Dissertation Writing: The Importance of Time Management

Part III: Time Management

By: Dr. Cheryl Lentz

Organization is often key to completion of the dissertation effectively, and in a timely fashion.  One of the most prudent strategies is embracing keen time management strategies.  The goal is to be one’s own project manager.

Many of my students use a variety of methods to help keep their progress moving forward and on track. The most successful strategies embrace project management techniques.  For example, I recommend to my students to invest the time to create an overall roadmap for the entire process of writing the dissertation.  Pick a date on the calendar and then simply work backwards; creating a project time line of what needs to be completed and by when.  The student then breaks down these milestones by year, by quarter, by month, by week, and by day.  Each class I ask my students to then copy the applicable time line checklists to our class as they begin each week.  They have now created a long-term To Do List, integrated to the overall plan for completion of writing the dissertation.

Ideally, a student perhaps creates an entire Excel Spreadsheet with the goal of being able to look up any day of the term to see what they are expected to be working on and applicable completion dates to know whether they are ahead or behind in their progress.  For many students, investing the time once is a life saving device as they can now simply work their plan, now that they have planned their work.  As they move forward, they can simply cross items off their to do list–thereby creating action and a TO DONE list.

Students can always accelerate or adjust their progress at any time.  If they have more time than they originally planned, they can simply work ahead; if they have a family emergency, they can adjust and perhaps double up on tasks/days according to their needs.  At any moment in time, a student knows where they are in terms of their overall plan.  They can measure their success or progress against their master plan to know whether they are ahead, behind, or on track.

If one looks at the idea of SMART goals, this strategy simply creates a work list by time and deadline to track one’s progress.  The process tends to be less overwhelming becuase there are measurable and quantifiable progress objectives according to university milestones and IRB requirements.

With such a plan, all my students have to do is simply copy their weekly plan to post in class, and follow this plan. Time Management offers control of the process where the student now becomes in control of their destiny and progress.  The technique is simple; first one plans their work for the entire dissertation writing process; then the student works their plan, step-by-step, piece-by-piece, milestone-by-milestone toward completion.

My students suggest that this systematic project management approach removes much of the stress element from the equation.  A student now knows TODAY what they need to do to complete their dissertation writing by specific graduation deadlines perhaps 1 to 2 years away.  One can always adjust checklists forward or backward depending on personal goals, family situations and professional constraints.  However having this roadmap allows for daily decisions as the dissertation journey is only limited by time and money.  How long will it take a student to meet the rubrics and requirements as established by university standards and how much money will a student have to invest to achieve these results in their desired time frame???