I often find myself hindered by a desire to write the perfect sentence or paragraph the first time I put pen to paper.

I often find myself hindered by a desire to write the perfect sentence or paragraph the first time I put pen to paper.It’s easy to stare at a blank page trying to come up with the flawless opening sentence that will captivate the reader be a work of literary art.I’m still figuring out what exactly my dissertation is arguing, despite having written 75% of it.

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It’s not unusual to have days that I don’t leave my house except to exercise and only see my husband and roommate.

And when I do spend time with other folks—even academics—there’s no way they’ve thought as much as I have about, for example, how late-nineteenth-century American imperialism created the context for the era of big dam construction in the United States.

I’ve learned that I write the best first thing in the morning, and that I need a longer break after about three hours of work.

I also need to exercise in order to maintain the sanity I have remaining (grad school is rough, y’all), so I build my schedule around these things.

To help with this, I’ve recently started using the Passion Planner, and I’m a huge fan.

The weekly layout that has each day broken down into half-hour blocks lets me schedule exactly when I’ll get that conference abstract done and when I’m going to take two hours to write about Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan’s irrigation history (fascinating, I know) for Chapter 2.I wish I’d had someone to tell me what his or her process had been like when I started in on my dissertation, and so I’ve gathered here the things I would have liked to have known, the tools I use, and the strategies I employ to keep myself (mostly) focused and moving my dissertation along.Let me emphasize, however, that this is what works for It’s going to take time to figure it out—all of it From your daily schedule to your favorite word processing program to your dissertation’s argument, it’s all going to take a while to figure out. It took me a few months to settle on the research management software I wanted to use and more than a year to figure out how and when I work the best.But structure isn’t (generally) something that comes with an academic schedule, especially this year while I’m on a writing fellowship.Since I’m not teaching this year, my schedule incredibly open and unscheduled.Your research, schedule, work mode, argument, and sources will change and evolve, and that’s normal.Dissertation work is isolating I’m an introvert, through and through.When I’m feeling like I’ve been a recluse I make an effort to schedule a hike or happy hour with friends outside of academia to remind myself that being a doctoral candidate is only one part of my identity, and that there’s a lot of ways to connect with people that don’t involve reciting the details of a letter you found in the archives that day.It’s all a draft One of my biggest barriers to writing is, as I imagine it is with many people, getting started.Sure, we’ve all heard of those academics who “just wrote the dissertation like a book,” but they’re few and far between and—hate to break it to you—chances are you’re not one of them (I know I’m not).The realization that Organization & Time Management: Give Yourself Structure I’m a planner by nature and do best when I have structure.


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