A while back, when I was facing Christmas break and the reality of getting a “full draft” done, and moving into “revising” chapters (i.e. a terrible, partial draft with major holes and then rewriting chapters), I made a set of rules for myself to try to make the most of my time. The rules were basically 1. Start early 2. Take real breaks 3. Keep a current to-do list 4. Work out of the house some for variety 5. Respect the Holy Trinity of self care: sleep, eat, exercise.

The good news is that I pretty much did this. My work habits improved a lot. I worked more reliably and consistently. I figured out, and came to terms with my limits for any given day. I can only really eek out 4 good hours/8 good pomos before working becomes futile. With Josh’s help, I am fed and exercised and rested.

I got to where I was headed, more or less. I had a draft of each chapter by the end of November, drafted about a third of the intro in December. I did not completely revise chapter 3 before going on Christmas vacation, like I planned. I stalled out really close to the finish line, and ended up editing and writing at a leisurely pace while I was at my parents’ house and sending it by Januray 1. It wasn’t so bad. Then I got chapter 2 revised. Not to as high a standard as chapter 3, but I made it. Then I worked on chapter 4. It is very close to “send,” but, again, I need a break from it before I can really wrap it up. Which brings me to today: trying to get the intro sent off. 3 weeks left with chapters 1 and 5 left to revise (and that pesky issue of finalizing chapter 4).

The old advice is just not going to cut it. How am I going to accelerate the pace somewhat and also get into a mode where I am “finishing” things up left and right? Finishing is always the hard part for me. By the end, I get overwhelmed. I lose perspective. I can’t tell how close I am anymore. The way I deal with this is to work towards a deadline as if it were real, then when I get to that vertigo point, I take a break. If I come back a week or two later, I can usually wrap it up much more easily than if I had tried to keep pushing. One writer’s advice thing I read said, “Don’t strip the screw.”

But now I am facing the hard deadline in 3 weeks. I need a different attitude. Having a good workday, making progress bit by bit, and getting things 80% done is not the game anymore. I need to get this dissertation in the bag. I need to decide what finished looks like for each chapter. And it needs to be an amount of work I can do in the amount of time I have.

Why is that so hard? Its that hard nugget of terror-kryptonite that says “I can’t do this.” I feel like writing a dissertation is overcoming that feeling day after day after day. And for a while, I might get to a phase where I feel more or less efficacious, “I can do this, I AM doing it!” But then a new phase will come and the dread is still there. This is why people do not finish. This is why, if they have foresight, they never go to graduate school in the first place! But I have some kind of masochistic bent that takes me to where I have to get over this feeling, over and over, and over.

All signs point to yes. I have done much more already than I have left to do. My adviser thinks things are going fine. My committee is on board to the extent that they even care. Much worse dissertations have been granted Ph.D.’s I am sure. My adviser would not let me fail.

So, the finish strategy isn’t about pomodoros or chocolate rewards or group writing sessions. It is:

1. I might feel like like I can’t do this, but I know that I can.

2. What will make this “good enough” within the given time constraints? (Quietly mourn the great dissertation that will not be.)

3. Do the work (This wise instruction courtesy Erin A.)