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Archive for the ‘realistic goals’ Category

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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Kicking the can down the road has been given a bad rap.

Political usage of the game’s title has come to mean a shirking of responsibility or procrastinating or hoping someone else will take care of a problem. This meaning has little connection to the game of years past.  While foreign to most children of today, the game in its simplest form consisted of moving a ball down a street to a goal, despite challenges or attempts by others to interfere.

Political usage aside, this game would have few players today for many reasons.

You say that the idea of kicking the can down the road is antiquated, not in keeping with the demands and expectations in your life. It’s a joke.  Who works or lives this way now?

Kicking the can down the road

You are impatient.  You demand achievement that speaks to your high standards and to your big vision.

You don’t have time to fool around with a kid’s game. You have to finish your dissertation.  You should have finished it two years ago.

Unfortunately, though, because of the project’s enormity, your dissertation process is out of control.  In fact, it has stalled, and you’re stuck.

There is another way. The alternative to living with an impasse and doing nothing is to narrow the process, focus on what is doable each day, and make the execution manageable.

A big project of any kind particularly that of writing a dissertation, needs to be divided into manageable chunks. Instead of approaching the dissertation like a house on fire, as my grandmother would say, you need a straightforward, doable plan that you can approach one step, or one kick, at a time. Something simple and elegant.

I like the image of a kid on the road, alone and calm. If you look closely at the kid, he is not aimlessly kicking, but focused and determined. And he is moving the can forward.  Sure, there may be some learning involved if you want to try this.  Such an old-school approach may not come naturally. You need practice.

kick the can

Focusing on the goal of small, steady gains takes determination and mental toughness to keep at it. But with the feeling of success that comes only from moving forward, your motivation will grow, helping you to stick with the project. And you will eventually reach that destination—of finishing your dissertation.

Kicking the can down the road seems about the right pace to get things done.  It suggests the old adage of “slow and steady wins the race.”

slow and steady

How about you?  How is your approach working?  Would small, steady gains help you finish your dissertation?

I would love to hear from you.

Here’s to small and steady gains–

Nancy

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

nancy @ nancywhichard.com

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Did you think you had much of your shopping done for the holidays, but now you can’t find key presents? Are you wondering where that stocking- stuffer stuff is?  In the multiple piles of boxes that you have around your bedroom and basement? Did you really buy them…or maybe not?

Did you schedule your holiday gathering for your extended family during the busiest week of December? How can you walk around the usual family dynamics at these gatherings and not get testy?

And now there are last-minute meetings or final conferences at school? And, of course, you haven’t finished your grades.

What will help this week go a little better?

1) Make sure you have all commitments (meetings, conferences, deadlines) written down in your calendar—and make sure your calendar is accessible. Too often the big things don’t go into your calendar because you know you won’t forget those, but then as you look back over your week you don’t see that you spent two hours in a meeting and three hours in conferences, and you wonder what the heck did I do with all of my time?

2) What is your 24-hour goal? Write your 24-hour goal at the top of the schedule for each day. Twenty-four hour goals are the small but important goals that you set for yourself to take action on during a 24-hour period of time. These are the non-scheduled tasks and goals that you are committed to do. One 24-hour goal may be that you will work with edits for an article or you will edit a paragraph of the dissertation chapter. Look at your calendar for the bits of open time and claim those bits of time for your 24-hour goal.

3) Don’t burden yourself with thoughts of the impossible. Block visions of the must-do lists of all that you have to do over the next three months. It sounds silly, but too often you allow yourself to think that you have to do all these things now. Then you open yourself to feeling that you are ineffective and slacking off when you’re really doing so much.

4) Don’t compare your house and relationships and work to others. Do you have the idea that there’s this perfect person who has the clean, uncluttered house, and of course it’s beautifully decorated for the holiday? The perfect person also has a spouse/partner who jumps in and cleans. The perfect one didn’t put off grading and so she isn’t sweating because now her grades are due and she is behind.

When you are overwhelmed, do you think, “Oh, so and so has it all together.  Why can’t I?” At those moments, you need that inner best friend to sneer at you and say, “Really?  Really?” If you need help in dispelling the image of the perfect person, then imagine her at her worst moment.  Image her screaming at her child. Not so perfect, right?

5)  Avoid conflicts that come up too often at family gatherings. Avoiding those conflicts takes time and planning.  If you’re the only one who brought wrapping paper and you’re in the back room wrapping gifts, how will you react when someone asks you if you’ve had a busy week? And someone will ask you that. And you know someone will ask how you’re doing on your dissertation.  Plan ahead. Are you the only academic? Or the only person struggling with a dissertation? Have a Chinese wall between you and the folks who think that what you do is odd.  Of course, you could wear a shirt that says, “Don’t ask me about my dissertation.” But if you don’t want to be quite so obvious, then have an if/then plan in place: If she says “x“, then I will do “y.” And what is “y”? Bite your tongue, smile, walk out of the room. And keep wrapping those presents. Yes, you did have a busy week.

And at the end of the week, acknowledge yourself for keeping your 24-hour goals, for imagining the mythical perfect person at her worst moment, and for smiling and simultaneously biting your tongue.

Put your feet up and be grateful that the marathon week is over.

Relax and enjoy your holiday.

Nancy

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

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Dissertation writers tell me they often find themselves writing in chaos.  It’s not clear to them where they’re headed or how long it’s going to take to get wherever it is they’re going.

Occasionally a cultural ritual, like the summer vacation, is a marker that writers use to cut through the chaos.

The vacation can be something to aim for, a lighthouse, if you will. Paddling toward that lighthouse gives a direction. A limited amount of time adds a sense of urgency. Having a concrete goal adds clarity and motivation.

Put together a limited amount of time, a direction and a concrete goal, and you have the makings of a plan.  Nothing relieves stress or pulls you out of chaos like having a plan, unless it’s putting that plan into operation.

Some of my clients have a specific amount of writing they want to do, such as finishing the lit review before going on vacation.

One client says that she’s giving her committee what she has done before she leaves for a two-week vacation, but she’s redefined for herself what it is she will submit.

Her plan is to make a plan, a detailed plan, for the direction her work is taking.

Her approach is to work on the Introduction to clarify the argument. Then for the subsequent chapters, she is working through the argument.  She is stepping back to see where she is heading, making sure her argument flows,  chapter to chapter, with adequate support. She will also make sure she is adding the feedback and comments she has received so far from her committee.  She’s not working on surface issues—save that sort of thing for the end.

When she is back from vacation this concrete approach will put her in a good place to write more easily, eliminate the feeling of writing in chaos, and alleviate the stress factor.

From time to time as you write a dissertation, you need to step back to see where you are headed.  Take stock of what you have done and what you need to rework, as well as make sure you have a concrete plan to keep you on course for what is ahead. 

Is a vacation coming up for you?  This could be the time to check your course.  It also may be just the time to add a bit of hustle to your work.  Push a little harder to pull together your argument and to add pages of text.

From time to time, you may need to adjust your approach. 

What is the nearest marker for you?  How are you using it to advance your planning and your writing?

 I’d love to hear from you.

Happy June,

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

 

 

 

 

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Are you interested in careers that might not be in academia?

Have you found it hard to find people in the academic environment who know about other careers?

Just a few days ago I learned from a dissertation coaching client of a great service that may interest you.

The Versatile PhD is a free online service for both ABD’s and PhD’s who are interested in learning about careers outside academia. Versatility is the key concept of The Versatile PhD.  The organizers recognize that you have “the ability to apply your skills and interests in a wide variety of fields.”

This site provides an arena for you to investigate possibilities and to think of the many choices available to you.

 The contributors are generous with their ideas and experience and provide information that you can use. You will find career panels that run for a week, announcements of events, discussion groups, job postings, career stories, and resumes. The website is full of interesting materials. For instance, you will find a store—actually a bookstore with section titles such as

–Books to help you chart a new course in your career

–Books to help you understand the non-academic job search process and navigate it successfully

–Books about The Academy

–Stuff for Scientists

The Versatile PhD started as a small community, and it’s been growing. Now many universities subscribe to the premium area. In fact, the subscription fees from universities pay for the open area, which you are welcome to join for free. Later this year, the premium area may be open to individuals.

If you have had experience with The Versatile PhD or if you’ve been looking for a community like this, I would love to hear from you.

All good wishes,

Nancy

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

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You’re frustrated that it is taking so much time to get to the dissertation finish line. 

Do you minimize your efforts and withhold any sense of accomplishment for the work you’ve done to get this far?  Each week you look back and dismiss your work “Is that all? Well, really, that wasn’t good enough.”

 

Is it all or nothing for you?

Here are three approaches that may be of help in beating back that all-or-nothing mentality

 

Practice an old virtue

Are you impatient with how long it takes to accomplish a significant piece of writing?  Impatient with how long it takes to do something big? 

With never enough time, we may feel that patience is a luxury that we can’t indulge in. We whip ourselves to work faster and to produce more, without acknowledging ourselves for the work we have accomplished.  Practicing patience encourages us to work steadily and moderately, rather than throwing ourselves into a wildly exhausting, desperation move to meet a deadline.  

To remind yourself that patience has a place in your life as a writer, try something that might remind you of your mother.  Think of something that your mother would encourage you to do on a regular basis, something you would resist, but when you finally did it, you would grudgingly see the benefit.  I’m thinking of something small that you could try, like improving your posture.  Every so often, say, once an hour, throw your shoulders back, raise your head, and take a deep breath.  Let that action serve as a reminder of the beneficial results of doing something patiently, consistently.

Slow and steady.  Little by little.  Patience.

 

Add a new strategy

Set a 24-hour goal for yourself. Is it hard to value the small steps you are making and what’s possible in the short-term?  Put your focus on a manageable goal for each day, rather than the goal for week’s end.

Ask yourself what writing goal you can do within the next 24 hours.  What one thing?  Whether you have four hours a day or one hour a week to accomplish the goal, think about what is reasonable for you to complete in the amount of time that you have.  Write your 24-hour goal in a very conspicuous place, such as on your white board.  

Then the next day ask the same question of yourself — what one thing can I do within the next 24 hours?

Be sure to keep a record of your success in meeting the 24-hour goal.

 

Put a better routine in place

Recently I received an inquiry about my two-week Boot Camp that I offer writers.  The person asked how people who work and have families can find time to do anything more. 

Finding time to write during the week when you have so many demands is tricky, but not impossible.  Boot Camp is adapted to each person’s needs.  What many writers want is a retreat, an oasis in her day which she can dedicate to her writing project, and someone to whom she can be accountable on a daily basis.  Whether we call the time a Writer’s Retreat or Boot Camp, the critical elements are reasonable, daily writing goals and a moderate, consistent writing routine.

What might help you to work moderately and consistently?

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
http://www.dissertationbootcamp.net
http://www.usingyourstrengths.com
http://www.smarttipsforwriters.com
nancy @ nancywhichard.com

Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish.  ~John Quincy Adams

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If your goal is to finish your dissertation during this new year of 2010, be bold, be optimistic, and persevere.

Positive psychologists for several years have said that the strengths most important for happiness are curiosity, optimism, gratitude, zest, and loving and being loved.

My experience as a dissertation and writing coach tells me that perseverance is a predictor of successful writing. Even if interest in a topic wanes or times get hard, perseverance, mental toughness, or grit keeps the writer writing. 

Frequently ABD’s resist a self-assessment that suggests they have perseverance as a strength.  But there are ways to build perseverance.

Leveraging the strengths of boldness and optimism can help ABD’s acknowledge or access their strength of perseverance.

If ABD’s or other writers recognize situations where they have been bold in the past and identify current opportunities for boldness, they can also generate optimism.  With boldness and optimism, ABD’s can refute the self-sabotaging belief that they lack the necessary perseverance to finish the dissertation process.  

Adding boldness and optimism to perseverance is a wining combination.  These strengths hold the answer to the question: What do I need in order to be a successful writer?

Where can you be audacious and bold? 

• Start with your writing goals – both long-term for 2010 and short-term for this week and this month.  Commit to a reasonable goal for the next two weeks.
• Draw boundaries to protect your writing time.
• Revitalize your relationship with your advisor.
• Invest in a dissertation coach.

Where will you move out of your comfort zone for the sake of your writing?

All good wishes for a very productive and happy 2010,

Nancy

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

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