Managing Your Time

Finding time to write is often difficult for students with jobs, families, and other commitments. The following techniques should help you manage your time effectively:

1. Make the completion of your thesis or dissertation your top priority. You must think of it as your job. It helps to set a weekly schedule or write “work on dissertation” in your calendar. Schedule other activities around your dissertation work the way business people schedule their lives around meetings and the like. This may mean you have to convince people that your schoolwork is in fact work, but this is necessary for progress. 

2. Spend time on your dissertation every day if that’s possible for you (minimum five days a week). Even if you spend only fifteen minutes with it on some days, consistent work will help you to keep ideas and source material fresh in your mind. With source material fresh in your mind you will not waste time figuring out where you left off.

3. Know your distractions and schedule your work time when distractions are at a low level. Try out different schedules, for example, shifting from morning to evening hours. Sometimes taking a break from established work habits can be helpful in refreshing your perspective. It may be helpful to record your work schedule for a few weeks. After recording the hours you worked and the amount of progress you made over several weeks, it will be possible for you to see what hours are your most productive and what issues are standing in the way of your progress.

4. Plan carefully and keep open lines of communication with the important people in your life. One author of a dissertation writing guide suggests you not move or get a puppy while you are working on your dissertation. But for many people, writing happens along with life, babies, unexpected moves, a partner’s job change, etc. Plenty of people finish despite these life events, but it requires some juggling and frank discussions. Let loved ones and friends know how they can help you. Set aside time for yourself, your partner, and your children (negotiate the time together so that you will be available at the same time). It is important to communicate your needs with those around you throughout the dissertation process. 

5. Know your personality and choose a working style that complements it. For example, if you are a social person, you may want to work in a computer lab instead of at home. Similarly, if you do your best research alone, schedule trips by yourself; don’t try to squeeze research into family trips.

6. Set clear, reasonable goals. Experiment with setting goals in terms of pages and in terms of hours spent. Keep a log of how well you are achieving your goals. Break tasks into small components. For example, your goal might be to finish a section of a chapter in a given week, not necessarily the entire chapter. Again, see what works for you. Reward yourself when you reach your goals.

7. You may want to consider establishing a master plan or dissertation timetable for making progress on your project. List specifically when you want to have each section completed, when you want to have your first and second drafts completed, and when you want to defend. Keep in mind the time needed for professors to review your work. Such a plan is useful for keeping you on track and is also required with many dissertation grant applications.

8. Give yourself time to think; you often will need more time to think than you do to write.

9. Focus on your research questions. Do not waste time on points or questions outside the scope of your research. Remember, you don’t want to include everything you know in your dissertation. You want to construct an argument. So try not to let those interesting tidbits distract you unless they work for your project. Put them in a file for future projects.

10. When researching, keep careful records of source titles, locations, and other pertinent information. It may seem tedious as you are researching, but will save an inordinate amount of time in the end. Similarly, file notes clearly so that they are accessible when needed. See the section above on organizing for more information on how to organize your work, and ultimately improve efficiency.

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