Sunday, August 23, 2009

Protecting Your Time / Setting Boundaries

It's hard to get a grip on time.

At a recent meeting, someone brought up the perennial problem of Other People.

You know.

The people who say, "You're not working, so can you do this for me?"

Or who decide that now would be a really good time to come and stay with you. For a week.

Or who find out that you quit you job to finish your dissertation, and say, "You're so lucky not to be doing anything!"

Or who keep asking you, "Did you finish that paper yet?"

Or even worse.... "You're still working on that?"

There can be a lot of shame and guilt wrapped up in writing a dissertation, which is compounded by people who just have no idea of what you're going through.

So how do you protect your time so that you have the time and space you need to get this thing finished?

This was the topic of a recent meeting.

"The dissertation's showing me that a lot of my relationships are actually lopsided," one dissertator in the group said. "I finally had to say, please don't call me before 5:00 p.m. Or tell them, 'it's best for me to talk to you at 7:00 p.m. And then don't pick up the phone if it does ring."

"I tell people not to call me when I am writing unless it is an emergency. When they did call, I let it go to voicemail, and then called them back after 5:00. I put it on me. I said, 'It's important to me to talk to you, but I'm not answering the phone until after 5:00.'"

"What we're doing, it's not like a 9 to 5 job like everyone else has. It's like you're self-employed. So you have to set the boundaries. I'll tell people ahead of time, I'm going to the library, so I can't talk. Or I use my weekends to write my dissertation, so I can't go to movies on weekends."

"It's not my friends that are the's my family! You just have to remind yourself, don't buy into the shame and guilt. Whenever people ask you to do things, ask yourself, what can you actually control? What can you afford to do right now?"

"You have to model for other people how to behave towards a dissertator. People always ask if you're done because they don't know what else to ask. Just tell them what you need right now, even if its space or not to talk about the dissertation at all."

Setting your boundaries can be one of the hardest parts of writing the dissertation. But being blunt and honest with your friends, colleagues, and family can make a world of difference. Even just using the phrase, "I have to protect my time to write the dissertation" can be extremely useful.

You can also bargain with people. "I can't come to the party on Friday night, because that's when I do my writing, but would you like to do coffee on Saturday instead?"


  1. Thanks a lot for a bunch of good tips. I look forward to reading more on the topic in the future. Keep up the good work! This blog is going to be great resource. Love reading it.

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