I submitted my dissertation earlier this month. A dissertation is essentially a book that takes years of writing and researching to complete. Now that I can look back and reflect on the process, I want to share some tips that really helped me get through the longest project of my life. In this post, I’ll talk about specific strategies for setting goals and sticking to deadlines. Check back next week for part two of this series, where I will cover the self-care initiatives I pursued while writing in order to stay well while completing my dissertation. If you have a final paper or project looming in the not-so-distant future, read on to see how you can create a plan for success!
- Identify the due date.
Most, if not all, of your big projects will have a definitive due date. If there is not one, create a due date for yourself that fits best in with your other final exams, projects and papers. We have 2018 – April-May Calendar available at the Weingarten Center to help organize all of your final obligations. See when your busy times are, and plan around them. If you have all set dates for your exams, papers and projects, write them in now so that you can begin preparing in advance.
- Work backwards to plan intermediate due dates.
Some of you may have intermediate dates included in your final project description (i.e. Writing Seminar Portfolio). For everyone else, creating intermediate due dates along the way for small steps is a great way to keep chipping away at a larger project. Once you’ve identified the due date, work backwards from that date to today’s date and create a to-do list. We have Long Project Planning Sheet (pictured below) available at the Weingarten Center to help you plan things out, but you can also do this on an app (such as Wunderlist) or on a regular piece of paper.
- Create manageable goals for small chunks of time.
Once you begin creating a to-do list, break your project up into a series of very small steps in order to be successful. For example, the first task on my to-do list is always to re-familiarize myself with the prompt or task. Reread the assignment description, and then check that off your list! You’re already making progress. After that, your steps should never take more than 1-2 hours to complete, and you should take a break in-between. If you’re writing a paper, break the paper up into sections (introduction, argument 1, conclusion, etc.) and make each section a different task.
- Find an accountability partner.
Speaking your goals aloud to someone else will make you more likely to complete them. Once I set my intermediate deadlines, I shared them with everyone from my friends and classmates to my dissertation advisor. That way, when the deadline neared, I knew I had to turn something in because others were expecting drafts. Find someone in your class, a friend or roommate who you can check in with periodically. Make an appointment at the Weingarten Center or the Marks Family Writing Center and bring a section of your paper there. Check in with your professor during office hours so you can share your progress.
Long-term projects and papers can sometimes feel like isolating, daunting tasks, but if you involve others and make the project more manageable through smaller deadlines, you’ll definitely be successful. Good luck!
By Staff Writer: Cassie Lo, Learning Instructor