Name: Nikita Hamilton
Field: Cultural Studies, Television and Gender Studies
Year in Program: 5th
Dissertation Title: “Disturbing the Peace: Television, Disruption and the Roles of Black Women”
Figuring out a routine has always been easy for me. I’m a scheduler through and through. However, sticking to a routine has always proven a bit more difficult and the routine for my dissertation is no different. Grading, student meetings, graduate student government duties and a myriad of other things often thwart my best-laid plans. However, as I come to the last semester of my academic career, I find myself forced to make sure that the time that I have carved out for my dissertation writing remains untouched and uninterrupted. The following is my plan to make that happen.
As I said, I’m a great scheduler. My Google Calendar makes the chaos of my life look manageable. I plan out how long it takes to get ready and how long it takes to the gym for a specific kind of workout; I know how much time I have to prepare a meal and consume said meal. Meeting after meeting after student meeting planned down to the minute along with my handy-dandy iPhone to make sure I remember where to be and when to be there.
Unfortunately, I’m still a human being so balls drop and it’s often the time when I should be sitting down reading and writing that drops. Why? Because a book doesn’t call or email saying, “where are you?”
So now, I am not only scheduling, but also treating my dissertation like he (only a man could cause a heterosexual woman such pain for so long) is a person.
“No sorry, I can’t meet then because I have a date with Diss.” “Diss and I are spending some quality time together, but maybe we can talk about budgets tomorrow!” It sounds stupid, but if I neglected a person the way I’ve neglected Diss, they would have left me long ago.
Diss gets at least 5 days of attention per week and at least 4 hours per each of those days this upcoming semester. Most likely, that will get bumped up to 6 days per week, but we shall see. Each day has a morning and afternoon session or an afternoon and a night session. Sitting for 5 hours straight with Diss just isn’t going to happen because I’ve never been able to concentrate productively for that long.
I think that recognizing your limits is a huge part of scheduling and productivity. Two hours of extremely high productivity beats 4 hours of low productivity.
I also like some advice I was given over a year ago where you work for 45 minutes and then take a 5-minute break where you can Facebook, tweet, Instagram to your heart’s content and then get back to another 45 minutes of work. It might be something for you to try.
I like to create a plan for the time that I have scheduled. Along with the help of my advisor, I have figured out the due dates for each chapter and chapter revision of my dissertation. A general outline of each chapter is in my dissertation prospectus but in order to properly plan I have to turn that general outline into a structured chapter. Once that is done, I can figure out how to divvy the scheduled time to complete that chapter. This all sounds wonderfully controlled, but unfortunately, my dissertation contains interviews, both small group interviews, and one-on-one interviews, and I cannot control the schedules of others. Therefore, my plan does include some wiggle room, but definitely not as much as I would like. Chapters will be completed in 3 to 4 weeks each with a full draft done by the first week of May.
Writing usually flows for me, but it’s getting myself in the seat that’s always been the issue. As you’ve read, I’m trying to address the issue of getting into the seat first and foremost. Having a schedule (that’s being followed) and a plan/outline is what helps me write most efficiently.
There are few things as intimidating as sitting in front of a blank computer screen with that blinking vertical line and while having no plan.
I am hoping that between my scheduling, planning and writing, I will be walking across the stage come May and defending before June 1st. We shall see what happens, but I have nothing, but positive thoughts (and positive plans)!
Nikita is a 5th year Ph.D. candidate at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication. You can read more from her on her website.