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Archive for the ‘structures’ Category

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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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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Are you one of the lucky ones with Spring Break in the offing?

Have you been thinking and hoping and waiting for Spring Break?  Finally, you say, I’ll make some headway on my dissertation or book.

Visualize how it will work when you have none of the usual demands that take your time and distract you during each day.

It may be a bit of a challenge to be organized, to guard your time, to find the balance between thinking you have to research this and write that.  Feel a little scary?  Are you starting to put the stressors in place just at the moment when the usual demands may let go?

What would make for a more relaxing and a less stressful writing?
What are the fears?

Just at the time when you see some daylight, here come the fears.  Try this: See yourself as a cartoon character and imagine a little balloon above the character’s head. Put those scary thoughts up in that balloon—the fears that give you that debilitating tightness in your chest. Every time one of those thoughts or pains come up, think of the words or fears and mentally write those words in the balloon.

You’re bigger than those words-in-the-balloon. Put those fears in their place.

Sail on, Silver Girl

A client once said that sometimes “it feels like I’m strong and sailing forward like ‘Sail on, Silver girl; Sail on by’ in that Simon and Garfunkel song,”  but then everything just piles on.

Guard your Spring Break.  People may know where to find you and start making requests that are hard to ignore.

For your Spring Break, find quiet moments, with no stressors where you can sail on.
That Hotel Thing

Maybe it’s time for that Hotel Thing.  If you need solitude and the boundaries that seeming-to be-out-of- town will give you, why not find a good deal for 2 nights in a hotel? Bring snacks, but be sure you can get room service for that evening when you’re in flow, but you’re hungry for something more than Trail Mix.  That’s no time to tramp around, trying to find a cheap eatery.

Bring your dissertation coach’s phone number, but leave all of your other phone numbers at home.

Give yourself an evening to settle in and to tame your surroundings. Feel at ease and comfortable with starting gradually.

Ah, just writing about solitude and co-existing with no other living creature allows me to relax and breathe deeply.
A Retreat with a Friend 

Some writers combine a writer’s retreat with reconnecting with friends or being with like-minded people.  Consider renting a beach house or going to a Bed and Breakfast with a friend or two and setting up compatible writing schedules.  Having someone to walk with before dinner sounds pleasant.

 

Accountability

My dissertation clients primarily hire me to provide accountability.

Why not combine your plans to write during Spring Break with Dissertation Boot Camp/Writer’s Retreat?  Boot Camp, or at least my version, includes 3 coaching calls over two weeks and short, daily check-in’s via email. And if a client is having a week-end retreat at a hotel or in another hidden location, I’m glad to schedule a coaching call on the week-end or at some random time to help get the writing off the ground and keep it going.

Being accountable to one other person who isn’t your friend, your mother, or your spouse can be very important.  No drama, no complications. A similar dynamic is probably at work in organizations like Weight Watchers.

If results count, find a way to include accountability during your Spring Break.

If you have been longing  for some time alone, with no appointments  or  scheduled must-do’s, go ahead and take some time off.  If you are one of the lucky ones with Spring Break, seize the opportunity and dedicate it to your writing.  I would be glad to help you create a productive and relaxed writer’s retreat.

And if Spring Break isn’t in sight, take a long weekend.  Remove yourself from everyday life and give me a call.

I’m on your side. 

All good wishes,

Nancy

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

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 March is a long month – 4 ½ weeks.   And for some people, there’s a week of Spring Vacation thrown in! Whoopy! 

What kind of plan for writing do you want for March?  Days you are going to work, the amount of time you will work,  or how much you will get done?

 

Results first

Instead of focusing primarily on the amount of time you’ll put into writing,  focus on what you want to have done by the end of March.  What would be great and absolutely astounding and slightly unrealistic to have finished by the end of March?  What do you really, really want?

Perhaps a rough draft of the specific chapter you have in front of you?  O.k., then say, “By the end of March, I will to have  _______  done [fill in the blank with the name of your specific chapter] .” Write that down.

 
What’s it going to take?

What would it take to get a rough draft finished?  What would have to happen? 

This is the place to pull up the schedules and strategies that have worked for you over the last few months.  Is it setting a time each morning when you start working, no matter what? Is it pulling out the outline?  You know you have one.  Or is it reading the prospectus and making an outline based on what you promised?  Let’s use the best approaches, the ones you know that have worked for you.    


Writing equals or exceeds research

When you start to plan your writing schedule, does your mind immediately go to how much reading and research you need to do first? 

If you think of all the research you need to do before you’ll be ready to write, give yourself a limited amount of time that you can flip through a couple of books or articles. Make the amount of time less than you think is necessary, such as an hour. 

If you give yourself an hour to do a little research, cut that hour in half.  Flip through notes or a brief bit of reading for 30 minutes, and then write for 30 minutes.  Keep yourself in check by both severely limiting the amount of research or reading you’ll allow yourself to do and requiring that writing always equals or exceeds reading/researching/fact checking.

 

To face the challenges of March, adopt a more regular sleep  pattern

Yes, sleep. 

How long has it been since you went to bed at a reasonable time (midnight or even 11 pm)? If you want to get up and use your day, then you have to get to bed at night. Are you one of those people who drink coffee all evening and then wonder why you can’t sleep when you do go to bed? To ease anxiety as well as allow you to sleep at night, slow way down on the black tea or and coffee by late afternoon. This will take some effort, but the results are worth it. To remind yourself that you’re not drinking caffeine at night, put a box of herbal tea out where you can see it.

Get in place your results-first plan for writing and move on it—it’s March!

Bonjour Mars!

All good wishes,

Nancy

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC
Your International Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach
http://www.dissertationbootcamp.net
http://www.smarttipsforwriters.com
nancy @ nancywhichard.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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This is an encore of a blog post that appeared here April 30, 2008.

Note:  If you haven’t signed up for my free e-newsletter, Smart Tips For Writers,  you can take care of that by going to my website at www.nancywhichard.com or www.smarttipsforwriters.com.

The next Smart Tips e-newsletter goes out this week-end.  Thanks so much. I appreciate your time and your support.

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Are you writing at a snail’s pace?  Are you stopping short of making your deadlines?  Are you still not meeting your goals?  What’s it going to take at the end of the day to have completed what you said you were going to do?
 
Try a fast, easy adjustment — making a small change can sometimes have a good effect.  Let a quick-fix jolt in you into action.

Here are three quick-fixes that are truly Smart Tips:

1.  Put your dissertation on your Desktop.
How many clicks does it take for you to get your writing up on your screen? Make it easy to get to your work.  At the same time, lessen the possibility of getting distracted by another file or (Quelle horreur!) email.

2.  Be a good boss.
You’re the manager for your writing project, so act like one.  Decide how much of one hour you work.  A 52-minute hour sounds good to me.  Work 52 minutes and get an eight-minute break.

3.  Plan your writing breaks.
What are you going to do during each break? Make sure the break refreshes.  Sitting down in front of yet another “Law and Order” or “Medium” will not refresh.  Take it from me, TV is addictive and exhausting. Instead take a shower and wash your hair. Or see how far you can walk in 4 minutes.

I have more Smart Tips for you.  I’m ready to send out my Smart Tips newsletter. To make sure you get your copy, go to my website at www.nancywhichard.com. Underneath my picture on the home page, you’ll see a box where you can sign up for the Smart Tips for Writers e-newsletter.

My very best to you,

Nancy

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

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Several of my dissertation coaching clients use timers on their computers to help them get started with a writing session, to stay focused, and to stick with their work. 

It also helps them to stop at a pre-determined time. In that way, they don’t stay at the writing too long and yet they stay long enough to get a good chunk of work done. 

One client says that her Taskmaster—her time-tracking widget — helps her with time management and with keeping track of how much time she spends on a task. 

Another client uses a free online timer called Instant Boss.  The “Boss” alerts him at a thirty-minute mark—the amount of time for a writing session that my client has decided works best for him   He’s noticed that if he stays at it longer, his productivity goes down.

Not only does the Boss tell him when to take a break, but it also helps him keep his breaks to five or ten minutes.

If he decides to take a short walk during his break, he sets the timer on his cell phone.

Using a timer protects you from sabotaging yourself.  You decide before you start the writing session how long you will work and how long your break will be.

It’s a handy writing tool, giving you some freedom while it eliminates the need to keep track of time yourself.  And a timer helps you stay focused, allowing for an efficient and productive writing session.
 
Have you been thinking about trying a timer?  Why not give it a whirl?

If you use a timer, I’d love to hear how it is working for you.

Until next time,
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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