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Posts Tagged ‘balancing dissertation with work and family’

At this point in the summer, writers face a decision. How will you make the most of the time left this summer?

And what happens when you ask yourself that question? Do you check your calendar and start to feel a bit of panic when you see that you’re overbooked with meetings and trips and projects, not to mention the promises you have made to your family?  Do you sink into a lethargic trance when you realize what little time you have for yourself?

Or—and this is the best choice— do you decide that your writing will be a priority, starting now, and you pat yourself on the back for thinking to check your calendar?

Boot Camp—a writer’s space

After my midsummer vacation, I started receiving many emails from people about Boot Camp, which is one of the coaching services I offer writers.

It is a short-term coaching service and comes with day-by-day support, and a gentle push for the writer to move forward at a faster clip than you might ordinarily produce text.  Boot Camp can definitely help you to make the most of the time available.

Work closely with your dissertation coach

During Boot Camp, I work closely with you. Part of your commitment is to keep a daily log/journal confirming that you did or did not meet your original goal for the day and how you dealt with a need to change your goal, as well as focusing on the coming day– when you will write, where you will write, and what will be your specific writing goals.  I ask that you share that log/journal post in an email to me.

A benefit of Boot Camp is that you draw boundaries around you and your work. You give yourself permission to pull away from the hub-bub of your usual life as much as you can. You shelter yourself from the pressures and distractions that had been partly responsible for your not writing up til now.

Insights and practices

In Boot Camp, clients notice what works well for them, and they adopt new strategies for greater productivity.

My clients tell me of the many insights and practices that have helped them and that they continue to use, such as:

–Don’t think too far ahead; work with what is coming up for you.

–Take time off to play, go for a walk, leave your work behind, and let your mind wander.

–Be patient with yourself and don’t rush to label a work session or an idea as a failure; you may surprise yourself after going for a walk or taking a nap how your so-called failure now yields something interesting.

–Give yourself permission to come up with new ideas.  Be open to a-ha moments.

–Don’t expect this to be easy.

–Don’t be afraid of a little discomfort.

Stick with the process

Boot Camp keeps you in the process. It helps you to stick with the work during the down days when you cannot see what you are doing or where this is going. Then, often, it takes you to a surprising place, and you see yourself rise from the uncertainty that only a short time before had made you think your project was hopeless.

And what a joy that is to see, both for the writer and for me!

Boot Camp could be the very best part of your summer.

Good summer writing days,

Nancy

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC

Your International Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach

www.nancywhichard.com

nancy @ nancywhichard. com

 

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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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Happy June!  It’s summer here in the Northern hemisphere.

For academics, professors on sabbatical, and moms juggling the demands of a fulltime job with a dissertation, summer roars in, knocking over all of your structures, making you fight for balance.

Why do you forget what it’s always like?  You think you are ready until summer is actually here, kids are out of school, family trips loom, and you are once again on shifting ground.

It is going to take effort, but you can make this work.  Remember my “Mom’s in Maine” sign? When I needed to make a space for writing—a cottage, if you will—inside my house, I put a sign on my home office door that read “Mom’s in Maine.” My fantasy was to have a writer’s cottage in Maine, but I was in the Virginia suburbs.  The sign was a small, fanciful strategy, but it helped to define mental and physical boundaries for me and my family.

 

 

 

 

 

What specifically is your writing goal for the next two months?  Don’t procrastinate because of your kids. To get started toward that goal, it’s time to readjust your mindset and commit to strategies that work.

If you are reading this, then it is time to write.

My best to you,

Nancy

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC
Your International Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach
Nancy @ nancywhichard.com
www.nancywhichard.com
www.smarttipsforwriters.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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A famous New Yorker Magazine cartoon illustrates procrastination and resistance against things you don’t want to do. A man is talking on the phone to someone wanting to meet with him, and the man says, “How about never—is never good for you?”

“How about never” speaks to many writers. When will you feel like writing? How about never?

Today I listened to procrastination researcher Dr. Timothy Pychyl of Carleton University in Ottawa speak about a difficulty you may have, the procrastination in starting a task that you don’t feel like doing, such as writing. At times he, too, has to drag himself to write, but he says, “It doesn’t matter how you feel. Just get started.” He adds that he is not saying “just do it”;  rather, if you can find a way to start a task, even if you stay at it for only five minutes, you are likely to return to the task the next day.

Dr. Pychyl says to fit into the larger pattern of your day the tasks that you would ordinarily procrastinate on, such as writing or exercising. Recently I spoke with a young woman who runs each day. And even though running has been part of her life for some time, she still has to work at ignoring her mind chatter that tells her to take a day off.

How does she run even if she does not feel like it? She says that the fewer the uncertainties about running, the more likely it is that she will run.

She is on to something. Dr. Pychyl says that you can get caught in uncertainty, even with things you say you want to do.

Eliminate the uncertainty about when to run

My runner friend does not wait until after she gets home at the end of the day to run because of the many distractions. It’s too easy, she says, to flop on her couch in front of her TV and never get up.

Likewise, she does not wait until she gets to work each day to decide whether she will run that day. For her mental health, she leaves her desk during her lunch hour. That hour is the time she plans to go to her to run.

Incentives always help

She has extra incentives that make it easier for her to go to her gym:

  • The gym is a pleasant place with jazz playing in the locker room
  • The gym is only a short walk from her office

But getting to the gym still takes willpower. And willpower is not always enough.

Use a daily ritual to avoid resistance

Knowing that on some days she will feel resistance, she has put in place a daily routine of small steps that lead her gradually to her goal of running.

The daily routine has become a ritual that gives her the focus and momentum she needs to move forward toward running, and she has woven the steps of the ritual in among her regular office duties.

The small steps in her ritual also keep her from thinking about potential momentum-stoppers, such as showering at mid-day, the pain she sometimes feel while running, and the other activities or work she could be doing instead of running.

Her ritual is simple but effective.  It starts at 10:15 a.m. after she has been at her job for more than an hour:

–10:15 a.m.:

She takes breakfast to work–cereal/milk/juice–and eats at 10:15 a.m. so that she will not feel hungry when she walks to the gym. Eating this light breakfast at mid-morning every dayalso triggers her focus toward what will come next. With each step she becomes more engaged with the upcoming task.

–11:30 a.m.:

At 11:30 a.m. she starts drinking water to hydrate.

–11:45 a.m.:

At 11:45 she breathes deeply and stretches briefly in the work break room.

–12:05 p.m.:
By 12:05 she is walking to the gym, reminding herself that in one hour she will be back at her desk.

–At the locker room:

She feels increasingly confident and eager to run as she starts to put on her running clothes. She says that once she has laced her shoes, her feet know what to do. At that point, she is  at big milestone, signifying that she has hit each of the smaller goals or steps along the way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And she anticipates the rewards of  greater mental clarity and feeling healthier that running always gives her.

The keys to her success

1. Determining that she will use her lunch hour to run relieves her of the stress of deciding daily when or for how long she will run.

2. Starting and carrying through on the steps each morning break down her resistance and mentally prepare her to run.

3. Her plan varies little. Delivering daily on the steps  has become a habit, indeed a ritual. The ritual is reassuring and increases her clarity of thought. She feels that something is wrong if she doesn’t follow through on each of her planned steps.

And how could a ritual help you?

As a writer, you, too, will know the pleasure and benefit of reaching your goal of writing every day if you:

1. Determine the time of day and where you will start writing.

Avoid waiting until late in the day when you are tired and when distractions have their greatest allure.

2. Determine how long each writing session will be.

Make the length of time realistic and do-able;

3. Develop a series of specific steps that you take at determined times, such as checking that you have the text you want to work on and that  you will have a cup of tea ready soon. Then take a few deep breaths and meditate for a few minutes. Or stand at a window and feel the sun on your face. Each step will help you build momentum and a readiness to work;

The fewer the uncertainties and decisions, the more likely it is that you will write.

 

What habits or rituals do you have in place that help you avoid procrastination and remove uncertainty about writing?  I would love to hear from you.

 

 

 

All good wishes,

Nancy

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

 

 

 

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You want a prediction about the weather? I’ll give you a prediction. It’s going to be cold, it’s going to be gray, and it’s going to last you the rest of your life.–Bill Murray, playing a weatherman in Harold Ramis’s Groundhog Day

The weather this winter in at least half of the U.S. has been cold and gray, and many days it seems as if it’s always going to be this way. Dissertation coaching clients tell me that they’ve never felt as exhausted as they have this winter. Many are balancing their dissertations with a full-time job and a family. One said, “This winter when I go home from work, I’m done. I go to sleep.”

 Another said, “I’ve never been like this.”

Perhaps you, too, have been thrown off your stride this year. Like many other writers, you may have become exhausted trying to keep up with your dissertation and so you took a break.  It may have been a break enforced by the flu or sick children or kids home because of the weather.

Many people say that they are uncertain where they left off in their writing. One client says she wound herself up, asking, “Why am I not more on top of this?” Trying to get clear on where you are in the process can trigger the imposter syndrome. You don’t know when you will finish, and now you wonder if you can ever pull this off.  You start to doubt that you have ever had what it will take. 

How do you talk yourself down, break through your catastrophizing, and find your way back to your work?

Some writers call on their mental toughness and head back into writing, but resilience doesn’t come about without careful planning and practice.

Break out of your slump

If isolation and torpor, aggravated by the weather, are to blame for your writing slump, break the pattern by talking with someone. Talk aloud about your options for restarting.

Make modest plans

Plan an easy way in with short work sessions dedicated to specific tasks.  When you reach the 30-minute mark, or whatever amount of time you had promised yourself you would work, stop.

Keep a log

Make a record of what you have done during the session.  Give yourself credit for showing up.  Then note the time spent and what you worked on.

Before stopping, plan where you will go from here. My favorite advice for getting ready for your next writing sessions comes via Joan Bolker: “Park on a downhill slope.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

She says to sketch “out in writing what your next step is likely to be, what ideas you want to develop, or follow.”

Stay focused on the present

Put off thinking about the long-term goals for now.  Don’t start fiddling with a timeline of when you can finish or when the next big mile post will be.

Enjoy the work

As you work, remind yourself occasionally that you want to keep this writing routine going. In part, you want to do this because you can. You are able to do this work, and you have everything you need. You like the way it feels when you stick with it.  One dissertation client told me that he has a goal to make his writing fun.  He plans to enjoy the work just as if it is karate.

Smile

Collect cartoons, particularly those making light of the dissertation experience.  Keep a couple close by where you can read them.

Between writing sessions, make time to exercise; talk to a friend; read to your children.

Bill Murray was wrong—it may be cold and gray, but it will not be this way the rest of your life.  For now, keep writing, and buy yourself some spring flowers. 

I would love to hear from you.  How have you pulled yourself out of a writing slump?

All good wishes,

Nancy

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

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Balancing work and parenting is a neat trick in the best of conditions, but the cold weather and snow in North America may have upended the balance. For many parents, it’s been all parenting and very little work.

The frigid temperatures have made going to school a health hazard, and so working parents are giving up vacation days in order to be home with their children whose schools are closed.

 

 

 

 

 

If you are among those parents who not only work outside the home, but, in addition, you are writing a dissertation or an article or a book, you are already hard pressed to find a time to write. If the whole family seems to be at home recently every day, all day, the challenges to your writing are huge.

One client told me that on the one day during the week in ordinary times when she would have been able to write, she instead had a cooking and baking project with her bored child who once again was home from school because of the weather.

It’s difficult to maintain your poise and self-manage during such moments. One part of your mind is circling the fire. And at the same time you are trying to listen to the Wise Woman within you who is saying, “I have other things I need to do, but I don’t want to be preoccupied with that. I want to be here in the moment.”

It’s that impossible juggling act of trying to occupy various roles fully and deeply.

When you remember to ask yourself where you have choice, you are on the right track.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It requires some heavy mental lifting to make the shift from “I want to get out of here” to “breathe deeply” and “I’m taking a mental snapshot of my 10-year-old stirring the batter.”

 If you’re stuck in such a predicament, what successful strategies have you devised?

Stay warm!

Nancy

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

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