Last week I mentioned that getting out of my own way has been crucial because – let’s face it – sometimes I am the biggest obstacle. The greatest challenge is staying focused on my immediate goals rather than being fixated on the end product. If I do the latter I end up asking myself, “Have I even put a dent in this dissertation?” However, if I am consistently working each day towards my smaller goals then the answer is yes, I have made progress.
In addition to staying focused, my perception about whether these goals are worthwhile is also important. Insight into where the next goal will lead me is indispensable in reducing anxiety and doubt. It’s sort of like swimming in the ocean – if my perception is off I’ll scream the same way whether a piece of seaweed touches my foot or I’m about to be devoured by a great white shark.
Here are some valuable lessons I have learned which help keep me on track, sans seaweed or sharks.
1.Make outlines in advance. It’s obvious that an outline helps conceptualization, transition and flow within each chapter. With a dissertation this is, of course, helpful but I encourage you to outline all the chapters well before you start writing them. While you are working on chapter one, for example, have chapter two’s outline finished. This way you can stay focused on Chapter One and know what topics you will expand upon or introduce in the next section. Some people even write Chapter Two before One. Either way, preparing outlines in advance fosters logical transitions and better organization.
2.Read a book. No, not one of those fun summer reading novels but a book about your subject matter. I have, for instance, found two exceptional books on my topic. They have not only helped with content but also provided clarity in how to lay out the subject matter. Again, forward thinking.
3.Just write. Despite the importance of planning and outlines it is appropriate, especially if you feel stuck, to sit down for some ‘free style’ writing. Let the ideas flow!
4.Set a schedule. Give yourself a general timeframe for writing each day/week, being sure to add contingency time. I have a set number of hours daily that I try to work. I leave the weekends as free days so if I miss a day or two, which is common, I can make up for it.
5.Embrace Pajamas! This just might be the only time in your life that being in your PJs until 4PM (well…maybe 6PM) is okay, as long as you’re working.
6.Get a life. Find friends and family members who know nothing about counseling, doctoral programs or your topic. Make sure they don’t care about what you’re doing and hang out with them! Your cohort, other colleagues, advisors, mentors, and committee members will validate your work – find people on the ‘outside’ to keep you grounded.
7.Hone your inner introvert. If you are one, great! If not, well, start looking for interpersonal strengths which can help you adjust to hours of writing and research. I found mine in libraries and bookstores. While being surrounded by people I can also get to work.
Stephanie Dailey is a counselor, adjunct faculty and doctoral candidate at Argosy University-Washington, D.C.