When you first start planning for your dissertation, you may find yourself completely pumped up and motivated, ready for any dissertation obstacles that come your way. However, with the passing of time, some of you will most surely find yourself procrastinating, postponing, or just not putting your heart into it. You try to solve this problem but it is easier said than done. Dissertation procrastination is among the biggest problems graduate students experience and the Internet is filled with loads of articles on solving this problem. However, you must be wary of the ‘one size fits all’ approach and understand that no two students are ever in the same circumstances; so what worked for one person, may not work for another.
The Source of Procrastination: Life’s Responsibilities
So, what is the solution? First, you must understand that your dissertation work is not conducted in a vacuum; your dissertation is done in parallel with the responsibilities of life. You are not locked away in some isolated castle able to focus solely on your dissertation. You are you’re a human being with many responsibilities and you must juggle all of them along with your dissertation tasks!
Basically, you only have 24 hours in your day. You spend many of these hours at work, doing household chores, running errands, preparing meals, visiting family & friends, and doing so much else. You arrive home at the end of the day and can barely get into bed due to your exhausted state. And then, while in bed, you start feeling the guilt of not being able to force yourself to get up and work on your dissertation. You promise yourself that you will do it tomorrow as soon as you have time. But that’s the problem. Tomorrow comes, and you spend it working on the rest of life’s responsibilities. You never seem to have time.
The Root of the Problem: Horrible Time Management
Most people would blame this lack of time on life, on external circumstances outside of their control. But this is just plain WRONG. Now there are definitely exceptions but, in general, the problem is not a lack of time, but a lack of time management. You must manage your time better and allow yourself to control your time rather than letting it control you.
The way to do this is to follow a process that looks something like this:
- Take account of the situation
- Prioritize tasks
- Create a plan of action
Step One: Take Account of the Situation
Before deciding what to do with your time, you must understand how you are currently managing this time. Just like taking account of your budget, you must take account of your time. For one week, carry with you a journal or some type of mini-notebook or agenda and write down how you spend each part of your day. You must make sure to include even those things that seem insignificant, such as chatting, checking your emails, browsing the internet, eating, and spending time with family & friends.
At the end of each day, review your journal and, at the end of the week, do the same. What do you notice? What are the things that clearly pop out? Does the way you manage your time reflect your values, goals, and needs? And how much time are you throwing away doing things that you think are important at the time, but are not helping you accomplish your goals?
Step Two: Prioritize Tasks
Now that you have a better picture of how you’re spending your time, it is time to prioritize those things that are important to you. To do this, on a piece of paper, divide some white space into three separate columns. Label the columns respectively as: ‘The Big Stuff’, ‘Less than Priority’, and ‘Insignificant.’ You can of course modify the naming in any way you wish.
Once you do this, go through each and every task that you recorded in your journal during the week and insert it under each category. Make sure you put dissertation work under the first category. Otherwise, go hang up your coat and call it quits!
Other things to include in the first category may be work, family time, etc. Proceed to complete the second and third columns with the rest of the tasks you have.
Step Three: Create a Plan of Action
Now that you have prioritized everything, you have an idea of what you must focus your time on. Next, bring an agenda and start inserting ‘The Big Stuff’ tasks in your agenda. Go one by one with labeling each task in your monthly & weekly sections and then, the sub-tasks of each task under the daily agenda.
Once you are done inserting the big stuff, now you can start inserting tasks located in the second column with whatever time is remaining. If there is no time left for all of them, then prioritize this category and insert them from the highest priority down. Finally, if there is time left for the small things in the third category, insert them.
“However, keep in mind that it is not necessarily a good idea to make your agenda completely full. You need time to breath. You need time to rest and just focus on absolutely nothing.
Otherwise you will burn out easily.”
Following these steps will give you the ability to locate the problems with time management and help you find out the solution to these problems by allowing you to categorize your tasks and making sure you have time for the big stuff that include your dissertation work.
However, there are times when certain students are confused as to what their priorities are, how they should categorize their tasks and even what their values, needs, and goals are. If this is the case, you must not be shy to ask for help. There are professional dissertation counselors ready to assist you and answer any questions you may have. Remember, your dissertation is a necessary condition for your Ph.D. Do not postpone or delay working on it, or asking for help if necessary, since failing to complete your dissertation will undoubtedly affect every single aspect of your life.