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Posts Tagged ‘balancing dissertation with work and family’

Are your children home on vacation from school?  And you’re trying to keep an eye on your children, as well as make headway on your writing project?

How’s that working for you?

During the school year, most academics teach and try to write.  Both teaching and writing are critical for an academic’s success and are important parts of the academic’s identity.  The plan is that once summer comes, the writing takes priority.

But no matter how carefully and hopefully they have planned, more than one of my dissertation and writing clients say that once summer comes, they lose their work identity.

It’s difficult to deal with the reality of summer. You go into summer with those unspoken hopes and expectations that you’ll make significant progress toward your writing goals. Then before long you realize that it isn’t going to be the way you think it’s supposed to be.

You had thought that with no papers to grade or classes to prepare for that you’d have long, quiet afternoons, or at least a couple of hours a day with no interruptions, when you could read and, more importantly, write.

And the writing is not happening.

It’s emotionally stressful, enough so that you may find yourself waking in the night and having trouble turning off your mind and getting back to sleep.

And even though you want to be writing, you get such comments from other parents as, “Oh, you’re not working this summer?”  Grrr…if only I could work, you think.

You need to write, and not only during those 15 minutes when you can hide in the bathroom or duck downstairs to the basement.

For years, I juggled teaching during the school year with being at home during the summer.

My fantasy was to have a summer cottage in Maine where I could go to write in the summer. 

I was never going to have a real cottage for writing, but I needed to make a space for writing—a cottage, if you will—inside my house.

My kids were old enough to be on their own in the house for an hour or two, and so I put a sign on my office door that read “Mom is in Maine.”

My kids thought it was great, or at least some of the time they thought it was o.k. And my “Mom is in Maine” sign wasn’t as forbidding as the “Keep Out” sign that they occasionally used on their bedroom doors.

For the most part, my sign worked. I had to keep an ear open for any sort of hubbub, or alternately, when it was too quiet.  But I made sure that my kids knew that this was not a one-time event, and that I expected everybody to work with me on this.

At least my daughter gave me her stamp of approval, including drawing pictures of light houses for me.

It wasn’t a solution, but it helped.

A client told me that she, too, had to be creative in order to write at home.  The door to her home office is framed in clear glass. Her preschool-aged children would routinely outrun the family au pair and bolt for the office door, where they would peer through the glass in an attempt to see their mother. To block their view, their mother put black curtains over the glass. Kids are smart, and so they weren’t completely deceived.  Occasionally, she would still hear their little voices, outside her door, saying, “I think she’s in there.”

All of these attempts to find a space and time to write remind me of a client’s great a-ha moment:  “I found I could not write my dissertation at the dining room table.”

Have you decided that you can’t write your dissertation at the dining room table?  Where do you go?  How do you juggle writing and taking care of your kids?

I’d love to hear from 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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I have coached many people who write dissertations while juggling the demands of family life. It’s difficult to juggle the daily demands, but to give up a holiday with one’s family is a particularly hard choice to make.

As the Memorial Day holiday approaches here in the U.S., I am thinking back to a Memorial Day weekend years ago when I had to choose my dissertation over the holiday weekend with my family. Now it seems as if it was a small sacrifice, and completing a dissertation definitely requires some sacrifices. But at the time, I felt that the dissertation process had demanded too much from me one too many times.

In my Washington, DC suburb, Memorial Day has always been a day for ritual and fun. The day begins with a 3K Fun Run. The day proceeds with a fair and a parade and back-yard picnics. Except for the one year when I had to spend the whole weekend once again revising the intro to my diss.

My defense was approaching. I thought I was on track since the full draft of the dissertation had been revised many times and had finally been approved. Only the intro needed one more rewrite, and I had done that, following the straightforward suggestions for revising from my advisor. I then sent the rewritten Intro off to him.

Just before Memorial Day, he returned the revision to me with a note saying that I should take out all of the newly added pages and re-work the whole chapter.

I was dumbfounded.  I knew better, but because the deadline was so close I wrote to him, saying that I had done what he had told me to do. His only comment was that he didn’t want to be told what he had said.

I hoped that I hadn’t alienated him. And I knew that I had to grind out the new rewrite immediately. I gave up my holiday weekend with my family and sat in front of my computer for the holiday.

As I look back on that weekend now, years later, I have changed my perspective on several counts.

I remember now that when I was revising the Intro, my advisor’s suggestions struck me as a bit off the mark. But I didn’t raise any questions or concerns with him. Of course, the advisor is always right, but it would have been smart to at least give voice to my concerns.

It strikes me now that perhaps I was even a bit lazy in adopting his comments without discussing my concerns with him or without thinking of an alternative approach.

As for that Memorial Day weekend, I don’t think that my kids felt neglected. I did miss out on some fun, but I bounced back. It wasn’t the end of the world. And I think my kids learned something about how much work it takes to finish big projects.

What I had to do was draw on my resolve and my mental toughness to get through this challenge.

Over the long period of time that I worked on the whole dissertation, I learned the value of building perseverance, resilience, and courage. Actually, learning to rely on those strengths may be the life-changing and lasting benefit for me of writing the dissertation.

If you, too, are finding yourself drawing on and building your mental toughness and resolve as you write your dissertation, I salute you. Only in such a long-term, large project do you find such an opportunity.

Warm regards,

Nancy
Nancy Whichard, PhD, PCC
Your International Dissertation Coach
www.nancywhichard.com
nancy@nancywhichard.com

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A few months ago a person who had finished her course work for her Ph.D., but had not done much toward her dissertation, wrote to say that as someone who worked full-time away from home, she couldn’t fathom how she could add writing her dissertation to the mix of not only working full-time, but also being a mother and a wife.                           

That’s a wrenching situation—one I struggled with many years ago as I tried to add a dissertation to a full-time teaching appointment, two children, a husband, and a house.

Currently, several of the women that I coach have demanding, full-time professional jobs, as well as other people in their lives. Two in particular have put off writing their dissertations for just about as long as they possibly could, and so now, busy as they are, they have embarked on the most demanding writing project they may ever have.

One of them had set a series of deadlines for herself, but was wondering how she could possibly meet them. I asked her, “How many times a week will have to work on your writing to keep it moving forward and to keep it at the center of your mind?”

She said in a quiet voice, “I think I will have to work on it and touch it every day. I think I will have to work on it 2 hours every day.”

After considering the potential times in a day when she could work, she decided that she will work from 4 to 6 pm . . .  in her office before she leaves for the evening.

Here are some tips if you, too, need to make time during your day or at the end of your day to work on your dissertation:

Let your brain help you make a writing habit

Tell yourself early in the day–each day that you will write– the following:

“If it’s 4 pm, then I will start my writing session.”

It sounds simplistic, but saying that to yourself lets your mind start to watch for 4 pm. Try it–you’ll be surprised at how almost without thinking you act on your intention to start your writing session.

Establish a boundary to separate office work from the dissertation

You’re already at your desk, so you won’t be changing locations. But literally put your dissertation in the center of the desk. Move anything having to do with your office work off the desk or stack it or turn off the computer files so that you won’t wander back into left-over work from your day.


Prepare the night before

The night before, plan what you will be working on; choose any books or articles you may need to take with you. Set your goal for the content and the amount of text you will write.


Involve your partner/spouse

Tell your partner or spouse what you are going to do the next day on your dissertation. Talk for a few minutes about the plan and even rehearse how you want it to go.


But, but, but….

Are you immediately ticking off all the reasons why you couldn’t do this? But stop for a minute.  How could you modify this plan that so it will work for you?

If you need to shorten the after-work writing session to one hour, then do that. If you need to get to work earlier in order to stop earlier, then do that. If you can write only 3 nights a week, then do that.

American television journalist Norah O-Donnell and BBC’s Katty Kay both say that as women with three or four children each, they work faster and more efficiently than many others around them. They work quickly and with determination so that they can get home to their families.

Working toward getting better at being an efficient, productive writer sounds like a great goal, don’t you think?

If you want to start making headway on your dissertation, even though you have a day job and a family, try working on your dissertation before you leave your office for the day.  This is a good plan. Give it an honest try.

If you have put a similar plan in place, how is it working for you? I would love to hear from you.

All good wishes,

Nancy

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC
Your International Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach
http://www.nancywhichard.com
http://www.smarttipsforwriters.com
nancy @ nancywhichard.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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Putting others first is a strength, but using that strength casually and even irresponsibly can lead to procrastinating on your dissertation.

If one of your top strengths is the ability to love and be loved, you can be assured that you won’t be lonely in your old age.  Probably you won’t be lonely before you ever reach old age.

Since the ability to love and be loved is one of the five strengths that most likely will lead to happiness or satisfaction with your life, how could that strength ever get you into trouble?

Clearly, you could love the wrong person too much, but what if you have a supportive family?  Only a crabby, mean-spirited dissertation coach would ever suggest that you could show too much love to your family.

Here’s a case in point:  I send my clients a welcome packet when they begin coaching with me, and one question I ask is “What usually motivates you?”

Often the answer is “others motivate me,” as in:
•  Grandma is lonely, and it’s been a long time since we went to see her, even if this is a busy time for me, or
•  Of course, I’ll head up the drive for membership for our ______ (fill in the blank:  church, community pool, Habitat for Humanity group).

Others matter, and for some people, others come first, even when it’s a detriment to your meeting your dissertation deadlines.

If this sounds like you, try looking at your ability to love and be loved through a different lens:

1.  Excuse to dawdle?  How happy could you make your immediate family/significant other if you were to meet your dissertation deadline and actually get ever closer to the finish line?  What is your family giving up in order for you to dawdle on your dissertation?

2.  Family as human shield?  Impossible?  Are you at least sometimes using your family as an excuse to avoid your work?

3.  Leverage your ability to love and be loved.  Is perseverance not a top strength? Instead of organizing trips, dinners, and family Facebook pages, consider leveraging your ability to love others in order to persevere with your dissertation.

4. Promise to celebrate a milestone in your work with your family later on. Have you asked your family what they want?  Does your mother or your extended family in Ohio really require you to come to the various family reunions/weddings/birthday gatherings and thereby eat up the last precious weeks of August?

5.  Show your love by saying no to 3 requests this week.  Use the time gained to work on your dissertation.

All the best,

Nancy

P.S.  What deadlines have you set for yourself over the next four weeks?  Want some suggestions?  Go to www.nancywhichard.com or www.usingyourstrengths.com.

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

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I always look forward to Memorial Day week-end.  As I enjoy the current Memorial Day holiday here in the U.S., I am thinking back to a Memorial Day week-end a few years ago when I had to choose my dissertation over the holiday week-end with my family.

In my Washington, DC suburb, Memorial Day has always been a day for ritual and fun.

The day begins with a 3K Fun Run. In the front of the pack are young military people and other determined-looking runners.  Behind them are the kids from the local track teams and other people who love to run.  Way back, and this is a big pack of people, are the walkers.  One reason everyone in town wants to participate is because, for years now, the local Volvo dealer gives away terrific t-shirts to everyone who finishes.

The day proceeds with a fair and a parade and back-yard brunches and that sort of thing.

And it’s fun to spend the day with my family and to catch up with friends and long-time acquaintances..

Except for the one year when I had to spend the whole week-end once again revising the intro to my diss.

I thought I was finished with the intro.  My advisor had given me a fairly straightforward suggestion for revising the diss.  I had done what he said and sent the revision off to him.  Just before Memorial Day, he returned the revision to me with a note saying that I should take out all of the newly added pages and re-work the whole chapter.

To meet the deadline, I would have to work straight through the Memorial Day holiday.  I knew better, but I wrote to him, saying that I had done exactly what he had told me to do.  His only comment was that he didn’t want to be told what he had said.

Hoping that I hadn’t alienated him, I gave up my holiday week-end with my family and sat in front of my computer for 3 days.

I got through the revision, and finished the dissertation, but that was one of the times that I strongly felt that the dissertation process had demanded too much from me.

I have coached many people who somehow write dissertations while juggling the demands of family life.  It’s difficult to juggle the daily demands, but to give up a holiday with one’s family is a particularly hard choice to make.

For those of you who are facing the dilemma this week-end of deciding whether to spend  time with your family or meet a writing goal, I send all good wishes.  Whatever you decide to do will be the right choice for you.

Warm regards,

Nancy
Nancy Whichard, PhD, PCC
Your International Dissertation Coach
www.nancywhichard.com
nancy@nancywhichard.com

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If you’re like me, you don’t have uninterrupted time for writing.

Maybe you work full time in a demanding job or work two demanding part-time jobs or you take care of your children.

And when you get to the point when you do have time to write, you’re exhausted.  Just brain dead.

And that, of course, is the problem.  Waiting until we think we have time to write.

I work with writers from all over the world, and whether the client is in Germany or Norway or Seattle, Washington, a common problem for all, myself included, is that we procrastinate.

I can’t count the times that dissertation clients and other writers have told me that they do their best writing first thing in the morning. And I can’t tell you how many times clients have told me how they let early morning time get away from them.

Let me tell you about two people for whom writing is an important part of their jobs.

Both people procrastinate—neither is perfect.

Both have others depending on them.  Their writing matters.

One person, whom I’ll call Tom, procrastinates until it hurts—hurts him and hurts those around him.

He lets the writing back up until at times he hides out and avoids others. Or other times, he will become very engrossed in a new project, in which writing plays a smaller role.  The new project is always important and interesting.  But when the writing does not get done, there are major repercussions for himself and those around him.

The second person, whom I’ll call Tom, too, or Tom 2, is clearly anxious about the writing he needs to do.  Like Tom the first, Tom 2 is a good writer, but he also lets the writing stack up.  He has many responsibilities in his job and at home.  But somewhere along the way, Tom 2 learned to prioritize.  He learned to do the most urgent and important work early on, maybe not first, because he, too (he is Tom 2, you know), procrastinates.  But not only is he well aware that he is procrastinating, but he also feels deeply that others matter.  If he’s holding up other people, it’s obvious how bad he feels.  He often apologizes

But he doesn’t walk away from the work entirely.

You can almost see him getting up the courage and motivation (my grandmother would say he was “getting up steam”) to jump in.

He often goes to quiet places during the days he’s not required to be at work in order to make the needed commitment to the writing and to make a stab at the work

I think Tom 2 has little by little trained himself to be productive and to write even when it makes him anxious.  Being aware of his priorities gives him strength and helps him focus.   He gives himself a little slack, and then he makes a right turn directly into the messy storm of writing.

I learn a lot by watching other writers.  Writing matters and others matter.

If you learn from observing other writers (and from your own experiences), I’d love to hear from you.

Until next time!

Nancy
Your International Dissertation Coach
nancy @ nancywhichard.com
www.nwcoaching.com

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Last week three different dissertation coaching clients came to their calls with me frustrated.

One started the call by saying she felt “crappy.”  Another was also clearly cranky.

What had happened?  Each of them had had their writing time appropriated.

One client, the father of a 7-month-old, was exhausted as well as cranky.  He had been up with a sick baby.  He had lost writing time.  And even though he was now sick, he couldn’t take time off from his job because he had taken sick leave to take the baby to the doctor.

If you have children, then you understand how frustrating this can be.  I don’t know if there is any way around it.  But you do get a big virtual hug.  Writing a diss while working full time and raising kids takes incredible resilience.

Another client had had her time commandeered by her employer.  Her employer is giving a major presentation and needs an enormous amount of data and other work that only my client could produce.  My client had to give lots of extra time. Not many choices here either.  But if you find yourself in this situation, remember that you finish the task and then claim time for yourself.

The dilemma presenting itself to the third client was particularly upsetting.

A professor asked my client to do some work on a project that is not in the subject area of her diss.  The professor is not her advisor.  He does not teach at her university.  But he may be in a position to hire her.

My client had stewed and fretted over what to do, throwing valuable time away.  She felt that he had used his power to hijack her writing time.  She could have said no, but she will need a job soon.

When she decided that she also had some power in the situation and that she could make a choice, she was ready to move forward.

There will always be demands on your time.

What is important is to decide if you have any choices.  If you do, make it as easy on yourself as you can.  Where can you cut your losses and move on without investing any more of your time and emotional energy than you need to?

If you have no choice, if you have a feverish, sick baby, then rest with your baby.

How do you deal with demands on your time?  I’d love to hear from you.

I’d also be happy to send you a copy of my free e-newsletter.  Please go to my website to sign up (www.nwcoaching.com).

Until next time,

Nancy
www.nwcoaching.com

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