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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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“The idea for this post hit me today when I was at the gym, sweating profusely,” writes Larry Brooks in a blog post called “Blood, Sweat and Words: How Badly Do You Want This?”

As I read his guest post on the blog “Write To Done,” I was reminded once again with how often we hear about the connection between mind and body.

Brooks continues, “There’s something about taking yourself to the wall, to the point of the sweet pain that signals you’ve given it everything. Kinesiologists will tell you that’s an endorphin high. Nothing but bio-chemicals kicking in. Funny thing about bio-chemicals, though: they can take you to places you wouldn’t go otherwise.”

“I realized that I have, on occasion, experienced that same exhilarating high about my writing. And then, between sets on a machine inspired by something out of a medieval dungeon, it hit me: I don’t do that enough. I couldn’t wait to get home and start writing this post,” Brooks writes.

A feeling similar to what Brooks describes struck me this morning, though I wasn’t feeling the “sweet pain” Brooks mentions nor was I in anything remotely related to a dungeon.  In my aerobics class, moving to the rhythm of such music as the great ‘70s hit “I Will Survive,” I once again found myself in a moment when my mind was on its own.  With no prompting, no worrying, I was suddenly thinking through a bit of writing I had been wrestling with. 

This afternoon I asked a dissertation coaching client if she could recall a time when ideas about her writing had come to her with no bidding, no prodding when she was exercising or, perhaps, taking a walk.  In a slightly surprised voice, she said, “I’ve never thought about that.”  Then she said, “But it’s hard to write when I’m in a grumpy mood.”

Award-winning Irish novelist Michael Collins combines exercise and writing in a spectacular way.  A serious runner, he runs races in mountains, hills, and the desert.  When he trains, he always brings along a pencil and paper and will stop to write down a few words that will inspire him when he’s writing and resting later that day.  He says that starting to write a book in his mind while he is running “has always been the most natural process.”  Having the “release of endorphins [as he runs] frees up ideas.”

Almost any kind of exercise will elevate your mood and create the perfect circumstance for you to become aware of ideas about your writing that your mind has been working on.

If you can go straight to your computer or desk after exercising, you will very likely find that writing will be easier for you then than at other times during your day. And it is always easier to write when you’re in a good mood and when you’ve been thinking about ideas for your writing.

Have you ever had a breakthrough in your writing as a result of exercising?   I’d love to hear from you. 

Watch your email for the February edition of my newsletter—Smart Tips for Writers. If you aren’t receiving my newsletter, you can sign up on my website (www.nancywhichard.com).

All good wishes,

Nancy

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

www.usingyourstrengths.com

www.smarttipsforwriters.com

nancy @ nancywhichard.com

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Image by peirunman via Flickr

How does your back feel? 

If you’re like many writers of dissertations, you sit scrunched in front of your computer for far too long with far too few breaks.  And by those last 15 minutes of writing you feel the spasms of pain in your lower back.

You might be surprised at the number of my dissertation coaching clients who complain of back pain.  

But I’m not.

When I was writing my dissertation, I developed back pain and sciatica. I had to have an ice pack under my leg in order to drive the car.  And when the pain forced me to stop sitting at my computer, I had to stop writing my dissertation.

I finally was referred to a surgeon named Dr.  Hope.  Isn’t that an amazing name for a doctor?  (Note to self:  If I ever play a doctor on TV, that’s the name I want!)

Long story short, I had surgery, recovered, finished my dissertation.

If I had taken the time to care for myself properly when I began the dissertation, I think I could have dealt better with the pressure of the work and perhaps warded off the onset of pain.  Now I plan my weekly schedule around exercise.

And I’m always struck by how regular exercise is helping many of my clients to better manage their writing and all that goes with writing a dissertation.

I’m curious—is a trip to the gym  a high priority for you?

I would 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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Feeling stuck?  Feeling as if your well has gone dry? 

What’s a writer to do?

At such times when nothing seems to be coming together for you in your writing and when you feel more resistance toward your dissertation than usual, what can you do to stir things up a bit and to start writing?

Exercise is good.
Exercise will eat some of that anxiety and definitely improve your mood.  If you improve your mood, your resistance to writing will be lessened, and it will be easier for you to see connections among your ideas.

How about lowering the stakes?
Here’s a tip from a couple of my dissertation coaching clients, who are always a great resource for what works:  Try www.750words.com.  My clients recommend it as a place to brighten your mood and help you ease into writing.

This website is safe, fun, and makes it easy to write. You write on the site, and it’s like writing for a new friend, someone who’s cheerily wishing you well and nonjudgmentally suggesting that you do some writing.

A little number at the bottom of the screen shows how many words you’ve written and when you have written 750 words (more or less three pages) you get a “Congratulations!” And you also get points toward such rewards as a little electronic penguin.

One dissertation coaching client told me that she has her web browser set to that site. It’s the first thing that opens for her, making it a little easier to start writing.  She also said that her first writing on the site was a letter to her dissertation, telling it how much she hated it.  Take that, foul dissertation!  Then, to be fair, she let her dissertation write back to her.

The goal is to start writing. If you lower the stakes, you’re more likely to break through your resistance to writing. Keep making the attempt. Things will add up. 

All good wishes,

Nancy

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

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Happy Father’s Day to all fathers and fathers-to-be who are writing dissertations or articles or books.

I know that it is hard to juggle your writing with family responsibilities and with all of  the other things that you do.

To honor the men who are my clients and readers, I want to describe some of the strengths and actions I’ve noticed in fathers I admire:

•  A father who encourages his children to read or write by modeling that behavior.
•  A father, when asked what he wants for Father’s Day, says he was thinking about the new translation of Kafka’s “The Castle” as well as hoping to have time  to watch some soccer.
•  A father who models respect for an extended family by having long, kind conversations with his chatty mother-in-law.
•  A father who runs regularly for exercise and plays a huge role in encouraging his daughter and son to continue in the sport and to run races.
•  A wise father who, in answer to an emailed plea for inspiration from his adult daughter who is overwhelmed by work at her company, replies to her that when he feels that way he tries to think about how he is contributing to something larger than himself and that each contribution is important.

Happy Father’s Day.

I want to acknowledge the positive role you are playing in your family’s life even as you struggle through your writing project. Your family knows that you love them, and you are also modeling the character strengths you want your children to have—perseverance, courage, resilience, wisdom.

Enjoy your day. You deserve it.

All good wishes,

Nancy

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

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Another Monday is upon us.  If you have an office job, will you drag into work, thinking of fifteen other places you would rather be, with bed high on the list?  Re-entry into the work week is hard, but re-starting your writing no matter what day of the week wins the Resilience and Determination Litmus Test hands down.

Here are three tips for restarting your writing routine: 

1.  The shorter time since you were last writing, the easier it is to begin. If you wrote yesterday and stopped at point where you weren’t totally spent, you have something more to give to the writing today.  Stick to a scheduled writing routine.

2.  Always have three key words at the ready to guide the day’s writing session.  When you end each writing session, write down at least three key words that will spark your ideas for the next writing session.  If you do that, you will have a way to move into the writing.  Then re-entry may not be so overwhelming.

3.  Starting your day with a workout or a run will recharge your brain.  Have you heard about the schools that are now using exercise within the classroom and scheduling competitive, heavy-duty exercise early each day to awaken the kids’ brains?  Dr. Charles Hillman at the University of Illinois says that exercise is “good for attention, it’s good for how fast individuals process information, and how they perform on cognitive tasks.”

In “The Happiness Project” blog, Gretchen Rubin says that when she drops her child off at day care, she could then exercise at her conveniently located gym before going to work, but she doesn’t want to waste the morning time.  It is true that the morning is the best time to write, but exercise is never a waste of time.

For a faster restart to your writing and with less foot dragging:
 1. Write daily.
2. Write three key words at the end of each writing session to jump-start the next session.
3.  Spend 30 minutes on a treadmill or in other aerobic exercise each morning.

What about you?  What’s your plan for a smart re-start to your writing?

Best to you,

Nancy

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

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