The Hemingway Method for productivity — a strategy for online learners

3 min read


If you’re learning online, you might feel that getting your work done means forcing yourself to do it, with limited motivation and limited time — I can relate: The biggest task I’ve ever tackled with limited motivation and limited time was to rewrite my entire dissertation from scratch in just three months. I did it, without going insane or losing my hair!

In your online program, your projects are (hopefully) not so Herculean, but I’m sure there are times when the workload seems overwhelming, and the time you’ve got to do the work seems nonexistent.

Here’s one of my main strategies for getting a lot done in a short period of time. Thank you, Ernest Hemingway!

The Hemingway Method

When Hemingway was writing a book, he wrote 500 words a day. And when he was done, he went to the bar. I took inspiration from the lax writing schedule of a modern genius and decided to measure my productivity by the amount of work I get done, not the time I spend doing it. While I have never spent an afternoon in a bar, I do emphasize a reasonable amount of work each day as my goal, a set daily quota.

For those who like time clocks

I can see how some people find it more effective to measure how much time they spend focusing on a task. If you are one of them, check out the Pomodoro Method, I’ve heard great things.

But I’m more like Hemmingway. There are three reasons why a daily quota works for me.

1. No Guilt

The best thing about measuring my progress by a daily quota is that I’m free from the nagging, soul-destroying guilt generated by the little voice that says, “you should be working” when I’m not working. When my daily quota is done, that’s it — I’m done. I walk away. I do something else. I do it guilt-free, relaxed, happy, and confident that I’m on course to achieve my goal.

Bonus: Having guilt-free relaxation time means that when I do get back to task the next day, I’m fresher, sharper, and faster.

2. Once I get rolling, I often surpass my target

With a big project like a PhD, I was often unmotivated. I’d rather be watching Netflix, walking the dog, or cooking, cleaning, shopping, or sleeping. Having a daily quota gave me a target with a reward attached. Doing it fast meant that I could finish early!

But here’s the best part: While struggling to get over the finish line, I would often get started into some line of thinking, forget all about the quota, and just keep going. Before I knew it, half an hour had gone by and I was way over target.

3. It allowed me to build some ‘credit in the bank’

On the days when I finished my quota early and still felt like working, I kept at it and got some extra work ‘in the bank’. This meant that when I sat at my desk feeling really horrible, when my head felt full of clouds, my eyes stung, and there was no way those grey cells would cooperate, I could be a slacker and go back to bed. When I did this, I never worried about falling behind because I had work in the bank.

All in all, having a daily quota helped me get more done and finish ahead of schedule. I did it without stress, without guilt, and without frequent trips to the bar. Cheers, Hemingway!

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Judy Wearing, PhD


Judy Wearing, PhD

Lead Learning Architect at OpusVi™


Judy Wearing, PhD

Lead Learning Architect at OpusVi™

Judy has worked as an educator and curriculum developer for over twenty years, designing programs, courses, and learning activities for a broad range of learners both online and in person. She holds two PhDs, one in biology from the University of Oxford and the other in education from Queen’s University. She specializes in supporting teachers and learners in the competencies particularly creativity, critical thinking, and communication. She is the author of more than twenty books for adults and children.