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It’s time for another Q&A! 

To celebrate the end of 2020, I asked readers to submit their questions about all things productivity. Below, you’ll find my answers and recommended blog posts pertaining to each of my answers. Enjoy!

Questions on Writing

I’ll answer two writing questions in one answer: “How to schedule writing?” and “Writing during Covid-19: suggestions for how to do it, i.e., time management when you have little time?”

  • Schedule in time to write and protect it at all costs. Even if it’s just one hour, try to get into the habit of blocking off time for writing in your calendar as if it was an important meeting with a doctor or a boss. 
  • When it’s time to start writing, be very clear about what your purpose is for your writing session so you don’t waste any of your precious time deciding what to do. If possible, reserve 5 minutes at the end of your writing sessions to record what you accomplished and to write down where you want to start the next time you work on your writing. 
  • Don’t downplay the invisible labors you need to complete in order to get to your final draft. Give yourself permission to spend your writing time on tasks that will set you up for writing success, such as mind mapping or concept mapping, outlining, or reading articles or books. 

Recommended blog posts: “Please Start Valuing Your Behind the Scenes Labor” and “The Goldilocks Approach to Productivity”


Tips for dissertation completion?

  • If you haven’t read it yet, check out my article for GradHacker: “5 Productivity Practices that Helped Me Finish My Dissertation.”
  • Remember that a dissertation is a specific genre with its own required structure. In order to write one, you should familiarize yourself with good dissertations in your field, and if at all possible, from your own department. Ask recent graduates if you can read a copy of their finished dissertation and use their documents as models for your own structure.
  • My second tip to reverse outline when you revise a chapter. Because the dissertation is such a longass project, you can get lost in the pages and pages of minute details and analysis. Reverse outlining enables you to shift your focus from minutiae to main ideas and themes, so you can locate your thesis statement, your analysis sections, your definitions of key terms, etc. and make sure that they’re in the correct order. 
  • My final suggestion is to be incredibly clear with your advisor/supervisor about what they expect from you in drafts and revisions. Can you reserve time at the end of your meetings with them to create a to-do list for what they’d like you to complete by the next time you meet with them or send them a draft? Try your damndest to be realistic about what you can reasonably complete by deadlines you set with them, and differentiate between goals and stretch goals if necessary. If you feel like your dissertation advisor/supervisor is asking too much of you or asking you to redo sections over and over and over, remind them that a good dissertation is a done dissertation and ask them to tell you exactly what they want you to do so they will check it off as “good enough.”

Recommended blog posts: “Why You Should Aim for ‘Good Job’” and this IGTV I made on “How I Reverse Outline”


Questions on Self-Care

Another 2-in-1 answer for the questions “How to know when you’re cutting yourself too much slack in the name of self-care?” and Can you talk about self-care versus self-sabotage?”

  • First of all, check in with yourself about how YOU define self-care. Do you support self-care for other people, but not for yourself? Do you feel shame about taking time away from your responsibilities to care for yourself? If the concept of “self-care” makes you feel like you’re being lazy, what happens when you reconceptualize it via another word, such as self-compassion or self-preservation? What kind of activities help you to be self-compassionate or self-preserving?
  • If you struggle with self-care because you worry that you’re being self-indulgent, try to acknowledge that by intentionally caring for yourself, you will be more likely to preserve your personal resources, which will help you to focus and achieve your goals. I want to acknowledge that this approach is quite capitalist in that it assumes your wellness is meant only to fuel your productivity. I think self-care should be a self-loving practice with personal nourishment as its key goal, but if that feels inaccessible to you right now, you can start with “I need self-care to be able to function optimally” and work up to “I deserve self-care just because I am me.”
  • Self-care is more than just a life vest to cope when you feel overwhelmed, triggered, or fatigued. Ideally, I recommend that people prioritize and schedule self-care activities into their days just as they would schedule in work or appointments. If you know which activities are most nourishing and enjoyable for you and when self-care is most helpful for you, schedule specific tasks into your calendar and know that you won’t be self-sabotaging by cancelling your other responsibilities.

Recommended blog posts: “Regarding Self-Care” and  “Self-Sabotage”

What to do when you have a bad case of the “I don’t wannas”?

  • Identify the specific task you’re working on, because if your goal is too broad, you may be avoiding doing it because you aren’t sure what to actually DO.
  • Check in with yourself about how you actually feel. Literally name how you feel and what you need by using an emotions wheel such as this one or using the HALT acronym (are you hungry (or thirsty)? Angry? Lonely? Tired?). The solution might be as simple as taking a break, having a snack, or stretching your body. If your emotion is more complex, such as feeling overwhelmed or rushed, take some time to identify solutions for your feeling, then try to approach the task again.

Recommended blog posts: “How to Handle Aversive Tasks” and “Emotional Agency” and “How to Handle Overwhelm”


Top tip for productivity whilst being kind to yourself?

  • Don’t compare your productivity to others. I know it can be incredibly difficult to set and maintain boundaries with yourself when it comes to comparison, and to be completely honest, it’s something I still struggle with. But if you can catch yourself when you start to compare yourself to someone else, then you have the option to choose to refocus on the tasks you’re working on.
  • Remember that you have no idea what is going on for others behind the scenes, and what we see on social media is heavily filtered and selected to make people look good.
  • Also, if you feel bad when you compare yourself to people who have been doing your thing/job/hobby for longer than you, try to remember where you were one, 5, or 10 years ago. It’s likely that you’re precisely where you should be on your own trajectory.

Recommended blog posts: “Why and When You Should Shift from To-Do to Ta-Da”  and “How to Cope with Comparison”


How to prioritize competing responsibilities with limited time and support?

The original reader question was “How to prioritize momming, self-care, running a business when one has limited childcare coverage/time?” I’m not a parent, so I can’t speak to the responsibilities of that role, but I hope that my answer can be applicable for busy parents and non-parents alike. 

  • My first suggestion is to try, if at all possible, to leave blank space in your day. Small pockets of blank space between work sessions or appointments will allow you to rest and recover, and if for some reason a meeting or a deadline forces you to spend longer than you had planned on a responsibility, you won’t feel as much of a crunch because you can use the blank space.
  • My second and third suggestions are to write “brain dumps” to get all of your to-do tasks out of your brain and onto a paper, and once you’ve got all your to-do tasks on your list, I suggest you use the must-do method to schedule them into your calendar. The benefits of these practices are that you don’t need to put in the effort to remember everything you meant to do, and the Must-Do approach will help you to schedule your to-do list tasks based on urgency (versus just trying to check off a never-ending list every day).

Recommended blog posts: “In Praise of Blank Space” and “How to Use Lists to Tackle a Big Project” and “Must-Do Method”


How would you define workaholism? What are the first warning symptoms?

  • Workaholism is a serious problem because 1) it lowers people’s quality of life and 2) it has been normalized under our capitalist, white supremacist, work-obsessed culture. I hate that workaholism is celebrated in the competitive world of graduate school and academia (this is one of the reasons why I decided to leave after my PhD).
  • Workaholism can be very personal, but I generally define it as attaching one’s sense of self-worth or safety to work and/or obsessing over work to the point where your wellbeing, relationships, and mental health suffer.
  • For me, the first symptoms of workaholism were feeling fear, anger, or sadness when I had to stop working. I felt like I “had” to complete my work–even if it meant working through pain, fatigue, or on little sleep–because I worried that people (my bosses or professors) would think negatively about me and I would lose potential opportunities. My own workaholism was rooted in a scarcity mindset that made me think that I had to perform better than other people, literally going above and beyond, regardless of the cost to my wellbeing. 
  • If you suspect that you might be struggling with workaholism, I recommend you read the following blog posts, which include links to books, podcasts, and articles about workaholism.

Recommended blog posts: “The Recovering Workaholic’s Guide to Taking Breaks” and “Workaholic Tendencies” and “Work is Work Even if you Love It”


Thanks so much, everyone! See you in 2021!

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