My Writing Dashboard

I have three spreadsheets that I use to track different types of activities throughout the year, with creating the new sheet being part of my ritual for the new year. One tracks the books I read (in addition to tracking the books on Storygraph). One tracks my exercise habits. The third tracks my writing.

These sheets, including the manual upkeep, serve similar purposes. First and foremost, they provide accountability not only to track what I’m doing, but how. For instance, tracking different types of information about what I read has caused me to seek out and read books by a wider variety of authors than I did when I first started tracking this information. Similarly, the exercise data has evolved so that I can see my activities and I am able to hold myself accountable for a daily yoga practice. I also like entering the data manually because it means that I look at the information almost daily, and a few simple formulas can give me a snapshot of how I’m doing.

The system I developed for tracking my writing shows signs of having developed organically.

I started this spreadsheet in October 2017, several months removed from having completed my PhD and wanting something to hold myself accountable as I was starting to revise my dissertation and turn chapters or conference papers into journal articles. The core of my system developed at this point with two sets of columns. The first tracks my daily academic writing, which I defined as time with the academic work open on my computer (or printout), social media closed, and with no other distractions. This is of course not all of that goes into research, but it serves as a rough proxy for time spent in dedicated work.

The section for daily academic writing consisted of four columns, to which I added two columns a few years later. Thus, each row in this section has the date, day of week, the time that I worked, the number of minutes in that period, the project I worked on, and, if relevant, the number of words written. The last two sections also double as places where I can add notes about what I worked on that day (editing, drafted introduction, etc).

From the start I also had a second section that collected the total minutes written on a weekly basis, tracked by date, using the spreadsheet function to collect the sum from the daily section and a simple formula that converts that total into hours written. At the top of this column I keep a running tally of the total hours written and the average length of time I spent writing each week that year.

Writing spreadsheet, weekly section.

Starting in 2018, I added a third section where I track everything I produced in that year, in both the total and on a month-by-month basis. What gets tracked here has evolved over time, but generally includes everything from blog posts to reference letters to job applications to presentations. I don’t count all of these as “academic writing,” but this section serves as a snapshot of what I have done in a given year in terms of my academic and academic-adjacent work. This section thus proves useful for filling out annual reviews, for instance.

Screenshot of the monthly section of my writing dashboard.

I added the fourth and final section of this sheet in 2020. Functionally, this section is a key for the projects that I am working on, listing not only the name of the project, but also an abbreviation that I use in the daily-writing section, a due date, and a color-coding scheme that can tell me at a glance the status of each project. The color-coding is the latest addition to this sheet.

Screenshot of the “projects” section of my writing dashboard

Last week on Twitter I ended up in a conversation about systems of tracking writing and accountability. I offered this system to someone asking how academics track their writing and one of the other participants in the conversation pushed me a little bit about whether this collected data is purely for accountability and, if so, what I’m holding myself accountable for, or whether it also has a diagnostic purpose.

To this point, I have mostly used this system for accountability, but only in the loosest of senses. My projects have largely been in various stages of revision since I started tracking this data, so word-counts are not the best way to assess progress. This is also just fine with me since raw word counts have never much worked with my process. Instead, my primary metric for tracking my writing is the time I spend doing it, and I have aspired to write for about an hour a day in the beliefs that writing a little bit every day will be better in the long run than writing in binges and that writing just a little bit most days will cause me to write for longer than the proscribed time on at least some of them. This aspiration has both been wildly successful and an utter failure. I have not averaged five hours of writing per week since the first three months that I tracked this data, at a time when I was teaching just one course, but most years I manage to average about four hours a week, albeit in more booms and busts than I’d like recently.

I don’t explicitly use this spreadsheet as a diagnostic tool. It serves this function in a passive way, in much the same way that I can get a sense of how my writing is going based on whether or not I am writing in this space. I do make notes to myself in the daily section, particularly when I have hit a wall, and I will do the same with the weekly section for weeks during which I’m sick or, for instance, if I got no writing done because I was in the middle of moving or going to a conference. The sheet for 2020 has a row that reads “NULL SET CRISIS.” In the past I have done somewhat minimal data analysis to see trends in my writing activity, but I didn’t find it that useful so I stopped.

In writing this post it has occurred to me that accountability and diagnostics would probably work better with an adjustment to the weekly section. The update I have in mind is to add two columns, one with a target for that week and the other being the time I spent writing in the week minus that target, thus giving me a snapshot of how I did relative to my expectations. These columns will also let me adjust my goals week-to-week based on what is happening with the rest of my schedule, hopefully making them more achievable (always my downfall in goal-setting) than holding to a single goal for every week.

However, as much as I started keeping this sheet because I wanted accountability and really like tinkering around with data in various aspects of my life, this system has also just served as a nice ritual around writing that reminds me that I have in fact done something even when it feels like that is not the case. I don’t know that I will ever go much beyond what I have now in terms of analysis, but it certainly helps me maintain what I hope is a healthy and productive writing practice.

First Day Fragments: Fall 2022

Each of the past four years I have written a post celebrating the start of the fall semester with quick hits on various topics that I’m mulling over going into the new academic year. You can find the earlier posts in the archive: 2021, 202020192018.

I spent most of this summer diligently making myself go out running several times a week. Like many of my summer goals this practice ended up being a mixed bag, and I ended up not hitting my arbitrarily-set target. Despite the aches and pains that have accompanied these runs, I have been pleased by my progress and consider this one of my best recent decisions. There is always another mile to run, just as there is always more that could be done. After a summer during which I neither got the rest I had hoped nor accomplished as much as I intended, it has been useful to just focus on the next step.


The latest buzz about workplace culture is Quiet Quitting, aka working to contract. This is a radical concept that I have seen some of my friends who work in the UK talk about when they, *checks notes*, clock out for the weekend and take annual leave. In a general sense, this “trend” is a reminder that it often takes enormous amounts of uncompensated labor to make the current labor systems function.

This is no less true in higher education than anywhere else, and something that hits basically everyone involved. The diminishing portion of the overall faculty being tenure or tenure track means that the service burdens fall that much heavier on those who remain, while the low pay for adjuncts is sometimes justified by pretending that the hours spent working outside of the classroom don’t exist. At least in the former case there is a reasonable expectation that their job will remain semester after semester.

However, quiet quitting is especially disruptive in teaching. In some fields it means reclaiming one’s time from their employer, but in this one the consequences disproportionately affect the students. They might not exactly be customers, but they are paying for their education in some capacity, which is a difficult circle to square.

My situation is not nearly as bad as many people, and I have a department chair who is excellent about keeping most duties not in my contract off my plate. And yet, this trend of quiet quitting has been on my mind this last week of working (uncompensated) overtime to make sure that my courses were ready to go. Ultimately this is yet another reminder that the entire system needs to be reformed to make it more humane for everyone involved.


One summer during college (summer 2007), I worked on the team that moved the college to a new learning management system. At one point we had a conversation about the functionality that allowed professors to track the time students spent on the website. As a student, I was stridently against making this function available to professors, or at least against highlighting it for them–I don’t actually recall the specific details of the discussion. My point at the time was that these tracking features were, but delicately, bullshit, and I didn’t want there to be any chance that such data would play a role in my grade when it provided, at best, a shoddy reflection of my engagement with the course.

I have modified my stance somewhat as a professor. I still strongly dislike the emphasis on time-on-task, even if I begrudgingly acknowledge that it can play a role in setting expectations. As for the LMS data, I never use it as a form of assessment but have found that I like having it as a diagnostic tool–one of several in my arsenal that can help me best help my students.

It was with this background that I read John Warner’s piece last week on the madness of productivity trackers. He excoriates these trackers as not only a bad way of assessing productivity, but also actively harmful to knowledge work that requires hours of work that can’t be tracked by these tools without rigging an artificial mechanism to keep the system occupied while you actually get the work done. As Warner puts it, ” we are more than our ability to produce according to metrics counted by an algorithm.” He also rightly points out how LMS policies in college can serve as a training ground to normalize this sort of surveillance. This makes me wonder whether the marginal benefit I gain in helping my students is worth contributing to our present dystopia.


I found this semester to be particularly difficult to prepare for. In part my struggle was the growing pain of designing and preparing a new course that is unlike anything I have taught before while, simultaneously, having events conspire to keep me from get the amount of rest I had intended. Put simply, I was tired. But a substantial portion of my exhaustion was not so much physical as feeling emotionally drained from the fire hose of devastation that seems to be going on in the world, from historic drought to continuing pandemic, to vaccine denial bringing about the return of awful disease thought eliminated by modern technology, to the fever pitch of nasty politics, to the crisis of climate change. All systemic problems where the proposed solutions range from personal responsibility to nothing whatsoever. Not good.

In his book Radical Hope, Kevin Gannon writes about the importance of hope as a pedagogical obligation because this is not a job that one should do if they don’t have at least a glimmer of optimism about the future.

I spent most of this summer not feeling a whole lot of hope. I’m still not, in a lot of ways. But this is also not a job that one can do without hope and I often find that I can see that hope most clearly when I’m working with my students. This is very likely going to be a challenging semester, but one day into the semester and I can already start to see the glimmer of that hope rising like a phoenix from the ashes. The world might be burning, but that doesn’t mean we can just let it burn. Only by working together can we start to heal.

Two Notes on the Predator Series

After recently watching Prey—the latest installment of The Predator series and a tight, thoroughly-enjoyable action film—I had an epiphany: I had never seen the other movies. At this juncture, I have two of notes on these films.

Note the first:

The early films in this series have a clear thesis: humans ought to abstain from violence, but with some effort and enlisting enough people into the cause we can nip that impulse in the bud.

This is of course not the actual intent. Predators do not abstain from killing innocent or unarmed people because they are avenging spirits who use their technology to punish wrongdoers. Rather, they seem to be engaging in an eternal most dangerous game for which humans are the ideal prey since they exist in a Hobbesian state of nature (aka warfare), thus making the “innocents” an inadequate challenge. Inasmuch as these movies are more about the human characters than the Predators, the first two films offer remarkable social commentary about the United States and what the filmmakers think about humanity.

Note the second:

The success of Prey prompted people online to call for a series of culturally and historically specific Predator films. For instance, one person suggested a film set in Medieval Japan where we meet a Ronin who failed to protect his lord who had been attacked by a Predator. In order to regain his honor he must hunt down and kill the Predator.

My movie pitch goes in a somewhat different direction:

In Predator 2 (1990) a young boy carrying a toy Uzi submachine pistol encounters Predator in a Los Angeles cemetery. Predator’s signature triple-laser targeting system appears on the child, but clicks off when once it is established that the gun is just a toy and the wielder no threat. This establishes (for at least the second time in this film) that Predator only hunts dangerous prey. Once the lasers are gone, the child asks Predator if it would like some candy.

My movie opens with that scene, after which we get a montage that takes us forward between 50 and 70 years. The child becomes obsessed with Predators and their technology, joining government agencies tasked with claiming and improving upon Predator technology. It works, but this monomania caused the sweet, young child who offered Predator candy to become a sociopath and a ruthless tyrant who uses this technology to rule over a country (or even the world: adjust the stakes as necessary). He is a frail old man now, but still ruthless and violently suppresses all challenges to his rule using his improvements to the alien technology. His scheming lieutenants are now vying to become his heir, while he is working with Predator-derived technology to prolong his life.

However, his rule both brutalizes the weak and poses a challenge to the alien Predators, so they have returned to earth to end his rule and in so doing liberate humanity. He is, after all, the greatest prey of all. This film thus holds true to the core of Predator, but inverts its essential structures such that the “villain” is a human who is more technologically advanced than the Predators, while the Predators are now a scrappy underdogs who need rely on their instincts and teamwork to overcome their opponent.

An impromptu hiatus

Over the last month I have taken an impromptu hiatus from writing in this blog. This is not entirely unprecedented—earlier this year I went nearly three weeks between posts, in 2020 I went almost a month, and in 2019 there was an entire calendar month in which I did not post—but certainly it is an outlier. For context, I have averaged roughly six posts of roughly seven hundred words each month since 2012.

My writing in the first half of the year continued in the trajectory I had been on for the last years, with sometimes fewer total posts but substantially more words in each post.

On the one hand, taking a hiatus isn’t an actual problem. I aim to post at least once a week because I like writing regularly and writing here creates a positive feedback loop for my other writing, but this is also a personal blog. I am neither writing here as part of my scholarly oeuvre nor a columnist with an editorial schedule to meet. There is also a reasonable argument that taking a summer hiatus more often, perhaps with a sprinkling of flower and pet pictures, would be a healthy addition to my routines, given how worn out I felt most of this summer.

On the other hand, this particular hiatus has weighed on me because it was brought on by how I felt about writing overall rather than a byproduct of being particularly busy or a deliberate choice to recharge. In fact, the last post to go up here explored these issues in an attempt to escape this funk. At the same time, I ended up teaching a summer class on short notice, which took up a lot of time and gave me cover to avoid writing.

I wish I could say that I am coming back from this hiatus refreshed and recharged, but the truth is that the looming start of the new semester has allowed me to fall back into old routines like rusted and cobwebbed gears slowly grinding into motion once more. In any case, the machinery creaking back to life should result in somewhat more activity here over the next few months and I expect that just getting back to the regular practice of writing will help me break free from what has been plaguing me over the past two months.

Now, enjoy some flowers.

White wildflowers from our garden.