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Posts Tagged ‘distractions’

Is there a writer who isn’t lured and waylaid by the distractions of the internet and email?

Is there a writer who hasn’t written about those same distractions?

How about you? How well did you do today? Did you stay on task and reach your writing goal for the day? Or did procrastination and Facebook win out?

My dissertation coaching clients are trying to use the Nothing Alternative—that is, during the time they’ve set aside to write, they write… or do nothing. They tell me, though, that the Nothing Alternative strains their willpower. They do better if they remove the temptation of the internet.

Several clients are using SelfControl software or the Anti-Social app to lock them out of the internet.  This week I heard about another program—Freedom.   

The client who told me about Freedom said that even though he has used it successfully, he frequently has to talk himself into setting it up.  And why would he resist a successful strategy? Because once he has it up and running, he will have robbed himself of his excuses not to write. It’s write or do nothing.

My client is in good company.

Writer Nora Ephron says that every morning she spends several hours “failing to make a transition” from reading the morning newspaper to working and being productive. To help to fight her urge to procrastinate, she sets up Freedom on her computer to lock out the internet. 

Seth Godin, the master marketer, blogger, and author, is also a fan of Freedom. He compares using Freedom “with being cornered with nowhere to turn.” And the advantage of being cornered, he says, is “that it leaves you . . . unable to stall or avoid the real work.”

Novelist Zadie Smith speaks knowingly of the lure of the internet. She says, “When I am using the Internet, I am addicted. I’m not able to concentrate on anything else.” To give herself time to write, she uses Freedom, but she still has to put her phone (on which she can get email) “in another part of the house, it’s pathetic. Like a drug addict. I put it in a cupboard so that I can write for five hours.”

My clients ask the same questions that Smith asks, “Is it me alone? Am I making it up? Does nobody feel this way?”

Writing is hard work, and most of us yearn for distraction, especially something as mindless as the internet and email.  Lock it all up—give yourself  some freedom!

Happy 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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 Mental toughness, self-control, willpower, grit— I turn again to these compelling strengths. Why? Because distractions, especially electronic distractions, complicate the writer’s life.  The struggle for self-control over distractions takes up more and more of your mental space. 

What can you use to free your mental space in order to concentrate on your writing? What can help you maintain self-control, be mentally tough, and not overwhelm your willpower?

You know all too well that willpower often just isn’t enough to get you started on your writing and also keep you off of Facebook.

In the book Willpower, co-authors Roy Baumeister and John Tierney argue that what they call precommitment can protect you from the uncertainties of willpower. For instance, if you have set a specific time for writing, and you practice starting at that same time for a couple of weeks, you will have less need to depend on willpower to save the day.

The so-called Nothing Alternative is such a precommitment.  When you use the Nothing Alternative, not only do you decide ahead of time that at a certain time of day, you will sit down and write, but you also decide ahead of time that you will do nothing but write.   

My dissertation coaching clients have responded positively to the Nothing Alternative and have some great suggestions for implementing it. Two of my coaching clients are especially enthusiastic about the Anti-Social app and the SelfControl program.

 1) Anti-Social

If you routinely get email that you think you need to respond to throughout the time you have set aside to write, you may find it harder and harder to write and even give up the writing altogether in order to answer the emails. 

 The Anti-Social application for macs allows you to shut off the social part of the internet and email while you are working on your computer. You can “be anti-social” for any amount of time. 

 To turn off Anti-Social, you have to restart your computer and according to my client, you “feel crappy if you restart your computer just to get into email.” 

Precommitting to this program for a certain amount of time helps you to conserve willpower for emergencies.  

2)  SelfControl

Another way to implement the Nothing Alternative is to use the SelfControl software.

This free software asks you to list the internet pages that you want to block, such as email, Facebook, specific online newspapers, and a few pages that you most often visit.  It’s your choice.

If you need the internet for research, you can still visit Google or other specific pages that you need.

Once you set the timer, for that specific length of time, you cannot get into anything that you have blocked, even if you turn off the computer.  My client says, “If you feel less motivated during that time, you can stare into space for a minute, but you can’t get onto Facebook, so you might as well work.” 

 

 

Using such programs helps you stay committed to your writing and lets you conserve your willpower.  

I would love to hear what your strategies are for conserving willpower and for using willpower effectively. 

Happy 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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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

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

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Change is happening in the Washington DC area, not just in Congress, but here in my backyard.  Spring is here.  Tulips are pushing their way above ground.   The trees are dropping all sorts of little colored pellets on my deck and front walk. 

The first days of Spring are a great time to assess your writing habits and consider how they are working for you or against you.  It’s an opportune time for you to consider where change in your writing process might help you. 

Time to clean house.

You’ve probably been down this road before, deciding to make a change but not putting any muscle into that decision.  However, there are positive strategies that can achieve lasting results.

Most of these involve capitalizing on the power of habit. 

In December 2008, I wrote a post in this space called “Make Getting Started on Your Writing Easier: Top 5 Reasons to Develop a No-Kidding, No-Fooling Daily Writing Habit.”

If you were fighting the dissertation battle then, 15 months ago, you may have read my “top 5 reasons for developing a solid, robust, no-kidding daily writing habit.”  And perhaps you would have made changes at that time.  Then these last 15 months might have been different.  Maybe you wouldn’t have continued to sabotage yourself and expend energy resisting writing rather than putting your energy into writing.  

What if you stopped making excuses now?  How about committing to  writing every day, even if only fifteen minutes a day?  Before you back away and begin again with the excuses, consider how writing every day, preferably at a scheduled time and maybe first thing in your day, would increase your productivity and, most importantly, would have you writing. 

Where do you need to exert control and spend your energy? What can you do to help yourself be mentally tough?  I’d love to hear from you. 

Enjoy the season.  How about a change?

Best to you,

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

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Are you negotiating some of life’s bits and pieces today in order to write your dissertation?   Has something gotten to you today or this week?  It happens.

We’re knocked about every day, but we keep going, even with pressures about fitting everything into our schedules, uncertainties about jobs, and, if you commute to work, traffic.  Usually, we’re resilient, even intrepid, as we go about our jobs, taking care of our family, and, yes, writing… writing dissertations, writing articles, writing books.

But occasionally, we run into overwhelm, too many promises broken, too little support, and our hope and resilience are tested.

Yesterday and today I’ve been mad as a hornet about something that’s not very important in the great scheme of things.  I was to have some work done where I live, but the workers showed up with the wrong materials to do the job, resulting in a the need to reschedule and the strong possibility that lots of additional people would be inconvenienced.

It wasn’t the workers’ fault.  The faceless scheduler at the company carelessly assigned a two-person crew to a four-person job and completely ignored both the materials needed and the sequence of the steps in the job itself.

What kind of a Mickey Mouse company is this? I asked.  I stomped about and fretted for quite a while.  But it doesn’t serve me to blow up about a dysfunctional company. 

How do I let go of the drama and not get stuck here?  What strengths do I call on?

If you, too, are occasionally knocked off your stride, what do you do to help you let go of the madness and move back toward your center? What do you do to quickly regain your footing in order to focus on your work and to be productive?

I’d love to hear from you.

All the best,

Nancy

P.S.  What is your goal over the next couple of weeks and what steps are you taking to keep focused on that goal?  Do you have some tips for the rest of us or some questions? 

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

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When the end of your dissertation is in sight, what will you do?

If you’re struggling just to get started on your dissertation, the question “What will you do when the end is in sight” must sound rhetorical at best and silly at worst.

Nevertheless, I’ve learned from my clients that minefields await writers when the work nears an end.

Slacking off. When the work is going well and you’re on schedule to wrap it up soon, do you decide to take the day off?  Or cut back on the amount of time you put into your daily writing sessions?  Some writers tell me that they fight the tendency to coast toward the end, giving rise to their bad habits of sloughing off and taking far too long to wrap up the final chapter or even the last few bits.

Celebrating too soon.  Did you play in music contests or recitals when you were young?  Did you play well through the difficult sections, but somehow always messed up just before the end?  Had you become so impressed by your performance that your overconfidence allowed you to hit a sour note?  Were you rushing to finish and not paying attention?  You never know what might happen to your project if you don’t stay focused.  Hold off on the celebrations until you’ve got the work out the door.

Determined to be perfect.  If your signature strength is Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence, do you put yourself through hell until you think your work is perfect?  Is it very difficult for you to say and to accept that a chapter or a page is good enough and move on to the next section? Are you sometimes nearly paralyzed by your perfectionism, particularly when a project nears its end? Striving for excellence is commendable, except when it keeps you from finishing a project.

Perfectionism not only slows down your productivity, but it can continue to disable you with the possibility of fairly dire consequences.  A Canadian study of senior citizens found that more perfectionists died during the study than people “with more reasonable self-expectations” (http://www.miller-mccune.com/news/perfectionism-linked-to-early-death-1229).

People who coast at the end of a project or those who become overconfident throw unnecessary roadblocks in their own way.  However, with a resurgence of self-knowledge and mental toughness, they can make the necessary corrections and follow through with the dissertation to its completion.

Perfectionists, on the other hand, may be unable to crank out the last chapter or it may be so difficult for them that they slow almost to a halt.  If this sounds like you, ask yourself how many people will ever read your dissertation.  Besides your committee, maybe two other people?

If you’re a perfectionist, your dissertation will probably never rise to your expectations.  It’s not worth putting yourself through all of this pain. Hold your nose and email your dissertation to your advisor.

Time to move on!

All the best,

Nancy

P.S. Are you trying to wrap up your writing in the next month or six weeks?  What would make it easer to get this done?  I’d like to hear from you.  For more tips, check out my website at www.nancywhichard.com.

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

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How was your Sunday?  Productive?  Or another day with only good intentions?

If you don’t have much to show for the day, would you say that anxiety did you in?

You know the signs of anxiety.  You know when you’re getting high-jacked by a fear of one kind or another commonly associated with writing.  For me, the sign is a heavy-duty fluttering in my chest—like a ton of butterflies just flew into my body.  Ever feel that?

Fortunately, when I’m having physical signs of anxiety when I’m trying to write, I usually know how to deal with them. Yes, my first inclination is to eat.  I don’t suggest you go that route.  But if I can kick the food lizard in the teeth, I know that what will help is to breathe deeply or roll my head first to one shoulder and then to the other.

But if you’re like me, even if you have great awareness when a case of nerves is about to derail your writing, you may not pick up on specific behaviors that could be your undoing.

Sometimes your brain can get lost in wild-goose chases on Google or in connecting and reconnecting on Facebook.

It’s those things that we do almost unconsciously that can do us in.

You think you’ve locked up, tied down, turned off all those distractions that you know you’ve made for yourself in the past. You’re not doing your crosswords, you’ve hidden  your knitting, you’ve stopped watching Netflix, and you avoid turning on the TV to watch the cable news shows.

But then someone hands you a book and says, “Do you want to read this book?  It’s really bad—great trash.  It’s helped me wind down at night.”

A 600-page, easy book.  Unfortunately, once you start the book, it doesn’t leave your mind.  What you started with the intention of reading a couple of chapters at night has become a full-blown distraction.  One part of your mind says, “Reading this book doesn’t matter and what happens to these characters doesn’t really matter.”  But another part of your brain is spinning, “Oh, I have to find out what happens to these characters,” and you keep reading late into the night.

The next day you find yourself Googling the characters.

There’s a part of your brain that wants to soothe you and protect you from fear and anxiety.  Finding out what happens to those characters feels so much better than writing your dissertation.

Does any of this sound familiar?  What are you putting between yourself and your diss?

It’s a constant struggle, isn’t it?

Until next time,

Nancy

P.S. Dissertation boot camp can help you replace those insidious behaviors with a robust writing habit.  One participant said that she was really surprised at how much it had helped her.

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

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