Nearly a year ago I attended a workshop on maintaining healthy habits throughout the dissertation writing process. Boy am I glad I did. This fall I’m taking time off from teaching to focus solely on writing my dissertation–oh, annnnnnd applying for jobs. Fun stuff. It’s all writing-based, deadline-oriented and, at times, pretty stressful. So I’ve found myself putting some of the tips from the workshop into practice each day.
I’ve included a high-resolution image of the all-important workshop handout above. (Sorry it’s crinkled. It hangs above my desk and occasionally gets knocked about by a bored cat or two.) I reread the tips often. Among the most important and oft-used tips for me are:
- Recognizing the dissertation writing process as stress laden. Once I get into the groove of writing I actually find it quite fun and satisfying. But the writing process contains both hills and valleys. Recognizing this as I begin each day is key to sticking to the task at hand without getting discouraged. As long as I work to the best of my ability each day, I know I’ll meet my goals and everything will be “okay.” P90X leader Tony Horton’s mantra ain’t no joke: “Do your best and forget the rest.” Worrying only hinders your work. Let it go as best you can each time you sit down to work.
- Tips 1-4 are critical. Progress in writing requires an unwavering commitment to a well-defined writing schedule. Before I began writing I devised a very detailed plan of action. I committed to specific hours to be at my desk each day, distraction-free, and I hold myself to that schedule each and every day. My writing hours are my priority and everything else–dentist appointments, household chores, e-mail, extracurricular activities, other academic duties–yields to my writing schedule. Yep, my place gets pretty messy sometimes by week’s end. C’est la vie. I also take time each week to define and assess my daily, weekly, monthly, and semester-long goals. Of course, sometimes I get distracted or a new idea leads to the reorganization of a chapter or section and I need to readjust my goals. But again, hills and valleys. When I encounter setbacks, I remember to…
- Get support. For me this includes not only keeping family appraised of my work schedule so they don’t wig out because they haven’t seen me in a while and think maybe my husband murdered me (he wouldn’t); it also includes seeking out support and advice from others who know what the writing process is all about. Like many Twitterstorians, I am fond of using #writingpact and #TeamPhinisheD. Although, for privacy reasons, I don’t use the hashtags every time I sit down to work, they are wonderful options for maintaining accountability for daily goals and for both getting and giving support during the somewhat lonesome writing process.
- Tips 16-19. For me, this set of tips is on equal ground with tips 1-4 because tips 1-4 aren’t possible to achieve without holding yourself to tips 16-19. In the current culture of overwork self-care all too often falls to the wayside. While I was completing my master’s thesis, I was simultaneously struggling with a tragic, untimely death in my family, many late-night/early morning phone calls to help family members through the difficult time, and feelings of not being understood/not belonging/not being accepted into academic culture based on my first-generation, low-income background. I had few healthy work habits and came very close to full-on burnout. Since then, self-care has become a high priority as I complete my PhD. I’ve worked hard to develop a wide variety of healthy habits to keep my history mojo flowing sure and steady. A well-defined work schedule IS critical, but it won’t get you anywhere if you’re too weak and stressed out to think. Self-care isn’t a distraction from writing or something only the uncommitted do. Self-care enhances your ability to do your best. Plus, massages, runner-highs, ice cream, and beer are awesome.
See you next time.