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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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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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Writers, particularly dissertators, often share the character strengths of curiosity and love of learning.

Do you have both of those strengths?  If you’re writing a dissertation, I’ll bet you do. Many of my clients possess those two powerful strengths (I ask all of my coaching clients to take the VIA Signature Strengths Questionnaire at www.authentichappiness.com,).

Those two strengths are the drivers behind the great research and a-ha moments that many of my writers have achieved.

Unfortunately, they’ve also caused many wild goose chases, dives into rabbit holes, and forgotten deadlines.

Take note that while love of learning and curiosity may help to define you, indeed, they may be your signature strengths, they can also derail your writing plan.  If your chosen trajectory toward finishing is important to you, you need to know when and how to reign in your curiosity.  It’s a skill worth learning.

It might be wise to ask this question of yourself: Are you meeting the deadlines you set for yourself? 

If not, then consider these suggestions:
1.  Enough’s enough. Give yourself a firm end point for research of any sort. Whether you’re reading on a big topic or looking for more information on a small fact, set a stopping point.  

2.  No more rudderless writing.  What content are you developing in this writing session?  Clarify your writing goals. To keep yourself from drifting away from your writing and into checking out ever more research, know the focus of your writing session and stick to it.  Hint:  Outlines still work!  They can keep you on track or close to it.

3. To produce text, you need destination writing.  Push to produce text—that’s the goal for you.  To do that, set a minimum of what you will deliver in a two hour session. Don’t overpromise, but promise something.

Academic and professional writers must be practical.  Your job is to write.  Time to toughen your resolve, and reign in your curiosity.

All the best,

Nancy

P.S.  Do you have a deadline in your sights?  I’d love to hear how you’re doing.  The next four weeks are critical for many writers.  If you’re interested in how you can ratchet up your productivity, check out my website at www.nancywhichard.com.

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

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“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
—Aristotle

How are you doing with building your writing habit? Are you writing your dissertation?

It’s easy to play around on email or to read and even respond to blogs, but sitting down and starting a writing session is hard.  I talk every day with people engaged in serious, difficult research and analysis. Most have demanding advisors. A writing session can come with high-stakes.  Moving into it can be an intricate maneuver.

In my March newsletter of Smart Tips for Writers, I wrote about the importance of putting a routine in place. I’ve had feedback from several people, saying that they found my plan helpful.  One person said that “developing daily routines” had “helped disconnect the mental inertia,” and “writing in small sections” made “the task more manageable.”

Not only is it important to have a sequence of steps preparing you and leading you to your writing session, but it’s also important that you have a block of time that you’ve given over to the writing. Some have given a daily block of 4 hours, others give 2 hours; another person with a 1 year-old, and a 1 ½ hour commute to a major university where she teaches is committing to 15 minutes every morning before she leaves home.  However long or short the block of time, working on your dissertation during that time period must be a daily action.  Consistency.  Practice, practice, practice.

The people who joined my Dissertation Boot Camp say that establishing the writing habit has been pivotal to their moving closer to the goal of finishing their dissertation.

Do you have the habit?  Are you writing daily?   Go to my website (www.nancywhichard.com).  Check out my Dissertation Boot Camp, and sign up for my Smart Tips for Writers Newsletter.

I’d love to hear what has been instrumental to your success.  What do you have in place that is serving your goal?

Until next time,

Nancy

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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What if writing each day on your dissertation was a habit?  What would you gain from that?

Do you know the power of habit?

Here are the top 5 reasons for developing a solid, robust, no-kidding daily writing habit:

1.  You would not lose time and energy fighting the internal battles of whether you would write today.

2.  Your writing would come easily to mind at random moments during the day, giving you the opportunity to have new ideas and to make new connections.

3.  You wouldn’t have to find time to write—the time would be there, available, ready-made, dedicated to your work.

4.  You would replace distraction and self-deception with a solid, reliable writing habit.

5.  You would be writing on your dissertation every day.

Too often when ABD’s are isolated, working alone and with little accountability to anyone, a daily writing habit is far from reality.

Just as often, newly minted PhD’s working in their first appointment have lost the writing momentum they once had and are now procrastinating on their own writing.  They think they have no time for their research projects, or they’re making up excuses not to write.  They may distract and even deceive themselves to keep from writing.

I’m putting together some strategies that should put a habit in place that will give you the muscle you need to push distractions and self-deceptions aside and start a new day in your writing life.

Many writers who have been part of dissertation boot camps have high praise for the results and give their experience rave reviews.

If you’re interested in a virtual boot camp, you might want to check out my website at www.nancywhichard.com or sign up for my free e-newsletter.  I have an article on boot camps in the next issue that will go out right away.  Sign up at www.nancywhichard.com.

I’d love to hear from you if you have some ideas or strategies that can help make writing each day a habit or if you’re interested in gaining an intense, daily writing habit.

Best wishes,

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

 

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Curiosity is a boon to dissertation writers, except when it isn’t.

Curiosity is indeed powerful, giving us the will to explore, to persevere, and even to reach a goal.

I’ve suggested in an earlier blog (“To Enjoy Writing Your Dissertation, Use your Curiosity”) that it might be worth your while as researchers and writers to try to increase your curiosity.  Talking with someone about your work or forming a supportive alliance with a coach or a colleague will very likely engage your curiosity.

The more control you have over your work and the more engaged you feel in your work, the more likely it is that you will feel free to be curious.

But can curiosity ever be too much of a good thing?

I have noticed lately that many of my dissertation and writing clients have curiosity as either their first or second strength.  If you haven’t taken the Values in Action (VIA) Signature Strengths Questionnaire at www.authentichappiness.org, you might be interested (curious?) in discovering what your Signature Strengths are.

One terrific client with whom I talk weekly says that he can spend too much time getting “too into” something, past the point where it’s beneficial.

He gets stuck in the analysis of his data.  He can find himself running his data in a hundred different ways, rather than the couple of different ways that had been his intention.  This is a problem because he said that he knew he’d get what he needed from just those two ways.

To prevent himself from going overboard or getting too into the analysis, it seems to me that he needs to ask himself what he’d do if he had a bag of Fun-Sized Snickers staring at him within arm’s reach!  Most of us couldn’t stop at eating just 2, and so we’d have to put the bag away or we’d regret it.

Is your curiosity so strong that it almost holds you hostage, urging you to keep looking for more paths, more possibilities?  If you want to move your work forward, then you have to remove yourself from the temptation.  My client’s plan was to curb his curiosity, as best he could.  He decided he could go to a graduate computer lab and take just the results of his analysis on a flash drive. He not only committed to the plan, but he would also make it hard to back out.  He would go public and tell someone his plan.

Can your curiosity get you into trouble?  Do you sometimes have to keep your curiosity in check?  I’d love to hear from you.

Happy Spring!

My very best to you,

Nancy

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

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Where do you start on your dissertation?  The word review can start you on the following five fast tracks.

Let’s get started:

1.  Learn from your peers who are a bit farther along the road than you are—read and review carefully their dissertations.
 Even if you’ve been writing papers since you were a wee tot, or at least you may feel that way, a dissertation has its own discourse, structure, format.

How have other graduate students written their dissertations on topics similar to yours?  Learn the language by looking at models. Take notes on how other dissertations have been structured, chapter by chapter and section by section. 

2.  Review dissertations suggested by your advisor.
Since your advisor is instrumental in your successfully finishing your dissertation, ask her/him to suggest completed proposals or dissertations that you can read.  Emphasize that you want to see models for form and format.
 
3.  Review specific dissertations directed by your advisor
Even if your advisor does not mention dissertations he/she has directed, it is de rigueur, absolutely required, that you hunt them down and review them carefully. 

4. Start writing your literature review before you’re ready.
Many advisors suggest that you read widely on your topic, and as you’re reading widely, start writing.  Evaluate each source as you read it for relevance, currency, and the author’s expertise.  If the source measures up to your standards, not only should you make sure you record a complete citation, written in the style required by your discipline, but you also need to write a succinct critical note (quotation/summary) of that source. 

You’ll have a head start on your literature review from your note-taking/writing at this early stage, not just a stack of copied articles or books with yellow underlining throughout.

5.  Review one of the standards in the how-to-write-your-dissertation book genre.  

How to Complete and Survive a Doctoral Dissertation still gets good marks in this genre, even though it was published in 1981.  Read some book reviews of it and then get your own copy.  This book has put many ABD’s on the fast track.

6.  Bonus source for you to review:  Go to my website (www.nancywhichard.com).  While you’re there, sign up for my Smart Tips for Writers newsletter.  As a special gift, I’ll send you right away—no waiting—5 new success strategies.

Make this a memorable week—Get it off to a great start today!

Until next time,
Nancy

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

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