top of page

The Sure-Fire Way to Find More Time for Your Dissertation | Issue 302

Summary: Overwhelmed by your To Do list? Learn the best-kept secrets to cutting it back while honoring your priorities.

Estimated read time: 5 minutes that you will recoup before dinner.


By Gayle Scroggs, Ph.D., P.C.C., Editor

Do you wish you had more time? Wouldn't it be great to have an extra five or ten hours each week to focus solely on your dissertation after you've checked off your other obligations?

While you cannot manufacture more hours in a day, we will show you how to work smarter—not harder or longer. Learning to apply "Four D's" to your task list will save you valuable time and energy for making progress on the dissertation front.

First, get out your To Do list. (If you don't have one, start keeping one.) Now, one at a time, carefully review each task and apply as many of the following "D" strategies as possible. Ask yourself the corresponding questions two or three times to get past any initial hesitancy to change a time-sucking habit. Remember to pat yourself on the back as you tweak your list.

1) DELETE IT. "Does this really need to be done at all?"

Eliminate any task if doing so won't put you in danger or in the doghouse. Forget social media. Stop reading the news and watching Netflix. How often do you automatically say "yes" to other people's agendas? Challenge yourself to say "no" at least once a day. Only read priority emails and trash the social and promo emails. (Gmail will automatically categorize incoming mail this way for you.)

2) DEFER IT. "Can this be put off for a couple weeks or more?"

Postpone major unnecessary trips. When possible, ask for rain checks for social invitations. Let stuff pile up and dust kitties roam. Close the door to messy rooms until you have time to clean (or see the next strategy). Don't toss clothes in the hamper after a single use. Have regular fun but hold off on partying until after you hit "send" on your latest chapter. As you put off doing non-dissertation tasks, don't be surprised if no one notices or cares. You might discover it doesn't need doing at all.

3) DELEGATE IT. "Who else could do this?"

If you can't delete or defer it, find someone else to do it. Ask your biggest supporters for help. Beg or trade future favors. Pay someone if you can scrounge up the money (you're worth it). Outsourcing works especially well for meal preparation, childcare, housecleaning, and laundry. Hire an editor to clean up your finished chapter while you dig into the next; have them create tables too. If someone asks you to help during dissertation time, say no and kindly refer them to someone else. Don't underestimate what your partner, children, and parents can do and will do for you—nor how much pleasure they will get from lending a hand. They want to see you succeed too. And after graduation, you can return the favors.

4) DOWNSIZE IT. "What's the bare minimum necessary?"

This surprising hack is one missing from old versions of the Four Ds, however it quickly became my favorite. If you can't skip over it or pass a task to another person, use your creativity to figure out how to minimize the time you spend on it for acceptable results. Don't fritter away precious energy on tasks that don't need Olympic efforts, e.g., cooking, phone calls, emails, etc. Throw enough ingredients for a week's worth of chili into your Instant Pot. Buy frozen veggie burgers and bagged salads. Respond to phone calls and emails with text messages. Respond to text messages with auto-generated responses when you can get away with it. Go for a 20-minute run instead of an hour at the gym. Devote a predetermined number of hours to volunteering and then say "no" to more. Aim for "good enough" instead of perfection. Proofread your manuscript but wait for feedback before final polishing. Remember, it's only a dissertation—and the best dissertation is the done dissertation.

Step back and notice how much shorter your list is! Of course, some tasks will remain. For those that cannot be deleted, deferred, delegated, or downsized: Just do it and be done with it. You will save precious time and energy that dilly-dallying wastes.

Tip: One of my clients suggested a fifth D for "Dance" after discovering that making a task fun made it go faster. Do it and make it a dance!

Experimenting with the Four D's will give you a clear perspective on how you are investing your 1440 daily quota of minutes. Your personal area of weakness will likely relate most to one of the four D's.

For example, do you find it hard to say "no" to others? Start deleting more! Or do you too often go for low hanging fruit when you need to tackle more important tasks?

Do you tend to overfunction and micromanage? If so, cultivate your delegation skills. Or do you fall prey to your inner perfectionist's propaganda that your self-worth hinges on doing even trivial things extremely well? Time is limited—so hone your downsizing ability.

Using the Four D approach to master your To Do list will help you earn one more D—your Doctorate. Imagine how Delicious that will be!


Image credit: Above Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY



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 resources

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.



Subscribe to our other free e-mail Newsletter: The Coaching Toward Happiness News.



bottom of page