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Archive for the ‘balancing dissertation with work and family’ Category

You sit down to write, and what’s that you’re doing? Without a second thought, you are checking the cnn.com weather app, thinking about how much colder it is where your grandma lives. And now you’re skimming email. What was that you wanted to check?  Oh, yes, you noticed that Marcus Mumford was wearing a wedding band during the Another Day/Another Time folk music concert on TV.  And you’re off on another Google search to find out who is his wife.

You are sitting in front of your screen, and your fingers are moving, but you are in the clutches of resistance, once again. Flight has prevailed over fight.

The Turnaround Artist

I received some praise recently—someone called me a turnaround artist.

It’s an interesting tag. Typically, a turnaround artist is a business person who is takes over a company that is falling behind.

To turn around a lagging writing project also takes drastic action, not unlike rescuing lagging stocks or companies and transforming them.

However, before a coach is a turnaround artist, the writer has to sign on for the transformation and then show up. The coach needs the writer also to become a turnaround artist.

Do Something Daring—Manage Your Writing for a One-Month Experiment

Is having a huge, long-term goal so over powering that each day you have to fight insecurities or the threat of the imposter syndrome? If you are feeling some danger around this project (that old lions-are-going- to-eat-me-if-I don’t- flee feeling), then do something daring. Hatch a plan that puts you on the front line. Challenge yourself to an experiment for a month during which you will not only write, but you will also practice oversight. During the experiment, evaluate time spent, your progress, areas where you need more learning, and personal growth.

I was talking recently to a person with a background in accountancy. She says that her decisions are data-driven, or as close to that as possible. Numbers don’t lie, she says. Taking that approach during your one-month experiment could be an eye-opener. What data could you keep track of? What is measurable in your writing process? Time spent on task on a day-by-day basis. Number of “have-done” tasks that you keep track of during the week. Number of words written or number of pages written.  And especially the number of setbacks and reworkings or restarts.

Uncomfortable Is Normal

Acknowledge that this work has unfairly brought forth all of your insecurities. You have not written a dissertation before, and so you may not have specific experience to fall back on. You aren’t on a military maneuver, and so there isn’t a manual. Nevertheless, you have survived other new and unsettling situations and you have even flourished. Look forward to flourishing, but for now ride out the uncomfortable feeling, and, if it helps, know that writing a dissertation is seldom comfortable. Over the month-long experiment, notice and collect evidence/data on how you are building resilience and courage. For instance, you could benefit from learning how many times this week/month you sat down and worked on your writing project even when you felt anxious or uncomfortable.

Practice Oversight of Your Writing for More Life Balance

Turn around your inefficient, sluggish, time-suck of a writing process. Use your professional or home-grown skills to trim and reset your project so that it fits into the time you have available. Then writing will be one thing that you do, along with having a rich personal life and a job.

It’s a good thing to call in an outsider when you need some honest talk and a different perspective, but each writer must put on the hat and glasses of the outsider and view one’s work habits and writing with fresh eyes.

How are you doing as a project manager of your dissertation or thesis? Where are you succeeding and where is your work lagging? I would love to hear from you.

All good wishes,

Nancy

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC

Your Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach
http://www.nancywhichard.com
nancy @ nancywhichard.com

 

 

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A famous New Yorker Magazine cartoon illustrates procrastination and resistance against things you don’t want to do. A man is talking on the phone to someone wanting to meet with him, and the man says, “How about never—is never good for you?”

“How about never” speaks to many writers. When will you feel like writing? How about never?

Today I listened to procrastination researcher Dr. Timothy Pychyl of Carleton University in Ottawa speak about a difficulty you may have, the procrastination in starting a task that you don’t feel like doing, such as writing. At times he, too, has to drag himself to write, but he says, “It doesn’t matter how you feel. Just get started.” He adds that he is not saying “just do it”;  rather, if you can find a way to start a task, even if you stay at it for only five minutes, you are likely to return to the task the next day.

Dr. Pychyl says to fit into the larger pattern of your day the tasks that you would ordinarily procrastinate on, such as writing or exercising. Recently I spoke with a young woman who runs each day. And even though running has been part of her life for some time, she still has to work at ignoring her mind chatter that tells her to take a day off.

How does she run even if she does not feel like it? She says that the fewer the uncertainties about running, the more likely it is that she will run.

She is on to something. Dr. Pychyl says that you can get caught in uncertainty, even with things you say you want to do.

Eliminate the uncertainty about when to run

My runner friend does not wait until after she gets home at the end of the day to run because of the many distractions. It’s too easy, she says, to flop on her couch in front of her TV and never get up.

Likewise, she does not wait until she gets to work each day to decide whether she will run that day. For her mental health, she leaves her desk during her lunch hour. That hour is the time she plans to go to her to run.

Incentives always help

She has extra incentives that make it easier for her to go to her gym:

  • The gym is a pleasant place with jazz playing in the locker room
  • The gym is only a short walk from her office

But getting to the gym still takes willpower. And willpower is not always enough.

Use a daily ritual to avoid resistance

Knowing that on some days she will feel resistance, she has put in place a daily routine of small steps that lead her gradually to her goal of running.

The daily routine has become a ritual that gives her the focus and momentum she needs to move forward toward running, and she has woven the steps of the ritual in among her regular office duties.

The small steps in her ritual also keep her from thinking about potential momentum-stoppers, such as showering at mid-day, the pain she sometimes feel while running, and the other activities or work she could be doing instead of running.

Her ritual is simple but effective.  It starts at 10:15 a.m. after she has been at her job for more than an hour:

–10:15 a.m.:

She takes breakfast to work–cereal/milk/juice–and eats at 10:15 a.m. so that she will not feel hungry when she walks to the gym. Eating this light breakfast at mid-morning every dayalso triggers her focus toward what will come next. With each step she becomes more engaged with the upcoming task.

–11:30 a.m.:

At 11:30 a.m. she starts drinking water to hydrate.

–11:45 a.m.:

At 11:45 she breathes deeply and stretches briefly in the work break room.

–12:05 p.m.:
By 12:05 she is walking to the gym, reminding herself that in one hour she will be back at her desk.

–At the locker room:

She feels increasingly confident and eager to run as she starts to put on her running clothes. She says that once she has laced her shoes, her feet know what to do. At that point, she is  at big milestone, signifying that she has hit each of the smaller goals or steps along the way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And she anticipates the rewards of  greater mental clarity and feeling healthier that running always gives her.

The keys to her success

1. Determining that she will use her lunch hour to run relieves her of the stress of deciding daily when or for how long she will run.

2. Starting and carrying through on the steps each morning break down her resistance and mentally prepare her to run.

3. Her plan varies little. Delivering daily on the steps  has become a habit, indeed a ritual. The ritual is reassuring and increases her clarity of thought. She feels that something is wrong if she doesn’t follow through on each of her planned steps.

And how could a ritual help you?

As a writer, you, too, will know the pleasure and benefit of reaching your goal of writing every day if you:

1. Determine the time of day and where you will start writing.

Avoid waiting until late in the day when you are tired and when distractions have their greatest allure.

2. Determine how long each writing session will be.

Make the length of time realistic and do-able;

3. Develop a series of specific steps that you take at determined times, such as checking that you have the text you want to work on and that  you will have a cup of tea ready soon. Then take a few deep breaths and meditate for a few minutes. Or stand at a window and feel the sun on your face. Each step will help you build momentum and a readiness to work;

The fewer the uncertainties and decisions, the more likely it is that you will write.

 

What habits or rituals do you have in place that help you avoid procrastination and remove uncertainty about writing?  I would love to hear from you.

 

 

 

All good wishes,

Nancy

 Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC
Your International Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach
www.nancywhichard.com
nancy @ nancywhichard.com

 

 

 

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You want a prediction about the weather? I’ll give you a prediction. It’s going to be cold, it’s going to be gray, and it’s going to last you the rest of your life.–Bill Murray, playing a weatherman in Harold Ramis’s Groundhog Day

The weather this winter in at least half of the U.S. has been cold and gray, and many days it seems as if it’s always going to be this way. Dissertation coaching clients tell me that they’ve never felt as exhausted as they have this winter. Many are balancing their dissertations with a full-time job and a family. One said, “This winter when I go home from work, I’m done. I go to sleep.”

 Another said, “I’ve never been like this.”

Perhaps you, too, have been thrown off your stride this year. Like many other writers, you may have become exhausted trying to keep up with your dissertation and so you took a break.  It may have been a break enforced by the flu or sick children or kids home because of the weather.

Many people say that they are uncertain where they left off in their writing. One client says she wound herself up, asking, “Why am I not more on top of this?” Trying to get clear on where you are in the process can trigger the imposter syndrome. You don’t know when you will finish, and now you wonder if you can ever pull this off.  You start to doubt that you have ever had what it will take. 

How do you talk yourself down, break through your catastrophizing, and find your way back to your work?

Some writers call on their mental toughness and head back into writing, but resilience doesn’t come about without careful planning and practice.

Break out of your slump

If isolation and torpor, aggravated by the weather, are to blame for your writing slump, break the pattern by talking with someone. Talk aloud about your options for restarting.

Make modest plans

Plan an easy way in with short work sessions dedicated to specific tasks.  When you reach the 30-minute mark, or whatever amount of time you had promised yourself you would work, stop.

Keep a log

Make a record of what you have done during the session.  Give yourself credit for showing up.  Then note the time spent and what you worked on.

Before stopping, plan where you will go from here. My favorite advice for getting ready for your next writing sessions comes via Joan Bolker: “Park on a downhill slope.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

She says to sketch “out in writing what your next step is likely to be, what ideas you want to develop, or follow.”

Stay focused on the present

Put off thinking about the long-term goals for now.  Don’t start fiddling with a timeline of when you can finish or when the next big mile post will be.

Enjoy the work

As you work, remind yourself occasionally that you want to keep this writing routine going. In part, you want to do this because you can. You are able to do this work, and you have everything you need. You like the way it feels when you stick with it.  One dissertation client told me that he has a goal to make his writing fun.  He plans to enjoy the work just as if it is karate.

Smile

Collect cartoons, particularly those making light of the dissertation experience.  Keep a couple close by where you can read them.

Between writing sessions, make time to exercise; talk to a friend; read to your children.

Bill Murray was wrong—it may be cold and gray, but it will not be this way the rest of your life.  For now, keep writing, and buy yourself some spring flowers. 

I would love to hear from you.  How have you pulled yourself out of a writing slump?

All good wishes,

Nancy

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC
Your International Dissertation and Academic Career Coach
nancy @ nancywhichard.com
http://www.nancywhichard.com

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Balancing work and parenting is a neat trick in the best of conditions, but the cold weather and snow in North America may have upended the balance. For many parents, it’s been all parenting and very little work.

The frigid temperatures have made going to school a health hazard, and so working parents are giving up vacation days in order to be home with their children whose schools are closed.

 

 

 

 

 

If you are among those parents who not only work outside the home, but, in addition, you are writing a dissertation or an article or a book, you are already hard pressed to find a time to write. If the whole family seems to be at home recently every day, all day, the challenges to your writing are huge.

One client told me that on the one day during the week in ordinary times when she would have been able to write, she instead had a cooking and baking project with her bored child who once again was home from school because of the weather.

It’s difficult to maintain your poise and self-manage during such moments. One part of your mind is circling the fire. And at the same time you are trying to listen to the Wise Woman within you who is saying, “I have other things I need to do, but I don’t want to be preoccupied with that. I want to be here in the moment.”

It’s that impossible juggling act of trying to occupy various roles fully and deeply.

When you remember to ask yourself where you have choice, you are on the right track.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It requires some heavy mental lifting to make the shift from “I want to get out of here” to “breathe deeply” and “I’m taking a mental snapshot of my 10-year-old stirring the batter.”

 If you’re stuck in such a predicament, what successful strategies have you devised?

Stay warm!

Nancy

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC
Your International Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach
www.dissertationbootcamp.net
www.nancywhichard.com
Nancy @ nancywhichard.com

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Like Christmas/New Year’s/Spring Break, summer makes all things seem possible, especially if your goal is to produce as much text as you can on your dissertation or other writing projects.

For many of my clients who live in the Northern Hemisphere, this is the time of year when they are shifting into summer schedule with a plan to focus on writing.

Perhaps you, too, are almost into summer mode with a plan to write. If so, will you have the company of your kids? And what about the kids? How do they fit with your writing plans?

Writing, with Kids

If you have most of the responsibility for their care, you have probably long been aware that the demands of childcare make successful completion of your degree more difficult, and perhaps less likely.

To quote one of my clients, “I know now that I can’t write my dissertation at the dining room table.”

I’ve maintained that if you want to get any writing done, you need a door between you and your kids.

Do You Need More than a Door?

A client told me that even though she had an in-home babysitter for her daughter last summer, the 10-year-old still found any excuse to interrupt her mother’s writing. As for this summer, my client says, “I need more than a door.”

And so I’m hearing from her, and from many clients, plans for day camp and away-camp for kids.

Camp Isn’t Just for Kids

Should you think about  camp, too … for yourself? A place where you would have control over your time and fewer distractions? Where it would be quiet and you could write?

Day camp for you could be a library or coffee shop.

Or you could rent writing space for the summer. Renting a space would be perfect. And, yes, I have had dissertation clients who rent writing space.

Professional writers rent space.

Novelist J. Courtney Sullivan rents space at the Brooklyn Writers Space.  She says that it is “almost like library carrels — you don’t have a set desk, you sit wherever there’s an opening and it’s incredibly quiet. It’s totally silent.”  Sounds great doesn’t it?  No interruptions from little ones, no unexpected phone calls.  In fact, Sullivan says that the writers space is so quiet that “you would not want to be the person whose phone starts ringing.” Or if you want a week away to a quiet place in order to get a good start on your writing, consider renting a cabin with writer friends. Your time would be your own.  No kids, no spouses.

Something I haven’t done but I think would be a terrific idea is to house-sit for someone.  Again, no kids, no spouses (I’m assuming the kids have grandparents or other relatives who can help out with the childcare if your spouse isn’t up to it). If your only obligation is to water the plants and feed the cat, you will have a perfect opportunity to ease into your writing and produce text.

One last description of a writer’s retreat may sound as if it couldn’t be based on reality, but I swear that it is. A client is working toward her PhD at a major research university, and she has the great good fortune to have a professor who loans her vacation lake house to a graduate student for a 2- or 3-day writer’s retreat. As long as the professor isn’t using it, she’s happy for a graduate student to have access to it.  At no cost.

My client has used the professor’s house several times. As you might expect, during her retreat she has not only made headway on her work, but she has also usually unraveled a particularly thorny writing problem.

The Writer’s-Retreat State of Mind

More than once my client and I have discussed how she can hold onto her writer’s-retreat state-of-mind after returning home. One of her successful strategies for re-creating that state-of-mind has been to go to a quiet library.

What can you do now to better ensure that this summer will be a great season of writing for you? What will you do about your writing environment? And what about the kids? I would love to hear your plans for a successful shift into summer writing.

Happy writing,

Nancy

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Image by …anna christina… via Flickr

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC
Your International Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach
www.smarttipsforwriters.com
www.dissertationbootcamp.net
www.nancywhichard.com
nancy @ nancywhichard.com
 
 

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Are your children home on vacation from school?  And you’re trying to keep an eye on your children, as well as make headway on your writing project?

How’s that working for you?

During the school year, most academics teach and try to write.  Both teaching and writing are critical for an academic’s success and are important parts of the academic’s identity.  The plan is that once summer comes, the writing takes priority.

But no matter how carefully and hopefully they have planned, more than one of my dissertation and writing clients say that once summer comes, they lose their work identity.

It’s difficult to deal with the reality of summer. You go into summer with those unspoken hopes and expectations that you’ll make significant progress toward your writing goals. Then before long you realize that it isn’t going to be the way you think it’s supposed to be.

You had thought that with no papers to grade or classes to prepare for that you’d have long, quiet afternoons, or at least a couple of hours a day with no interruptions, when you could read and, more importantly, write.

And the writing is not happening.

It’s emotionally stressful, enough so that you may find yourself waking in the night and having trouble turning off your mind and getting back to sleep.

And even though you want to be writing, you get such comments from other parents as, “Oh, you’re not working this summer?”  Grrr…if only I could work, you think.

You need to write, and not only during those 15 minutes when you can hide in the bathroom or duck downstairs to the basement.

For years, I juggled teaching during the school year with being at home during the summer.

My fantasy was to have a summer cottage in Maine where I could go to write in the summer. 

I was never going to have a real cottage for writing, but I needed to make a space for writing—a cottage, if you will—inside my house.

My kids were old enough to be on their own in the house for an hour or two, and so I put a sign on my office door that read “Mom is in Maine.”

My kids thought it was great, or at least some of the time they thought it was o.k. And my “Mom is in Maine” sign wasn’t as forbidding as the “Keep Out” sign that they occasionally used on their bedroom doors.

For the most part, my sign worked. I had to keep an ear open for any sort of hubbub, or alternately, when it was too quiet.  But I made sure that my kids knew that this was not a one-time event, and that I expected everybody to work with me on this.

At least my daughter gave me her stamp of approval, including drawing pictures of light houses for me.

It wasn’t a solution, but it helped.

A client told me that she, too, had to be creative in order to write at home.  The door to her home office is framed in clear glass. Her preschool-aged children would routinely outrun the family au pair and bolt for the office door, where they would peer through the glass in an attempt to see their mother. To block their view, their mother put black curtains over the glass. Kids are smart, and so they weren’t completely deceived.  Occasionally, she would still hear their little voices, outside her door, saying, “I think she’s in there.”

All of these attempts to find a space and time to write remind me of a client’s great a-ha moment:  “I found I could not write my dissertation at the dining room table.”

Have you decided that you can’t write your dissertation at the dining room table?  Where do you go?  How do you juggle writing and taking care of your kids?

I’d love to hear from you.

Nancy

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC

Your International Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach

www.smarttipsforwriters.com

www.dissertationbootcamp.net

www.nancywhichard.com

nancy @ nancywhichard.com

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I have coached many people who write dissertations while juggling the demands of family life. It’s difficult to juggle the daily demands, but to give up a holiday with one’s family is a particularly hard choice to make.

As the Memorial Day holiday approaches here in the U.S., I am thinking back to a Memorial Day weekend years ago when I had to choose my dissertation over the holiday weekend with my family. Now it seems as if it was a small sacrifice, and completing a dissertation definitely requires some sacrifices. But at the time, I felt that the dissertation process had demanded too much from me one too many times.

In my Washington, DC suburb, Memorial Day has always been a day for ritual and fun. The day begins with a 3K Fun Run. The day proceeds with a fair and a parade and back-yard picnics. Except for the one year when I had to spend the whole weekend once again revising the intro to my diss.

My defense was approaching. I thought I was on track since the full draft of the dissertation had been revised many times and had finally been approved. Only the intro needed one more rewrite, and I had done that, following the straightforward suggestions for revising from my advisor. I then sent the rewritten Intro off to him.

Just before Memorial Day, he returned the revision to me with a note saying that I should take out all of the newly added pages and re-work the whole chapter.

I was dumbfounded.  I knew better, but because the deadline was so close I wrote to him, saying that I had done what he had told me to do. His only comment was that he didn’t want to be told what he had said.

I hoped that I hadn’t alienated him. And I knew that I had to grind out the new rewrite immediately. I gave up my holiday weekend with my family and sat in front of my computer for the holiday.

As I look back on that weekend now, years later, I have changed my perspective on several counts.

I remember now that when I was revising the Intro, my advisor’s suggestions struck me as a bit off the mark. But I didn’t raise any questions or concerns with him. Of course, the advisor is always right, but it would have been smart to at least give voice to my concerns.

It strikes me now that perhaps I was even a bit lazy in adopting his comments without discussing my concerns with him or without thinking of an alternative approach.

As for that Memorial Day weekend, I don’t think that my kids felt neglected. I did miss out on some fun, but I bounced back. It wasn’t the end of the world. And I think my kids learned something about how much work it takes to finish big projects.

What I had to do was draw on my resolve and my mental toughness to get through this challenge.

Over the long period of time that I worked on the whole dissertation, I learned the value of building perseverance, resilience, and courage. Actually, learning to rely on those strengths may be the life-changing and lasting benefit for me of writing the dissertation.

If you, too, are finding yourself drawing on and building your mental toughness and resolve as you write your dissertation, I salute you. Only in such a long-term, large project do you find such an opportunity.

Warm regards,

Nancy
Nancy Whichard, PhD, PCC
Your International Dissertation Coach
www.nancywhichard.com
nancy@nancywhichard.com

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