Archive for June, 2008

This morning as I was reading a paragraph here and there in Newsweek, I swear I saw the words “put off finishing his dissertation” rise off the page in 3-inch-tall block letters, or so it seemed. 

Procrastinating on one’s dissertation isn’t unusual, but to get your name in Newsweek because what you’re doing to procrastinate is so important is unusual.
The person in question, theology graduate student Alastair Haines, says he has joined the Wiki Bible Project (http://www.newsweek.com/id/141516) as a way to put off finishing his dissertation. 

The 22 project contributors are creating “an original open content translation of the Bible’s source texts,” which number about 30,000.  It sounds like exciting work to have a hand in translating texts that have ruled the lives of so many people over the centuries, as well as to be part of such a controversial undertaking.  Some biblical scholars say the project could produce an “inaccurate, bias-filled mess.”  What theology graduate student wouldn’t want to go toe-to-toe with biblical scholars?

“Working on the Wiki Bible Project as a way to put off finishing a dissertation” has to get this week’s award for best excuse for Procrastinating on My Dissertation. 

When most of us procrastinate, we aren’t having nearly as much fun as this Wiki contributor.  Most ABD’s that I know would gladly clean toilets instead of writing their diss. And we certainly don’t get our names in Newsweek for what we’re doing instead of writing.

If you’re going to procrastinate on writing your diss, then make what you do instead be the most fun you could possibly imagine. 
Even though I am not writing a dissertation, I still allow time-wasting, boring tasks assume such grandiose proportions that they consume whatever discretionary time I had for writing.
I recently discovered a novel way to procrastinate.  I’ve started cleaning the walls of my upstairs hallway, but the incentive is what I use as the cleaner. Recently a cabinetmaker told me about magic eraser cleaning pads.  You can clean your walls with the help of a magic sponge and some water. Who would have guessed? So now I sabotage my plans to write by using the amazing eraser sponge to clean that wall, which, not coincidentally, is directly across the hall from where I should be writing at my computer.

I’ve heard many people rationalize and say that when they’re procrastinating they’re actually doing valuable work and that they aren’t wasting time.  I’m skeptical.  I know how easy it is to get carried away. In fact, I’m a case in point.  I’ve gone beyond cleaning that one wall.  I’m starting to move down the stairway now– there are lots of marks on that stairway wall. I’m too engaged in this project to see it just as a bit of cleaning.  I know myself too well and self-regulation is not a top strength. The task that had been something to do during a writing break has taken on a life of its own. 

I need to regroup!

How do you procrastinate?  I’d love to hear from recovering procrastinators.  What do you do to keep on track with your dissertation?

Write today–




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Have you turned up the heat on your dissertation now that summer is here?  Is your summer writing starting to take off yet? What are you using as an incentive?

One of my clients has a new powerful incentive—one that she says has given her a sense of purpose about finishing her dissertation.

Let me tell you her story of how she found this incentive.  There are three parts to her story.

1. First of all, she admits that she has had fear and uncertainty around what finishing her dissertation might mean for her.  And that fear has at times held her back.

She has resisted seeing herself as an expert or emerging expert. She has also resisted the idea that she is carving out a niche for herself in the academic world as she writes her diss.

Because she has questioned her own knowledge and the quality of her research, she has at times avoided people and avoided situations where her self-described inadequacies might show her to be the fraud she feared she was. 

2. The second part of this story has to do with a shot in the arm that my client received by going to a conference.

As a graduate student, she has been to many conferences, presenting and discussing, but even so, in many ways, she has held back and hid out. She said that the most recent conference got off to the usual slow start that she’s experienced at many conferences.  As she usually did, she spent the first night in her room, resting, and missed an initial gathering.

The second day of the conference was the beginning of her transformation.

Her advisor said that at the gathering which my client missed, that he had talked to several people about her work.  In addition, some of the other graduate students and professors attending the gathering were interested in talking with her and hearing more. 

This was the push she needed.  She began to drop her fear of being revealed as an imposter and gradually became more at ease talking about her work. 

She dared to think more boldly about her diss and tried out some of her ideas by asking questions in the sessions she attended.  She sought people out and for the first time enjoyed networking.  This was all new for her and took courage, but she was acting on the sense that had come from the revising and honing of her ideas as she had worked on her diss over the last many months and years–that she did indeed know a great deal about her topic.  Furthermore, during the conference, she almost allowed herself to feel like an expert.

3. The third part of this story is that she came home with a new realization of why she is writing a dissertation—she wants to share her ideas and thoughts.  Sharing her ideas and testing her ideas at this conference were such powerful experiences that she no longer sees research as a way to stay insulated or in her bubble.  She is starting to see the excitement that can be hers, and she wants to burst out of her self-imposed academic bubble. Getting her dissertation out the door is the next step, but she no longer feels that the diss has to be perfect before she lets go of it.  Now she says that she needs to get her ideas out in the market place, and she has hopes that finishing her diss can be the start of much more work on her ideas.

With this wind at her back she says that she needs to do a last, strong push toward the finish line, rather than hovering around the last mile or two.  This confidence in her future is just what she needed.

And that’s as far as the story goes today about my client and the boost she got from
(1) getting out of her own way,
(2) enjoying the thrill of sharing her ideas with others
at the conference, and by
(3) acting on her excitement from the conference to fuel her rapid movement toward the dissertation finish line.

How about you?  How can you motivate yourself?  What if you acknowledged your expertise and started to act as if you, too, have ideas and writing that you want to get out there into the world?  It could be a brand new day!

Have a brilliant writing session today.



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If you’ve been teaching this past year, isn’t it a joy not to have to work on lectures or grading?  Maybe you have the house/apartment/office to yourself. 

So–how are you doing on your summer writing?

If you are almost ready to get started, but not quite there yet, perhaps you had a project dumped on you as did one of my dissertation clients.

She was co-authoring a paper for a presentation and realized that as the deadline approached, she was, as she described it, “flying solo.”  So she spent a good part of a week working on the paper and in the end produced something she was proud of.  Plus, she was proud of the process she put in place to get it done. She got up each day much earlier than she ordinarily did and stuck with it, hammering it out. 

She had to assume responsibility and look at the work as her project alone.  There could be no slacking off in hopes that the other person would clean up after her and catch any problem she had left dangling. 

She congratulated herself on a job well done, but the problem came about when she needed to refocus on her dissertation.  Her adrenalin had been surging while she was hammering out the paper she was supposedly co-authoring.  When it was out the door, she had a bit of a bottoming out.  She had to work on getting re-started on her diss.

If you’ve become similarly stalled or have fallen off track as you approach your diss, it may help to remind yourself that you are the project manager of producing a chapter or a draft or whatever your summer goal is.  And, no matter what, you are going to deliver it on time. 

While you don’t want to add undue anxiety to your work, you do have to add some urgency.  If we think we have all the time in the world to do something, then it will take all the time available and then some.

1.  Writing space.
To get back on track, set up your writing space.  Rent a space somewhere if you can possibly do so, or go to the library every morning.

2.  No excuses.
Each evening get everything you need ready for the next day. Be very clear what it is you need to have ready in order for you to walk out the door each morning. 

3.  Add a structure.
Add another element in your morning if you need to have some sense of necessity at getting out the door on time.  Remind yourself that your favorite table in the library will be taken unless you get there early.  Promise to call someone on your cell phone at a definite time as you walk into the door of the library.

4.  Sit down and wait.
When you get to your writing space, sit still and breathe for a moment.  Don’t grab a newspaper or magazine.  Just sit there and collect yourself. 

5.  Remind yourself of today’s goal.
Do you know what your goal is for this writing session that stretches ahead?  If not, decide what is at the top of your mental list.  What do you want to do first?  Make a decision—remember that you’re taking control of this project.

6.  Don’t over-promise.
Decide how long you will stay at your table and work.  Don’t over-promise.  It’s better to under-promise.  Be steady and deliver a good day’s work, no matter what amount of time you have given. 

7. Make it easy to start again.
Before you shut down your work for the day, set specific goals and make a plan for tomorrow’s writing session.
This is a summer for substance, a summer when you will deliver your project on time.

So what if you meant to start writing last week?  Start now!  Get on with it.

And give yourself a little smile. 

Take care.

Your Dissertation Coach


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Is your university enforcing hard deadlines for finishing dissertations?  Are you getting any signals from your university about what might be ahead for you? Has your advisor become more critical of your work?

Every day I talk with dissertation clients who are trying hard to finish their doctoral degree.  This week several people sounded a similarly unsettling concern.

Two people in particular think their advisors are being less than forthcoming. One person over the past seven years has had an emotional personal life with severe physical struggles but has tried to make progress toward her degree.  With her advisor’s becoming newly critical of her writing, this person thinks she is being pushed out. Another person has had two extensions and fears that he can’t get a third.  He, too, has begun to receive less positive feedback about his writing from his advisor.

Clearly, statistics on completion rates within different departments are being scrutinized more closely.  Some clients believe that their universities are actively pushing faculty to advise students to reconsider their plans for finishing their degrees. 

As one client said, “My department is putting the screws to people who are taking too long because the numbers might scare away the new students the department wants to attract.”

Have you seen or experienced a shift in your department’s attitude toward the time it’s taking you to finish?  Have you seen anything to suggest that some faculty members are choosing to undercut the work of long-time graduate students? 

I would appreciate hearing your thoughts on the enforcement of deadlines and also on finishing the dissertation.

Your Dissertation Coach


P.S.  If you haven’t subscribed to my Smart Tips newsletter, please sign up at www.nancywhichard.com. An issue about strategies for drastic situations is going out Tuesday.



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One of the top 3 posts on my blog is “Motivation in Writing the Dissertation–It’s All about Mental Toughness and Discipline.” Day after day, it stays in the top 3 posts.  As yesterday turned into today, the first two hits of this new day again were on “Motivation in Writing the Dissertation–It’s All about Mental Toughness and Discipline.”   

What is it that is drawing readers to that post?  Is it because writers are looking for the secret of how to become motivated?

Are they putting off writing, but at the same time telling themselves that if only they could get motivated that they would then start writing?

In an email last night, a dissertation client suggested that he wasn’t feeling particularly motivated.  Tonight—which is Monday– when he came to our call, he didn’t even mention a lack of motivation. 

What he did say was that his week was off to a good start and that he felt like he had actually accomplished something today.  He didn’t say how difficult it was to get started working.  His focus was on how feelings of accomplishment had given him “a good start.”  His use of the word start implies that more is to come.

He clearly capitalizes on whatever success he achieves to help him become motivated.
When he leaves his day job to come home, he says that he tries not to think about being tired.  He focuses on what comes next.  And what comes next isn’t a nap.  He never takes a short nap after coming home because he knows that giving into the desire for a short nap would result in a 3-hour nap. 

That’s being mentally tough.  Motivation doesn’t come easily. It requires you to train yourself into thinking that you can have a day job and then come home at night and write toward your week’s writing goal.  Or you can bathe your kids and put them to bed and either write then or get up early the next morning and write before going to work. 

It means digging down to find the discipline to hold yourself accountable and to accomplish something.

You may be doing writing connected with your job or writing that you have chosen to do.  It’s either something you choose to do or it’s thrust upon you.  Either way, once you make some headway, then you’re ready to keep rolling.  You will feel motivated.  But mental toughness and discipline come first.

How are you doing with being mentally tough?  I’d love to hear from you.  I’d also love to send you my e-newsletter, Smart Tips.  Go to www.nancywhichard.com and sign up.

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