Posts Tagged ‘make time to write’

Time management matrix as described in Merrill...

Time management matrix as described in Merrill and Covey 1994 book "First Things First," showing "quadrant two" items that are important but not urgent and so require greater attention for effective time management (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Not too long ago, when my adult son mentioned how busy his work and life have become,  my husband was reminded of an annual planning session he had attended at which a facilitator presented a workshop on how to organize your time. 

As my husband drew a diagram from that workshop, I realized that he was drawing time management guru Stephen Covey‘s famous matrix. 


Stephen Covey’s Matrix 

Stephen Covey groups the ways we spend our time into four quadrants:

 –1-important and urgent

–2-important and not urgent

–3-not important and urgent

–4-not important and not urgent

As my husband drew the diagram, he said, “The facilitator said you should attend immediately and with personal involvement to Quadrant I matters.” The facilitator’s words about urgent matters resonated with my husband because he always has more work than he can get done.  Everything is urgent.


Everything is urgent

In your life, as an academic, ABD, dissertator, professional writer—does that sound familiar? You’re grading papers, attending meetings, preparing classes or presentations, returning email, managing crises at home, and trying to keep up with all that keeps hitting you. As you rush frantically and lose sleep, you also try to engage in last-minute binge writing of your dissertation before the time you told your advisor you would be submitting your promised work.  

Not only had my husband remembered clearly what the facilitator said is assigned to Quadrant I– the urgent and important matters, but he also clearly remembered those matters in Quadrant IV.  The facilitator said that Quadrant IV contains matters that you could basically forget about or things headed for the “circular file.” In other contexts, Quadrant IV could include behaviors such as vegging out in front of the TV or hanging out at Facebook.

So that’s Quadrant I and IV.  What about Quadrant II?  Important but NOT urgent matters would go in Quadrant II. 

Not surprisingly, my husband said that had forgotten what the facilitator said specifically about Quadrants II.  That’s probably because my husband, like so many of us, has to focus on urgent matters. The stuff that never stops. 


What you need to meet your goals

What are the important matters contained in Quadrant II and why should we care?  Take a look at what matters are in Quadrant II:



–building relationships



People who most often meet their goals do more planning, organizing, and anticipating. They work efficiently and productively, avoiding last-minute sprints in order to meet impending deadlines, and they honor goals of a healthy lifestyle and close relationships.

While you might be able to avoid some of the distractions and time-wasters of Quadrants III and IV, how do you ignore the unrelenting onslaught of urgent demands of Quadrant I so that you can spend more time with the important matters of Quadrant II?  


Controlling what’s urgent

Not everything is an emergency, and we can take steps to stay out-of-the-way of things that appear urgent. Whenever possible, avoid email, particularly before or during a writing session. Avoid such additions to your workload as more volunteering, carpooling, office projects when the work really isn’t your responsibility, and perfectionism that can lead to unwarranted revision and research on your writing project.

Let people know that you are turning off your email and phone during the time you are writing. That would be a bold, but empowering step, wouldn’t it?


10 tips that will move you closer to your writing goal

Here are more tips that will help you increase your focus on what is important and also help you move closer to your writing goal:

–Anticipate future demands and activities. Plan, plan, plan. 

–Make your schedule and stick to it.

–Plan do-able, timely deadlines which you meet.  Such a plan results in productivity.

–Prepare so that when you sit down to write, your subconscious has had time to work on the ideas.

–Include physical exercise in your life. (Check out previous blogs and upcoming blogs on the importance of exercise to your writing life.)

–Break out the outlines. If you don’t have an outline, make one. Have an outline in place to guide your writing session.

–Routinely, daily, go to a quiet place to write and to plan the next day’s writing.

–Set up an accountability factor. Ask your friends if you can mail them a chapter and then tell them when you will mail it.

–Email your coach with frequent updates on daily writing sessions.

–Keep an eye on productivity—it’s under your control.

It might be a small problem for you to push aside something seemingly urgent in order to plan and schedule writing sessions, but if you don’t do that, you’ll have the big problem of not producing text because you are running around as if your hair is on fire.

Your hair isn’t on fire.  Slow down, plan, and show up to write.

In the March issue of my newsletter Smart Tips for Writers, I wrote about Stephen Covey’s “Big Rocks” and how that strategy relates to your dissertation. Let me know if that issue never arrived in your inbox. If you aren’t signed up for my newsletter, you can take care of that at my website at www.nancywhichard.com.

I’d love to hear your ideas on urgent vs. important matters and how they impact your writing.

Best to you,


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

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Several of my dissertation coaching clients use timers on their computers to help them get started with a writing session, to stay focused, and to stick with their work. 

It also helps them to stop at a pre-determined time. In that way, they don’t stay at the writing too long and yet they stay long enough to get a good chunk of work done. 

One client says that her Taskmaster—her time-tracking widget — helps her with time management and with keeping track of how much time she spends on a task. 

Another client uses a free online timer called Instant Boss.  The “Boss” alerts him at a thirty-minute mark—the amount of time for a writing session that my client has decided works best for him   He’s noticed that if he stays at it longer, his productivity goes down.

Not only does the Boss tell him when to take a break, but it also helps him keep his breaks to five or ten minutes.

If he decides to take a short walk during his break, he sets the timer on his cell phone.

Using a timer protects you from sabotaging yourself.  You decide before you start the writing session how long you will work and how long your break will be.

It’s a handy writing tool, giving you some freedom while it eliminates the need to keep track of time yourself.  And a timer helps you stay focused, allowing for an efficient and productive writing session.
Have you been thinking about trying a timer?  Why not give it a whirl?

If you use a timer, I’d love to hear how it is working for you.

Until next time,

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

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My dissertation coaching clients and writing coaching clients have problems with time—usually the problem is that there’s not enough.  Occasionally, there’s too much time!

1.  Put it into writing.
It’s important not only to schedule writing every day, but also to mark your calendar.  One dissertation client says, “If I don’t have a space in my daily calendar marked ‘write,’ I let other responsibilities push writing out.”

2.  Gear up every morning.
Free write or list ideas every morning, even if you aren’t able to take your writing beyond free writing.  “It gets you going for later in the day,” says another client.

3.  Make the most of available minutes.
“If I know that I have only lunch hour to write, I plan what I will write,” says a third client.  “I can’t afford to let minutes slip away.”

4.  There’s such a thing as too much time.
If you have full days available to you to write, start strong and then break for a yoga class or schedule coffee with a friend.  Having a whole day that stretches ahead can lead to procrastination. 

5.  And last, never give up writing time for household chores.
Says one writer, “I just have a rule that I won’t ever clean a toilet or wash a dish during my time for writing.”  Such a rule keeps you from finding urgent excuses not to write.

Share your tip for finding more time to write.  I’d love to hear from you.

Make time to write,

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

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