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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 a writer who isn’t lured and waylaid by the distractions of the internet and email?

Is there a writer who hasn’t written about those same distractions?

How about you? How well did you do today? Did you stay on task and reach your writing goal for the day? Or did procrastination and Facebook win out?

My dissertation coaching clients are trying to use the Nothing Alternative—that is, during the time they’ve set aside to write, they write… or do nothing. They tell me, though, that the Nothing Alternative strains their willpower. They do better if they remove the temptation of the internet.

Several clients are using SelfControl software or the Anti-Social app to lock them out of the internet.  This week I heard about another program—Freedom.   

The client who told me about Freedom said that even though he has used it successfully, he frequently has to talk himself into setting it up.  And why would he resist a successful strategy? Because once he has it up and running, he will have robbed himself of his excuses not to write. It’s write or do nothing.

My client is in good company.

Writer Nora Ephron says that every morning she spends several hours “failing to make a transition” from reading the morning newspaper to working and being productive. To help to fight her urge to procrastinate, she sets up Freedom on her computer to lock out the internet. 

Seth Godin, the master marketer, blogger, and author, is also a fan of Freedom. He compares using Freedom “with being cornered with nowhere to turn.” And the advantage of being cornered, he says, is “that it leaves you . . . unable to stall or avoid the real work.”

Novelist Zadie Smith speaks knowingly of the lure of the internet. She says, “When I am using the Internet, I am addicted. I’m not able to concentrate on anything else.” To give herself time to write, she uses Freedom, but she still has to put her phone (on which she can get email) “in another part of the house, it’s pathetic. Like a drug addict. I put it in a cupboard so that I can write for five hours.”

My clients ask the same questions that Smith asks, “Is it me alone? Am I making it up? Does nobody feel this way?”

Writing is hard work, and most of us yearn for distraction, especially something as mindless as the internet and email.  Lock it all up—give yourself  some freedom!

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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A child watching TV.

Image via Wikipedia

A dissertation coaching client said that she stopped watching TV and picked up her writing pace in order to meet a deadline.  Now that she has met the deadline, she worries that she will be sucked into watching all of the TV shows that she recorded during her heavy-duty period of writing.

Do you record TV shows?  It’s just too easy, isn’t it?  I doubt that I’ll ever catch up on all of the International House Hunter shows that I seem to record every day. Occasionally I wonder how on earth all of the shows pile up, foolishly forgetting that I clicked on “record series.” And there must be at least 3 International House Hunter shows a day!

My client also worries that not only will she binge on watching all of the TV recordings waiting for her, but from experience she knows of the torpor that will hit her once she starts watching the hours of  TV.  It will be hard to get back into her writing routine. Digital stress strikes again!

Recently I stayed in a small town at an absent relative’s house (no I wasn’t a home invader–it was by invitation!).  This was a house with no TV and no internet access.  I was looking forward to seeing how the absence of TV and lack of email would affect me.

It was a little eerie, but good.  Many clients say that it’s hard for them to get into flow while writing and sometimes they find it hard to jump into a long book that is required reading for their topic.  Experience tells me that if you remove yourself from the easy temptation of  TV and the internet, flow will be much easier to accomplish than you might imagine.

With no TV and internet, I moved quickly into a reading and writing routine.   I gave no energy to avoiding writing and no energy to avoiding TV. And I wasn’t recording TV shows for later.  It was a win-win-win.

Often, clients who have a day job say that one change they are making in their lives as dissertation writers is to leave their blackberries at work.  I feel the same way about checking office email at home.  Too often employers expect the unreasonable–that is, that you are online, plugged in, no matter what time of day, no matter where you are.

If you can leave the blackberry and the office email at the office, cut way back on what you are recording on TV, and limit when you will check home email to an absolute minimum, you may be surprised how easily you, too, can move into flow. 

And you can control digital stress.

Do you have some strategies on how to avoid digital stress and the temptations of  TV and email?  I would love to hear from you.

All good wishes,

Nancy

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC

nancy@nancywhichard.com

www.nancywhichard.com

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Do Something That Scares You Every Day

How do you keep focused on your writing goal?  Our Lizard Brains can make it all too easy to let a goal slip, and with each deadline or marker you miss, it’s that much longer before you finish your dissertation.

FutureMe at www.futureme.org is a helpful tool for accountability as you write your dissertation.  

You can send an email to your future self anywhere from one month to 30 years or more in the future.  But let’s not think about 30 years from now! 

Let’s talk about your short-term goals.

Here’s my request– write an email to yourself to be delivered close to the time of your next deadline or short-term goal (and I’m hoping that deadline is within the next 6 weeks).  Write in that email the specifics that you have in place that will make hitting that deadline a cinch. 

 Make sure that you include in the email the distractions you must say no to if you are to reach your writing goal.

 When your Future Self receives this email, it will be cause for celebration.  You have stuck to your plan, and the email is a pat on the back for you.

 Such things as FutureMe are great ways to help you stay on track.

 Another way to keep you accountable is to hire a dissertation coach. 

 The more frequently you check up on yourself and the more importance you attach to doing what you said you would do, the sooner the diss will be over and done with.

How are you doing with accountability?  Need some help with that?  I’d love to hear from you.

All good wishes,

 Nancy

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

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Here on the East Coast of the U.S., it is snowing and snowing and blowing.  There’s no sign of  snow removal on my cul-de-sac, so it’s time to write.  How about you? I hope you’re having a good writing day.

It’s also a time for goofy emails.  A relative who can always make me laugh sent me the following 10 Tips for Holiday Eating.   

1.   Avoid carrot sticks.  Anyone who puts carrots on a holiday buffet table knows nothing of the Holiday spirit.  In fact, if you see carrots, leave immediately.  Go next door, where they’re serving rum balls.

2.  Drink as much eggnog as you can.  And quickly.  It’s rare. You cannot find it any other time of year but now.  So drink up!  Who cares that it has 10,000 calories in every sip?  It’s not as if you’re going to turn into an eggnog-alcoholic or something.  It’s a treat. Enjoy it.  Have one for me.  Have two.  It’s later than you think.  It’s Christmas!

3.  If something comes with gravy, use it.  That’s the whole point of gravy.  Gravy does not stand alone.  Pour it on.  Make a volcano out of your mashed potatoes.  Fill it with gravy.  Eat the volcano. Repeat.

4.  As for mashed potatoes, always ask if they’re made with skim milk or whole milk.  If it’s skim, pass.  Why bother?   It’s like buying a sports car with an automatic transmission.

5.  Do not have a snack before going to a party in an effort to control your eating.  The whole point of going to a Holiday party is to eat other people’s food for free.  Lots of it.  Hello?

6.  Under no circumstances should you exercise between now and New Year’s.  You can do that in January when you have nothing else to do.  This is the time for long naps, which you’ll need after circling the buffet table while carrying a twelve-pound plate of food and that vat of eggnog.

7.  If you come across something really good at a buffet table, like frosted Christmas cookies in the shape and size of Santa, position yourself near them and don’t budge.  Have as many as you can before becoming the center of attention.  They’re like a beautiful pair of shoes.  If you leave them behind, you’re never going to see them again.

8.  Same for pies… Apple, Pumpkin, Mincemeat.  Have a slice of each.  Or if you don’t like mincemeat, have two apples and one pumpkin.  Always have three.  When else do you get to have more than one dessert?  Columbus Day?

9.  Did someone mention fruitcake?  Granted, it’s loaded with the mandatory celebratory calories, but avoid it at all cost.  I mean, have some standards.

10.  One final tip:  If you don’t feel terrible when you leave the party or get up from the table, you haven’t been paying attention.  Re-read tips; start over, but hurry, January is just around the corner. 

Have a great holiday season! 

And if today is a snow day for you, make it also a great writing day.

Smile and write.

Cheers, 

Nancy

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

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Re-entry into most any job after a vacation is hard, but sometimes coming back to your diss can be particularly punishing.

Your mind is still in that faraway (or close by) place, and you’re feeling not only unsettled, but more than a little resistant to the writing.

Next time—plan for your return. 

If you’re taking off for a few days now, here is what to do before you leave:

1.  Clean your desk so that you can see a clear space.
There’s nothing worse than coming back to a desk covered with piles of who-knows-what.

2.  Decide how you will spend the day of your return. 
One client decided that the first day after her holiday would include quickly unpacking and checking her mail. She had arranged to have comments waiting for her when she returned, but she decided she would look at them the following day.
 
3.  Plan the first week of writing, with particularly careful notes for your first writing session.  You can always tweak those plans upon return, but it’s important to know that you’re in control and that you’re returning to a specific, manageable task. 

5.  Decide if you want to take the notes for your first day of writing with you on your trip.  If you take them, you don’t have to look at the notes, but you will know they’re available should you need to reassure yourself.

6.  When you take your work with you when you go on vacation, do you really plan to do it?  If you feel you must take work along, then plan exactly what you can do.  What are some small tasks?  Make a list of tasks and decide in advance when you will make time to take care of the first item on the list.  Do at least one item on your list.  If you can’t absolutely commit to doing at least one item, don’t bother with a list.  Just enjoy your holiday!

Have fun!

All the best,

Nancy

P.S.  You’re having trouble getting back into your writing?  How could you prepare for your return?  I’d love to hear from you.

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

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Is writing your dissertation a top priority for you?  You may think that you are putting your writing project or dissertation first.  At least you think about it or worry about it more time than you’d like.

But what are you doing during your prime time, when you’re at your best?

If there’s a deadline looming, you put your dissertation first, push aside other tasks, clean off your desk, and settle in to grind that paper out.

Instead of waiting for a deadline to call you to action, what could you put in place now  that would let you write straightaway, no dillydallying?

Here’s a thought—why not put off the less critical things?
That would allow you to put your writing first and to put your best self into your writing.

To put your writing first, what else can be put off?

1.  Reading the newspaper.
Reading the newspaper can take a lot of time.  It’s even more dangerous to read a paper online.  Not only will you read the main articles, but you’ll also be pulled to read the articles that are most frequently emailed.  And the opinions and then the YouTube interview attached to the article.

2. Reading even one email.
If you made the mistake of reading online headlines from your favorite newspaper, then you’re already too close for comfort to your email.  But it’s not too late to turn and run.
Put off all email until your writing session is over.

3. Straightening up the kitchen.
Who would think that cleaning up the kitchen in the morning would hold you in its clutches?  Most writers would, that’s who. To put off writing, we can clean the counter and sink as if the mother-in-law were arriving within the hour.  My advice– delegate kitchen duties.  If you can’t delegate, then put off kitchen clean-up until you’re cooking dinner.

4. Staying on campus unnecessarily or doing admin duties during your prime time, if you are teaching.
Put off anything you can if you’re teaching that will keep you from writing.

a. If you write at home, leave campus right away after class.  Don’t go back to  your office or you’ll undoubtedly be waylaid by a chatty colleague.

b. If you take attendance in your classes by collecting question-of-the-day  responses, put off reading them and recording attendance until late in the evening  when you’re tired.

What have you been putting off?  If it’s your writing, then it’s time that you give more than give lip-service to your dissertation.  Put something else off for the sake of your writing.

All good wishes,

Nancy

P.S.  If you’ve made a habit of putting off writing your dissertation, it’s time to change that habit.   Dissertation boot camp can help you put make a habit of writing your dissertation during your best time.
Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC

Your International Dissertation and Academic Career Coach
nancy@nancywhichard.com
www.nancywhichard.com
www.dissertationbootcamp.net

 

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