Posts Tagged ‘setting boundaries’

Happy June!  It’s summer here in the Northern hemisphere.

For academics, professors on sabbatical, and moms juggling the demands of a fulltime job with a dissertation, summer roars in, knocking over all of your structures, making you fight for balance.

Why do you forget what it’s always like?  You think you are ready until summer is actually here, kids are out of school, family trips loom, and you are once again on shifting ground.

It is going to take effort, but you can make this work.  Remember my “Mom’s in Maine” sign? When I needed to make a space for writing—a cottage, if you will—inside my house, I put a sign on my home office door that read “Mom’s in Maine.” My fantasy was to have a writer’s cottage in Maine, but I was in the Virginia suburbs.  The sign was a small, fanciful strategy, but it helped to define mental and physical boundaries for me and my family.






What specifically is your writing goal for the next two months?  Don’t procrastinate because of your kids. To get started toward that goal, it’s time to readjust your mindset and commit to strategies that work.

If you are reading this, then it is time to write.

My best to you,


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


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What could help you have an easier time starting to write and sticking with the writing?

In the new book Willpower, psychologist Roy F. Baumeister and New York Times science writer John Tierney present research that willpower is limited, in part because you use the same resource for so many different things. 

Since you can’t be certain that you’ll have willpower whenever you might finally take the notion to write, writers, in particular, need to conserve willpower wherever possible. 

If you have engaged in making decisions all day, in one area after another, you may have depleted your reserve of willpower and suffer from “decision fatigue.”  

The authors support the view that having a writing habit helps you avoid the decision fatigue.  If you have a habit in place, you won’t rely solely on willpower to motivate you to write. 

Baumeister and Tierney call this a “precommitment.”  Precommitment is the use of a strategy or plan to protect you from procrastination and impulsive behavior. 

And you know where impulsive behavior takes you—to email, to the refrigerator, to the TV.

Raymond Chandler, who created detective Philip Marlowe and wrote detective novels and film scripts, such as The Big Sleep, devoted four hours each day to writing, or, as he says, if he didn’t write, then he could do nothing.

And he meant nothing.

Advising other writers how to produce writing, Chandler says, that during the daily four hours for writing, a writer “doesn’t have to write, . . . He can look out the window or stand on his head or writhe on the floor, but he is not to do any other positive thing, not read, write letters, glance at magazines, or write checks.”  

Chandler says that during the scheduled four hours each day there are “two very simple rules, a. you don’t have to write.  b. you can’t do anything else.  The rest comes of itself.”

Baumeister and Tierney call this particular precommitment the “Nothing Alternative.”  You write or you do nothing. 

My dissertation coaching clients have given me some great suggestions for implementing the “Nothing Alternative.” When email, Google, and Facebook beckon, how do you follow through on your intention to write? 

Here’s to precommitment!


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

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 In a recent blog, I sang the praises of writing whenever you are taking a plane somewhere.  The quiet, distraction-free atmosphere makes flying perfect for writing, or so it seems to me.

 I heard from a dissenting reader.

She said, “I’d love to be able to devote myself to writing while on a plane, but unfortunately I travel with a little sidekick who demands a lot of attention.”

Unfortunately, when you have kids, travel (and most everything else) is all about the kids. 

And summer vacation presents such a situation.  For many people, having the kids on vacation from school is a great time for the family to be together and to do fun things.  But if you have to make headway on your writing, summer vacation presents specific challenges.

If you have to keep on track with a writing project, particularly meeting deadlines for your dissertation, it’s time to look for places where you have control.  You must make time to write, and to make that time, you will have to draw boundaries.

1.You can’t always be on-call. 

If you tell your kids that if they need you, to just call, they will call you, even if they don’t need you.  Funny story:  one child of a client yelled for her mom because the dog chewed up a Kleenex—that was the emergency.

2.Have a door between you and your kids.

One client says that she sits in the main room of her house and wears earplugs to quiet the din while she reads.  But the consensus among my clients is that boundaries should be visible, but you should not be. 

3.Invest in help. 

 If you’re always slightly uneasy, not knowing what your children are doing on the other side of the door, hire someone—young or old—to sit with the kids, watch them, play a game with them, prepare a snack for them.  Two solid hours of help could equal a good chunk of concentrated writing for you.

4.Get the heck out of the house.

The answer to how can you write at home is … more than likely you can’t, at least not all of the time.  An hour or two each afternoon, or two hours 3 afternoons a week, you need to go, leave, vamoose.  You will very likely have to go to the library on a routine basis, and you will have to hire a sitter or take your kids to someone else’s house.  Make a plan! 

5.Use daycare.

Many writers use daycare for their kids during the school vacations, and as far as I know, the writers haven’t been struck dead for doing that, nor have they noticed that their children’s growth has been stunted.  When my kids were in school, I enrolled them in a Summer Fun project at their local school. It wasn’t a full school day—just a few hours each day– but even so, my kids complained that they didn’t want to spend time at school.  It was their vacation. 

As I recall, I may have pulled back a bit on the amount of time they spent there, but I didn’t cave completely. I felt guilty—that goes with the territory—but I had to have time to write.

If you don’t honor your need to write and the need to make it possible for you to write, who will? I hope your partner or spouse supports your need to mark boundaries or to use daycare or to hire a sitter, but it’s up to you to say what you need and to make the changes necessary for you to write.

I’d love to hear not only what your challenges are around finding time to write, but also what you have put in place that has been of help to you.

Happy writing,


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



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Are your children home on vacation from school?  And you’re trying to keep an eye on your children, as well as make headway on your writing project?

How’s that working for you?

During the school year, most academics teach and try to write.  Both teaching and writing are critical for an academic’s success and are important parts of the academic’s identity.  The plan is that once summer comes, the writing takes priority.

But no matter how carefully and hopefully they have planned, more than one of my dissertation and writing clients say that once summer comes, they lose their work identity.

It’s difficult to deal with the reality of summer. You go into summer with those unspoken hopes and expectations that you’ll make significant progress toward your writing goals. Then before long you realize that it isn’t going to be the way you think it’s supposed to be.

You had thought that with no papers to grade or classes to prepare for that you’d have long, quiet afternoons, or at least a couple of hours a day with no interruptions, when you could read and, more importantly, write.

And the writing is not happening.

It’s emotionally stressful, enough so that you may find yourself waking in the night and having trouble turning off your mind and getting back to sleep.

And even though you want to be writing, you get such comments from other parents as, “Oh, you’re not working this summer?”  Grrr…if only I could work, you think.

You need to write, and not only during those 15 minutes when you can hide in the bathroom or duck downstairs to the basement.

For years, I juggled teaching during the school year with being at home during the summer.

My fantasy was to have a summer cottage in Maine where I could go to write in the summer. 

I was never going to have a real cottage for writing, but I needed to make a space for writing—a cottage, if you will—inside my house.

My kids were old enough to be on their own in the house for an hour or two, and so I put a sign on my office door that read “Mom is in Maine.”

My kids thought it was great, or at least some of the time they thought it was o.k. And my “Mom is in Maine” sign wasn’t as forbidding as the “Keep Out” sign that they occasionally used on their bedroom doors.

For the most part, my sign worked. I had to keep an ear open for any sort of hubbub, or alternately, when it was too quiet.  But I made sure that my kids knew that this was not a one-time event, and that I expected everybody to work with me on this.

At least my daughter gave me her stamp of approval, including drawing pictures of light houses for me.

It wasn’t a solution, but it helped.

A client told me that she, too, had to be creative in order to write at home.  The door to her home office is framed in clear glass. Her preschool-aged children would routinely outrun the family au pair and bolt for the office door, where they would peer through the glass in an attempt to see their mother. To block their view, their mother put black curtains over the glass. Kids are smart, and so they weren’t completely deceived.  Occasionally, she would still hear their little voices, outside her door, saying, “I think she’s in there.”

All of these attempts to find a space and time to write remind me of a client’s great a-ha moment:  “I found I could not write my dissertation at the dining room table.”

Have you decided that you can’t write your dissertation at the dining room table?  Where do you go?  How do you juggle writing and taking care of your kids?

I’d love to hear from you.


Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC

Your International Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach




nancy @ nancywhichard.com

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