I have an entire 2 weeks to work on my dissertation with very minimal obligations or other work (a haircut, an adviser appointment, a teeth cleaning, a small application, and some conference planning).

This is what I do NOT want to happen: I feel pretty relaxed because I have all day. I stay in my sweat pants (got to be nice and cozy for a full day of writing!). I have breakfast and surf the internet. Get started around 9:20–still basically on task, but I’ve already wasted 40 minutes and dissipated my mental energy on facebook and current events. Work a good stint for 45 minutes, but now I am hungry again or need my tea warmed. Get a snack, which turns into a 22 minute break. It is getting kind of close to 11:00. Work a little more, but soon it is legitimately lunch time. But I have already wasted time, so I decide to just get something small from the kitchen, and continue to work at my desk. Eating and working is a joke, obviously. Now it is the afternoon. I feel crappy because I haven’t gotten much done, but I am already getting into the unproductive part of the day. I am mentally tired even though I’ve done little. Excuse myself to work on something easier, like reading, which I then do aimlessly and probably waste a lot of time because now I am just kind of meandering through books without a clear idea of how they will go into my writing. Quit to go get Piper, and feel dejected because it was not a great day, which depletes my motivation to do even just a small bit of work in the evening, and contributes to having a harder time really getting going the following day. Which gets me into the dangerous territory of starting to think, “Maybe this week is just lost. I should get the Christmas shopping done, and then I will be fresh to really get going next week.” And this, my friends, is how I slip into being less productive in two uninterrupted weeks than if I only had from 8:30-11am to work in the first place.

Being disciplined and focused for short stints has been my tactic. It has worked really well given my schedule and responsibilities this semester. Even though I constantly feed myself the lie, “If only I could work the whole day, I would get so much done!”, extending this discipline and focus to a 7 hour workday is actually a huge challenge.

So, I am making some advance rules and regulations to govern these next two weeks, that will hopefully nip that whole devolution into Christmas shopping in the bud before it can even get a foothold.

1. Get started by 8:30. This works. I realized that if I didn’t commit to starting by a certain time, that precious 2+ hours before I had to go the Hartman Center could easily disappear. But regardless of what my afternoon holds, that first stint in the morning (and the earlier, the better) is when I get my best work done, and really determines the course of the rest of the day. If I do good work in the first 2 hours, even if the rest of the day goes to shit, I will still ultimately have had a productive workday. Every increment of 15 minutes that passes in the morning, my chances of getting anything substantive done decrease exponentially.

2. Take real breaks or none at all. I am going to keep my breaks to under 5 minutes, or over 25 minutes. I am fidgety. I have to get up, walk around, pee, get tea, pet the cats, bug Josh, change the thermostat, look in the fridge. But I can do this without just throwing in the towel altogether and bringing my workflow to a halt. When I really take a break, I am really going to take a break–have a meal, take a walk, nap. I will take at least 45 minutes for lunch away from my desk. Get out of the chair, get off the computer and do something (or not do anything) so that when I return to work, I am refreshed to at least some degree. It is the fake breaks that really mess with my day: getting up to get tea, getting distracted, then sitting back down not knowing what I need to do next, surfing the web for 7 more minutes, then trying to get started again. It has turned into a 12 minute break that really did more harm than good. Really take a rest, otherwise keep my head in the game.

3. Keep the to-do list up to date. Each night, I will draw up a list of specific, concrete things I can work on the next day (of varying levels of difficulty). Then, I will start the day really clear about what I need to be doing. If I get stuck on one thing, I can move to a different task. I can’t be trusted in the middle of a work day. I need pre-planned course of action to make sure I don’t end up spending two hours researching something that doesn’t even need to go into the diss.

4. Get out of the house a bit. 2-3 days a week I will plan to work a couple of hours from a coffee shop in the morning or afternoon. This helps me feel like a real, grown up functioning person because I have to get dressed. The minimal interaction with other people makes me less prone to crazy internal monologues that might persuade me that this attempt at writing is a completely futile exercise and maybe I should go get groceries and make a casserole. It also gets me pretty focused because I can’t do any of my fidgety things (cats, no thermostat, no fridge!) in a public place.

5. Under no circumstance compromise the Holy Trinity of self-care: Sleep, Food, Exercise. Sleep when and for however long I want. Always have the house stocked with food and spare no expense to be well-fed at all times. Exercise in some way every day (I pretty much define exercise as anything that makes my body feel good and counteracts the effects of sitting at my desk). This is a universal rule that applies not just the next two weeks, but it always bears repeating.
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