Manage Your Time Like a Dissertation BOSS!

Is the thought of writing your dissertation starting to feel like you are standing at the base of Mount Everest wondering how on earth you are going to climb to the top and finish this thing? Sometimes looking at the whole project can cause overwhelm, and is then used as an excuse not to take action. Not to worry though... I’m here to share the single most important strategy that helped me gain momentum and plow forward when I was floundering while writing my own dissertation. The key to time management and preventing overwhelm is scheduling out your dissertation tasks step by step.
 
First, download a Gantt chart template, and format it to suit your needs. I found a blank template online, after three years of floundering through my dissertation, and the Gantt chart alone was instrumental in my making forward movement to finish.  
 
Start backward with your defense celebration and outline each step it will take to get there. I started with the larger tasks, and then within the larger tasks, broke each larger task into several small tasks. List each of the identified tasks/activities in the left-hand column in the order that they need to be completed. Be sure to include DEFENSE CELEBRATION in the chart... always keep your eye on that prize. 
 
On the top of the chart, list the time unit. Start with weeks. Don’t be too flexible with your timeline that you float for the first three weeks procrastinating and then realize that you have to work like a crazy person to meet your deadline (or end up blowing off the deadline completely). 
 
Use arrows to indicate when the task should start, and by when it should be complete. The Gantt chart will provide you with a visual representation of the tasks to get you where you need to be in order to meet your larger goals. The whole initiative of writing the dissertation becomes clearer, and you will realize all the steps it will take to get there. Once you have the larger tasks/objectives outlined, you can start to break each task into smaller steps. 
 
The Gantt chart can be used as a project plan to share with your chair, your committee, and your peers. Not only does it explain exactly what you need to do, but it shows your superior planning skills and your roadmap to success.
 
When the Gantt chart is finished, you will have every task outlined, and much smaller steps to achieve and keep you focused on maintaining momentum and making progress. Be sure to schedule time to work on your dissertation every day during the week. Start with a half hour minimum, and schedule larger blocks of time 2-3 times per week for larger tasks like synthesizing information learned while researching the literature review, or interpreting your data. Scheduling time to work on your dissertation is CRITICAL. Doing so will help writing become a part of your daily life. It is LIBERATING to have a schedule and stick to it!
 
Taking the time to create your detailed step-by-step plan to finish is the hard part. Once you have your roadmap all planned out, schedule smaller steps along the way to cross off day by day. Be sure to use behavioral outcomes to schedule tasks. “Read two peer-reviewed research articles on XX topic” is much more concrete than “Read for two hours”.
 
Once you have all of your steps scheduled and on your calendar, you can rest easy and be confident in the fact that you have a plan and you are going to finish! It is also important to schedule time for social support. It’s important while writing your dissertation to schedule in time to spend with loved ones, friends, and doing other things that you enjoy. Just because you are writing your dissertation doesn’t mean you have to crawl into a hole for a year or two. You will have to prioritize which social invites you will accept, but you can enjoy those moments guilt-free since you are making progress, have momentum, and a plan to finish!
 
I completed my dissertation while working full time, and while being married with kids. One strategy I used in prioritizing certain family activities, was that I would let my family choose which day was going to be a family day on the weekend. I would use the other day to spend with large blocks of time writing. Usually, my husband had a father/son day so that I could write during that time, and the boys loved having a day to spend together. It was a win-win! 
 
 
Wishing you success and well-being on your dissertation / doctoral journey,
 

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