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Archive for the ‘self-deception’ Category

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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Many times writers hire me to coach them because they’re stuck.  They haven’t made substantial progress on their dissertation for months. 

What stuck often means is that the writers are having trouble claiming a chunk of time for the writing because of time-sucks.  Time-sucks come in all sizes and shapes. 

Facebook and email will be your undoing.  
Friend—give them up!  

In the interest of full disclosure, I do go on Facebook, but only because my nieces talked me into doing it.  I joined in order to see pictures of the little ones who live far and away.  No matter how many subscriptions I give to Your Big Backyard, Ranger Rick, National Geographic for Kids and Cricket, I get fewer and fewer pictures in the mail.  Thank-you notes, yes.  Pictures of the kids, not so many.  Thus, Facebook, but it’s just for the pictures. 

Babies are notorious time-sucks.
Being a parent is high on the list for time-sucks, especially if your kids are young.   The youngest addition to my extended family showed up in a picture on Facebook with the words “Mommy’s attention hog” on his t-shirt. 

Because of a singular moment, I remember what I was thinking or not thinking around the time my youngest started kindergarten.  I was standing in line at the grocery and for the first time in ages I was startled to catch myself lost in thought. 

When one has kids, the state of being lost in thought takes planning and distance.  

Mindless activities get few gold stars.
How much cleaning and straightening and folding do you need to do in order to feel good?  I think the more mindless activities you do, the worse you feel, kind of like eating Snickers bars, but I may be wrong. 

I am bothered by the stacks of files and papers in my house. I’ve delegated those decluttering tasks to 2 hours on Sunday while I watch TV.  Today was the second Sunday for using my new plan, and I’ve cleaned up a few stacks.  Two hours seem about right for me.  Any more than that and I’m suspicious that I’m procrastinating on something more important. 

Feel guilty asking for help from your spouse?
Moms, especially, think they can multi-task, even if it’s writing a dissertation at the same time as they’re refereeing a tug-of-war the boys are having over a toy. 

A favorite story from a client was that she felt guilty asking her husband to take care of the kids on a Sunday afternoon when he worked so hard all week, and she, ostensibly, only had to take care of the kids.  The husband didn’t really mind taking care of the kids,  She would go to the library, and he would add seats for the kids in front of the TV—and not to watch cartoons, but to watch golf!  Not the worst thing, right?  The story goes that the kids learned to love golf. 

What I hear from my clients suggests that time skitters around corners, never to be seen, never to be caught, much as if it were a two-year-old.  Sometimes it sounds as if time makes itself available only to the lucky or to those with nannies or to the childless. 

It’s true that there are inequities.  Too often women have waited their turn to finish a degree.  The spouse finishes first, and then if there are kids, moms can sometimes put their writing further and further down on their priority lists. 

But the person who takes responsibility for negotiating relationships and asking for what she needs will see time emerging.  

Time is both elusive and valuable. Be bold and brave— ask your spouse for what you need.  Carve time out of the day, and claim that precious commodity for your important, but sadly neglected job of writing.   Plan and use time as if it were made of gold. Because it is. 

I’d love to hear from you—what challenges are you having around time? 

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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August can be a time of scrambling

A friend who was taking her family on a trip to Europe was rushing to get everything done.  She said, “All I have to do is just get to the plane.”  I know what she means—what a wonderful feeling it is to settle in and stare into space, awaiting take-off (as long as you haven’t left a child at home, of course!  But that’s a different movie.).

For most of us, our looming deadline isn’t making the plane to Europe, but there is that sense of finality or urgency at fitting in everything we need to do over the next few weeks or days.

Maybe you’re moving, reinventing yourself, starting a new job (or going back to your same teaching job).  What minutiae swirl in your head as you try to focus on the chapter you’re writing? 

1. Put the Big Rocks in first.
A wonderful client reminded me this week of the time management story about the rocks and a jar.  Have you heard it?  Stephen Covey in his book First Things First describes a time management speaker using a jar and rocks as props for a talk.  The speaker asks the group how many rocks do they think he can get in the jar.  After the guesses are made, he proceeds to put the large rocks into the jar.  He asks if the jar is full.  The group answers that it is full, but of course, it isn’t. The speaker proceeds to add small rocks, gravel, and water

The point is that if he hadn’t put the big rocks into the jar first, then all the gravel and little rocks would have filled it and there wouldn’t have been room for the big rocks. 

Our take-away is that we should make a list of the large things we need to do, our big rocks—a big project, family time, exercise…– and then plan so that the big rocks are done first.

What is your gravel?   That stuff can fill up your time.  What are your big rocks? 

2. What are your 3 priorities today?
Each day brings its own crisis, but you can still have three priorities that get attention, even as you deal with the crisis of the day.

It’s hard to mentally hold on to all the things you need to do at this time of year, but if you write down the 3 most important things you must do today and put the time when you will do each of those things, you will feel a great deal of anxiety drain away.  Try it!  The 3 priorities may be the same thing as your Big Rocks, but they might not be. 

How can you make sure that your Big Rocks do make your list of today’s 3 priorities?  Practice.  Tell yourself that your dissertation isn’t some Big Rock that’s part of an interesting illustration.  It’s a big deal that you have to address every day in a practical manner—it’s one of each day’s 3 Priorities.

3. Make plans for following through
I’ve found that I must have visual reminders of how my day is planned to unfold and what I will get done no matter what—my 3 priorities– or I’ll forget.  I use large, colored sticky papers for my schedule and highlight my 3 priorities.  I stick my schedule in a couple of different places. I need to be able to remind myself that one of my priorities is coming up, so that I don’t self-sabotage by staying too long on something easy and blow right through the time slotted for a priority.  Written reminders are key.

4. Where do you have control?
As you think about all of the moving parts of your life—whatever comes next for you, your advisor, your department chair, the students, your feelings—the most difficult part may be controlling yourself. How do you want to frame the current chaos so that you can look at it in a positive way?  What do you want to tell yourself?

The time you have available to write may seem limited, but whatever time you have now is under your control.  You can choose to write in the 30 minutes or 1 hour that you’ve set for your dissertation or your journal article, or you can let the time slip away, while you run in circles.

Can you make your Big Rocks into your 3 priorities for today?  Make sure your diss is definitely getting a spot on your priority list and has a chunk of dedicated time in your schedule.

How about grabbing some big rocks and inscribing them? Maybe put them where you can see them on your desk?

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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How would your productivity change if you looked at writing as if it were your real job?

Ann Patchett, an award-winning author, has done her best to avoid writing.

Her novel Bel Canto, has won both the PEN/Faulkner Award and England’s Orange Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. She has a number of best-selling books and prizes to her credit. Nevertheless, she resists writing, putting all sorts of distractions in her path.

In the Washington Post (12/10/2009), Ann Patchett writes, “Writing is an endless confrontation with my own lack of talent and intelligence.” Otherwise, if she were “as smart and talented” as she ought to be, she says, she would have finished the book she is working on by now. 

Yes, she procrastinates. She will do about anything rather than write. If she is struggling with a troubling section, she is happy to rush off to Costco with her mother.

But things changed for her as a result of a dinner party where she talked with musician Edgar Meyer. Like Patchett with her writing, Meyer found himself bogged down with his music composing. But Meyer had made an amazing discovery: “He put a notebook by the door of his studio and kept a careful record of the number of hours he actually sat down to work. The startling conclusion of this experiment was that the more hours he spent working on compositions, the more music he actually composed.” Imagine that!

She jabs at herself, wondering how she hadn’t realized that “by giving my art the same amount of time and attention that I gave to, say, meal preparation, my art might be more likely to flourish.”

For years, Patchett had no particular routine to her writing. She would write now and then, whenever she found time. Somehow that hit-or-miss approach had allowed her to get a manuscript out the door. But as years went by, she found that writing without a schedule became increasingly difficult.

She says now that she had always known that people in other jobs, such as her husband, would leave early in the morning for work, regular as rain! To put herself on a schedule –and have “a real work day”– would “require not just a change of scheduling but also a change of mind.”

Writers, such as Ann Patchett, as well as my own dissertation coaching clients, say frequently how hard writing is. Writers put all sorts of distractions in their paths to avoid the tedium and the dead ends and the uncertainties of writing.

But writers do have choices. 

–Be straightforward and honest about what you’re doing.
–Say no to distractions rather than embracing them.
–Stop sabotaging yourself.

What if you didn’t readily volunteer to be the one to wait for the plumber or the air conditioner repair person? What if you didn’t run out in the middle of the day for a couple of items from the grocery store, just because we can? 

What would a work day look like  if you acted like writing was your real job?

Until next time,

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 scattered? 

Whether you are an ABD trying to see your way through a dissertation or a freelance writer or a researcher confronted with the impossibility of several projects, there’s too much to be done.  And nothing is getting done.

In addition to writing, perhaps you’re on the job market and need to complete applications.

Or you need to attend expos and find a mentor in publishing and a publisher.

Or plan a conference.  And find a keynoter.  Not to mention that you also have to write your own presentation.

Do you overwhelm yourself?  It’s easy to do.

There are also lots of reasons we give for not writing.

When you’re still and quiet, what do you know is necessary?  You have to produce text. It can’t be put off, just because you have other things in your life. 

Step back from all of the competing demands and multitude of swirling thoughts.  Look three months down the road.  What do you want to be able to say then?  “This is what I’ve done?  This is what I’ve accomplished?” 

You need to have some small success now.

It’s time to look for the low-hanging fruit.

What is one small, do-able task that will take you into this project? 

How about this for a plan?
–Print out one page of notes or an outline. 
–Leave at home all of those articles and books that you swear you must have by your side before you can write.
–Go to a place where you feel removed from all of the noise and clutter of your life.
–Now that you have eliminated competing distractions, give yourself permission to slow down to one writing task.
–Do that one writing task that is within your grasp.

Finishing the task that is within your grasp will give you the success you need to start again the next day, and then the day after that. 

Too often I see people, not just my clients, but others with whom I come into contact, who think big.  Somehow those big plans blind them from seeing what is manageable, the task that is within their reach.

Start with the low-hanging fruit. It’s a great start, and also a way to keep going. 

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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Change is happening in the Washington DC area, not just in Congress, but here in my backyard.  Spring is here.  Tulips are pushing their way above ground.   The trees are dropping all sorts of little colored pellets on my deck and front walk. 

The first days of Spring are a great time to assess your writing habits and consider how they are working for you or against you.  It’s an opportune time for you to consider where change in your writing process might help you. 

Time to clean house.

You’ve probably been down this road before, deciding to make a change but not putting any muscle into that decision.  However, there are positive strategies that can achieve lasting results.

Most of these involve capitalizing on the power of habit. 

In December 2008, I wrote a post in this space called “Make Getting Started on Your Writing Easier: Top 5 Reasons to Develop a No-Kidding, No-Fooling Daily Writing Habit.”

If you were fighting the dissertation battle then, 15 months ago, you may have read my “top 5 reasons for developing a solid, robust, no-kidding daily writing habit.”  And perhaps you would have made changes at that time.  Then these last 15 months might have been different.  Maybe you wouldn’t have continued to sabotage yourself and expend energy resisting writing rather than putting your energy into writing.  

What if you stopped making excuses now?  How about committing to  writing every day, even if only fifteen minutes a day?  Before you back away and begin again with the excuses, consider how writing every day, preferably at a scheduled time and maybe first thing in your day, would increase your productivity and, most importantly, would have you writing. 

Where do you need to exert control and spend your energy? What can you do to help yourself be mentally tough?  I’d love to hear from you. 

Enjoy the season.  How about a change?

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

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