TEN Secrets to be WILDLY Productive in Writing Your Dissertation
May 20, 2021
Don't you just LOVE new beginnings and clean slates? The world is starting to open up again after the global pandemic. As we approach the summer, we have a great opportunity to start fresh and be insanely productive over the summer months.
This is especially important if you left 2020 feeling stuck... like there are not enough hours in the day with competing roles and priorities working full time, being a mom, wife, friend, daughter, aunt... setting out with good intentions to work on the dissertation but feeling pulled in a million directions after being in lockdown for over a year and summer events for your 8-year old are re-scheduled yet again. (Isn't that the worst?)
It is no fun when you feel like you hardly have time to get dinner together, let alone work on your dissertation. If you are like I was... the woman who has multiple identities and juggling priorities that seem to never end, I have some refreshing news for you…
Busy people GET SHIT DONE. It’s true… AND this is great news if you are juggling multiple priorities in your life while you are writing your dissertation.
So in the spirit of getting shit done, today I am honoring you... the mom, the doc student, the wife, the friend, the employee, the co-worker, the caregiver, the daughter, the taxi driver, the referee, the everything and more... This blog post is for you.
TEN Secrets to be WILDLY Productive in Writing Your Dissertation.
For those of you who have participated in my free “Think Like a Phinisher" Dissertation Writing Workshop, you have implemented a few of these strategies along with me but this is a great opportunity to revisit these strategies to reinforce if it has been a while since you looked at your research. (And if you haven't participated in a writing workshops but are interested in being notified when we open the dissertation writing workshop again, click here
These strategies work... I used most of them when I was completing my own dissertation, and I still use them as a coach in my own work. I went from having NO research questions to FINISHED in 16 months after spending THREE YEARS in the D R I F T. Three years of feeling isolated, confused, and lost without making ANY progress. When I got the 6-year letter from my University, I knew I had to commit 100% and go ALL IN to graduate, so I mapped out a plan to make it happen. I worked backward from the graduation date and filled in all the steps I needed to take to FINISH and earn my doctorate degree.
So here they are...
Clean up your workspace
Clean up your workspace to prepare to work. Organize your work area to include your research materials. Clear the clutter, and make the space inspiring, inviting and cozy. I keep a salt lamp
on my desk… the soft glow is comforting... add your favorite slippers and a cup of our favorite tea and prepare to be relaxed and focused. Add some items that inspire you. I'm a Sharpie hoarder and have a HUGE cup filled with colorful Sharpies
which triggers creative thoughts for me. It may sound cheesy, but inspirational objects and the right lighting can spark creativity and action. If you have participated in one of my dissertation writing challenges, you have your “WHY” posted nearby… make it a shrine to honor why you started this journey... when things get tough your "WHY" will keep you moving toward the finish line... to Dr. You.
Not pack up your house and move, but get outside or go for a walk or jog, have a dance party, do a workout. I walk 4 miles, 4-5 miles per week and some of my best thinking is done when I am out walking… when I let my thoughts wander and I’m not at home staring in front of a blank screen, I have epiphany moments… and I always keep my phone in my pocket to use my “Notes” app so I don’t forget the lightbulb moments that I can put into my journal
when I get home. As if some time outside in the fresh air isn’t enough to inspire you, I read a book a few years ago that opened my eyes to the scholarly research done with the effect exercise has on the brain. The book is called Spark
by Dr. John Ratey. The book is amazing, but the main idea is that exercise is miracle-grow for the brain. Students who exercise before studying consistently outperform their non-active counterparts. “Exercise provides an unparalleled stimulus, creating an environment in which the brain is ready, willing, and able to learn” (Ratey, 2008). Dr. Ratey suggests 20-30 minutes of aerobic exercise to experience the benefits.
Eat the Frog FIRST.
“Eat a live frog every morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day” - Mark Twain. The concept is, that if you have to do something that will be difficult, unpleasant or annoying, do it first thing. If you have to eat a frog, do it first thing so you won’t spend your day anticipating it (and everything else will be better by comparison). That dissertation task that you are dreading and avoiding? ... do that FIRST THING. Commit to it. This makes your day far more pleasant and productive. It sets the tone of SUCCESS and ACCOMPLISHMENT for the rest of the day!
FILL your cup.
You cannot be productive when you are in a negative mindset… resentment over the fact that you are missing out on family time, friend time, or any other thoughts of deprivation will NOT help you get inspired to write your dissertation. Spend time with friends and family before your scheduled work session, or use that time as a reward. Whichever the case, approach your writing with a full cup, clear writing plan, and a comfortable work area. Do something that brings you joy before you sit down to write. Some of my clients like to listen to music, meet a friend for virtual coffee, or go for a walk with the hubby/partner. Every time you sit down to work on your dissertation, be grateful that you are one step closer to the finish line.
Use the 5-Second Rule.
If you haven’t read the 5-Second Rule
by Mel Robbins, you are seriously missing out on a beautifully simple concept that will impact every aspect of your life. The 5-Second Rule is simple - If you have the instinct to act on a goal, you must physically move within 5 seconds or your brain will kill it. The moment you feel an instinct or a desire to act on a goal or a commitment, use the Rule. When you feel yourself hesitate before doing something that you know you should do, count 5-4-3-2-1-GO and move toward action. Mel defines instinct as any urge, impulse, pull or knowing that you should or should not do something because you can feel it in your heart and gut.
If you are anything like I was, and you are easily distracted when you sit down to work on your dissertation, it is time to play hardball with yourself. You sit down at the computer, and you swear you’ll be productive…. next thing you know it is three hours later. You’ve checked your email, updated your Facebook status, scrolled through Insta stories, and researched your next dream vacation. What you haven’t done, is WORK on your dissertation. A potential solution… computer apps like “StayFocused” (and there are MANY others) helps you stay focused on work by restricting the amount of time you can spend on time-wasting websites. They are also highly configurable.
Work to PRODUCE.
Those of you who have been with me for a while know that I LOVE me some Brooke Castillo. This is one of my favorite concepts that she teaches, and I use it with my own coaching clients. BUSY is NOT Productive. When you approach your writing, only allow two hours (max) to sit down for a writing stretch. Outline EXACTLY what you are going to do within that two hours. Identify exactly which articles you are going to take active notes on, exactly which section you are going to modify and why… the more specific, the better. Parkinson’s Law is the concept that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion... and it is REAL. You will blow your own damn mind when you clearly articulate what you are going to do during a work session, and give yourself a limited amount of time to do it.
When I hear my coaching clients say, “I reserved all day on Saturday to write”, it makes my head spin... that is THE LAST THING you should do. Not only is it counterproductive, but it is easy to blow off the little steps you would be making during the week because you "reserved all day on Saturday" to write. Therefore you are missing out on the critical opportunities during the week with the idea that you have all day on Saturday... then Saturday comes and goes and you have barely anything to show for it. So, you are giving up precious time with family and friends to sit and surf Facebook, rearrange the books on the shelf, "procrasti-cleaning” (one of my coaching clients used that term and I loved it), all because you have given yourself too much time to do something. There is a reason why busy people get shit done. They only have a limited amount of time to write and they get it DONE. Give yourself little bits of time and work as if your life depends on it… work with urgency.
Stay in INTEGRITY.
Self integrity is the word we keep to ourselves. If we keep telling ourselves that we are going to do something, and we don’t do it, what happens? … We don’t even believe in our own word. Would you tell your BFF that you are going to meet her for coffee on Saturday at 10:00 am and then don't ever show up because you are scrolling Facebook and can't seem to get motivated? HELL NO! So why would you do that to yourself? Don’t get me wrong… it’s okay to NOT do something, but if you SAY you are going to do it, DO IT. Keep your word to yourself. If you say you are going to get up early and read two articles tomorrow before you get ready for work, DO IT. Love yourself and treat yourself like you would treat your best girlfriend. What an amazing way to start the day, right? ...By kicking ASS and taking action!
Pomodoro is Italian for Tomato, and the grad student that invented the technique used a tomato timer… brilliant! There are a ton of Pomodoro apps on the market (I use Focus Keeper Free), but you can even go old-school and get the actual tomato timer
. It’s a very simple way of keeping you focused and getting yourself really productive. The concept is simple… you set a timer for a 25-minute session of work. The timer goes off after the set time and you get a short break (five minutes). After four Pomodoros, you get a long break (20-40 minutes). You’ll be amazed just how much you can get done in 25 minutes, and how great your focus is when you know you’re on a deadline (even if it is self-imposed). We do this every Saturday and multiple times throughout the week in my paid program "Stuck to Unstoppable" and the ladies love it. We meet on Zoom video, set our intention, and we write together.
and the last secret… SLEEP!
In order for your brain to function at its optimum levels, we should be getting at least 7 hours of sleep per night. Sleeping well improves the quality of your health, mood, mind and ultimately our dissertation, so don’t sacrifice it! Be sure your bedroom is cool and dark. Ever since I got a noise machine
I have been getting the best sleep of my life (you can also use phone apps like Noisli and Bed Time Fan but they are battery-drainers). I’ve been reading a lot about the benefit of weighted blankets
too after one of my coaching clients got one for Christmas... especially if you experience anxiety (15, 20, and 25 pounds) but I haven’t tried them out for myself yet.
Wishing you success and well-being on your dissertation journey.
You've GOT THIS!
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