Do you find it really difficult to meet dissertation deadlines that you set? Do you find it hard to fulfill your personal deadlines especially when there is no great amount of extrinsic motivation coming from colleagues, dissertation supervisors and others? If so, this article discusses different ways that will greatly help you meet your deadlines and finally achieve those dissertation goals.
In my experience, I found that there were 7 steps that I keep taking in order to stay motivated and on top of my deadlines (dissertation or otherwise). These seven steps are vital for any PhD student especially since self-motivation is such a huge factor in the success of any dissertation and doctoral program.
1- Internalize the formal deadlines of your dissertation
Usually before you submit your proposal, your academic department sends you preliminary materials such as how to structure your dissertation proposal. Within this material, there should be a section on deadlines or date-ranges for particular dissertation committee activities like when you can defend your dissertation. You can also find this information on the university department website. If all else fails, just ask your dissertation adviser.
Once you get a hold of this information, make sure you internalize the important deadlines. You will need them in the upcoming steps.
2- It’s time to take your own deadlines seriously
In the past, I would find it very difficult to meet my own deadlines, as if they weren’t really deadlines, just time-blocks that can be changed according to life’s circumstances. On the other hand, I always made sure to meet university, institution, and other deadlines. It was like my own personal deadlines were just optional, but deadlines imposed from the outside were vital to be met.
However, there came a time when I became utterly convinced that I must take my own goals, plans, and deadlines seriously. Many of these deadlines are there to help me reach my goals that are important but maybe not urgent.
3- Set your goals
If you ever want to achieve anything worthwhile in life, whether a dissertation or otherwise, you must set clear goals. When it comes to your dissertation, you should have already set many of these goals in your proposal when you created a work plan and/or timeframe for completing your dissertation.
These goals would mainly be strategic, including your own dissertation chapter deadlines, defending your dissertation, publishing your work, etc..
4- Develop a strategy to reach your goals
Once your main strategic goals are set, it is time to develop a strategy to reach these goals. Towards this end, start by breaking down each main goal into smaller tasks. For example, one of your PhD goals would be to complete chapter one before a certain time period (this would be the first chapter you would work on immediately after you get your proposal approved). To do this, break down this main goal into ‘tactical’ tasks to achieve the goal. It can look something like this (but it depends on the guidelines of your particular doctoral university):
- Get final approval of proposal
- Write background information section
- Write the problem statement section
- Write the purpose section
- … etc.
5- Start Early
Personally, I will usually work on a dissertation chapter a month or two before the deadline (not the night before). I don’t have to lock myself into a room to work on it but I do tend to schedule at least 2 weeks of time where my draft is priority. At the same time, I make sure not to neglect other work and educational tasks.
In the beginning of my academic career, I found out that it is always wise to work on drafts very early, especially since dissertation advisers are busy and there can be lots of time between finishing a draft and acquiring an appointment to discuss it.
If an individual has any goal, such as training for a marathon, then that person must start working months ahead to have even a remote chance and, through this training, this individual builds up routines and work habits little by little. However, this would only be possible if the individual takes him or herself seriously, makes the effort to go training, starts early, and follows the personally-planned schedule.
- Schedule time for your PhD goals
As I just wrote, I tend to set my draft as a priority for at least a week (or two).
In particular, i usually reserve blocks of time in my planner to work on this draft. Blocks of about 1.5 hours usually work best for me. Most of the time, my planner isn’t completely booked so I end up working on my project for more than the allotted blocks, but I still tend to work on scattered tasks.
Check out this blog article on dissertation time management for a more detailed look on how to manage your time efficiently as a doctoral student.
- Talk about it
By making your own goals and work public, you will add some external pressure on yourself and therefore acquire additional motivation to work towards your goals. Regardless of the type of work I am conducting, I always try to inform someone, whether a colleague, friend, or trusted confidante. Naturally, this individual would periodically ask me how my progress is. And of course, it is always nice to “humble brag” about one’s progress.
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