In a coaching session, a client mentioned how she’d missed a bunch of deadlines for a co-authored paper and needed to set new ones. I sensed that the whooshing noise was not comforting for her so I asked:
Are the deadlines helping you write? or preventing you from writing?
Sometimes the sense of urgency a deadline creates helps you focus. In this client’s situation, it just made her feel more overwhelmed. She had assumed deadlines would help. And when she missed them that she just needed to set new ones.
What was really happening for her was that the deadline created a whole lot of negative self-talk that meant she wasn’t working on the paper.
The solution needs to fit the problem
The problem isn’t that she is unfocused when she sits down to write, it’s that she’s struggling to sit down to write at all. The fact is my client has a lot of different things that she needs to do. Her days are full. There are many things clamouring for her attention. Writing is just one of them.
Deadlines don’t address this problem. In fact, they were making it worse by making even small amounts of writing seem insignificant.
This client is going to focus on building a habit of writing everyday. She’s starting with 15 minutes because no matter how much is on your plate, 15 minutes is possible. She’s already checking in with me weekly so she’ll let me know how she’s doing with finding that 15 minutes and she’ll use that weekly check in as an opportunity to review what she got done in those writing sessions. When 15 minutes a day feels easy/normal, we’ll talk about increasing the amount of time. (If you want to try this, I’ve designed a 15 minute/day Academic Writing Challenge to support you. It’s free.)
Meeting all of your needs
Of course deadlines might also serve other functions. If you are contributing to a co-authored paper, your co-authors need to know that you aren’t just ignoring this project.
You can meet the needs of the team by finding other ways to keep everyone informed of your progress. You could check in by e-mail every couple of weeks to report on your progress, for example.
You may need to experiment
The key elements of a good experiment are:
- identifying the problem clearly (there may be more than one)
- observation (of you: what is working, what is not working)
- a suitable time frame (long enough to give it a chance to work, but bounded)
There is no one right way that works for everyone. Be kind to yourself as you figure out what works best for you.
Edited May 31, 2016.