“This article provides advice you help you reduce the gap between your dissertation goals and your actual progress.”
How hard do you work? How hard do you study? As a student who has reached the doctorate level, you have certainly worked very hard to get to this point. With that being said, do you feel like no matter how hard you work, you are still behind on the dissertation goals and timeline you set for the coming months or year?
If this is the case, you may think to yourself that you simply must work harder and longer. Or you are questioning your own ability to complete the dissertation and have started to feel it is time to call it quits. When you first drafted your dissertation proposal, you set dissertation goals for the coming year. Most doctoral students will fall behind their proposed work plan at some point in the dissertation journey.
The Reality – There is a Big Difference Between Goals and Daily Work
So how is falling behind your goals possible? It is simple. There is a difference between what you planned for the coming year and how you are working/studying daily. Of course, planning is a crucial and necessary tool for success (and life).
This article includes tips that will allow you to reduce that gap between your goals and your actual progress. These tools are consistent with the ‘monthly progress monitor’ concept formulated by two authors from their exceptional work Mastering your PhD (Gosling & Noordam, 2011).
Your Solution – The Monthly Progress Monitor Checklist
So how exactly do you use this monthly progress monitor checklist? The concept is very simple and all you must do is answer 5 questions every month (as fully and honestly as possible of course!). These are the questions:
- What are the most important results I obtained last month?
- Did I deviate from the planning of the last month? If so, why?
- What are my most important goals for the coming month?
- What must I do to meet these goals?
- What can I do to overcome any hurdles or barriers along the way?
Why does answering these questions help? They help you because your answers will allow you to identify certain patterns (healthy or otherwise) and will also allow you to prepare more fully for meetings with your dissertation supervisor/advisor.
Question #1 – What are the most important results I obtained last month?
This first question helps you to elucidate which of your activities were productive and which of them were not. What were the substantive accomplishments related to your dissertation? Which of your accomplishments were unrelated to your dissertation progress. When you clear up the answers to this question, you will find it much easier to prioritize your tasks.
Question #2 – Did I deviate from last month’s planning? And if so, why?
The answer(s) to this question will also help you identify patterns and habits in your work routine. It will also help you determine if you deviated from the plan last month. Answering this question is indeed vital – and difficult – since it forces you to identify shortcomings in efforts. Keep in mind deviations do not necessarily reflect an internal flaw; external circumstances, such as health and family affairs, can also play a role. Regardless, once you answer this question and clearly identify your deviations and reasons behind them, you can identify solutions.
Question #3 – What are my most important goals for the coming month?
Answering Question #3 will help you to plan more realistically since you now have the answers from Question #2. Here, it is imperative that you are as detailed as possible when you delineate your goals. It is also important to mention that you should be very specific when outlining these goals so that you can make progress. To illustrate, ‘to read more journals and articles on the subject’ is not a precise goal. A more specific goal would be, for example, ‘to read 15 additional articles from the American Journal of Psychiatry.’
Questions #4 and #5 – What must I do to meet these goals? And what can I do to overcome any hurdles or barriers along the way?
At this point, you have looked back at your actions and planning from last month. You have analyzed the effects of your work and results. And you have come up with specific and realistic goals for the upcoming month.
Answering Questions #4 and # 5, will be far more difficult to answer than the previous three questions. You may not have concrete answers since these questions involve forecasting the future. Nonetheless, simply reflecting on matters such as potential hurdles proves to be an immensely useful exercise. The greatest minds of history, regardless of background, used meticulous planning and foresaw problems so they could solve them if the need arose. This is called contingency planning (in other spheres it is called ‘risk management’).
Staying one step ahead of your problems is a necessary skill you must cultivate, both for your dissertation and in your later career, no matter what career that may be.
Gosling, P., & Noordam, B. (2011). Mastering your PhD: Survival and success in the doctoral years and beyond. Berlin, Germany: Springer.
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