The Dissertation Marathon: Time Management Strategies Part 1

Updated: Mar 23, 2019

In the previous blog, the dissertation process was likened to a marathon that needs to be prepared for using targeted strategies. Like the runner of a marathon, the dissertation or thesis writer must learn to manage their time in order to work efficiently as they reach their goals. Managing time isn’t as easy as just putting things on a calendar or giving oneself a set number of hours to complete a task. There are multiple layers to managing time, from the macro (managing weeks, months or an entire semester) to the micro (managing the number of hours or minutes one spends on a task each day).

Currently, online and in books there are thousands of time management strategies you can employ to help yourself organize your writing project. However, many of those strategies were developed for readers who have already entered the working world and do not address the unique time constraints graduate students face. Chances are, while you are writing your dissertation, you might be teaching or TAing a course, have a full time job, taking care of your children, working to stay connected in a relationship or be doing all of those things at once. With that in mind, the strategies presented below were designed specifically to address the challenges of academic writing in a high pressure environment- graduate school. As you read, please feel free to choose and modify the strategies so they work best for you.

Strategy 1: Give yourself time

As mentioned in the previous blog, most marathon runners are satisfied with the accomplishment of having the endurance to complete a marathon. They are also ecstatic if they beat their best time. Writing a dissertation is really no different. Becoming a doctor is a long term commitment- we knew that when we got into the program. Yet somehow, in the process of getting through our coursework, the knowledge of that long term commitment can be forgotten.

While in the process of dissertating (Yes! I turned this dissertation into a verb because is an act of tremendous effort), a graduate student can feel the pressure to finish quickly because they have been in graduate school for an extended amount of time. A student might feel shame in relation to that time, especially if their colleagues have graduated quickly, or flat out impatience. Yet in those moments of impatience, frustration and exhaustion, a critical truth is hidden; once you complete your dissertation no one will ever ask you how long it took. No one will compare your completion time to someone else's. Most people outside of academia will simply be astounded that you finished such a monumental feat.

Therefore, at this beginning juncture it is important to shift your attention to the end point of the process and bring the reality of that truth to the forefront of your consciousness. Why? Challenging emotions like worry, frustration, impatience, anger, exhaustion, despondency and disinterest in your work will sap energy from the work itself. Challenging feelings are not only a distraction from getting down to the business at hand. These feelings can cause an individual to try to rush through the process, which can result in avoidable mistakes that take even more time to rectify. In can also compel promising scholars to quit.

Instead, take control of those feelings by shifting your attention to the endpoint of the process. Then, you can give yourself permission to take however much time you need to complete high quality scholarship. You might find if you are more patient with yourself, the process will go by much sooner than you think!

If you need help giving yourself permission to take your time as you progress on this journey, please try the guided meditation video above. Let me know if it works for you in the comments below.

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