Time management is key to accomplishing any task, especially one as complex as a dissertation. Too often students get overwhelmed or stuck and lose track of not only how to move forward, but how to do it in a timely fashion. In those situations, the most useful thing you can do to help yourself (assuming you’ve been in helpful contact with your advisor) is to establish a calendar and stick with it. No easy task, that; we know. So start small by setting daily goals related to your dissertation project. This could be a simple goal like creating a brief outline of a chapter-in-progress or identifying relevant library material. A more ambitious goal might be producing a pre-determined number of pages per writing day. Once you have daily goals set, start thinking bigger. What are your weekly and monthly goals? Identify them, break them into manageable pieces, and write them down so they’re staring you in the face. Many of us don’t have the will power to stick to a calendar in the face of other, possibly more entertaining, activities, especially if we’re already struggling. That’s where an outside voice enters your life. Your calendar isn’t just for yourself. Let a writing buddy, your significant other, or a dissertation coach know your plans so there is someone else who is aware of your goals. This person can help keep you on track. She or he can help you refocus if your attention wanders and can recognize your effort when you meet your goals. This person doesn’t necessarily need to know much about your topic, but you must be comfortable sharing both your successes and you failures, so choose wisely. If you get stuck, don’t despair. Recognize that we all have bad days no matter how diligently we work and pick back up tomorrow. Each day’s work adds up and before you realize it, you can have a finished draft ready to hand off to your advisor.

Action Steps

  1. Set daily tasks related to your dissertation project.
  2. Move on to weekly and monthly goals. Try working backward from your desired date of completion to create a goals-related calendar that makes sense.
  3. Put your daily, weekly, and monthly goals into writing. This could be a paper calendar or your phone or tablet’s calendar program, but make sure you see it every day.
  4. Choose a person to hold you accountable for meeting the goals you’ve set for yourself. This person should be someone you trust.
  5. Hire a coach to help you identify reasonable goals and troubleshoot writing, planning, time management, and committee-related challenges.