A few months ago a person who had finished her course work for her Ph.D., but had not done much toward her dissertation, wrote to say that as someone who worked full-time away from home, she couldn’t fathom how she could add writing her dissertation to the mix of not only working full-time, but also being a mother and a wife.
That’s a wrenching situation—one I struggled with many years ago as I tried to add a dissertation to a full-time teaching appointment, two children, a husband, and a house.
Currently, several of the women that I coach have demanding, full-time professional jobs, as well as other people in their lives. Two in particular have put off writing their dissertations for just about as long as they possibly could, and so now, busy as they are, they have embarked on the most demanding writing project they may ever have.
One of them had set a series of deadlines for herself, but was wondering how she could possibly meet them. I asked her, “How many times a week will have to work on your writing to keep it moving forward and to keep it at the center of your mind?”
She said in a quiet voice, “I think I will have to work on it and touch it every day. I think I will have to work on it 2 hours every day.”
After considering the potential times in a day when she could work, she decided that she will work from 4 to 6 pm . . . in her office before she leaves for the evening.
Here are some tips if you, too, need to make time during your day or at the end of your day to work on your dissertation:
Let your brain help you make a writing habit
Tell yourself early in the day–each day that you will write– the following:
“If it’s 4 pm, then I will start my writing session.”
It sounds simplistic, but saying that to yourself lets your mind start to watch for 4 pm. Try it–you’ll be surprised at how almost without thinking you act on your intention to start your writing session.
Establish a boundary to separate office work from the dissertation
You’re already at your desk, so you won’t be changing locations. But literally put your dissertation in the center of the desk. Move anything having to do with your office work off the desk or stack it or turn off the computer files so that you won’t wander back into left-over work from your day.
Prepare the night before
The night before, plan what you will be working on; choose any books or articles you may need to take with you. Set your goal for the content and the amount of text you will write.
Involve your partner/spouse
Tell your partner or spouse what you are going to do the next day on your dissertation. Talk for a few minutes about the plan and even rehearse how you want it to go.
But, but, but….
Are you immediately ticking off all the reasons why you couldn’t do this? But stop for a minute. How could you modify this plan that so it will work for you?
If you need to shorten the after-work writing session to one hour, then do that. If you need to get to work earlier in order to stop earlier, then do that. If you can write only 3 nights a week, then do that.
American television journalist Norah O-Donnell and BBC’s Katty Kay both say that as women with three or four children each, they work faster and more efficiently than many others around them. They work quickly and with determination so that they can get home to their families.
Working toward getting better at being an efficient, productive writer sounds like a great goal, don’t you think?
If you want to start making headway on your dissertation, even though you have a day job and a family, try working on your dissertation before you leave your office for the day. This is a good plan. Give it an honest try.
If you have put a similar plan in place, how is it working for you? I would love to hear from you.
All good wishes,
Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC
Your International Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach
nancy @ nancywhichard.com