ABDSG:  Surprising ways successful ABDs spend their summer plus how to do more “deep work” while creating more balance | Issue 210


To All: Proclain your independence. Remind yourself that finishing a doctoral degree is a choice. Then free yourself from interruptions and impulses blocking your progress by implementing our carefully curated tips below.

Estimated reading time:  Seven minutes (that will free up hours of productivity) 

Put your own motivational quotes on mugs, T-shirts, and hoodies at https://boldomatic.com/ 

Surprising Ways Successful Graduate Students Spend Their Summer

With summer’s slower academic pace, even new graduate students need to leverage the time well. Chronicle Vitae’s free booklet advises setting aside 10% of your time to building your future. Key areas to work on include identifying publishing venues and grant sources, honing research presentation and teaching skills, and developing other skills such as language or computer proficiency.

If you are headed for the fall job market, summer preparation is essential to prevent overload in the fall. You can spruce up your CV, organize a spreadsheet to track your applications, create a teaching portfolio, and pull together an interview wardrobe. You’ll also find tips for writing and publishing, for surviving on a shoestring, and for enjoying your summer. Imagine your September self celebrating your completed writing, new skills, and great vacation time!

How to Stop Working at 5 pm and Still Finish:  Do “Deep Work”


Yearning for uninterrupted stretches of time for dissertation work? Has the internet and social media have turned you into a mere “human router” with shallow work habits, e.g., handling email and interruptions?  If you want to finish, you must shift to doing “deep work.”

“Spend enough time in a state of frenetic shallowness and you permanently reduce your capacity to perform deep work,” asserts Cal Newport, a Georgetown U professor of computer science. On the other hand, resisting interruptions or alternating tasks may actually improve brain infrastructure for productivity.

In Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, Newport describes prolific professionals and academics who end their workdays by 5 or 6 p.m. How do they manage this feat?  By focusing on depth, i.e., sustained concentration on important projects, rather than breadth. Newport takes refuge in the library, while J. K. Rowling opted for a luxury hotel. Bottom line:  Create your own strategy now for prioritizing your deep work.  


The Essential Resource You Keep Wasting     

“What we attend to creates our lives—attention is the most essential human resource, fundamental to our lives, to our relationships, and our quality of work.” ~ Jeremy Hunter.

Hunter concurs that we need to do more deep work. That means learning to manage our attention. Think about the last time you were in the zone. Chances are you were intensely focused on your work. “Focused attention leads to our most exhilarating moments of being alive,”  Hunter observes.

You pay an extraordinary price for mismanaging your attention. Intrusions provoke more stress, exhaustion, and pain.  Interruptions that last a mere 2.8 seconds can double your mistakes and keep you out of flow for nearly an hour.

In short, deep thinking requires deep focus. If you want to optimize your performance, you must learn to manage your attention. Read on for how to create new habits for this.


Six Secrets to Building and Keeping Healthy Habits

You need about 66 days to build a new habit. . . and that is only if you do it right. The awesome blogger Eric Barker summarizes the evidence-based strategies for how to make habits stick:

  1.  Start with “Keystone Habits”: Begin with something like exercise, which that leads to improved diet and productivity.  Alternate writing with activities that refresh and energize you.

  2. Use “Minimum Viable Effort”: Keep the bar low so you will really do it. Proofread one page.

  3. Make a simple plan: When and where will you do it?  Make—and honor—appointments with your dissertation. (More on this here.)  I will start outlining chapter two at 9 a.m. Tuesday in the library.

  4. Reward yourself: For each “should,” have one “want” or reward. When I finish the outline, I will treat myself to a Chocolate Chip Frappuccino (but make it a skinny).

  5. Use reminders:  Use agendas, lists, and alarms. Put your dissertation appointments in your Google calendar app and set a notification to remind you.

  6. Get help from friends: Socialize with supportive friends and family.  Create a dissertation writing group. Avoid slackers and downers.


[One more tip:  Frame your new habit in terms of your most central values or highest goals, e.g., “I am creating a fulfilling future for myself.” ~ Gayle]


Carve out more time for deep work by optimizing shopping errands. While no one has come up with an app that vacuums or cleans, you can simplify grocery and other tasks with the top-rated Out of Milk android app. (iPhone users might try AnyList.)

Enter items quickly on your phone whenever they occur to you. You will have your list handy whenever you need it—cutting down on extra trips to the store because you forgot your list. And lists can be synced across devices and shared with others.

You’ll zip through the store fast and undistracted because the app automatically classifies items as produce, dairy, pantry so on. You can also create lists for Pharmacy, Home Goods, and To Do that make it easy to check off all those errands in one trip.  

~Compiled by ABDSG Editor Gayle Scroggs, Ph.D.  Write her here.




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 gayle@essencecoaching.com for coaching, presentations, and workshops on thriving in graduate school and beyond, and find free resource www.essencecoaching.com 

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 (www.MentorCoach.com), 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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