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You are trying to make progress on your dissertation, as well as fulfill the responsibilities of your job. Add to that a family, and even if you have help with your children, sometimes it seems as if you’re walking on a high-wire without a net.

Most of the time, despite the odds, you keep all systems going, but then, with no warning, you’re knocked off-balance. You didn’t see it coming and had no time to ward it off. You miss an appointment, or you forget a commitment.  And you feel that you have failed. The question is how do you choose to view this failure?

Failure

In his book Smart Change, University of Texas Professor Art Markman reminds us that “despite the many successes you have had in your life, you have failed at lots of things as well.”  “Failure,” he says, “is not inherently a problem.”

A Dissertation Boot Camp client was doing spectacularly well in meeting her commitment to write every morning. My client routinely got up early to go to her writer’s location and wrote until she had to go to her day job. Her husband took over getting the children off to school. All was going well until one morning one of the sons at the last moment remembered a letter he needed to have that day, and so he dashed it off and rushed out the door.

The letter was a last-minute request to try out for a sports team. The problem was that the boy left out some key ideas that would have ensured his being considered for the try-out.  When my client came home and realized what had happened, she felt that her careful plan for balancing her family needs with writing her dissertation had fallen through.

My client blamed herself for forgetting to help her son complete the task ahead of time, and she saw the situation as her failure.

In your balancing act, there is the occasional wobble, or failure, but it isn’t necessarily a setback.  Professor Markman would say that this failure was not a problem since such things did not happen routinely.  Furthermore, he would say that this situation showed that my client was allowing her writing to take precedence, which spoke to her commitment.  That is important.

It is important that you continue to let your writing take precedence,  and keep going.

Rising from failure

In The Rise: Creativity, The Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery Sarah Lewis addresses the role of failure in one’s life, particularly in the lives of people who used their failure to give rise to greater creativity or to a transformation.

She contends that “the word failure is imperfect” because when we “are ready to talk about it, we often call the event something else.” That is, the failure may have cleared the way for a new idea.

Grit and achievement

The title of the last chapter in Lewis’s book is “The Grit of the Arts,” in which she links creativity, failure, and discovery to Angela Lee Duckworth‘s research on grit. Failure can fuel us to work harder and to see a situation in a new light, and grit gives us the ability to withstand the discomfort and to tolerate the need to return day after day to hard work. Duckworth says, “I think in life, most people are giving up too early.”

Duckworth argues that a person’s returning to hard work, again and again, no matter how uncomfortable that work is, makes all the difference in what a person achieves.

 

Working hard consistently on the dissertation

In The Rise, Lewis describes Angela Lee Duckworth as a fast-thinker and fast-talker. Positive psychologist Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania describes Duckworth as “about as fast mentally as it is possible for a human being to be.”

Interestingly, Duckworth, whose research is about keeping people on task and helping them not give up so soon, found that she had great difficulty herself in sticking with her dissertation.  Because writing a dissertation is a slow, and, sad to say, often tedious process, the pace did not mesh with her quick way of working and her mindset.

She was ready to walk away from her dissertation and the doctoral degree.  But she did not because, in part, she had given her husband the job of holding her accountable, and he reminded her that she had chosen this path. She says,” I realized that working hard is not enough.  I needed to work hard consistently on a given path to accomplish anything.”

Art Markman, Sarah Lewis, and Angela Lee Duckworth would probably all praise my client for continuing to write each morning, for letting her writing take precedence, and for arranging with her husband to get the children off to school, even though my client might on occasion experience some kind of failure. For anyone who wants to finish a dissertation, working hard is not enough; one must surrender to the need to “stay in an uncomfortable place, work hard to improve, and to do it again and again.”  That’s grit.  Grit is also “connected to how we respond to so-called failure, about whether we see it as a comment on our identity or merely as information that may help us improve.”

When you’re on that high-wire of balancing your dissertation with your work and family, know that you can tolerate the discomfort of returning over and over to hard work and that a so-called failure can clear the way to a better idea for going forward. Indeed, grit can see you through to solid ground.

Any thoughts?  I would love to hear from you.

All good wishes,

Nancy

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

 

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You sit down to write, and what’s that you’re doing? Without a second thought, you are checking the cnn.com weather app, thinking about how much colder it is where your grandma lives. And now you’re skimming email. What was that you wanted to check?  Oh, yes, you noticed that Marcus Mumford was wearing a wedding band during the Another Day/Another Time folk music concert on TV.  And you’re off on another Google search to find out who is his wife.

You are sitting in front of your screen, and your fingers are moving, but you are in the clutches of resistance, once again. Flight has prevailed over fight.

The Turnaround Artist

I received some praise recently—someone called me a turnaround artist.

It’s an interesting tag. Typically, a turnaround artist is a business person who is takes over a company that is falling behind.

To turn around a lagging writing project also takes drastic action, not unlike rescuing lagging stocks or companies and transforming them.

However, before a coach is a turnaround artist, the writer has to sign on for the transformation and then show up. The coach needs the writer also to become a turnaround artist.

Do Something Daring—Manage Your Writing for a One-Month Experiment

Is having a huge, long-term goal so over powering that each day you have to fight insecurities or the threat of the imposter syndrome? If you are feeling some danger around this project (that old lions-are-going- to-eat-me-if-I don’t- flee feeling), then do something daring. Hatch a plan that puts you on the front line. Challenge yourself to an experiment for a month during which you will not only write, but you will also practice oversight. During the experiment, evaluate time spent, your progress, areas where you need more learning, and personal growth.

I was talking recently to a person with a background in accountancy. She says that her decisions are data-driven, or as close to that as possible. Numbers don’t lie, she says. Taking that approach during your one-month experiment could be an eye-opener. What data could you keep track of? What is measurable in your writing process? Time spent on task on a day-by-day basis. Number of “have-done” tasks that you keep track of during the week. Number of words written or number of pages written.  And especially the number of setbacks and reworkings or restarts.

Uncomfortable Is Normal

Acknowledge that this work has unfairly brought forth all of your insecurities. You have not written a dissertation before, and so you may not have specific experience to fall back on. You aren’t on a military maneuver, and so there isn’t a manual. Nevertheless, you have survived other new and unsettling situations and you have even flourished. Look forward to flourishing, but for now ride out the uncomfortable feeling, and, if it helps, know that writing a dissertation is seldom comfortable. Over the month-long experiment, notice and collect evidence/data on how you are building resilience and courage. For instance, you could benefit from learning how many times this week/month you sat down and worked on your writing project even when you felt anxious or uncomfortable.

Practice Oversight of Your Writing for More Life Balance

Turn around your inefficient, sluggish, time-suck of a writing process. Use your professional or home-grown skills to trim and reset your project so that it fits into the time you have available. Then writing will be one thing that you do, along with having a rich personal life and a job.

It’s a good thing to call in an outsider when you need some honest talk and a different perspective, but each writer must put on the hat and glasses of the outsider and view one’s work habits and writing with fresh eyes.

How are you doing as a project manager of your dissertation or thesis? Where are you succeeding and where is your work lagging? I would love to hear from you.

All good wishes,

Nancy

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC

Your Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach
http://www.nancywhichard.com
nancy @ nancywhichard.com

 

 

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New Year’s Day is one of the few holidays that much of the world celebrates. Today, on New Year’s Day, we celebrate the possibility of starting afresh and of having second chances, but more even than that, we honor structure and accountability.

New Year’s Day not only structures our lives into one year after another, but it also divides each  year into twelve months and beyond, easing the work of record-keeping and accountability into manageable chunks. Around the world, most government offices and banks are closed today on our jointly celebrated New Year’s Day. It may be the only day when all of the world’s financial markets are closed.

To emphasize that today is the day to step back for a broader perspective on key aspects of our lives, we use business metaphors to show our belief that because of today, change will be easier to accomplish. We say that we can now close the books on some task or challenge, or, if need be, we may even give ourselves permission to wipe the slate clean and start anew.

Now if you were, say, a fox, one day would be like all the others, but since you’re not a fox, you are probably finding a moment or two today to reflect on how your year has gone. You may also be giving some thought to what you can do differently for a better outcome. And since you are knowingly or unknowingly celebrating the ritual of planning, as well as that of record keeping, perhaps you are considering what will be your first step in making 2014 a better year than 2013.

It’s hard to miss that wonderful spirit of hope that’s in the air today. We watched the fireworks in Dubai and in Sydney and in London and in New York.  In spite of everything this year, hope is still possible. In our individual lives, we get another chance to do and be better in big and small ways. 

English: New Year fireworks at the London Eye

The fireworks can’t be just smoke and noise, but rather a celebration of the individual strengths that we each call upon to help us be accountable in moving day by day toward accomplishing what we hold important.

Today is the chance for a fresh start, the opportunity to do better, to show up and work.

After you put writing high on your list of priorities for this New Year, then what comes next?  What’s the plan?

Make 2014 your year.

Happy New Year!

Nancy

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC

Your International Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach

http://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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I find it interesting how determined most of us are to derail ourselves in big and small ways. We can put a lot of effort into avoiding focusing on a dissertation.

How about you? Perhaps you have developed a terrific plan and writing routine, just as has one of my dissertation clients.   If not, there’s hope. Take some cues from my client who credits his plan for his increased productivity.

My client’s plan works because it is both basic and elegant.  The plan centers on a “twice –a-day schedule.”

Butternut Cottage

Butternut Cottage (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As he rides the bus to his day job, he plans what work he’ll do on his dissertation in his first session of the day. Once he’s close to his office, he finds a quiet place to work, and for about 45 minutes, he follows his plan and either writes or edits a section of his dissertation. Then he goes on to his usual place of work and puts in a full day. At day’s end, after he’s returned home and has had dinner, he puts in about 90 minutes in his second writing session.

He says that the twice-a-day schedule allows him to be more productive than if he worked a longer session once a day. The writing is never far from his mind.  He finds that he looks forward to returning to the work at the next session. And even over holidays, he tries to adhere somewhat to his plan just to keep his head in the material.

If you haven’t put a plan into action, first turn off the internet, television, and whatever else is distracting you.  Believe me, I know that finding the will to write is not easy, but you can do it. It starts with taking control and laying down the basics for yourself.

1. When will you write?  What day and what time?

2. Where will you write?

3. What will you write in that first session?

4. And when does the first session end?

5.  Rinse and repeat.

Nothing much will happen until you have a given yourself specific directions.  What is your plan?  What’s your own twist that makes the plan work for you?

Happy end of November to you.  December looks like a good month for writing, don’t you think?

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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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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