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Archive for the ‘writing breaks’ Category

Getting more sleep is high on the Wish List, if not the To-Do list, of most dissertation writers.

And so it is with me.

I always mean to go to bed earlier than I do, and I have all sorts of reasons for what keeps me up, some good, others not so much.

As I argued in “Sleep on It,” a tired brain doesn’t give you your best ideas, so why not go to bed and let your brain expand, develop, play with what you have given it? Your writing process needs that down time so that your brain can add its unique perspective to what you’ve just written.

I may watch BBC World News at midnight, and I may make some notes to think about in the morning, but I don’t trust my critical thinking and judgment after a certain hour. 

To supplement my nightly sleep I would love to take a short nap at 4 pm, but the late afternoon time isn’t my own. 

However, maybe I should take back that time. 

The National Sleep Foundation advocates a 20- minute nap in the mid-morning or mid- afternoon to sharpen focus and productivity. And it’s important to limit the nap to 20 to 30 minutes. 

And if you need additional reasons to nap, a mid-day nap also helps your metabolism (did I hear “slim”?).

If you receive the wonderful and free daily INSIDE HIGHER ED   and/or TOMORROW’S PROFESSOR newsletter, you saw “Turn Your Zzz’s Into A’s.” 

 In that article, Allie Grasgreen writes about The University of California at Davis’s systematic endeavor to encourage students to nap.  The school sells packets with earplugs and an eye mask and offers a “nap map” for good places to nap.

I swear by my five- minute nap, which I can take just about anywhere (except when I’m driving or talking on the phone, of course), but a 20-minute nap does sound appealing, don’t you think? 

Could you fit in a short mid-afternoon nap to improve your focus and productivity?  There are all sorts of barriers we could bring up, but really, how hard would it be?  And what’s 20 minutes versus improved focus and productivity.  Aren’t they priceless?

My best to you,

Nancy

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

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Pomodoro Timer

Image via Wikipedia

A productive, academic client says that the most important thing she learned while she was writing her dissertation was to use small chunks of time during the day for her writing.  Working on her dissertation in just 30 minutes here and there allowed her to finish the project. 

What have you tried that will help you work in small chunks of time?  You’ve probably heard of using a timer, but have you heard of the Pomodoro Technique?                                                          

The Pomodoro technique has a very interesting approach to making the most of your time.   Check out this video–The Pomodoro Technique Trains Your Brain Away From Distractions

The approach is familiar, but as the title of the video suggests, you must train your brain to focus and to produce during a small, discrete amount of time.  In this video, you’re asked to choose one task and write it down, set your timer for 25 minutes, work for those 25 minutes without stopping, and then when the time is up, reward yourself with a 5-minute break.  This approach allows you to put a boundary around a small amount of time, discourages multi-tasking, and teaches you to value the small chunks of time that too often are ignored as prime writing time. 

Perhaps you’ve tried many different techniques, but you continue to put off your writing.  You need to add some accountability.  Drop me an email.  I’d love to help you keep on course with your writing goals this year.  That’s what I do! 

All good wishes,

Nancy 

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

Nancy @ nancywhichard.com

http://www.dissertationbootcamp.net/

http://www.usingyourstrengths.com/

http://www.smarttipsforwriters.com/

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Image by peirunman via Flickr

How does your back feel? 

If you’re like many writers of dissertations, you sit scrunched in front of your computer for far too long with far too few breaks.  And by those last 15 minutes of writing you feel the spasms of pain in your lower back.

You might be surprised at the number of my dissertation coaching clients who complain of back pain.  

But I’m not.

When I was writing my dissertation, I developed back pain and sciatica. I had to have an ice pack under my leg in order to drive the car.  And when the pain forced me to stop sitting at my computer, I had to stop writing my dissertation.

I finally was referred to a surgeon named Dr.  Hope.  Isn’t that an amazing name for a doctor?  (Note to self:  If I ever play a doctor on TV, that’s the name I want!)

Long story short, I had surgery, recovered, finished my dissertation.

If I had taken the time to care for myself properly when I began the dissertation, I think I could have dealt better with the pressure of the work and perhaps warded off the onset of pain.  Now I plan my weekly schedule around exercise.

And I’m always struck by how regular exercise is helping many of my clients to better manage their writing and all that goes with writing a dissertation.

I’m curious—is a trip to the gym  a high priority for you?

I would 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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You’ve made a big deadline?  Hurray for you!

If you’ve sent off a revised draft of a chapter or major chunk of your dissertation to your advisor or you’ve finished multiple revisions of an article and sent it off to a journal, pat yourself on the back, think about what comes next….

And then take some time off.  It could be two days or a week, but give yourself time to regenerate and restore your depleted resources.

Go swimming.  Read a novel.  Spend time with a friend or your partner.

Afraid that you will hide out when it’s time to get back into action?  Then put a few things in place to help you get back o.k.

Here are four tips to help you make an easier reentry:

1. Mark your calendars for the day and the time you will be back at work. Make the start time as important as a departure time would be for you if you had a flight scheduled that day. Plan to do your laundry or check your email much earlier or much, much later, but not at the time you are restarting your writing.

2. Clarify the first steps.  Determine some specifics on what to do that first day back at work. Why bother to set a date to start, if you sabotage yourself by having no plan? 
 
3. Learn from the past.  If you are a bit monkey-brained as you think about planning your first steps after you return, free-write now for five minutes about what you have learned from the work you’ve just completed, learning that you will put into play for the next section or chapter or writing project.

4. Put your plans where you can’t miss them.  Situate the plans to be the first things you see when you turn on your computer or print them out so they’re physically in the middle of your clean desk.
 
You deserve a guilt-free break.  Mark your calendars and publicize the day and time you’ll be back at work. Put your plans for your first steps after you return in plain sight. A small price for a guilt-free break!

I would love to hear how you make a break part of your writing process.

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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It’s time again for the Annual Road Trip.

Most road trips I’ve been on over the last few years end with our creeping along Interstate 95, wondering when there is going to be a break in the traffic.  Road trips aren’t what they used to be.   That is, not unless you get far away from I-95.

With in-laws in North Carolina and my family in the Midwest, we have to drive a while to our destinations, but it’s worth the effort in order to leave the traffic of the East Coast behind.

And I need to be reminded how much is elsewhere for me and for my family, contrary to the suggestion of the haughty term “flyover country.”

During the days leading up to the Fourth of July we drive south from Washington on I-95 to I-85 in North Carolina and then west on I-40.  And we just keep going, past Asheville, past Franklin, over three more mountains, the third being Chunky Gal Mountain (what a name, right? supposedly, it is from a Cherokee legend) and on to the little North Carolina town where the cousins gather every Fourth. While the small town was very isolated when my husband’s mother lived there as a child, the area is no longer isolated nor a secret. Good roads are plentiful, allowing for tourists and family alike to visit or even keep second homes there.

We gather at a cousin’s house along the lake, and catch up. Of course, there’s story telling and food cooking on the grill, but mostly we watch the little ones play in the sandpile or swim or bob around in rafts on the lake. We marvel over the good health of the child who had been seriously ill, the love between the formerly estranged, the patience shown by a caretaker, and we play (or watch) a marathon volley ball game.

There’s a lot that forms the narratives of our lives—family, books, places, as well as highways and cars and airports.  And there’s the soundtrack to the narratives. At this time of year, I mentally replay Simon and Garfunkel’s  “America,” with its words of emptiness and loss, and I also hear Carole King’s “Doesn’t Anyone Stay in One Place Anymore?” (No apologies for my fondness of Carole King!)

Some people do stay in one place. But for those of us who didn’t, it’s worth the effort to put aside our work, our writing, our anxiety-producing deadlines, and our hatred of sitting in parking lots on I-95 and go show our faces and be part of the family.

If the Fourth is a holiday for you, I hope you can put your writing on hold for a bit and join others to celebrate family and community.

Happy Fourth of July,

Nancy

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

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A little after noon on Sunday as I was driving  to the Regional Post Office, which is open on Sundays, I turned on NPR radio and happened upon Garrison Keillor, telling one of his yarns on “Prairie Home Companion.”

Even though I enjoy Garrison Keillor’s humor, I immediately felt weepy.

On far too many Sunday afternoons a number of years ago, I would leave my home and my family and head to my office where I would work on my dissertation.  Each Sunday during that drive I listened to Garrison Keillor.  While I don’t regret putting in the hard work it took to finish the dissertation, it came at a cost.

While Keillor’s voice triggers some sad memories and brings up conflicts that I had to deal with as a parent and a wife, I’m also struck by the quickness of the unexpected, forgotten connection.  Our past can rush to meet us triggered by the briefest of sounds.  Or a new idea can occur to us at the confluence of a setting, a sound, and a memory.

That possibility of a sudden memory or an insight and, unlikely as it seems, sadness that can turn to hope through reframing reminded me of a client who is attempting to write a novel.  After having worked at it for quite a while, she feels as if she has nothing new to give to the project.  And she’s slipping into a stuck place where nothing stirs her.

To get unstuck, we may have to open ourselves to memories, to the unexpected, to the coming together of past and present.  Or we may have to break our routine and try something different.

I might have generated more ideas for  my dissertation and then have been a more lively and efficient writer had I given myself permission occasionally to stay at home on Sunday afternoons, or  if as a family, we had gone somewhere together on more of those days.

To generate ideas, consider making a break in your routine:
1. Take a walk or go for a jog.
2.   Go to the library or a coffee shop.
3.  If funds permit, take your laptop and check into a hotel.
4.  Trade houses or apartments with someone.
5.  House-sit for a week or two for a friend.
6.  Change the scenery—go to the zoo or to a park.
7.  Awaken your senses– surprise yourself with something different on the radio or buy a new kind of coffee or tea.
8.  Remind yourself of a time when you were bold or brave or when you did something difficult.

Sometimes writing and meeting deadlines need more than perseverance.

All good wishes,

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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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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Here on the East Coast of the U.S., it is snowing and snowing and blowing.  There’s no sign of  snow removal on my cul-de-sac, so it’s time to write.  How about you? I hope you’re having a good writing day.

It’s also a time for goofy emails.  A relative who can always make me laugh sent me the following 10 Tips for Holiday Eating.   

1.   Avoid carrot sticks.  Anyone who puts carrots on a holiday buffet table knows nothing of the Holiday spirit.  In fact, if you see carrots, leave immediately.  Go next door, where they’re serving rum balls.

2.  Drink as much eggnog as you can.  And quickly.  It’s rare. You cannot find it any other time of year but now.  So drink up!  Who cares that it has 10,000 calories in every sip?  It’s not as if you’re going to turn into an eggnog-alcoholic or something.  It’s a treat. Enjoy it.  Have one for me.  Have two.  It’s later than you think.  It’s Christmas!

3.  If something comes with gravy, use it.  That’s the whole point of gravy.  Gravy does not stand alone.  Pour it on.  Make a volcano out of your mashed potatoes.  Fill it with gravy.  Eat the volcano. Repeat.

4.  As for mashed potatoes, always ask if they’re made with skim milk or whole milk.  If it’s skim, pass.  Why bother?   It’s like buying a sports car with an automatic transmission.

5.  Do not have a snack before going to a party in an effort to control your eating.  The whole point of going to a Holiday party is to eat other people’s food for free.  Lots of it.  Hello?

6.  Under no circumstances should you exercise between now and New Year’s.  You can do that in January when you have nothing else to do.  This is the time for long naps, which you’ll need after circling the buffet table while carrying a twelve-pound plate of food and that vat of eggnog.

7.  If you come across something really good at a buffet table, like frosted Christmas cookies in the shape and size of Santa, position yourself near them and don’t budge.  Have as many as you can before becoming the center of attention.  They’re like a beautiful pair of shoes.  If you leave them behind, you’re never going to see them again.

8.  Same for pies… Apple, Pumpkin, Mincemeat.  Have a slice of each.  Or if you don’t like mincemeat, have two apples and one pumpkin.  Always have three.  When else do you get to have more than one dessert?  Columbus Day?

9.  Did someone mention fruitcake?  Granted, it’s loaded with the mandatory celebratory calories, but avoid it at all cost.  I mean, have some standards.

10.  One final tip:  If you don’t feel terrible when you leave the party or get up from the table, you haven’t been paying attention.  Re-read tips; start over, but hurry, January is just around the corner. 

Have a great holiday season! 

And if today is a snow day for you, make it also a great writing day.

Smile and write.

Cheers, 

Nancy

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

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Trying to finish a dissertation draft or an article or a chunk of writing before the holidays?

Also trying to keep on top of your daily job or finish your grading?
And don’t even mention that you have kids.

Did you mention that you’re sleep-challenged?

And struggling with the real need to eat sweets just to cope?

Remember this: 
You can be productive in your writing during the next couple of weeks. 

1.  Deadlines can boost your productivity.  Deadlines can help you become efficient in your writing.  An efficient writer focuses on the essential, does not go down rabbit holes, and writes to the point.  Surprise yourself with what you can accomplish.  And you will know that you’re finished (for now) with your draft/article/bit of writing because the deadline has arrived.

2. Choose your carrot—plan the reward.  You most likely have holiday plans coming up.  Make sure that your holiday plans include something you’re really looking forward to doing. At the end of each writing session, remind yourself of the reward you’ll have, just as soon as you make this deadline. Choose your carrot and wave it in front of your nose.

3.  Control your anxiety by being responsible.  Do what you said you are going to do.

4. Don’t even think about starting to write  until you have slowed everything down inside your head and in your chest.   To corral yourself into starting to write, first sit quietly at your desk. Push aside the non-essentials and the distractions.

5.  Watch out for the sugar demons. Years ago when I wrote my master’s thesis, I’d keep a box of vanilla wafers nearby to help me get started on most writing sessions. Today I’d try to make better choices.

6.  Commit to today’s writing session.  As you start each writing session, focus on the goals for that one session. Commit to efficiency, to reasonable breaks during the session, and to accomplishing specific goals for today.

7.  When the daily session ends, give yourself a cheer and leave that session with gratitude and gladness.  Be glad you’re done for the day and be grateful for your day’s accomplishment.

You can be productive even during this time of the year if you have a reasonable deadline, you take responsibility for meeting it, and you keep in mind the reward that will follow.

Hiring a dissertation coach helps you take responsibility for your work.  Give it some thought, o.k.?

Cheers,

Nancy

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

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