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