Writing your dissertation

Do You Have To Feel Writing your dissertation During Dissertation Crunch Time?

In the Spring of the 6th year of my doctoral program and I was finally able to schedule what I hoped would be my last thesis committee meeting. My committee consisted of three very busy professors and it was next to impossible to find a date and time when they were all available. After my 45 minutes presentation at this meeting a heated debate ensued among my committee members regarding the interpretation of my data. After a long discussion, my committee agreed to give me the green light to defend my thesis. In other words, I had only 20 days to complete the writing of a 150 page thesis and prepare 50 slides for my thesis defense.

In addition to health problems such as back pain and tension headaches, this poor lifestyle led to low quality work. Instead of isolating myself from the world and abusing my body for 20 days, I decided to focus on producing a high thesis. I realized that the best way to keep myself focused and motivated for the following three weeks was to prioritize my health and get support from my community. I already knew from past experience that lack of sleep, poor nutrition, and isolation actually interfered with my ability to write and think creatively. What did I have to lose by taking a different approach? If you are writing your dissertation and you feel overwhelmed by the amount of work that needs to be completed by the deadline. If you feel compelled to neglect your health and your personal relationships.

If this is happening to your, I would like to encourage you to consider an alternative and more empowering approach. Many students need to juggle family commitments, jobs, and social activities that suck time away from their thesis. It might seem like you have no choice but to cut down on your dissertation writing exercise in order to meet your deadline.

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During the time I was writing my thesis I also had to attend to commitments outside my studies. There did not seem to be enough hours in the day to complete everything. By restructuring my day and using the productivity-enhancing strategies that I will show you below I was able to meet my ambitious deadline and write a thesis that led to three first-author publications. Digital communication has become an incredibly significant time and energy sink in the last two decades. When you begin your day by checking and email and text messages, you are actually prioritizing other people’s agendas.

In fact, you are creating more work for yourself because when you reply to an email, the other person will respond and create even more work for you. Make your research and dissertation writing a priority during your work day. Email and social media will be there waiting for you, after you have completed your most important tasks for your day. As the deadline gets closer they start working unreasonably long hours to catch up, leading to extreme exhaustion and low quality work. With your supervisor’s help, break down long-term projects into smaller milestones that you can accomplish within a few days or weeks. Use this timeline to determine whether you are on track, and if not, adjust your plan accordingly.

If your life is being dictated by a to-do list, you will always be trying to catch up with a never-ending list of errands and feel exhausted at the end of the day. If you have a to-do list already, take a look at it. How many items on it are supporting your personal and professional goals? How many items are supporting other people’s agendas? Once you have short-term milestones, and you are clear on what you want to accomplish, decide which three accomplishments would be the most important to complete by the end of the day. To increase your chances of success, identify these three goals the day before, and visualize that you have already completed them. You might not be able to achieve all three goals, but having a clear picture of where you want to be at the end of the day, will significantly boost your chances of success.

I am most productive in the morning, and I start my day by taking actions to achieve the major results for my day, and I leave phone calls and shopping for the afternoon. If you are an evening owl,  get all the errands out of the way during the day, and focus on your important projects at night when your creativity is at its peak. The idea that multi-tasking makes us more efficient is a myth. Your brain can only focus on task at a time. The result of multitasking is that your performance on both tasks is reduced and you will feel exhausted from the effort of the continuously switching back and forth. We all need breaks, but one of the big mistakes that students make is to check email during their time-off.

And what is of great concern is that the balance of power is in danger of moving with them.
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