Now that you have made your peace with time and you feel patient with yourself and the process, you are ready to employ some concrete time management strategies.
As a PhD candidate, you need to try minimize as much chaos as you can in your dissertation process. Yes, life happens, but if an individual already has some strategies in place, it will be easier to bounce back from life's challenges and get back on track with your writing. In that vein, practical time management strategies are presented below to help you manage the days, months and the minutes of your writing process. The most practical time management strategy is...
Usually dissertation writers are told to create a writing schedule and stick to it no matter what. The problem with that advice is it doesn’t take into account three fluctuations of real life. Billy has t-ball games during the summer so some of your writing time gets eaten into. There's a conference application deadline coming up fast, so other projects get pushed to the back burner. Before you know it, your whole writing schedule gets mixed up and you fall off track.
To mitigate situations like I described above, this strategy takes scheduling a step further. Instead of only scheduling your writing and work times, put everything you need to do during the day on your schedule. Sync your phone calendar with whatever calendar you use on your desktop. Then, mark everything on your phone calendar with reminder alarms to keep you moving from task to task throughout the day.
Step 1: Schedule Self Care (workout, eating and sleep times)
Often, when we are working hard to untangle complicated ideas in an effort to make deadlines, we sacrifice self care. Some of those sacrifices come in the form of eating fast food on the go, skipping exercise or pulling all nighters. While those shortcuts can make you feel like you're making progress in the short term, in the long term they can become detrimental to your health and impact your work. Make sure to schedule this time first during hours when you know you have nothing to do. You can schedule workouts right after work or when your kids are sleeping. Or you can combine kids playtime or your dog's walk with your workout by running with your little energetic ones.
Instead, prioritize your health so you can maintain stamina during your writing process. Some good rules of thumb for wellness scheduling are:
-An hour for each meal per day.
Split the hour by giving yourself a half hour for prep time and a half hour to eat. Special Tip! Prep meals the night before or at the beginning of the week to cut down on prep times. You may want to consider buying a crock pot or instant pot to make large quantities of food that can be divided into individual portions. Once divided, those portions can be consumed during the week or frozen for later. You can also pre-cook oatmeal, muffins and frittatas for healthy breakfasts.
-An hour of exercise per day, five days a week.
This hour doesn’t need to be logged at the gym. Walks with your dog, dancing with your kids or meditative strolls count as exercise. Also, keep in mind the hour doesn’t need to be all at one time. Exercise has a cumulative effect on the body. You can break down the hour into fifteen minute increments that add up to an hour by the end of the day. Science has proven exercise increases productivity, so make sure you include this time in your schedule!
-Six and a half to eight hours of sleep each night depending on your needs.
Step 2: Schedule Time for Family and Friends
After taking care of yourself, make sure to carve out consistent time with your family and friends. This may seem like a no brainer at first, but once work begins to pile up it is easy to forget or skip out on date nights, soccer games and friends’ night out. Instead of living in a scenario where one can feel torn between work and a social life, balance the two in your schedule. For example, if you have a family, you can make dinner time and Saturday afternoons your non-negotiable family time. If you have a partner, maybe you’d like to set aside Friday nights for a date night. If your friends like to meet on the weekend, maybe you can schedule Sunday brunches with them every week. Whatever you decide, make sure it stays on the schedule and isn’t sacrificed for work. Social time with people you care about will keep you sane during the writing process and give your mind a well needed rest between work sessions.
Step 3: Schedule Your Work Time
Scheduling your work time is different from scheduling writing time. This time is for those of us who are working our way through school. The most important thing to keep in mind here is that our work time can bleed into our other scheduled time if we’re not careful about setting boundaries around work. You may have to practice strategically declining projects and extra work to make sure you don’t get distracted from finishing your degree. If you need help with boundary setting, please view my blog post on Boundary Setting in Academia.
Step 4: Schedule Writing Time
At this point you may be asking yourself why writing time is the last thing on the schedule list. Isn’t it the first priority?
Well, it is an it isn’t. The first priority is keeping your life steady so that you can write without distraction. Now that you’ve steadied your life as much as possible , you’re ready to think about writing.
Things to consider when scheduling writing time:
-Schedule writing time that is consistent from week to week.
For example, if you notice you consistently have evenings free, schedule writing time on the same days and times during the evening each week. Having consistent writing times from week to week will get you in a good writing rhythm, which will signal to your mind you're making good on your commitment to yourself, which boosts confidence Consistent writing time will also give you consistent, incremental progress you can show to your major advisors.
-Writing in the early morning.
I consider the early morning from 5:00 am - 7am. If you are able to go to sleep by 10pm, you can log in 7 hours of sleep before beginning to write. Writing early in the morning works well for early risers whose minds are fresh. It’s also great because once you’re done with writing, you can face the day knowing you’ve accomplished some work.
-Break up your writing time.
Writing is like exercise, as long as it is done incrementally, it will have a cumulative effect. If you have an hour in the morning, an hour at lunch and 2 hours before you go to bed, you will log in four hours of writing for the day.
Use google drive to write your dissertation. That way, it is always saved in the cloud and you can access it from multiple devices.
-Download Google Docs on your phone.
When you have moments of inspiration or boredom outside of your writing time, you can write on the go using the app. I'm a late night writer (12 am- 4am) so I lay in bed and type to my heart's content without getting out of bed or annoying my family with late night typing sounds.
-Treat your dissertation like a job.
If you have a funding source, commit to working on your dissertation 5 days a week, 8 hours a day, just like you would at any job if you want to finish quickly. If you don’t have funding, schedule at least 4 hours per day, 5-6 days per week.
-Write whether you feel like it or not.
Sometimes we get stymied when we're faced with a large chunk of writing time and a blank page. Sometimes we just have bad feelings when we start our work. Don't beat yourself up about it. It's normal to not feel enthusiastic every time it's time to write. Instead, you can "warm up" by writing in your dissertation journal. You can describe why you're not motivated to write, Once you reflect on your feelings, you can create strategies to address your internal roadblocks and move forward. For example, are you less than enthusiastic about your work because you're working on someone else's project? Perhaps you need to talk to that researcher or keep your word, finish the project and make a commitment to yourself not to take on others' projects again. Whatever the issue is, give yourself a limited time to reflect (two writing sessions maximum) and then take definitive action.
You can also override writing resistance if you have some "prompts" to use as jumping off points that get you started writing. You can use your advisors' feedback as prompts to work on when you are stuck. If you are like me and get brilliant ideas when you’re not writing, write them down immediately so you don’t forget the thought on a Google Doc, in a writing journal, or as notes on your main document. Then, when you get back to your scheduled writing time, use these ideas as prompts.
-Finally, never, ever edit during your writing times.
Only edit your writing when you get to the end of a section or when you’ve finished a chapter. Set aside specific editing days towards the end of the week to make sure you don’t get distracted by editing when you should be writing.
Please let me know if these writing tips worked for you in the comments below. Also, if you use other writing strategies, please feel free to share them with the community. : )