Awesome tips for accountability, mind wandering, email overload, and more | Issue 204



If you had to send a hated organization or personal enemy $100 when you miss your writing goals, would you be more likely to get your dissertation out the door on schedule?


Yes, say the Yale behavioral researchers who created To keep you from the tendency to succumb to immediate gratification, Stickk leverages another human tendency—loss aversion. In short, you are forced to put your money on the line.


You decide the weekly goal, e.g., number of words or pages written, pounds lost, Facebook or TV time quota, etc., and the stake you are willing to bet that you will do it. Then designate one of their "anti-charity" groups (an organization you really don't want to get your dollars) or a friend or foe to get your stake if you don't follow through.


Meet your goal and you keep your money. You also choose a friend to serve as a referee—adding yet more accountability. If you feel stuck because you lack motivation or accountability, Stickk could be worth a try. For more details, visit habits turn out to be the key to finishing your dissertation. 




Your brain did not evolve to write a dissertation, alas. Writing diligently requires a single-minded focus that your hunter-gatherer ancestors did not need.


But you can create effective workarounds, say the authors of One Second Ahead: Enhance Your Performance at Work with Mindfulness. Given that the human brain is better wired for multitasking, you get a dash of dopamine and gratification for finishing low priority tasks like checking email or straightening the pencil drawer.


That impedes the single focus you must have in order to be productive. Successful work (such as dissertating) necessitates managing interruptions due to distractions and stress. Rasmus Hougaard and his two coauthors offer two simple mindfulness-based rules to boost focus and work output:


(1) Focus on what you choose to do. Becoming mindful allows you to choose long-term gratification over short-term gratification. Ask, "What will matter in the long run?"


(2) Handle your distractions mindfully. As interruptions occur, be strategic about how you handle them to maintain your control. Ask, "Must it be done now— or can it be dismissed or deferred?"


This approach gets you working with your brain's natural tendencies. Furthermore, mindfulness increases the brain's serotonin levels, thus dampening the usual dopamine-based vulnerability to distraction.





Solve your overstuffed email inbox problem with the Spark app for the iPhone and Apple watch. Its 4.5 rating from users propelled it to Apple's "App Store Best of 2015" list.


This free app from Readdle helps you retake control using "intelligent" automatically sorting incoming mail for faster, easier processing. You can find your most important messages easily and even "pin" them so they don't get swamped by new emails.


Additional features like Smart Search allow you to use natural language to sort through your messages, save emails as PDF files, and sync with tools that you use like Google Drive or OneNote. Download here or at iTunes.


Heads' up from Cult of Mac: Watch for the upcoming release of Spark for iPad and a more distant release of Spark for Mac.Android users take heart: You can access similar features with the highly rated Blue Mail app, available here or at Google Play.


Do you consider your dissertation a mess? If it were a piano, would you deem it unplayable?


Then it's time for a jazz break.


First, take 15 minutes to appreciate Tim Harford's TED Talk about the greatest solo piano performance in the history of jazz—and what it says about the role of frustration in fostering creativity. Something magical transpired when Keith Jarret was talked into playing an "unplayable piano" in Koln, Germany, forcing (or inviting?) him to focus on just the keys that worked.


Harford taps cognitive psychology, social psychology, complexity science, and even a little rock and roll in describing how Jarret's and parallel stories illustrate that creativity flourishes when we embrace the mess, obstacles, and frustration inherent in the creative process.


By the end, you will be motivated to bang out some new tunes on the "unplayable piano" of your own dissertation. To double your inspiration, savor the recording of Jarret's celebrated Koln theater performance right here.



Do you misplace your phone or keys? Forget your chair's great advice? Have trouble remembering where you put that great journal article?


Go ahead and blame the ice cream or cold pizza you polished off before bed.


Research has identified five common daily habits that can exacerbate forgetting: late night snacks, too much sugar, too much tofu, chronic low stress, and being single. Each one of these turns out to impact memory, according to recent reports.


While we don't advise popping the question to the next available single you meet, go for smaller lifestyle changes to boost your memory. How might you begin to integrate exercise and meditation into your routine to reduce stress levels? Make a plan to stop the snacking and reduce your fructose consumption. Commit to consuming more salmon, walnuts, etc., or to taking a daily DHA capsule to get the omega-3 oils that ameliorate the damage.



This issue of ABD.Links was compiled by Gayle Scroggs and Nora Misiolek.


Thank you to the artist at for permission to use his cartoon. 




An accomplished coach, workshop leader, keynote speaker, and educator, Gayle earned her doctorate in social psychology from the University of New Hampshire. Her deep expertise in positive psychology allows her to help clients build their personal strengths, positive habits, and confidence to overcome procrastination, self-doubts and other blocks in order to reach vital academic and personal goals. In addition to editing the ABD Survival Guide, she contributed two chapters to the positive psychology anthology, Women's Paths to Happiness. Contact her at for coaching, presentations, and workshops on thriving in graduate school and beyond, and find free resource 

She also speaks fluent Spanish and delights in new exotic Scrabble words as she savors life in the Chesapeake Bay area, California, and Argentina.


BEN DEAN, Publisher, ABDSG
Ben holds a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Texas at Austin. He began writing the ABDSG in 1997. Over the years, the ABDSG has published hundreds of articles and provided thousands of hours of pro bono coaching and teleworkshops to ABDs all over the world. Ben is also the founder of MentorCoach (, a virtual university focused on training accomplished professionals to become part-time or full-time coaches. You may wish to subscribe to the Coaching Toward Happiness eNewsletter! It's on applying the science of Positive Psychology to your work and life (131,000 readers). Ben lives in suburban Maryland with his wife, Janice, their two children, and Dusty, their Norwegian dwarf bunny.



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