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I find it interesting how determined most of us are to derail ourselves in big and small ways. We can put a lot of effort into avoiding focusing on a dissertation.

How about you? Perhaps you have developed a terrific plan and writing routine, just as has one of my dissertation clients.   If not, there’s hope. Take some cues from my client who credits his plan for his increased productivity.

My client’s plan works because it is both basic and elegant.  The plan centers on a “twice –a-day schedule.”

Butternut Cottage

Butternut Cottage (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As he rides the bus to his day job, he plans what work he’ll do on his dissertation in his first session of the day. Once he’s close to his office, he finds a quiet place to work, and for about 45 minutes, he follows his plan and either writes or edits a section of his dissertation. Then he goes on to his usual place of work and puts in a full day. At day’s end, after he’s returned home and has had dinner, he puts in about 90 minutes in his second writing session.

He says that the twice-a-day schedule allows him to be more productive than if he worked a longer session once a day. The writing is never far from his mind.  He finds that he looks forward to returning to the work at the next session. And even over holidays, he tries to adhere somewhat to his plan just to keep his head in the material.

If you haven’t put a plan into action, first turn off the internet, television, and whatever else is distracting you.  Believe me, I know that finding the will to write is not easy, but you can do it. It starts with taking control and laying down the basics for yourself.

1. When will you write?  What day and what time?

2. Where will you write?

3. What will you write in that first session?

4. And when does the first session end?

5.  Rinse and repeat.

Nothing much will happen until you have a given yourself specific directions.  What is your plan?  What’s your own twist that makes the plan work for you?

Happy end of November to you.  December looks like a good month for writing, don’t you think?

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 my two kids were little, they loved the book Big Dog, Little Dog, A Bedtime Story. In the book, Fred and Ted, two friends, who are both dogs, deal with all sorts of small dilemmas.

Fred is tall, and Ted is short. Fred’s bed is too short for him. What to do?  Change beds with Ted. And so the book goes. The two friends problem-solve one problem after another.

What is the moral of the story? “Why make big problems out of little problems?”

One of my dissertation coaching clients has been resisting line-editing a chapter. Line editing is tedious, no doubt about it.

My client has this going for him—he has a morning routine. He’s set aside time for working on his dissertation before he does anything else. He has his morning coffee, but he doesn’t open his email. And so it would seem that he’s not suffering from what Roy Baumeister and John Tierney in the book Willpower call “decision fatigue.” He isn’t worn down by his day. Yet, instead of diving into the line-editing, the task he set for himself, he addresses easier tasks and never gets to the hard work of editing.

My client can point to other work he’s taken care of during the morning time he has set aside for his dissertation, but not what he had planned to do.

He says he’s stubborn. He may be, but what I know for sure is that he’s a stickler. In both his day job and in his after-work activities, he is detail-oriented. He’s a stickler for doing things right because he has to be.

I know he can do the work. What is holding him back? What is he afraid of?  That he might make a mistake? That’s a given, right? Editing is like sweeping sand. It’s unlikely he will catch every grain, but it is time to stop the delay.

To build up willpower to do those things you dislike or find difficult, Baumeister and Tierney say that you should “set a firm time limit for tedious tasks.”

And you know what? That approach has worked for my coaching client in the past. On occasion, he has told me that when he strenuously resisted work, he used a timer to help him stick with a task for a short, designated amount of time. That strategy will work for him again.

Similarly, he can once again monitor himself. He can be accountable to himself. And I’ll be sure to hold him accountable, too.

Just as the moral for Big Dog, Little Dog, A Bedtime Story asks the question “Why make big problems out of little problems?” the same question can be asked of my client about his resistance to line-editing his dissertation chapter.

If you hate to edit, edit a little bit at a time. Do what you can bear to do, but do something!

Slowly, but surely you’ll get it done.

Why make big problems out of little problems?

I would love to hear from you. How do you deal with tedious writing tasks?

All good wishes to 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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When an Olympian athlete wins a gold medal, there’s little doubt that the athlete was driven by a big dream and bold action.

Gabby Douglas

To win a gold medal in the women’s gymnastics all-around,  Gabby Douglas, as a fourteen-year-old,  bravely left Virginia Beach, VA and traveled about 1,200 miles to West Des Moines, IA to live with a family she didn’t know in a town far different from her home town in order to train with the gymnastics coach of her dreams.

Katie Ledecky

Fifteen-year-old Katie Ledecky won gold in the Olympics women’s 800-meter freestyle.  The youngest member of the U.S. Olympian team came within half a second of breaking the world’s record.  Even though several reporters talked as if Katie won almost by a fluke, Katie came well-prepared to the race with passion and a plan.  Not only was she a bold athlete with a clear vision, but to help her with her dream, her father also took the big step of taking last year off from his work as an attorney to give his time to his daughter’s swimming.

 

Your Bold Summer Goals

Did you prioritize writing with the expectation that by summer’s end you would have made great progress on the writing front?

Having big goals is not unrealistic. And you need to frequently remind yourself of your big goals and of how important it will be to you to reach those goals.

And Add to that, the Daily Routine

Just as importantly as having the bold dream, you need to pull that big picture down to what you can do each day with your daily writing routine.

As each future Olympian dreamed her big dreams of making the team and winning gold, she also spent hours training each day.

Take heart from the Olympic athletes who didn’t get to where they are by doing everything all at once.

Micro goals are good.

For Successful Writing, Continue with Bold Goals and Hard Work 

Most of my dissertation writers and academic writing clients had big goals for the summer. Those writers who seem to be having the most success are those who held a long view and also a short-term view, the big and bold goals as well as the hard work of daily action and routine.

How are you doing with meeting your writing goals this summer?  I would love to hear from you.

Happy 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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Like Christmas/New Year’s/Spring Break, summer makes all things seem possible, especially if your goal is to produce as much text as you can on your dissertation or other writing projects.

For many of my clients who live in the Northern Hemisphere, this is the time of year when they are shifting into summer schedule with a plan to focus on writing.

Perhaps you, too, are almost into summer mode with a plan to write. If so, will you have the company of your kids? And what about the kids? How do they fit with your writing plans?

Writing, with Kids

If you have most of the responsibility for their care, you have probably long been aware that the demands of childcare make successful completion of your degree more difficult, and perhaps less likely.

To quote one of my clients, “I know now that I can’t write my dissertation at the dining room table.”

I’ve maintained that if you want to get any writing done, you need a door between you and your kids.

Do You Need More than a Door?

A client told me that even though she had an in-home babysitter for her daughter last summer, the 10-year-old still found any excuse to interrupt her mother’s writing. As for this summer, my client says, “I need more than a door.”

And so I’m hearing from her, and from many clients, plans for day camp and away-camp for kids.

Camp Isn’t Just for Kids

Should you think about  camp, too … for yourself? A place where you would have control over your time and fewer distractions? Where it would be quiet and you could write?

Day camp for you could be a library or coffee shop.

Or you could rent writing space for the summer. Renting a space would be perfect. And, yes, I have had dissertation clients who rent writing space.

Professional writers rent space.

Novelist J. Courtney Sullivan rents space at the Brooklyn Writers Space.  She says that it is “almost like library carrels — you don’t have a set desk, you sit wherever there’s an opening and it’s incredibly quiet. It’s totally silent.”  Sounds great doesn’t it?  No interruptions from little ones, no unexpected phone calls.  In fact, Sullivan says that the writers space is so quiet that “you would not want to be the person whose phone starts ringing.” Or if you want a week away to a quiet place in order to get a good start on your writing, consider renting a cabin with writer friends. Your time would be your own.  No kids, no spouses.

Something I haven’t done but I think would be a terrific idea is to house-sit for someone.  Again, no kids, no spouses (I’m assuming the kids have grandparents or other relatives who can help out with the childcare if your spouse isn’t up to it). If your only obligation is to water the plants and feed the cat, you will have a perfect opportunity to ease into your writing and produce text.

One last description of a writer’s retreat may sound as if it couldn’t be based on reality, but I swear that it is. A client is working toward her PhD at a major research university, and she has the great good fortune to have a professor who loans her vacation lake house to a graduate student for a 2- or 3-day writer’s retreat. As long as the professor isn’t using it, she’s happy for a graduate student to have access to it.  At no cost.

My client has used the professor’s house several times. As you might expect, during her retreat she has not only made headway on her work, but she has also usually unraveled a particularly thorny writing problem.

The Writer’s-Retreat State of Mind

More than once my client and I have discussed how she can hold onto her writer’s-retreat state-of-mind after returning home. One of her successful strategies for re-creating that state-of-mind has been to go to a quiet library.

What can you do now to better ensure that this summer will be a great season of writing for you? What will you do about your writing environment? And what about the kids? I would love to hear your plans for a successful shift into summer writing.

Happy writing,

Nancy

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Image by …anna christina… via Flickr

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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Did you think you had much of your shopping done for the holidays, but now you can’t find key presents? Are you wondering where that stocking- stuffer stuff is?  In the multiple piles of boxes that you have around your bedroom and basement? Did you really buy them…or maybe not?

Did you schedule your holiday gathering for your extended family during the busiest week of December? How can you walk around the usual family dynamics at these gatherings and not get testy?

And now there are last-minute meetings or final conferences at school? And, of course, you haven’t finished your grades.

What will help this week go a little better?

1) Make sure you have all commitments (meetings, conferences, deadlines) written down in your calendar—and make sure your calendar is accessible. Too often the big things don’t go into your calendar because you know you won’t forget those, but then as you look back over your week you don’t see that you spent two hours in a meeting and three hours in conferences, and you wonder what the heck did I do with all of my time?

2) What is your 24-hour goal? Write your 24-hour goal at the top of the schedule for each day. Twenty-four hour goals are the small but important goals that you set for yourself to take action on during a 24-hour period of time. These are the non-scheduled tasks and goals that you are committed to do. One 24-hour goal may be that you will work with edits for an article or you will edit a paragraph of the dissertation chapter. Look at your calendar for the bits of open time and claim those bits of time for your 24-hour goal.

3) Don’t burden yourself with thoughts of the impossible. Block visions of the must-do lists of all that you have to do over the next three months. It sounds silly, but too often you allow yourself to think that you have to do all these things now. Then you open yourself to feeling that you are ineffective and slacking off when you’re really doing so much.

4) Don’t compare your house and relationships and work to others. Do you have the idea that there’s this perfect person who has the clean, uncluttered house, and of course it’s beautifully decorated for the holiday? The perfect person also has a spouse/partner who jumps in and cleans. The perfect one didn’t put off grading and so she isn’t sweating because now her grades are due and she is behind.

When you are overwhelmed, do you think, “Oh, so and so has it all together.  Why can’t I?” At those moments, you need that inner best friend to sneer at you and say, “Really?  Really?” If you need help in dispelling the image of the perfect person, then imagine her at her worst moment.  Image her screaming at her child. Not so perfect, right?

5)  Avoid conflicts that come up too often at family gatherings. Avoiding those conflicts takes time and planning.  If you’re the only one who brought wrapping paper and you’re in the back room wrapping gifts, how will you react when someone asks you if you’ve had a busy week? And someone will ask you that. And you know someone will ask how you’re doing on your dissertation.  Plan ahead. Are you the only academic? Or the only person struggling with a dissertation? Have a Chinese wall between you and the folks who think that what you do is odd.  Of course, you could wear a shirt that says, “Don’t ask me about my dissertation.” But if you don’t want to be quite so obvious, then have an if/then plan in place: If she says “x“, then I will do “y.” And what is “y”? Bite your tongue, smile, walk out of the room. And keep wrapping those presents. Yes, you did have a busy week.

And at the end of the week, acknowledge yourself for keeping your 24-hour goals, for imagining the mythical perfect person at her worst moment, and for smiling and simultaneously biting your tongue.

Put your feet up and be grateful that the marathon week is over.

Relax and enjoy your holiday.

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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If your goal is to work on your dissertation or your article, what gets in your way and eats up your time and energy?

Every writer can find a million more important things to do, such as watching all the episodes of the first season of Downton Abbey in one day. 

But what else derails your writing plans?

Kids?  Family?  A job?  Check, check, check.

If the derailers were just kids-family-job, you could still most likely find a bit time to write.  But there’s something else that is a wretched waste of time and energy, and it’s a frequent, even daily occurrence over which you have little control  . . . your commute!

If you have a bad commute, you have my sympathies. 

A bad commute has an intensely harmful influence on your quality of life and also on your making headway in your writing. Not only does a bad commute increase your anxiety, but it can turn you into someone you’d rather not know.  I bet you’ve seen that side of yourself when you’re stuck in traffic. 

It affects your mood and even your cognitive performance.  And those negative effects are long-lasting, affecting your ability to follow through on plans to write and your ability to focus.

Please take a minute and let me know if your commute is an issue for you, and how it affects your writing. How do you work around the stress of a bad commute and make headway on your writing?    

Hoping you’re sprinting past the barriers and writing,

Nancy

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