Many people would say it’s absurd to think that anyone could complete their dissertation in just 30 days. But with the proper motivation, people can accomplish almost anything … even completing a thesis or dissertation in such a short timeframe.
I’ve heard of a professor who did exactly that. She was working on her dissertation when a close family member was diagnosed with cancer and scheduled to begin chemotherapy in 30 days. The professor wanted to support her loved one during the treatments in every possible way, yet knew she couldn’t accomplish that and work on her dissertation at the same time. So she went into “Ph.D. Completion Mode,” dedicating herself completely to finishing her dissertation within the next 30 days so that, afterward, her family member could be her one and only priority.
Instead of waiting for a family crisis or other 30-day deadline to call you into action, what can you do right now to complete your project in a more timely fashion? Is it possible to delay some less critical tasks so that you can focus completely on your dissertation? What can you put off so that your dissertation can come first?
Following are some tips to consider.
Give up email for a month.
Put an automatic message on your email that says you will be unavailable for the next 30 days because you are dedicating yourself to completing your dissertation. Ask senders to phone you in case of an emergency, but to otherwise respect your situation and be patient for a response. This is, in effect, an email “DO NOT DISTURB” sign, which will hopefully deter most people from bothering you with anything other than very serious issues. Do not include your phone number in the email; the people closest to you should already have it.
If you simply can’t give up your email completely for an entire month, try to limit checking your messages to once a day, and responding to them quickly.
Claim a workspace, and draw strict boundaries around it.
At the point at which you begin writing your dissertation, you have already completed numerous writing projects. As such, you should have a fairly good notion about what conditions are necessary for you to produce your best work. When are you the most productive? Morning, afternoon or evening? In what type of work area is you most comfortable? Is it realistic to write your dissertation at the dining room table, or would you be better off working at a desk? Do you work better with or without music?
If you have a family or roommates, is it possible to ask them to do without a particular room for the next 30 days? It’s important to claim your own private space to do your writing. It doesn’t necessarily have to be in your home; it may be in your lab, office or a hotel room. Whatever special spot you ultimately choose, make sure that it has adequate lighting and all of the materials and equipment you need to get the job done.
You’ll waste time and be more prone to procrastination if you have to keep getting up and down to retrieve the items you need. Make sure your workspace is clutter free, and commit a few minutes at the end of each writing session to straighten your desk and put all items away. That way cleaning never becomes a major task. A desk and straight-backed chair are usually the best choice for writing. Although you may be able to write on a couch or comfy chair, you may fall asleep or succumb to daydreaming.
Map out a work routine for the next 30 days.
Map out a schedule that dictates all the timeframes you will dedicate to writing over the next month, and be absolutely faithful to it. To be successful, you’ll have to know everything that you have planned or scheduled in your life over the next 30 days. If you plan accordingly, nothing should interfere with your work schedule! Never go to bed without knowing when you are scheduled to write and a “to do” list of what you wish to accomplish the next day.
Commit yourself to doing something every day toward completing your degree.
The single most important strategy that TA-DA!™ promotes is to make a commitment to work on your project a minimum of 12 to 15 minutes every single day.
This level of commitment isn’t as difficult as you might think. The first step is to complete a comprehensive “task list” that includes every single item — large and small — that you will need to do in order to complete your degree. Many of these items will fall under what we label “12-minute tasks,” such as creating the dedication, acknowledgement pages or table of contents for your dissertation, or sequencing figure numbers, table and appendices, formatting your document, or checking your bibliography against the citations in your document.
On days when you’re feeling a little less ambitious, work down your list until you reach one (or more!) of your tasks that can be completed in 12 minutes or less. No task is too small, and no item is too insignificant. Every action you take will move you closer to getting accomplishing your goal. Each morning refer to your checklist and ask yourself, “What action can I take today to move my thesis or dissertation forward?” Resolve yourself to work on at least of those items each and every day. No task is too small, and no item — such as “creating the cover page” — is too insignificant.
Come on, you can work for just 12 minutes! Simply set your watch, cell phone, microwave or timer and see what you can accomplish in that timeframe.
Have a strategy to deal with writer’s block and other emotional roadblocks to writing.
We all suffer those moments when the words won’t flow, our self-esteem begins to fail, and we become frustrated, insecure and outright angry. Writer’s block is unavoidable, so it’s important to have a plan in place that will help you resolve it quickly when it does happen. Will you hire a copy editor to help you through the rough times? Go for a run? Call a close friend who is an expert at building your confidence? Take the time for some honest introspection, and come up with a plan that will work best for you.
Post regular updates on an electronic blog.
It’s important to keep your advisor, committee members and other individuals informed about the progress you are making on your project. A daily blog is an excellent and time-efficient way to summarize your work accomplishments to a large group of people. It also provides motivation to continue working so that you have something to report! A blog also ensures that all relevant parties have access to your most up-to-date draft, and provides them with an easily accessible forum through which to provide prompt feedback and answers to any questions you may have posed. In addition, your blog has the additional advantage of providing “back up” copies of your work in the unfortunate event that your computer crashes.
Call in the Calvary!
There are countless people in your life who truly want to help you through this process; let them!!! There are myriad ways in which others can pitch in to help. For example, during a particularly demanding portion of my dissertation, an old Stanford colleague flew into town to offer support. He provided much-needed stress relief by packing up my house so that I could continue to work on my dissertation AND still be prepared to move out of my apartment when my lease was due to expire in a few days. He also provided on-point advice when I needed help resizing my table graphs to fit the required document format. As a result, both of us were happy. I met all of my required deadlines, and he got to feel the satisfaction that comes from knowing that he was truly able to help out a good friend.
Be aware, however, that unless your loved ones have written a thesis or dissertation themselves, they most likely don’t know how to help you, or even the right questions to ask or actions to offer. But rest assured, most of them definitely DO want to help. So put them to work! It’s your responsibility to be specific about how they can best help you, relating EXACTLY what you would like them to do, and WHEN.
Following are just a few of the many ways in which your friends and loved ones can help.
• Editing and/or alphabetizing the bibliography
• Formatting the template or front matter pages
• Checking and formatting all figures and tables
• Inputting data into the references
• Editing the document
If you aren’t comfortable asking your family member to perform work on your actual thesis, ask them to help you with household chores like cooking, cleaning, errands, bills and laundry. That will free up more time for you to focus on your project!
So what are you waiting for? Stop reading and get to work!
Email Question of the Month:
Hello Dr. Carter,
Thanks to your helpful website I am looking at defending next week. I most enjoyed the challenges and reading everyone else’ comments on what they were doing. It motivated me a whole lot. Thank you so much for launching this site. It was nice to feel connected to a group being that I was attending a part-time program and had very limited acess to a support network or even other people.
I was looking on your website but did not see a link. Do you have tips for dissertation final defense?
Have a great day!
Congrats on getting to your defense. I am so glad you contacted me and seem to have confidence that I must of have written something on that issue. It’s good that you think of TADA as a resource for all aspects of graduate school.
Below is the newsletter on Preparing for Your Thesis or Dissertation Defense written back in 2005.
I wish you all the best. Please let me know how it goes.
TA-DA!(TM) Graduates –
Congratulations on Your Success
This morning at 11:30, I successfully defended…I read all the pointers the newsletter gave and it helped alot….
I am so glad I sought TADA out…..
Dr. Davis does have a nice ring to it…..
Have a great day!
I completed my dissertation for my PhD in Christian Education on March 31, 2009, more than 2 months ahead of the original achedule I had planned using your system. It has been submitted and now begins the waiting process.
Thanks for the assistance provided.
Soon to officially be,
Dr. Murray D.