Thursday, April 30, 2009

Dear Paperback Writer...

Hi There,

Thanks for posting. Here was your comment:

"As you know, the whole process of setting time aside to study is still a hinderance for me. I used to close the door of my office to study, but I'm finding that even doing this I'm still distracted. I think the best for me (currently) is to have a completely different environment when I want to have some good quality study time."

Good call to try to move to a different environment if that is what is working best for you!

If you'd like, please tell me what happens when you are working at home with the office door shut, and you still have trouble concentrating. Take me through a scenario... and let me see if I have any ideas.

Thanks again for writing,

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Where's Matt?

If you frequent YouTube, you have probably seen this. But in case you missed it, enjoy...

Good luck with the work! More soon.


Monday, April 27, 2009

The art of the study break #2 - maintain commitment

Hi All,

Happy Monday! If the art of the study break #1 is naming your break, then the art of study break #2 is maintaining your commitment to the work. If you can master this you will be able to take even more breaks! You will also be able to enhance your ability to work longer and more effectively.

Last week we talked about naming your break, knowing whether you need a mini-break (five minutes of something else to help you refocus) or a vacation or something in between. When you find that you are not concentrating, or are ineffective hour after hour... be honest with yourself as to what kind of break will help address this block. Then commit to taking that kind of break and nothing more.

So if you've been at it for a few hours and concentration is drifting, take that five minute break and check email... don't call a friend with whom you usually talk for an hour because in that case, you will lose momentum and possibly not even get back to work that day. However, if you know you need a good hour away from the work, then step away and do something else. But here's the secret -- commit to getting back to work after the break! Once you step away, it is easy to stay away. That break time feels good and it's easy to talk yourself out of getting back to work. However if instead, you talk yourself into getting back to work after the break... you will get another chunk of work done and reinforce the fact that breaks can be effective and not derail you.

If you consistently take breaks and then stay on break rather than getting back to work, you will soon stop trusting the breaks. You will hesitate to step away from the work and will then spend more hours in front of the computer where you are not productive. However, if you can consistently take the break and then get back to work, you will trust yourself to take more breaks and this will keep you energized to do more work.

I think this part of the process is a little bit like committing to an exercise routine. Those first few times you get yourself to the gym, it's just plain hard. But after a few times, when you realize that you do feel good after the workout, you have reinforcement to stick with it. Study breaks work the same way, after a few experiences of taking a break and then getting back to work with more energy, you will have the reinforcement you need to honor the break and then honor your commitment to get back to work.

Give it a try! Let me know how it's working.


Friday, April 24, 2009

The art of the study break #1 - name your break

Mastering the art of the study break is one of the more important strategies in terms of helping you maintain your energy, focus, and motivation over the long term.

I believe that the first step is knowing what kind of break you want/need, so that you take just enough of a break to help you re-energize, without getting too distracted.

So to help you think about this... here is my arbitrary taxonomy of study breaks:

Mini-break: a quick (five minutes or less) diversion from your work. This is most useful for those moments when you realize you are trying to read or write but that you have lost your concentration. This is the brief trip to a YouTube video or a very quick email check or something similar that simply helps you refocus on something other than your work... and then you bring that focus back to the work.

Medium break: 30-60 minutes away from the work. Use this when you aren't completely out of energy and focus, but need to step away to refuel. This might be a walk, a workout, an hour of tv or whatever.

My brain needs a rest! This is a half-day or full day respite. Take this break when you feel completely saturated or exhausted. Reflect on what kind of break will most help you refuel -- is it a long hike, lunch and shopping with a friend, a day at the ballpark, an afternoon on the sofa with snacks and favorite movies? Whatever it is, do what you love!

Vacation! Self-explanatory.

See you tomorrow for Saturday morning cartoon. And back on Monday with The art of the study break #2!


Thursday, April 23, 2009

The big picture

Hi All,

I don't usually post on Thursdays, but came across some cool photos and wanted to share them with you. I have just started using a wide angle lens (that's my photo above, from the autumn). I have a lot to learn.... and was just pointed to the link below. I think many of these photos are extraordinary... at the very least, they'll give you an interesting study break. Beyond that though, I love trying to borrow from one discipline to inform another. And so I wonder, even if you aren't a photographer, what can you take away from these images that might inform your academic pursuits or professional practice? Check these out:

Have a good day!

photo by HLS

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Your turn....

You don't write, you don't call...

Seriously... what's on your mind re: school work and your process? I've been posting about the areas where I run into trouble with my process and the things that I have worked through. Now I'd like to hear from you.

What stresses you out about school?

Where do you get stuck in your work?

What part of your process would you like to improve?

Please either post in the comment section here, or email me directly at and I'll respond to your comment in a future blog post. Please let me know whether or not you would like me to acknowledge you as the author of your question or topic, or not.

Bring it on!

Monday, April 20, 2009

that thing you don't want to do

You know that thing you don't want to do... perhaps it is compiling your reference list, or reading the longest article on your list, or whatever? Regardless of what task it is that you are dreading... you probably keep putting it off. You tell yourself you'll get to it tonight after you finish your other reading... and then another day goes by and you don't finish it.

My most effective strategy for dealing with the dreaded tasks, is to write them in my planner, just as I would a meeting or other appointment. Then somehow, when I get to that time, and I see that this task is what I have scheduled, I feel more compelled to do it. AND, what a good feeling to get it done!


photo by Harriet L. Schwartz

Friday, April 17, 2009

Thinking about discipline #1 -- trust the pieces

A few weeks ago, Lisa commented on one of my posts and asked about discipline....specifically, she asked about how I maintain my routine even when I have an incredible amount of work to do. She noted that sometimes when she has a lot of work, she feels compelled to stop doing almost everything else.

Well, first off, I don't have the discipline thing perfected... this is a tough one. But I'm happy to share with you the parts that I manage pretty well.

Today we'll start with the idea-- "trust the pieces". Here's my point. If I wake up and know I have seemingly-endless amounts of work to do, it would be easy to skip walking the dog, skip my work out, skip anything else that might "get in the way" and simply try to work all day. However, I have come to learn that I get off to a better start in the morning if I walk the dog first. And if I take a break sometime during the day and get to the gym, I'll probably work better later in the day. Now are there exceptions to this? Of course. I've had days where I've been on a roll or on a tight deadline and have skipped the gym (though I almost always walk Jake the wonder beagle!). However for the most part, I trust that all the pieces are important. If I take a walk and get to the gym, I'll work better and probably longer. So I view a walk or the gym as pieces of my process, not simply as distractions.

Finally, I want to say again, I don't have the discipline thing perfected. I don't always make the best choices. Sometimes I work too much or not enough, etc. However, I try to get it right more often than not, and more often than not, I do. When I don't get it right and have an off day, I don't dwell on that, I aim to correct my course the next day. It's a work in progress -- you can do it!

What are the important "other" pieces of your process? What are the other parts of life that aren't simply time away from the desk, but help you work better??

Honor those pieces. Give it a try. Let me know how you're doing.

More soon,

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Good wishes for all!

Whew! I just emailed the first full draft of my dissertation to my chairperson! Woo hoo!

I'm both stoked and exhausted... so that's all for today.

Good luck with your work! More soon.

Monday, April 13, 2009

baseball wisdom

I took a study break the other night and re-watched "A League of Their Own." This quote reminded me of graduate school....

“It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. The hard... is what makes it great.” -Manager Jimmy Dugan as played by Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own

Friday, April 10, 2009

Three for free!

Here are three cool tools that you can download for free:

Brainstorm and mind map in style!
(thanks Lisa, for this one!)

Create 3D models, impress your friends!

Animation software for the rest of us!
(thanks Carnegie Mellon)

Tune in tomorrow for Saturday morning cartoon.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Getting unstuck -- Strategy #2

Ask for help.

That's right, this is secret #2 for getting unstuck. As graduate and adult students, many of us tend to think we should be able to figure out everything on our own. And certainly at this point, we are independent. However, we still get stuck.... whether it's struggling to frame a topic for a paper or deciding who you will ask to be your dissertation presents many challenges and occasionally we get stuck.

Now, sometimes we need to step back from the problem and just get enough distance to clarify... perhaps a bike ride does that, or a few days away from the work. However when you find that days or weeks go by and you are not making any forward progress... it is time to ask for help. Talk with a trusted classmate, or your advisor, or even another professor. In fact, if you don't already have a few people in your program who you know you can count on for advice and support, now is the time to seek and cultivate those relationships (hmmm, another post for another time).

So, when you get stuck... reach out. And remember, someday a classmate or colleague will turn to you in much the same way for help... and you'll pass it on...

Cheering for you!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Thankful Monday

Hi All,

Here are the results of last week's poll. Looks like our friends (from outside of our programs) are giving us the most encouragement, followed closely by friends in our programs, advisor/dissertation chair, and then family.

So this post is to say THANKS to all who encourage us in this endeavor! Click on the envelope below to mail this post to your friends, family, advisor, etc. and say THANKS!


photo by HLS

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

moving away from panic

Long story short, I am on a very aggressive deadline with my dissertation. I am in the final few weeks of trying to complete the full draft to submit to my chair. I had spoken with her on Monday and it was clear to me that this is a make-or-break week. If I write and complete Chapter Five and make significant headway on revising Chapter Four, I will make my deadline. If not, we will have to reschedule my defense date, etc (this would not be the end of the world, but I have several reasons for wanting to defend in May as has been my goal).

So, I woke up yesterday morning and said to myself, "today I have to write the first section of Chapter Five." I thought, "I have struggled with how to do this part and today I MUST. If I can't do it today, everything will fall apart, I won't make my deadline", yadda, yadda, yadda.

Then I thought to myself, this puts me in a lousy frame of mind to write. I'm getting into a panic. I'm putting a ton of pressure on myself. How will I write when I am this tense?

So, I decided to try to move away from the panic. I didn't tell myself "you can't panic" (that still sounds pretty tense!). Instead I thought, if I were going to sit and tell a few people about my data, who would be good company for this day? These needed to be people who are good listeners and patient, people who give me good energy. I thought a of few good friends who are fantastic listeners and want all the details. And I thought of my grandmother who was always a calming presence and who was supremely confident in me. I spent the next while, as I got through my pre-writing morning (eating breakfast, walking the dog, etc) thinking about sharing the story of my data with these people. By the time I sat down to write, I was in a much more calm and confident place, and I had a terrific and productive writing day.

I'm not saying this approach will always work, however it did for me yesterday so now I share it with you. Next time you start to feel overwhelmed or overly anxious, create an image of who would be good company for the day, and try to move away from the panic...

Until next time,

photo by HLS
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