rather than a finished product. Let me know how it could be improved to better suit your needs.)
How to Use the Template
Let’s talk about how this system works and how to make the template work for you…
Start, end, and flex dates
At the top of the template, fill in the date you’re starting the current six-week cycle on. I find it works best to start on a Monday, even better if you can start on the first Monday of the month, so the 8 full weeks of this method correlate to the start and end of calendar months. As you’ll see in a second, this isn’t totally necessary, and there are ways to gradually meet up with the 12-month calendar.
The end date would be the Friday following the sixth Monday. So, if your start date is Monday, May 14, your end date would be Friday, June 29.
Below the start and the end date, you’ll see a line called “flex week(s),” which also calls for dates. It is recommended you factor in up to two weeks of buffer time between project cycles. This does NOT mean, however, that the system is an 8-week cycle. The goal is to aim for getting your projects and goals finished within the intensive 6-week work phase. The two weeks that follow give you time to breathe, recoup, and (as a last resort) finish small details that for some reason didn’t get done.
Here are some ideas for how to use your flex weeks:
- Tying up loose ends. Use your flex time to finish those last-minute details you didn’t quite finish during the six weeks.
- Ship, schedule, and/or submit whatever projects were finished during the six-week goal cycle. Let’s say one of your goals was to batch-write three month’s worth of blog posts. You could use your flex time to actually import these into your blog, schedule them, and schedule corresponding social media posts. If your goal was to finish a book draft, the flex time could be used to actually send or submit the manuscript to your publisher.
- Editing and proofreading writing you developed during the six weeks.
- Reflecting on what worked or didn’t work, or what did/ didn’t get accomplished during the six weeks.
- Planning the next six-week cycle.
- General admin tasks–cleaning out the inbox, catching up with correspondences that fell through the cracks, checking in with stats on blogs or sales, sorting Internet bookmarks, bookkeeping, etc.
- Taking a vacation.
- To read and research for an upcoming six-week project.
- Taking a break from writing and other intensively creative work to recharge.
Active Projects or Content Streams
If you’re like me, you are working on a variety of projects at once. Some of them may be lying fallow right now, others may be just about ready to ship. At the top of the sheet, it’s helpful to write down all the content streams you’ll be actively working on this cycle. Remember that each project may involve multiple content streams. For example, if you write for a blog and you also craft social media posts for it, you may want to consider that two separate streams, particularly if the latter also requires focused time and energy.
Tip: You may want to wait to fill this section in until after you’ve decided on all your goals and tasks for this cycle.
2 “Big Batch” Projects
A “Big Batch” project, according to Jason Fried whom I mentioned earlier, is a project that will take the full six weeks to accomplish. He recommends having no more than two such projects during any six-week cycle. If you suspect that one of your big batch projects will be something of a full-time job to accomplish in six weeks, consider just having one.
Here are some examples of big-batch-sized projects (increase or decrease to fit your needs, pace, etc.):
- draft a book chapter from scratch
- batch-write three months’ worth of blog posts
- batch-write one month of podcast scripts
- write the proposal for your book manuscript
- write the “dump draft” of a full book or novel
- copy edit the rough draft of a book manuscript
- redesign your website
In the right-hand column of this section in the template, there is space to list up to six benchmarks for each big batch project. I think this is helpful to gauge progress over the course of the six weeks. Later, we’ll schedule these benchmark goals into the calendar.
<8 “Small Batch” Projects
The next step is factoring in 4-8 smaller projects, i.e. goals that would take between 1 day and 2 weeks to accomplish. If one or both of your big batch projects are highly complex or consist of many moving parts, you can use these smaller projects to split them into constituent parts and tackle them separately. Otherwise, these can simply be small projects that would otherwise fall through the cracks due to over-focusing on the big stuff.
Here are some ideas:
- Write and edit a cover letter or query letter to a publisher
- Update the about section of your website
- Write a blog post
- Schedule social media posts or links for the next month
- Edit a certain number of podcast episodes
- Research a writing topic
- Outline a book project or chapter you may want to write in the next six-week cycle
- Write and send your monthly newsletter
- Run an advertising campaign on Facebook
Beneath each project listing, you are asked to estimate how many weeks and/or days the task will take. This will be useful in the next step as you factor goals into the calendar.
On the second page of the template is a calendar consisting of 8 work weeks (M-F). (Fried recommends not scheduling tasks for the weekend, a strategy I find useful. In the future, I may create an alternative calendar that includes the weekends, so if that’s useful for you, let me know!)
First, fill in the relevant dates–that’s the easy part!
The next step is to plug in the benchmark goals from the big batch section, and the small batch goals from the second section. This may take some time and creativity, particularly if you (like me) mysteriously struggle with commitment phobia when it comes to setting goals and managing long-term projects. Remember, the objective is to make your creative life easier, more organized, and more productive. And it’s only six weeks!
Here are two suggestions I have found useful:
- Make the calendar front-heavy. That is, fill up the first few weeks of the schedule more heavily than the last. Hit the ground running, and give yourself some breathing room as time goes on.
- Do not use this calendar page as a daily task manager or to-do list. First of all, I didn’t make the spaces big enough for that 🙂 And I did that purposely; for this level of planning, what you want to establish is a bird’s eye view. Personally, I use this calendar in tandem with, not in place of, my daily planner (or bullet journal, if you are so inclined). It’s a helpful, executive-level planning device that you can consult each morning or evening when you plan out what needs to be done. It’s also a good idea to consult this template at the start of each week, just to stay focused and on track.
- Use pencil. For obvious reasons. Six weeks is a short time, but it’s long enough to have to adjust.
Managing the Flex
The calendar portion of the template concludes with two flex weeks (“f”). We’ve already talked about what flex time can be used for. It’s okay to make a rough list of flex-appropriate tasks before the cycle begins. However, I would avoid actually making a hard schedule for the flex weeks prior to the cycle beginning. For all intents and purposes, you want to get in the habit of considering this a six-week cycle, not an eight-week one. If you schedule the flex time too far in advance, you’ll obscure its purpose, which is simply to act as a liminal buffer between project cycles.
There are several exceptions to this rule, however. Here’s what you may want to schedule into your flex time far in advance:
- At least 1-2 sessions of debriefing or reflecting on the previous cycle and planning for the next one. Maybe you want to go to a nice place like your favorite coffee house or something to do this–make it a special reward or ritual.
- Schedule in any hard deadlines for your big or small batch projects, like publishers’ deadlines or contest submission dates.
I’ll be starting my next 6-week project cycle this Monday, on May 14. Want to join me?