On my morning walk, I noticed: it’s a bit cooler and less humid. It feels like the start of something new. While it’s not January 1st, Labor Day and back to school advertisements makes it seem like a fresh start. You may not have any students in your life who are actually buying notebooks and sharpening pencils, (or if pens and paper are archaic, making sure tablets are fully charged) but most stores are featuring school supply sales. Indulge–buy yourself new crayons and a coloring book.
A new semester is starting, but I’m not purchasing books, printing a syllabus, meeting professors or figuring out class schedules. Instead, I am writing my thesis. For the upcoming months, assignments are on me. Since the beginning of the year, I’ve been developing my topic and drafting multiple proposals. This fall, after consultation with my research director, I will write, revise, edit and repeat — until I get it right, until I make my points clear. After layers of approvals, I will format and finalize the manuscript. While I can already celebrate the completion of course work, that was only an interim step. Now it’s on me — pacing, writing, and possibly, more research. If I want to cross the finish line by completing the degree, it will take persistence and self-discipline: all do-it-yourself (DIY). Unfortunately, no store sells those qualities. Buying school supplies would be easier.
Instead, I am figuring out a prescription for getting things done by refining a daily ritual to make sure that I make progress. Decision-making is hard work. I want to establish habits to use my time effectively and efficiently. Having to think through choices slows you down–automating routines is the way. Habits yield compound interest on the investment of time. For example, if you want to work out after waking up, have your gear laid out ahead of time. Searching for stuff slows you down and drains motivation. Habit loops have three steps: cue, routine, and reward. Cue triggers an action. Most people don’t even think about certain routines any more. Time for bed, brush teeth — no thinking required. I need to ingrain a thesis writing habit. With mornings being my prime time, that time needs to be dedicated to writing. How will I measure my progress: write for a length of time or track the number of words? How will I reward myself? What incentive motivates?
Completing a daily routine instills a sense of accomplishment:
- Personalize your focus – pause – recharge cycle. After a sprint, take time to recover.
- Figure out what energizes you. Coffee, a shower, or exercise are possibilities
- Carry cards & pen or phone to capture random thoughts or nagging tasks.
- Look at the week for commitments, and schedule the day. Create a to-do list and select your MIT. When does it makes sense or fit to complete certain things?
- Decide on how to measure progress on your MIT (most important task). For me I want to test a couple of methods, either writing a certain number of words or setting a timer for a burst of focused time (check out the Pomodoro method)
- Be part of the clean palate club. Start the day with a tidy workspace.
- Automate reminders for recurring events using a calendar program. I get a message on Mondays to check-in with my advisor and to back-up my work.
- Develop a regular practice, which for some things may be every single day. My thesis plan is to write intensely for five days and take two off each week.
- Build in accountability. Who will notice if you do what you say your planning to do? I will send updates to my advisor and check in with my writing group.
- Focus on behaviors and tweak the environment to reinforce the actions I want. Ingrain over decide.
- Be grateful.
I can’t guarantee that I will be walking at commencement next May. While graduation is my goal, I can only make thesis writing a non-negotiable and work consistently. Take time to examine your goals and set up a plan that works for you. It’s not how you start, but how you finish.
© Joan S Grey, 17 AUG 2018
IndexCardCure™: Back to school