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Stage 7: Creating a work plan

Early in the dissertation process, create a work plan to help you manage your time, set goals, and work productively during the many stages of the dissertation. As your project evolves, assess and renegotiate your work plan as necessary.

Creating a work plan will help you to:

  • Break down the large, overwhelming process of writing a dissertation into manageable steps
  • Keep a "daily commitment" with your dissertation
  • Discover and take advantage of your most productive work habits
  • Set goals and reward yourself for achieving them
  • Balance dissertation writing with the other aspects of your life

Step 1: Analyze your goals, your situation, and your work habits

Step 2: Think about the "big picture." Step 1: Analyze your goals, your situation, and your work habits

  • Break down and structure the dissertation process with steps and deadlines (proposal approved, field work completed, chapter drafts to advisor, etc.)
  • Consider project management software to help structure the process.
  • Put big picture deadlines in writing and share them with people who will help you be realistic and accountable​

Step 3: Anticipate dissertation project expenses and investigate funding opportunities. 

  • Consider the financial aspects of prioritizing time, space, and resources for dissertation work (e.g., reducing teaching or other employment, daycare for children, photocopying, book purchases, etc.)
  • Explore dissertation research grants through Queen's University and other organizations.

Step 4: Think about the "little picture."

  • Map out all of your absolutely unbreakable time commitments to identify what time is available for dissertation work and use that time for a day-to-day version of your work plan
  • Make decisions about what low priority commitments you can remove from your schedule; what forms of rest, recreation, and support you’ll want to schedule in to help you sustain your process; and when and how you work best to take advantage of your strengths
  • Consider ideas from other dissertation writers:
    • Establish a regular work schedule (for example, 8 – 10am daily) 
    • Find productive and positive work spaces (home office, campus office, library carrel, coffee shop, etc.)
    • Set a daily page limit rather than time limit to push you to be productive
    • Eliminate distractions to keep focused (turn off the phone, wear headphones in a public space, etc.)
    • Create "ready to write" rituals that help you get started everyday (favourite cup of coffee, background music, etc.)
    • Do "mindless work" like formatting, transcribing, etc. when you are blocked to keep making progress

Step 5: "Pilot test" your work plan.

  • Set a specific amount of time (say 2 weeks or a month) to stick to your plan and then re-evaluate and revise it
  • Perhaps once a semester, revise your work plan, using what you have learned about yourself from executing the previous plans

Step 6: Create systems that work for you.

  • Create consistent systems of taking notes on what you’ve read, keeping track of drafts and revisions, formatting your dissertation, documenting sources
  • Consider using documentation software, such as Endnote and RefWorks

Step 7: Expect and accept occasional setbacks and delays.

  • Build extra time into your work plan to accommodate the unexpected: taking a trip to access new resources, replacing a committee member, recovering from an illness, etc
  • Revise your work plan as necessary, with the goal of getting going again

Step 8: Reward yourself for meeting goals and forgive your lapses.

  • Remember the goal of your work plan is to move you forward inch-by-inch toward the completion of your dissertation
  • Let past lapses or failures go, and focus on what you can do today and tomorrow to reach your goals