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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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A dissertation client said recently that he has been dealing with a lack of focus and low motivation.

In addition to writing a dissertation, he also teaches.

Sensing fatigue, I asked what the last few months had been like for him.

He paused and said, “There have been a lot of outside influences.”

He has had to travel a bit, but that wasn’t what was coming to mind for him.

Like many of his friends and family, he had been in the path of Hurricane Sandy.  For some, their homes had been damaged, and for others, including himself, there was a long period of no power and no heat.

And what else in addition to Sandy?  The Presidential campaign and election

The Presidential campaign that came before Sandy but ended soon after Sandy struck was raw and exhausting for many Americans. After months, even years, of the presidential campaign, my client was thrilled when the campaigning ended, but the campaign stopped with an abruptness, a suddenness that at first was disconcerting.

My client felt he personally had been in a battle during the fierce, ugly campaign.

But once the election was over, the silence was almost as unsettling as the campaign itself.

My client said that even though he had lost valuable time during the aftermath of the hurricane and also during the election, he had started to recover his footing.  He was tired, but he had started to produce some writing.

And now another calamity has upturned the lives of some of my dissertation clients, as well as many other people.

The unthinkable has occurred

This morning my client told me that midday this past Friday he registered news about a shooting but because of a deadline at work, he chose to put off getting the details.  At day’s end, he listened in earnest to the news reports and realized that once again there had been a shooting in a school, but this time the dead included beautiful little first-graders.

Since then, he said, he has been emotionally overwhelmed even though he has been listening to or reading only a few news reports.

The horrific shooting of the young schoolchildren and their teachers has been difficult to process for most of us. My client articulated the feelings of horror and helplessness that may sound familiar to you.  But he says he thinks his ongoing exhaustion and isolation may further complicate for him the emotional impact of the killings.

Over the last couple of months several clients have voiced concerns not only over their heavy work load, but also over the emotional stress and isolation they are feeling.

Time for yourself

The upcoming holidays and, for some, the end of the semester give many the opportunity to reflect on how to deal with this latest disaster.

And how you can deal with the loneliness and emotional stress you feel as you shoulder the difficult job of writing a dissertation.

More of what matters

Please give some time over the next few weeks to reflect on what really matters to you, not only in your work or dissertation, but also in your emotional life.  What is it that you need?  How can you have more of what matters to you?

All good wishes to 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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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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Time management matrix as described in Merrill...

Time management matrix as described in Merrill and Covey 1994 book "First Things First," showing "quadrant two" items that are important but not urgent and so require greater attention for effective time management (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Not too long ago, when my adult son mentioned how busy his work and life have become,  my husband was reminded of an annual planning session he had attended at which a facilitator presented a workshop on how to organize your time. 

As my husband drew a diagram from that workshop, I realized that he was drawing time management guru Stephen Covey‘s famous matrix. 

 

Stephen Covey’s Matrix 

Stephen Covey groups the ways we spend our time into four quadrants:

 –1-important and urgent

–2-important and not urgent

–3-not important and urgent

–4-not important and not urgent

As my husband drew the diagram, he said, “The facilitator said you should attend immediately and with personal involvement to Quadrant I matters.” The facilitator’s words about urgent matters resonated with my husband because he always has more work than he can get done.  Everything is urgent.

 

Everything is urgent

In your life, as an academic, ABD, dissertator, professional writer—does that sound familiar? You’re grading papers, attending meetings, preparing classes or presentations, returning email, managing crises at home, and trying to keep up with all that keeps hitting you. As you rush frantically and lose sleep, you also try to engage in last-minute binge writing of your dissertation before the time you told your advisor you would be submitting your promised work.  

Not only had my husband remembered clearly what the facilitator said is assigned to Quadrant I– the urgent and important matters, but he also clearly remembered those matters in Quadrant IV.  The facilitator said that Quadrant IV contains matters that you could basically forget about or things headed for the “circular file.” In other contexts, Quadrant IV could include behaviors such as vegging out in front of the TV or hanging out at Facebook.

So that’s Quadrant I and IV.  What about Quadrant II?  Important but NOT urgent matters would go in Quadrant II. 

Not surprisingly, my husband said that had forgotten what the facilitator said specifically about Quadrants II.  That’s probably because my husband, like so many of us, has to focus on urgent matters. The stuff that never stops. 

 

What you need to meet your goals

What are the important matters contained in Quadrant II and why should we care?  Take a look at what matters are in Quadrant II:

–goal-setting

–planning

–building relationships

–exercising

–productivity

People who most often meet their goals do more planning, organizing, and anticipating. They work efficiently and productively, avoiding last-minute sprints in order to meet impending deadlines, and they honor goals of a healthy lifestyle and close relationships.

While you might be able to avoid some of the distractions and time-wasters of Quadrants III and IV, how do you ignore the unrelenting onslaught of urgent demands of Quadrant I so that you can spend more time with the important matters of Quadrant II?  

 

Controlling what’s urgent

Not everything is an emergency, and we can take steps to stay out-of-the-way of things that appear urgent. Whenever possible, avoid email, particularly before or during a writing session. Avoid such additions to your workload as more volunteering, carpooling, office projects when the work really isn’t your responsibility, and perfectionism that can lead to unwarranted revision and research on your writing project.

Let people know that you are turning off your email and phone during the time you are writing. That would be a bold, but empowering step, wouldn’t it?

 

10 tips that will move you closer to your writing goal

Here are more tips that will help you increase your focus on what is important and also help you move closer to your writing goal:

–Anticipate future demands and activities. Plan, plan, plan. 

–Make your schedule and stick to it.

–Plan do-able, timely deadlines which you meet.  Such a plan results in productivity.

–Prepare so that when you sit down to write, your subconscious has had time to work on the ideas.

–Include physical exercise in your life. (Check out previous blogs and upcoming blogs on the importance of exercise to your writing life.)

–Break out the outlines. If you don’t have an outline, make one. Have an outline in place to guide your writing session.

–Routinely, daily, go to a quiet place to write and to plan the next day’s writing.

–Set up an accountability factor. Ask your friends if you can mail them a chapter and then tell them when you will mail it.

–Email your coach with frequent updates on daily writing sessions.

–Keep an eye on productivity—it’s under your control.

It might be a small problem for you to push aside something seemingly urgent in order to plan and schedule writing sessions, but if you don’t do that, you’ll have the big problem of not producing text because you are running around as if your hair is on fire.

Your hair isn’t on fire.  Slow down, plan, and show up to write.

In the March issue of my newsletter Smart Tips for Writers, I wrote about Stephen Covey’s “Big Rocks” and how that strategy relates to your dissertation. Let me know if that issue never arrived in your inbox. If you aren’t signed up for my newsletter, you can take care of that at my website at www.nancywhichard.com.

I’d love to hear your ideas on urgent vs. important matters and how they impact your writing.

Best to 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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Is there too much to do?  Are you not getting enough done?

Do you jump from task to task on your to-do list but never seem to make progress on your main writing goals?

Is your dissertation still on your to-do list?

As a client said to me, “Which end of the tube am I squeezing?”

So what’s undercutting your progress on your writing?

 

Add-On’s

At your day job, people are sick or on leave, and you’re expected to pick up the slack. So you stay late. If you’re teaching, a student needs extra mentoring.  There are last-minute requests for letters of recommendation. And then you get into your car to drive home, only to find yourself in an extended traffic jam, once again.

Two extra hours here, two there, and suddenly you’ve forgotten about your own priorities.

Have you agreed to additional responsibilities without checking your schedule or without carving space for the new add-on’s? Or have those extra responsibilities not even registered for you as time-sucks?

 

Family Matters

Spring here in the U.S. often brings additional activities, primarily more activities for your kids.  So the questions…and conflicts…arise:  Who is driving the kids to their newly added activities? Are you changing your work schedule in order to take care of the kids? Are you going to be able to stay and watch them do these activities? 

Or perhaps your kids need or want to change their plans.  And they need or want to change what you thought was already decided.

Misunderstandings, disputes, and debates can arise from too many issues being handled on the fly. Phone calls or a voicemail message can precipitate problems or unexpected responses. Dealing with those problems and, perhaps, with your own emotions as well require more of your time.

You have the energy and know-how to orchestrate work, family life, dissertation or writing project. However, if you’re juggling so many things, you may feel that there’s no time for a miscalculation. Remember that things don’t have to be perfect. If there is a problem, you can problem-solve.

 

Ah, yes, the dissertation… How about Intervals?

Your to-do list is so big.

Parenting is so big.

The commute and the job are so big.

But what about the writing?

Has your dissertation moved lower and lower on your list? It’s time to get it back at the top of the list. Decide what specific writing task you can do this week. Look for chunks of available time each day and write that task on your calendar. Decide that you can do a good-enough job during those small chunks of time.

Time to Power Up

Have you done intervals in your exercise routines? Intervals are a simple but effective way to boost your exercise by “alternating bursts of intense activity with intervals of lighter activity.”  The benefits are that you burn more calories in a shorter amount of time and improve your aerobic capacity.

Reframe your view of your day—look at it as if you’re doing intervals. You move easily from one task to another, increasing your tempo when you want to move through a task more quickly and then slowing  as you move to a less demanding activity. You can apply that same interval method to your writing.

If you could get more writing done in a shorter amount of time, what’s not to like about that? Let’s give it a try.

How much writing can you do in a short amount of time? Push yourself, knowing that you only have to work at this level of intensity for a selected period of time. You set the amount of time. Keep going until the time is up. Then slow down, go over what you’ve written, and plan the next sprint. Some writers object to this kind of writing because they say they have to write slowly. But perhaps those writers have no other job or they aren’t juggling as many responsibilities as you. You need to use your writing time as efficiently and productively as you can.

You make efficient use of your time in all sorts of ways during your day, and you can do that with your writing, too.

Of course, you need to be flexible.  The chunk of time you thought was yours may slip away from you because of a request at work or from a family member.

But watch that procrastination isn’t masquerading as flexibility.

Protect the small chunks of writing time. 

Setting small daily writing goals as priorities will result in progress.

What do you do to help you prioritize your writing and boost your writing efficiency? I’d love to hear from you.

All good wishes to you for great writing in April,

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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How do writers manage their time and produce writing, even if they are taking on a subject new to them and are raising young children?

When I learned of an upcoming interview with Gretchen Rubin, the writer of the New York Times best-seller Happiness Project, I was curious.

I had come across Gretchen Rubin’s blog, but I thought I would learn more about her work before deciding if I would listen to the interview.

It appears that her book arouses opposing responses.  One grumpy reviewer renamed Rubin’s book as “Be Happy by Being Perfect All the Time,” attributing the writer’s motivation to perfectionism, to a need for external validation, and laziness—that is, she was avoiding doing “what it would take to really make her happy.”

In spite of the negative blog, I continued to poke around, and the more I learned about Rubin, the more I was intrigued.

Gretchen Rubin is an academic and was trained as a lawyer.

Some years ago she was editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Review and then clerked for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. She decided that law wasn’t for her and left the law to write. She wrote three books on various subjects.

But then she decided to write about happiness.  An odd choice for someone trained to be a lawyer?

Maybe not. She and her well-to-do husband and children live in Manhattan.  Rubin says that she had everything that should make her happy, but she clearly didn’t feel happy. She wrote the book to learn “what it would take to be less snappish and more lighthearted.” 

And like the academic researcher that she was trained to be, in order to learn how to be more lighthearted, she immersed herself in research—in the emerging field of positive psychology and the extensive critical literature on happiness.  Then she spent a year testing all of the research and happiness theories. The Happiness Project is the book that she wrote detailing that year.

I’ve always found writing to be hard work, and a best-selling writer who has researches heavily and spends a year testing the research in order to write her book arouses my interest.

Gretchen Rubin read hundreds of books on the subject of happiness not only to write a book, but also to help herself be grateful for the life that she has: “Why am I getting myself distracted by petty irritations?” she asked herself before she started the project.

The more I read about Rubin’s process to research and write the book, the more I knew I wanted to hear the interview with Gretchen Rubin.  And she didn’t disappoint.

In the interview, Gretchen Rubin said that she loves a schedule and a routine. However, as a result of the many demands on her time because of her children, she has to be more flexible. Instead of a schedule, she uses accomplishment as her structure. She puts up a blog post every day, sends out weekly and monthly newsletters, and is currently working on yet another book.

She gets up at 6 am, an hour before her family wakes, to get started on one of her writing tasks. Her commitment is that sometime during the coming day she will spend three hours doing “hardcore, original” writing. Every day she writes for at least three hours.  Any reading is done outside of that time.

According to Rubin, making a firm decision in advance that you will do a fixed amount of writing each day is critical.

I’m inspired by a writer who writes every day, no matter what, and who avoids the “yeah-but’s” that she might use to excuse not writing. I admire Rubin’s self-management—her grit, resilience, mental toughness.

Perhaps like me, you have also been inspired by a writer’s story. Who inspires you to keep writing? Whose writing process would you like to use as a model?

I’d love to hear from you.

Nancy

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC

Your International Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach

www.smarttipsforwriters.com

http://www.dissertationbootcamp.net

http://www.nancywhichard.com

nancy @ nancywhichard.com

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 In a recent blog, I sang the praises of writing whenever you are taking a plane somewhere.  The quiet, distraction-free atmosphere makes flying perfect for writing, or so it seems to me.

 I heard from a dissenting reader.

She said, “I’d love to be able to devote myself to writing while on a plane, but unfortunately I travel with a little sidekick who demands a lot of attention.”

Unfortunately, when you have kids, travel (and most everything else) is all about the kids. 

And summer vacation presents such a situation.  For many people, having the kids on vacation from school is a great time for the family to be together and to do fun things.  But if you have to make headway on your writing, summer vacation presents specific challenges.

If you have to keep on track with a writing project, particularly meeting deadlines for your dissertation, it’s time to look for places where you have control.  You must make time to write, and to make that time, you will have to draw boundaries.

1.You can’t always be on-call. 

If you tell your kids that if they need you, to just call, they will call you, even if they don’t need you.  Funny story:  one child of a client yelled for her mom because the dog chewed up a Kleenex—that was the emergency.

2.Have a door between you and your kids.

One client says that she sits in the main room of her house and wears earplugs to quiet the din while she reads.  But the consensus among my clients is that boundaries should be visible, but you should not be. 

3.Invest in help. 

 If you’re always slightly uneasy, not knowing what your children are doing on the other side of the door, hire someone—young or old—to sit with the kids, watch them, play a game with them, prepare a snack for them.  Two solid hours of help could equal a good chunk of concentrated writing for you.

4.Get the heck out of the house.

The answer to how can you write at home is … more than likely you can’t, at least not all of the time.  An hour or two each afternoon, or two hours 3 afternoons a week, you need to go, leave, vamoose.  You will very likely have to go to the library on a routine basis, and you will have to hire a sitter or take your kids to someone else’s house.  Make a plan! 

5.Use daycare.

Many writers use daycare for their kids during the school vacations, and as far as I know, the writers haven’t been struck dead for doing that, nor have they noticed that their children’s growth has been stunted.  When my kids were in school, I enrolled them in a Summer Fun project at their local school. It wasn’t a full school day—just a few hours each day– but even so, my kids complained that they didn’t want to spend time at school.  It was their vacation. 

As I recall, I may have pulled back a bit on the amount of time they spent there, but I didn’t cave completely. I felt guilty—that goes with the territory—but I had to have time to write.

If you don’t honor your need to write and the need to make it possible for you to write, who will? I hope your partner or spouse supports your need to mark boundaries or to use daycare or to hire a sitter, but it’s up to you to say what you need and to make the changes necessary for you to write.

I’d love to hear not only what your challenges are around finding time to write, but also what you have put in place that has been of help to you.

Happy writing,

Nancy

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

 

 

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