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Posts Tagged ‘dissertation coaching’

Is there too much to do?  Are you not getting enough done?

Do you jump from task to task on your to-do list but never seem to make progress on your main writing goals?

Is your dissertation still on your to-do list?

As a client said to me, “Which end of the tube am I squeezing?”

So what’s undercutting your progress on your writing?

 

Add-On’s

At your day job, people are sick or on leave, and you’re expected to pick up the slack. So you stay late. If you’re teaching, a student needs extra mentoring.  There are last-minute requests for letters of recommendation. And then you get into your car to drive home, only to find yourself in an extended traffic jam, once again.

Two extra hours here, two there, and suddenly you’ve forgotten about your own priorities.

Have you agreed to additional responsibilities without checking your schedule or without carving space for the new add-on’s? Or have those extra responsibilities not even registered for you as time-sucks?

 

Family Matters

Spring here in the U.S. often brings additional activities, primarily more activities for your kids.  So the questions…and conflicts…arise:  Who is driving the kids to their newly added activities? Are you changing your work schedule in order to take care of the kids? Are you going to be able to stay and watch them do these activities? 

Or perhaps your kids need or want to change their plans.  And they need or want to change what you thought was already decided.

Misunderstandings, disputes, and debates can arise from too many issues being handled on the fly. Phone calls or a voicemail message can precipitate problems or unexpected responses. Dealing with those problems and, perhaps, with your own emotions as well require more of your time.

You have the energy and know-how to orchestrate work, family life, dissertation or writing project. However, if you’re juggling so many things, you may feel that there’s no time for a miscalculation. Remember that things don’t have to be perfect. If there is a problem, you can problem-solve.

 

Ah, yes, the dissertation… How about Intervals?

Your to-do list is so big.

Parenting is so big.

The commute and the job are so big.

But what about the writing?

Has your dissertation moved lower and lower on your list? It’s time to get it back at the top of the list. Decide what specific writing task you can do this week. Look for chunks of available time each day and write that task on your calendar. Decide that you can do a good-enough job during those small chunks of time.

Time to Power Up

Have you done intervals in your exercise routines? Intervals are a simple but effective way to boost your exercise by “alternating bursts of intense activity with intervals of lighter activity.”  The benefits are that you burn more calories in a shorter amount of time and improve your aerobic capacity.

Reframe your view of your day—look at it as if you’re doing intervals. You move easily from one task to another, increasing your tempo when you want to move through a task more quickly and then slowing  as you move to a less demanding activity. You can apply that same interval method to your writing.

If you could get more writing done in a shorter amount of time, what’s not to like about that? Let’s give it a try.

How much writing can you do in a short amount of time? Push yourself, knowing that you only have to work at this level of intensity for a selected period of time. You set the amount of time. Keep going until the time is up. Then slow down, go over what you’ve written, and plan the next sprint. Some writers object to this kind of writing because they say they have to write slowly. But perhaps those writers have no other job or they aren’t juggling as many responsibilities as you. You need to use your writing time as efficiently and productively as you can.

You make efficient use of your time in all sorts of ways during your day, and you can do that with your writing, too.

Of course, you need to be flexible.  The chunk of time you thought was yours may slip away from you because of a request at work or from a family member.

But watch that procrastination isn’t masquerading as flexibility.

Protect the small chunks of writing time. 

Setting small daily writing goals as priorities will result in progress.

What do you do to help you prioritize your writing and boost your writing efficiency? I’d love to hear from you.

All good wishes to you for great writing in April,

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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Walking up to the United States customs agent in an airport after a trip out of the country always makes me feel uneasy. Will there be something wrong?  Where should I look as the agent flips through my passport?

So I stand there, feeling awkward. Finally, the agent looks at me one more time and then, with what seems like genuine feeling,  the agent calls me by name and says, “Welcome Home.”  

Whew. I’ve passed muster, but I’m also curiously touched.  I know there’s nothing personal in the greeting.  It’s predictable that the customs agent welcomes the traveler, but I always feel a bit of emotion rising in my chest.       

I guess I belong here after all.

Inception and Leonardo DiCaprio

Have you seen the movie Inception?  I got around to seeing it a few weeks ago and was particularly drawn to the ending when the character played by Leonardo DiCaprio shows the same unease I often feel as I wait to see what the U.S. agent may ask me.  DiCaprio gives a slight acknowledgment to the agent and then lowers his eyes—how are you supposed to look in this situation? And where should you look?  Finally the agent says, “Welcome home, Mr. Cobb.”

 

And the relieved and happy Cobb/DiCaprio crosses the boundary into the U.S. He’s home. Of course, he had reason to worry.  He could have been denied entrance. 

But that’s another story. 

A customs agent in the role of gatekeeper reminds me of how often we can doubt that we belong in a community or in a situation which formerly had seemed or claimed to be our home. 

The notion of home, returning home, and feeling at home in various situations goes beyond familiar settings, sentimental snapshots, or an address on a customs form. 

 

The writer’s home

Most ABD’s come to a graduate program feeling at home, challenged, but nevertheless sure that this is where they will find the opportunity, the collegiality, and the inspiration that will bring out the best in them.

Even if they had felt completely at home as they took classes or as they wrote papers for classes or perhaps even acting as teaching assistants, once the students have moved past their course work or into the dissertation process, they are too often thrown by the process and feel out-of-place as they try to finish their dissertations and earn their degrees.  

As I coach writers, I am struck by how frequently brilliant, capable ABD’s become stuck and start to feel incompetent and unworthy. 

Incompetent and unworthy

ABD’s know what they’re supposed to do. They’re supposed to make goals and meet deadlines and just write.  But for many ABD’s, deadlines have become counterproductive. The pressure and the isolation of trying to grind out text somehow raise such self-doubt that they start to question whether they belong in this doctoral program.  

Some compare themselves unfavorably with others who are further along in the dissertation process.  They feel such regret and, worse, they feel such shame for time wasted during the doctoral program that they’re almost paralyzed. 

Do they have what it takes to finish this degree?  The familiar situations and professors no longer seem reassuring, but rather seem to raise barriers to the extent that ABD’s start to see themselves as frauds or imposters. 

Lower the stakes

If this sounds like your situation, you could take a cue from some graduate students who have gone through periods of self-doubt and shame and have rewritten the process to make it work for them.  

Instead of focusing on the product or on finishing, focus on the present moment. Determine the block of time that you are setting aside each morning for yourself and decide what your choices will be during that time.  You can decide that you will write and that’s all, or you could have a variety of tasks to choose from, as long as you put in the time.  What is important is that you step back from the process and lower the stakes from producing something brilliant and perfect to doing something.

Ebb and flow 

The writing process will be one of ebb and flow. Some days, the writing will be crappy, and other days you might think the work you did wasn’t half bad. What is important is that you show up each day at the time you have carved out for yourself and write. Do something. And it will be good enough.

Welcome home

The block of time for your daily work is your place and your time. Rewrite the script; redesign the scenery. Make the delivery and the timing your own. This is your home place. And at the beginning of each writing session, greet yourself. I bet you would smile if you greeted yourself each morning with “Welcome Home, Mr. Cobb.”  

Warm regards,

Nancy

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

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A giant construction project disrupts the lives and the commute of many people who use the Washington DC (or Capital)  Beltway and the business routes between the Beltway and the Dulles International Airport.

 

This same construction project also raises hope among many travelers that one day they can take the metro the full 30 miles or so from downtown Washington, D.C. to Dulles Airport for an international flight.  In addition, the beltway will have “hot lanes” which will allow people willing to pay a hefty toll to drive in the faster lanes and to escape the punishing daily gridlock.

 

The Chaos of Construction

The construction is on a huge scale—where nothing looks like it used to, no trees line the roads, exits from the beltway are changed, intersecting concrete roads start and stop abruptly, bridges are gone, new bridges emerge in an unexpected place, and everywhere there are train tracks.

 

While many people might think this project is without parallel, to me it suggests another kind of herculean project, particularly those of the mind and will.

If you are writing a dissertation or another seemingly endless writing project, you see the resemblance.

 

The Chaos  . . .  and Cost  . . .  of Writing a Dissertation

As the costs mount for the Dulles Airport metro, municipalities and individuals dispute the wisdom of continuing to build all 23 miles of subway to the airport. The different authorities involved have wrangled over whether the subway should be above ground or below ground and which municipalities should contribute more money and less money. Similarly, the personal and financial costs involved in writing a dissertation may seem to you as if you’ll never get out from under them. And you wonder how completing the dissertation could be worth the huge burden you have taken on.

 

Showing Up Takes Mental Toughness and Planning

Not unlike the way you wrangle with texts and structure, trying to trace ideas through various pathways in your brain, returning day after day to an uncomfortable task that demands almost more than you can do, the workers in the beltway/Dulles metro construction zone labor on crazy flyover bridges high in the sky over what will be eight lanes of the DC Beltway.

The workers labor at road level, between lanes of traffic, on cranes, and on concrete piers.  Below ground workers construct enormous tunnels.

Just like the worker in the construction zone, for you to return each day to a challenging, messy dissertation requires you to draw on your mental toughness and willpower. It takes grit to show up each day to work on a grueling writing project, with no end in sight, knowing that only occasionally will you find joy in the doing. What you know is that you have to keep your wits about you. And what you can count on is that you will find joy in having stuck with the project to its end.

Beyond the Beltway and the Tysons Corner area of Virginia where several new metro stations are being built, the work gradually slows. This is not yet the construction zone, but the plan is in place.  Huge piles of stacked materials are staged for future work. The plan anticipates that the metro construction will reach this point and keep going. 

The staged materials are evidence that a plan is in place. If workers show up each day and do their exhausting, demanding tasks, according to the plan, the job will proceed toward its end point, that is, its destination — Dulles International Airport.

What is more inspiring than anticipating what it will be like when this seemingly endless writing project is finished? What you anticipate feeling after you have traveled the long road to the Ph.D. is what the people committed to building the Metrorail to Dulles and the hot lanes on the beltway anticipate feeling when they see a completed project.

 

That Transcendent Feeling of Completion

Today, I drove toward Dulles Airport, the final destination for the Metro. As the iconic Dulles Main Terminal with the Blue Ridge Mountains in the background came into view, I felt some of that same excitement that finishing huge writing projects brings forth—that transcendent feeling of completion and a new beginning.

 

And that transcendent feeling of completion and new beginning is what I wish for you in this New Year of big writing projects. 

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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The New Year at its most powerful is a time for reflection and a time to think about where you want to put your focus.  The holidays are often jam-packed with travel, planning, buying, eating, interacting, negotiating, and not much quiet time. The first week of the New Year may reveal that it’s harder to focus than you had thought it was.

On the first coaching day of the New Year among those dissertation coaching clients who showed up as expected, I also had a client show up unexpectedly—she had forgotten that she wanted to start a week later. On subsequent days the schedules of a couple more clients unexpectedly conflicted with their coaching calls. The first day or so of starting a new schedule or returning to a routine after a busy holiday can make for a bumpy ride and a feeling of loss of control.

While my holiday began with the usual hurry-hurry pace, by Christmas Day I had moved into the best part of the holiday–the familiar gift exchanges, special meals, and the less familiar travel to a new home of a loved one.

The most different part of my Christmas holiday was going with my whole family to Manhattan on Christmas Monday. The crowds both at Macy’s at Herald Square and at Rockefeller Center skating rink and Christmas tree were enormous, but fun, jolly, and relaxed. We joined the cold-night sauntering of the crowds down Fifth Avenue, oohing and ahhing over the window displays at Tiffany and Bergdorf Goodman and the light shows and illuminations on the tall buildings.

Celebrating the holiday with my family and also with this huge, unhurried crowd of friendly strangers heavily bundled against the night’s cold was not only relaxing, but it was also a way to reset my frequently frenzied focus. I could concentrate on what was there to be seen and to be experienced. I lost myself in the moment, enjoying the city at its most beautiful. 

Having those few hours not only to be unplugged, but also to feel transported and intensely engaged in a sensory, beautiful experience gave me the pause I needed to come back to my work with a desire to improve my level of focus and concentration.

To help me sharpen my focus in this New Year, I’m giving myself time each day to pause. I’m setting aside an hour each day where I have the choice on where to place my focus.

I also realize how much I need to have experiences of beauty and wonder in my life. Reading has always given me those kinds of experiences, but increasingly my reading is for my work or has chosen by someone else. Recently I happened to read Téa Obreht wonderful novel The Tiger’s Wife, which created a world that beckoned me to re-engage for days and weeks to unravel webs of images and secrets and relationships.

Knowing that I’m better in many ways–focus, concentration, motivation– if I’m reading a novel that engages me and asks something of me, I’m also giving myself permission to spend some time looking for such novel to read each month—one that engages me and could very likely leave me awestruck

What do you need to have in your life in this New Year? Do you also need something that will boost your focus and concentration in 2012?  I’d love to hear what you think.

All good wishes to you for 2012,

Nancy

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC

Your International Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach

http://www.smarttipsforwriters.com

http://www.dissertationbootcamp.net

http://www.nancywhichard.com

nancy @ nancywhichard.com

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A Saturday alone is a gift.

My husband is gone for the weekend, and I am writing.

As a reward to writing first, I promised myself a bit of email-inbox decluttering.

To see if I should read it or delete it, I clicked on Gretchen Rubin’s “5 Mistakes I Continue To Make in My Marriage.”

Of course, since I make mistakes in my marriage, I can’t help being curious.  While the title sounds like something that would be in a magazine at the grocery check-out, the author—Gretchen Rubin— writes engagingly about the application of positive psychology studies and theories to her own life.

If you feel that the demands of writing and working or teaching coupled with your tightly scheduled life create problems for your relationships and family life, you’ll appreciate hearing which mistakes Rubin addresses and some changes she has resolved to make.  I’m particularly struck by her #4 mistake that she continues to make in her marriage.

That mistake is Score-keeping.

She says that she keeps score—herself vs. her husband.

And she always believes that she is overly generous in her contributions to the house and family, while, of course, she finds her husband lacking.

Her score-keeping doesn’t account for overestimating her own contribution.

Rubin quotes University of Virginia psychology professor, Jonathan Haidt, who writes in The Happiness Hypothesis  that “when husbands and wives estimate the percentage of housework each does, their estimates total more than 120 percent.”

How about you?  Do you engage in score-keeping and start to get that testy, cranky feeling about all that you’re doing?

As you engage in score-keeping and struggle with the feelings that arise, you’re using energy and willpower that could go toward your writing.  And you’re doing damage to your relationships. Score-keeping is costly.

Keeping your relationship on an even keel is difficult when you’re engaged in an intense and time-consuming writing project.  It’s easy to fall into unconscious over-claiming (that is, unconsciously overestimating what you have done versus another person’s contribution) when you feel yourself sucked into yet another time-consuming task.

If you want to be productive during a scheduled writing session, decide ahead of time what you will do if score-keeping raises its ugly head.  Planning can help you avoid that emotional drain.

What costly mistakes do you find yourself making in your relationships?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Take care of your relationships, and conserve your willpower.

Keep writing,

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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When did you first hear of “decision fatigue”?

Perhaps, like me, it was when the New York Times Magazine published an article on decision fatigue and you started getting emails from your friends and family with links to that article.  In fact, you probably received many links, and maybe the term “decision fatigue” has even become part of your vocabulary.

That article in the New York Times  is a chapter from a newly published book Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength (September 2011), co-authored by psychologist Roy F. Baumeister and New York Times science writer John Tierney.

Decision fatigue, or “ego depletion,” to use the original term coined by Baumeister, comes from Baumeister’s research on willpower and motivation. 

His research has long been influential, particularly his findings that willpower, like a muscle, can become fatigued. And because willpower can become fatigued, you can’t count on it always to be available. But, like a muscle, willpower can be strengthened with practice.

Writers struggle with their willpower far beyond what you might think, particularly since you may have already depleted your reserve of willpower before you even decide to write. 

Baumeister has found that we usually spend about four hours a day struggling with temptation and trying to engage our willpower.

So when you finally get around to writing, what have you got?  Nothing?  There’s a lot of nothing going around.

As a writer, how much do you depend on your willpower?  If your willpower deserts you, what are your options? 

What can you do to have a reserve of willpower available to you when you most need it?

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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You have a long-term goal—say, writing a dissertation or a book.  And the going gets tough.  This is one huge project.

It’s a long haul—it may mean months or years of coming back to that same project.

It’s been going on for quite a while.  Have you stuck with it?  Have you kept coming back to the work, day after day? 

What would you say has kept you coming back?  What do you think makes the difference in finishing or not finishing?

Intelligence?  Maybe.

Feeling engaged by your topic?  Possibly.

Sense of community or a good relationship with your advisor?  Both would be helpful.

Being motivated by someone or something or finding motivation?  Motivation is always a bonus.

How about perseverance? Yes!  Or mental toughness? Yes!  If you have perseverance or mental toughness, the odds are that you’ll meet your goal. 

To capture the crucial role that tenacity and doggedness play in your achieving a tough, very long, long-term goal, University of

Pennsylvania psychologist Angela Duckworth uses the word grit

Duckworth says that grit is related to willpower, self-control, and resilience, but it is a greater predictor of success than any of those other resources. 

To some people, the word grit sounds like being chained to a task, maybe being held hostage. But Duckworth describes it as a passion for long-term goals.  She says that grit sustains you; it’s a sustaining passion for a long time.

If you have little kids, you’ve seen grit in action—when a toddler is determined to walk or a little kid is focused on skate-boarding or roller-skating or coming in first in a contest. 

Duckworth has done research about many aspects of grit, including students who won spelling bees. 

She says that grit is not necessarily the number of hours devoted to a project. Rather, she sees it as a person identifying their weakness or what they don’t know and then concentrating on that.  She says that grit enables you to be in an uncomfortable place for some part of your day, working extremely hard, and then being able to come back the next day and do it all over again and again.   

But wait—don’t pull your hair out or start shrieking.  Think again of the child falling off of her skate board or bike or roller skates and getting up and going at it again, only to fall again. 

There’s a willingness to fail, knowing that with failure comes–yep, you got it– success.

You probably wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Duckworth says that grit is a key and necessary ingredient for high achievement in any field. 

The word grit has an old-fashioned ring to it.  When you say the word grit, do you squint?  And maybe feel the urge to look off into the sunset?

In fact, Duckworth says that when she was studying what it was that distinguished successful people, and what it was that kept them going, beyond talent, beyond intellect, she used the word grit because of the movie True Grit, but not after the John Wayne hero. Instead, she says, the movie is really about a young Arkansas girl who pursues an impossible goal and after an impossibly long time, she eventually succeeds and reaches her goal. 

In the most recent version of the film, Hailee Steinfeld plays that girl—the girl that personifies grit for Duckworth.

 To see if you are “extremely gritty” or “not at all gritty” or somewhere in the middle, check out Duckworth’s Grit Scale.

The good news is that you can increase the amount of grit that you have.  What matters most is not your ability or intelligence. It helps to change the way you look at your work and to look most keenly at what you are bringing to the task.  Ramp up your consistency and follow through on what you say you are going to do, each day, each week. 

The more you exercise grit, the more grit you will have.

How gritty are you?  What ways have you found that help you to increase your grit or perseverance?  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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