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Academic Coaching & Writing

V. Manage Yourself

Mar 09, 2016 by Carol Ray Philips

Congratulations on the accomplishments you've made since you began reading this blog! You've begun building your network and started scheduling time to work on your dissertation. What's next? As you've probably gathered, you’ll need to make sacrifices to complete your dissertation. The dissertation is all about long-term rather than instant gratification. But everyone needs immediate gratification some of the time. Give yourself small rewards to maintain your motivation throughout the dissertation process.

Reward Yourself for Accomplishments

You can reward yourself for tasks you've accomplished, such as completing a section or a chapter, or for keeping to your schedule for the week. You can also reward yourself for meeting the demands of your program, such as gaining approval for your proposal or completing your oral exam. The reward can be anything that feels pleasurable to you, such as a sweet treat, a walk in the park, a lunch date with a friend.

Before deciding on short-term rewards, how about reinforcing your long-term reward? Soon you'll be among the 1% of the American population with the title Dr. in front of their names. Being a Dr. might mean that you'll be able to get the job that you have been striving for, that you are fulfilling your personal educational dream, or that you will be in a position to contribute to the changes you want to see in the world. Perhaps being a Dr. means all of these things to you. In any case, reward and support yourself. Simply fill in this phrase: When I'm Dr. (your last name), I will ________________.” Post that sentiment everywhere–over your workspace, on your mirror, on the back of the front door so that you see it every time you leave the house. Be your own cheerleader!

Take Charge of Your Health

Because the dissertation is a marathon, you'll need to stay healthy to complete it. While you're taking charge of your network, time, and so much else, you'll also need to take charge of your health. Do not let the amount of work you have to do serve as an excuse for eating junk food, staying up late, or avoiding exercise. Rather, think of yourself as an academic athlete who adheres to her regimen of healthy food, adequate sleep, and regular fitness activities. Schedule into your day time for fitness activities, just as you did time for work your dissertation. Whether it's a walk during lunch or using the elliptical to unwind from work, just do it! It may seem like this advice contradicts the cutting back on commitments mentioned earlier, but taking care of your health is not an extra commitment, it's an essential part of your dissertation work. Your good health and the endorphins produced when you exercise are rewards to you.

Create a Space of Your Own

Virginia Woolf is known for her argument that a woman needs a room of her own to engage in creative work. Even if you can’t manage to have a room of your own, try to create a space of your own. Your space can be as limited as a corner of a room. Regardless of its size, the space needs to house your computer, resource materials, hardcopies of your drafts, etc. Your space should also contain things that make you feel good—photos, a plant, favorite stationery. Perhaps, most importantly, it needs to be your own and your privacy there needs to be respected. When you enter this space, you will want to leave everything else behind so that you can focus on the dissertation tasks you have set for yourself.

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