Tuesday, June 4, 2013

2013 Summer Dissertation Boot Camp - Day 3

Day 3. We're still writing .... still motivated

Staying Motivated Through the Process - Find Your Academic Community

An interesting point that came up in the session Kim Perkins led this morning on staying motivated through the dissertation writing process.
  • COMMUNITY is important. Who do we connect with to build conversations about our work? Who are the scholars beyond our university we can begin talking to? Many different stories emerged from this discussion. Some of us have had positive responses when we reached out, while others met indifference, even hostility. Academia is a very strange place.

    But the bottom line is that connecting with other scholars is important. It builds our identity and presence as scholars. It creates networks for collaboration and resources. Nothing is so motivating to the writing process as feeling that this dissertation is just one part of a holistic existence as a scholar. Too often, the dissertation is something that seems to "interrupt" life - we want to get it done, get past it, leave it behind. And as a project that's true; we must complete it so we can move on to other things. But, the dissertation is also our scholarly creative output, an articulation of our curiosities and explorations. It's part of our expression of who we are. And connecting with others who might share our interests helps make this more real. 

Writing Goals

This afternoon's reflection session was about writing goals - an idea that is emotionally burdened.

  • If I set a goal and then I don't hit it, I feel I failed.
  • I never know if I am going to meet my goals
  • I am the worst goal writer ever
  • It's such a problem writing goals
  • It bothers me  ... once it is written, it has to get done.

Setting goals, and hitting them ... sounds like target practice. If we don't "hit the mark", we're just not good shots. And then, we feel bad or guilty or ineffective. This is not a healthy way to work on anything, much less a dissertation.

Here are some alternative ways to think about goals.

Moving toward a horizon. (thanks to James Griffith). This takes the big picture perspective. We set an intention and a direction; there is a place on the horizon you're heading toward. This could be a whole chapter, or a section. And then, rather than set goals based on specific tasks, we just work to get there. So, smaller goals each day or hour do not really matter (although I suppose you can set those too), as long as you're moving in the general direction of your destination.

This might work well for those of us who have trouble setting accurate or realistic goals (we set them big and feel disappointed or too small and then it feels pointless). It also would work quite well when our work is still shaping itself and we have to work emergently, completing one thing in order to discover what the next task should be.

Be careful with this analogy though. If you constantly look at the horizon it can get frustrating. The horizon seems to forever recede as you move. Or, things on the horizon seem a lot closer than they actually are, and we feel that we're travelling and travelling but not getting there. It's important to be mindful that once we set our destination, discipline must kick in. We must just focus on the task at hand, where we are at each moment. Take stock at the end of the writing time, rather than constantly look up and out to the horizon; "that way madness lies".

Track milestones rather than hit targets. Extending from the idea of heading toward a destination, we can log our progress. What are the milestones we hope to reach each day or week? And then, keep a log of our progress. Sometimes we pass a milestone and move further than we thought we might. Other times, we don't travel so far, but we keep track of where we got to. And sometimes, we might have to make a detour, but, again, we keep track of where we went, and re-calibrate so that we're still heading toward that destination.

The focus in this kind of process is to make a list of what you did - like a travel log of progress. This can be highly motivating as well as clarifying. Instead of focusing on what we did not achieve, we acknowledge and make concrete/visible what we did do; this is highly motivating. And in logging what we did, we clarify what we need to do next. This can actually speed up your process.

Goal setting as self-discovery rather than task challenge. Change how you think about goals. Rather than see goals as challenges and targets you must meet and measure yourself against, think of them as a way to discover how you work best. So set goals, and then at the end of your writing period, look at them - with a curious, reflective mind. What kind of goals do you tend to be able to actually meet? What kind of goals do you tend to miss? Over time, you will find patterns that will help you adjust and improve the way you approach planning any kind of work.

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